Shelby G. Floyd
Today, I am studying with you about a subject that we do not hear very often. Perhaps the reason that we do not hear this subject too often is because we don’t like to talk about this particular subject. Our study is the subject of hell. We sing and we talk about heaven, but all of us like to avoid the subject of hell. But the same Bible that teaches on heaven teaches on hell.
Recently, in the newspaper, there was an article about how the belief in hell is slipping today. There was a poll taken by the Catholic Church among Roman Catholics, and a large percentage of those Roman Catholics that were polled do not believe that there is a place called hell. Furthermore, most of them believe that if they were to die they would go to heaven, and very few of them felt like they would go to hell. That is true generally, I would say, with most people today. If you were to take a general poll, probably 80 or 90 percent of the people would say confidently that they would go to heaven and that they would not go to hell.
The Bible teaches about hell as well as about heaven. It would be rather foolish of us to ignore what the Bible has to say about hell and just take what the Bible says about heaven.
HELL DEFINED AND IDENTIFIED
The word hell occurs 23 times in the English New Testament. Out of that 23 times, 12 times it translates the Greek word Gehenna, and 11 times it translates the Greek word Hades. And so the English word hell in our Bible translates two Greek words Gehenna and. Hades. Hades is a word, which means the place of the unseen; it is a generic term, which will include the place of punishment as well as the place where all spirits go when the spirit leaves the body. And so we must study the context of our English Bible to find out whether the word hell is talking about the place where all spirits go when we die or whether it is talking about the place where the evil will go and be punished forever and forever.
The word Gehenna which is translated hell 12 times comes from the valley of Hinnom, as found in Joshua 18:16. It was a place where the children of Israel, in violation of God’s law, offered their children up as sacrifices in the fires of Moloch. And so it came to be a place where there were fires burning all the time, and where the children of Israel had offered up their children for sacrifice in these fires, and where they had copied after the idolatrous people who had done the same thing. Jesus Christ then took that term Hinnom or Gehenna and used that for the place of everlasting punishment or everlasting fire, and we know that our Lord uses it in that way for in Matt. 23: 33, Jesus said of the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” The word hell here translates the word Gehenna, so he is really saying, “How shall ye escape the damnation of everlasting punishment?” So Gehenna, which is translated hell, is the place of everlasting punishment or everlasting fire.
HELL IS A PLACE OF EVERLASTING FIRE
Now in the first place, I want to point out that Jesus definitely taught that there is a place of everlasting fire. He says in Mark, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” (Mk. 9:42.) He is talking about people who would offend Christians, and especially Christian people who had just newly entered the faith, or newborn Christians. He said that if we offend a child of God, a little one that believes in him, it would be better for us if we had a millstone hanged about our neck, and we were cast into the sea. Then he goes on to say:
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk. 9:43-48.)
The Fire Is Unquenchable
The first thing that we notice is this: Jesus talks about a place where there is a fire that never shall be quenched. That word quenched translates the Greek word asbestos. I used to be amazed when I was a child to notice that when you took a blow torch and put the flame right on a piece of asbestos that it would not be consumed or burned. That material no doubt has derived its name from the Greek word asbestos, which means “not quenched.” Today, just as asbestos is a material that cannot be consumed by a fire, Jesus says that there is a fire that cannot be consumed; it is an unquenchable or asbestos fire. We have fires today, but they are consumed and the first thing you know they go out, but the fires of hell are fires that are unquenchable and which are not consumable. That is the first thing we notice that our Lord teaches.
Hell Is Not On Earth
In the second place we know that Jesus is not talking about hell here on earth. I have heard some say that the only hell they believe in is the hell that we go through right here on earth. Jesus was not talking about suffering and punishment here on this earth for he contrasts life with hell. He said, “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell.” Jesus doesn’t mean by that if you go to heaven and you only had one hand in this life that you are only going to have one hand up in heaven. That is not what he means. He means that it would be better to live on this earth with just one hand, and die in that state and go to heaven, than it would to live on this earth with two arms or two hands and die and go to hell. The idea is to cut off whatever is going to cause you to be lost. He is not saying literally to go out and cut off your arms and feet unless literally that would be what would be causing you to be lost. I remember one of our preachers told one time of a man that liked to steal chickens. He just couldn’t keep from going over to his neighbors and getting into the chicken house and stealing his chickens. So he happened to read and study this passage, and so one day he cut off his arm. He was taking that literally wasn’t he? But I guess if that would keep him from stealing chickens it would be better to have his arm chopped off than it would to go to hell with both arms. But Jesus is really using that in a figurative sense. The idea is to cut off whatever will cause you to be lost and what will cause you to sin and stumble. So he is contrasting this present life with hell.
