Hell – For Whom?
In my ministry here and elsewhere, I most often speak about the love of God and the great gift of salvation. But I cannot neglect the truth of what awaits those who do not receive the gift. It is said by some that Jesus spoke more about the dangers of hell then He did about heaven, warning of the dangers of following the ways of the world, rather than following the ways of God. However, I have also read an article from someone showing that Jesus teaches more about heaven than hell. The fact of the matter is that Jesus did speak and teach about both heaven and hell, so we should pay attention to both teachings.
Everything in the Christian life is based upon choices we make; the decisions of our mind revealing the beliefs in our heart. The final destination that awaits us is no different. We are able to determine our final destination at any point in time, that is, while we still have time available in our life.
Two destinations are spoken of in Scripture with great clarity. How can we accept one as reality while denying the existence of the other? It is due to our own beliefs, opinions, and choices. Even if we refuse to accept the reality of either destination, even denying Scripture and calling God a liar, the two destinations still exist, awaiting us at the end of our days.
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to
save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.
Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV
The choice of destination needs to be made prior to the time of death, for afterwards is the judgment at which time our decisions and actions will either condemn us, or will show us to be redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation and damnation are the only two options. The beautiful thing is that God made the way for our salvation and is calling us to accept the gift He wishes to give to us. But still many reject the offer, and their stubborn refusal condemns them to the only alternative, damnation.
Scripture reveals the reality of hell and the lake of fire, making it clear that we ought to fear and avoid these places of suffering. They were not created for mankind, rather, they were created for Satan and the fallen angels. Matthew quotes Jesus in his gospel, telling of what happens after Jesus separates people one from another, some to His right and some to His left.
“Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
Matthew 25:41 ESV
Jesus tells us clearly that the eternal fire, or the lake of fire, was created for the devil and his angels. That would be Lucifer, or Satan, and the fallen angels; those who followed Lucifer in the rebellion against God. It was not originally created with the intention of being for mankind. Mankind was originally created in a loving relationship with God. That lasted until, through Adam, sin entered into the world. Because of sin, man became the enemy of God.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:4 ESV
But, as we state over and over in these studies, God made a way for us to repent and turn back to that loving relationship mankind once had with Him.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16 ESV
Let’s back up just a bit here. We see that the lake of fire, the eternal fire, was created for the devil and the rest of the fallen angels. Is the lake of fire the same as hell? According to a passage in Revelation, no.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:14 ESV
Hades is what we refer to as hell. Hell is not permanent – it is cast into the lake of fire. Since it is cast into the lake of fire, then it must be something other than the lake of fire. So, what is it?
Hell is the interim destination for the spirit and soul of a person whose body is in the grave, or has died, who has not received the gift of salvation. It is a place of separation from knowing the blessings of God, and the good company of other people.
After the coming of Antichrist, there will be a millennial age during which Christ will reign and rule on the earth. After that age there will be the time of judgment of all souls known as the Great White Throne Judgment. That will be the final judgment of all souls and the assignment of the final destination for each individual.
As we read earlier, death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. As we also read, the place of eternal fire was prepared for the devil and the angels who rebelled against God along with him. So why would a man or woman be sent there?
God has a “with me or against me” attitude. We see this in the words of Jesus.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Matthew 12:30 ESV
Jesus again addresses His disciples.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like
a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
John 15:5-6 ESV
This example of the pruning of branches and throwing them into the fire is vivid. I think we can all relate to the pruning of trees, vines, shrubs, etc. Sometimes what needs to be cut away is dead, and other times it is what is not producing fruit. I think we can all relate to fire as well. Whether in a fireplace, a fire-pit, a barrel, or anywhere else, we watch the fire consume that which is being burned.
That which is cut away, thrown away, and burned, represents those who are not working with God. The verse in Matthew relates the idea of gathering with Christ or scattering as in acting against Christ. There are only two groups of people: those who are with Christ Jesus, and those who are not with Him.
Let’s once again take a look at what took place in the ancient past.
- God created mankind in His image
- God had a loving relationship with His created beings
- Sin entered into the world through one man, Adam
- The intimate relationship between God and man was broken due to sin and the failure of man to remain faithful to God
- God initiated His plan to restore the relationship with His creation
- The Father sent His Son as the perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sinfulness of mankind
- The free gift from God, the gift of salvation, the gift of His love for us, was offered to every person without cost to any person, it is a gift
- Each person determines his or her final destination based upon whether or not he or she receives the free gift of salvation
At times we tend to think we have a choice between heaven and hell. That is the wrong way to look at this. Because of sin in our lives, every person has the destination of hell guaranteed to them if something isn’t done about it. The choice is only one way, and that is, a person can choose to follow Christ, and the ways of God, instead of following the ways of the world. In so choosing, each person can change the destination from hell to heaven. This is accomplished through the good news of the gospel. We must determine what we believe about God as our creator, about Jesus as our Savior, and about the free gift of salvation.
We read about God loving His creation and sending His Son with a message of God’s love, that those who believe would receive eternal life. The next verse tells us that the Son did not come to condemn the world at that time.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
John 3:17 ESV
Jesus did not condemn the world, or bring judgment upon the sinful. But for those who would not believe in Him, and in His gift of salvation, He did not release them from the consequences of their sin. This is revealed in the next verse of the passage in John.
“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
John 3:18 ESV
That condemnation was the original penalty of sin from sin entering the world through the one man, Adam. The escape from that penalty is through the one man, Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God.
Our choice to be made is will we believe in the only Son of God, or not. We can be delivered, or set free, from the penalty of sin by choosing to believe in Christ Jesus and His sacrifice to pay our debt. That is a debt that we could not pay, and a debt that He did not owe. It is a gift of love.