The Worm That Does Not Die
The next thing we notice is the worm that dies not. What is that? We read that, we think about it, but what is it? Well it is an allusion to Isaiah 66:24, where Isaiah was talking about the worms that were feeding upon the dead carcasses of men. So the idea is that hell will be a place where we will be consumed with rottenness and yet the fires will never consume us. Some have understood this worm that dies not to be a figure of speech that stands for our consciousness. Just as a worm in hot ashes seems not to be consumed and writhes in pain and suffering, so man in hell will have his consciousness and that consciousness will be forever. He will be conscious of his pain, his guilt, his suffering forever and forever. Whatever it means, there will be an everlasting suffering and punishment in the place that Jesus called Gehenna or hell fire.
A BIBLICAL PICTURE OF HELL
Next, I want to give you a picture of what the Bible has to say about this place called Gehenna or hell fire.
A Lake Of Fire and Brimstone: The Vastness of Hell
In the first place, hell is described in the Bible as a lake of fire and brimstone. This denotes the vastness of hell. If you have ever been out on some of our great lakes like Lake Michigan or Lake Superior, it is a vast body of water, almost as boundless as the oceans and the seas of the world. So when the Bible talks about hell, as a lake of fire and brimstone, it is trying to get over the picture to us of how vast hell is going to be.
In Revelation 20, Jesus said that,
“The devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and they shall be tormented day and night forever and forever.” Then John says, “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”(Rev. 20:10-14.)
So you can see there in Revelation 20 that there is going to be a great judgment day, and God will be on his great white throne, and the heavens and earth are going to flee from his presence, but the devil, the beast and the false prophets are going to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone, and they will be tormented day and night forever and forever. Not only that, but he says that those whose names are not found written in the book of life are going to be cast into that same lake of fire and brimstone and will be tormented day and night forever and forever.
The Bible says that is the second death. The first death is when we die physically and our spirit is separated from our body. The second death is when we will be separated from God forever and forever, and separated to such a place described as a lake of fire and brimstone.
A Furnace of Fire: The Confinement Of Hell
In the second place, hell is described as a furnace of fire. I remember back in the Old Testament reading about Daniel and his friends who were cast into the fiery furnace. By God’s power not a hair on their heads was singed. They did not even have the smell of fire upon their clothes. God protected them even in that fiery furnace. But God is not going to protect anybody who will be cast into that furnace of fire at the last day.
Over in Matthew 13, we have a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the last part of the chapter, we have the parable of the tares. You know the story that while men slept the enemy crept in and sowed tares in their field with the good seed. When they were awakened they noticed that there were tares among the wheat. They asked what they should do and if they should pull them up. The Lord told them “No, leave them alone.” He told them that after the wheat was full-grown they would separate the tares from the wheat lest they destroy the good seed. The Lord made the application to the end of the world. He said, “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.” And he said, “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.” So the Lord here in this parable is teaching that the wicked, the tares, are going to be cast into a furnace of fire and the good are going to be gathered into his garner, that is, heaven itself.
But heaven is likened unto a beautiful place where we will all want to go, but hell is like a furnace of fire. This denotes the confinement of hell. If you were in a furnace and the door was closed, you would be confined and you couldn’t escape, it is a furnace of fire.
A Baptism Of Fire: The Nature of Hell
In the third place, hell is described as a baptism of fire. In Matthew 3, shortly after John the Baptist began preaching, the Bible says that the whole area around Judea came out to hear John preach. But the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him and they didn’t confess their sins and he said, “0 generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.” (Matt. 3:7-11.)
Now the Lord here uses several figures of speech. He talks about a tree that doesn’t bear any fruit, and it is going to be cut down and cast into the fire. Then he talks about baptizing them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The apostles would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, the Sadducees and the Pharisees who wouldn’t confess their sins would be baptized with fire. I’ve heard people today say, “I want the baptism of fire.” I can tell you that I don’t want the baptism of fire. That is the very thing that I am trying to avoid. Others will say, “I want the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Let me tell you, you’re too late for one and you are too early for the other. Only the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, so it is too late for you to be baptized in that way, and only those who are the wicked and the evil are going to be baptized with fire at the last day, so it is too early for that. But the point is that hell in its nature is compared to a baptism of fire.
The word baptism literally means to dip or immerse. Metaphorically it means to overwhelm someone in something. So hell is going to be like a person who is overwhelmed in the flames of fire. So the baptism of fire denotes the nature of hell.
A Place of Outer Darkness: The Horror of Hell
Hell is described as a place of outer darkness. In Matthew 2, Jesus gave us the parable of the talents. One man received five talents, one man two and another man one talent. The Lord went on a journey into a far country. While he was gone two of them of course were faithful, industrious, and fruitful and they multiplied their talents. One of them was an unfaithful man; he was a man that buried his talent. When the Lord came to account for those men’s actions, the five-talent man was given a blessing. The two talent man was blessed, but the one talent man was cursed. And the Lord said, “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.” If you have ever been in Mammoth Cave, down in Kentucky, and they have turned the lights out on you about half way through the cave, you’ll find out the horrors of darkness. It would be terrible to be in everlasting darkness. If that were the only thing about hell, I wouldn’t want to go there. It would be terrible to be in a place where there would be no light. And in that cave there is darkness. And hell is described as a place of outer or everlasting darkness, and that denotes the horror of hell.
The Second Death: The Separation of Hell
Hell is described as a place of the second death and we have already mentioned that. In Revelation 21:8, it says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murders, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” So this denotes the separation of hell.
Everlasting Punishment: The Eternity of Hell
Hell is described as a place of everlasting punishment, and this denotes the eternity of hell. If you believe in the eternity of heaven you have got to believe in the eternity of hell. Someone says, “I just can’t conceive of a loving, righteous God casting a person into hell forever and forever, for just doing a few things wrong in a short lifetime.” Friends, a man can go out here and take a gun, hold up a place, and shoot someone in just a few seconds, but what kind of punishment would be adequate for the crime? It is getting to the place in our country that they turn them out onto the streets almost as quickly as they are caught. But we know that in a place where justice is meted out to evildoers, that a man could be put away in prison for life for a crime that took only just a few seconds. Now if man in his system of jurisprudence and justice demands that people who take people’s lives can be put away for the rest of their lives for something that just took a few seconds, who is to say that God is unjust for punishing man forever and forever?
In Matthew 25, Jesus said that the righteous would go into everlasting life, but he said that the wicked would go to eternal punishment. The same adjective that describes life is the same adjective that describes punishment. The same Greek adjective describes both of those places in Matthew 25:46: “Then they will go away to eternal (aionion) punishment, but the righteous to eternal (aionion) life.” (NIV.) So if hell is just going to be for a short time then heaven will just be for a short time. If hell will be a place where you will just suffer for a little while then heaven will be a place where we will just enjoy bliss for a little time. But if one is eternal, the other is eternal, and the Bible uses the same adjective to describe them both. Hell is just like heaven in duration, except it is opposite in every way. One is a place of everlasting bliss and the other is a place of everlasting punishment.
HELL’S REPULSIVE POPULATION
Well, we have described the picture of hell, now I want to talk to you about hell and its repulsive population. I want to talk about the kind of people that are going to be in hell. You know we don’t like to be with certain people even in this life. All of us have our friends and we have our close friends. The preacher, Daniel Sommer used to say that everyone was his friend—that he had his “friendly friends” and his “unfriendly friends.” I’m sure that is true of all of us. We have our friendly friends and our unfriendly friends, and we like to be with our friendly friends. Hell is going to be made up of people who I don’t think that you would want to be with; therefore, I don’t think you would want to go there, and I think you would want to do everything you could to go to heaven and be with the kind of people that will be there.
Horrible, Wicked Souls
In the first place, hell is going to be filled with horrible souls who have lived to the flesh and who have lived in sin and wickedness. I’ve already mentioned Revelation 21:8, where John talks about the fearful, the unbelieving, the whoremongers, idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death. Now do you like to be around those kinds of people today? Do you like to associate with a liar, a man that you can’t depend upon to tell the truth? Do you like to be out here with thieves, robbers, adulterers and fornicators and all those kind of people that lead those kinds of lives? No, if you are a Christian person, you do not like to be around and keep company with those kinds of people. You do not like them for your bosom buddies and your close friends. Now would you want to go to a place and associate with those kinds of people forever and forever? Hell is going to be a place made up of those kinds of people.
In the next place, hell is going to be a place that is made up of some dignified unbelievers The very head of that list (Rev. 21:8) says unbelievers, the fearful and unbelieving, are going to be there. Now I know a lot of people today who are good moral people, good neighbors, kind and you like them, but if they are unbelievers they are going to wind up in the same place with those horrible souls that have lived to the flesh and who have been wicked. Unbelievers are in the same classification, the same category, as all these other people. But we sometimes feel like the dignified unbeliever is going to go to heaven because he is dignified, but dignified unbelievers will be in hell.
In John 12:42-43, Jesus talked about those Jews who were unbelievers and he said that they were of their father, the devil. And he told them they were going to be lost. They were Jews and had the same blood in their veins as did the Lord, but he said that they were going to be lost because they were unbelievers. John, says that the Lord “…came to his own, and his own received him not, But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:11-12.) So unless we receive the Lord and believe and obey his will, we’re going to be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone with all these other people that we have mentioned.
In the next place, hell is going to be made up of people who are uncharitable. Most people don’t have much use for a stingy tightwad in this life. You see a person that squeezes every bit of the money that he can, one that hordes it up, one that is stingy and won’t help other people, and nobody likes that kind of person. In Matthew 25, Jesus said that the Son of man is going to come with all of his holy angels and that he will be seated on his throne of glory. Then he says, “Before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand., but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” (Matt. 25:31-39). Why will they be lost? They will be lost because they were uncharitable and they did not care for other people.
Devout, Religious People Will Be Lost
In the next place, I want to point out that there is going to be some devoutly religious people that will be lost. They are going to be religious, but they will be in the wrong religion. They will be worshiping according to a false religion and as Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Lukewarm Church Members
And finally, in the last place, there is going to be some lukewarm church members that are going to be in hell. We have lukewarm church members today. They just come to the services whenever they want to; they don’t bring their children to Bible study; they don’t try to bring anybody else into the kingdom of God and they are trying to keep one foot out in the world and one foot in the church for some insurance. But the Bible teaches that lukewarm church members are going to be lost. The apostles taught that we all must be steadfast and faithful. (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor.15:58.)
The Bible teaches that lukewarm church members are going to be lost. What about the church at Laodicea? “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”(Rev. 3:15-16.) The Lord was going to reject them and they would be lost because they were lukewarm The Lord would prefer them to be either hot or cold. He doesn’t mean they can be saved by being cold, but he would prefer them one way or the other, but because they were lukewarm they were going to be lost. What did the Hebrews writer say? He was writing to Christian people who were becoming lukewarm and who were leaving the faith and he said, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God., and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified., an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10: 25-29.) Friends, there will be lukewarm church members in hell.
Now I call this lesson, Hell and It’s Repulsive Population. And you don’t want to go to a place where there is going to be lukewarm church members. You don’t want to go to a place where there is going to be horrible souls that have lived to the flesh. You don’t want to go to a place where the dignified unbeliever and where uncharitable people will be. Therefore, you need to prepare your life right now.
Don’t be like the man that we read of in Luke 16. Jesus described two places—Abraham’s bosom and torment:
19″There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22″The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25″But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27″He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29″Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30″`No, father Abraham,’ he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31″He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
I have heard people say, “I had a good mother and father who were not Christians, and if they are in hell I don’t want to go to heaven. If your mother and father were in hell they would not want you to come there. If they were in hell they would be crying out to send somebody back to warn you so you wouldn’t come to the same place. They would not want you to go there and the Lord doesn’t want you to go there. And I know that out of your own self-interest you don’t want to go to hell. You want to go to heaven where Jesus, the angels and God and all the redeemed of all ages will be around the throne and will sing, worship and work for God throughout the ages of eternity. So, will you obey the gospel today and the Lord will forgive your sins and add you to his church? *
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon October 23, 1977 at the Garfield Heights Church of Christ, 2842 Shelby Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. Copyright © 2002 2019 All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd, 1970’s
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142