In refusing to believe in the Son, in rejecting the free gift of salvation, the declaration is to remain in the status quo. There is no other option. Without deliverance from the penalty of sin, we remain enslaved to it. Jesus explained this to the Jews who had believed.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free,
you will be free indeed.”
John 8:34-35 ESV
Jesus then shifts and appears to be addressing those who did not believe. Some even thought, due to their religion, that they were children of God, declaring in verse 41, “We have one Father – even God.” Jesus set the record straight revealing they are of their father, the devil.
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is
because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in truth,
because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you
convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
John 8:42-47 ESV
I share all of this to make this point: our father is the devil unless we receive the gift of God and are given the right to become the children of God. The choice is ours.
But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God,
John 1:12 ESV
We will follow our father. God the Father of the Son is the Father for those who believe. The devil is the father of those who do not believe. There is a definite division between the two groups. At the day of judgment, Christ Jesus the Lord will divide the two groups gathering one on His right and the other on His left. As we read earlier, to those gathered on His left He said, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” If a person’s preference is to reject Christ and remain in the family of the devil, who is their father, they will go where he goes.
To the righteous, those covered by the righteousness of Christ, those gathered on His right, the Son had a different message.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Matthew 25:34 ESV
Choosing whether or not to follow Christ does not come from a neutral position. We all begin in a position of not being able to enter heaven, and not having access to the Father, as that only comes from, and proceeds through, Christ. This does not begin from a neutral, or even safe position, but from a position of eternal consequence due to sin in the world and in our life.
Hell is real, and the lake of fire is real. It is the final destination for whom?
Sin is a reality in life for both those who believe and those who have yet to believe. There are a couple of differences between the two groups of people. The first difference is that those who have repented, humbled themselves before God, and surrendered their lives to Christ Jesus, have received forgiveness for their sinfulness. Those who have not done so continue to carry the burden for their sinfulness rather than acknowledging by faith that Christ Jesus paid that debt on the cross.
Jesus even warned His disciples to be watchful concerning their behavior.
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Mark 14:38 ESV
Another difference is a change in lifestyle and choices made. Though the forgiven person may stumble in occasional sin while still in this world, the sinful lifestyle has been left behind while working out a lifestyle of righteousness by faith and the power of God. The person who has yet to receive the forgiveness in Christ will continue on in the sinful ways of the world and seek to satisfy the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. This lifestyle cannot continue if one is to enter into the kingdom of God.
Speaking of the final kingdom destination, specifically the New Jerusalem, the apostle John writes in the book of Revelation:
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 21:27 ESV
Among the questions I think of from this verse are:
- What is considered to be detestable or false?
- What is the Lamb’s book of life?
In basic terms the detestable and false is sinfulness. The apostle Paul gets a bit more specific in his letter to the believers at Corinth.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice
homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV
And again he shared this with Timothy, a young pastor he oversaw.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for
the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else
is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
1 Timothy 1:8-11 ESV
The issues Paul spells out in the first century are the same issues we have in the twenty-first century. Any one of us can go through these lists and find our own issues. All of these issues are offensive to God as issues of immorality. Any one of us can be forgiven if we turn away from them and turn to Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin.
Anyone who chooses to remain in a sinful lifestyle, rather than humble oneself before Almighty God, will not be permitted into the kingdom of God, and thus remain on the path to the lake of fire, following the devil all the way there. The lake of fire is the only alternative destination to the kingdom of God.
Some church goers, those who have not truly turned to God in humility and received forgiveness for their sin, are also destined for the lake of fire. Religious practices, rituals, and good works will not qualify one to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew records a teaching of Jesus warning the people of such a thing.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not
prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of
The missing ingredient for this group of religious people is the personal relationship with Christ Jesus that comes through being given the right to become a child of God.
But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of
John 1:12-13 ESV
This is the new birth. It is spiritually being born again as Jesus told Nicodemus in chapter 3 of the gospel according to John, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Another thing we see in the teaching in that passage from Matthew is that there is no negotiation. It is here and now that we make our decision and determine our eternal destination. The day of judgment at the great white throne is too late.
Jesus also tells the people of His day, concerning the law of God, that they were not to be careless in their behavior. Interestingly, during this sermon on the mount, He used His frequent accusers as an example.
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:20 ESV
The Pharisees knew the law of God. They even kept the law as best they could at times. The shortcoming was their self-righteousness. We once again see that something on our part needs to be done. We need to be born again and take on the righteousness of Christ Jesus. We cannot be good enough on our own. In the following verses in Matthew, Jesus tells of the Pharisees teaching of the law. He follows each example with His telling of the raised standard of the intent of the law. For example: not just murder, but hatred; not just adultery, but lustful intent; plus more on divorce, oaths, retaliation, and loving your enemies.
Another time, Jesus told His disciples of the need to be child-like in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The implication is that those who are not child-like in their faith will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless
you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 18:1-4 ESV
The initial question of the disciples is self-centered concerning their own stature and standing. The innocence of the child was the example. The faith a child has in believing those he trusts in his life was the example of the faith the disciples must have. The phrase, “unless you turn and become like,” tells us that the disciples were not yet where they needed to be. Once again we see that it is a matter of humbling oneself and depending upon Christ Jesus, as our self-righteousness will not be sufficient for entering the kingdom of heaven. The seriousness of the matter is driven home when Jesus says, “you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
How many people are sitting in pews of churches, thinking they are godly, but denying the power of God due to their lack of proper instruction, or their lack of willingness to humble themselves? There are also those who sit in church pews giving the appearance of being people of faith, but who have not actually surrendered to the Lord. There are remnants of believers in every church and there are those who do not truly believe, though they appear to be in the faith, sitting in the pews next to the believers. The wheat and the weeds have grown among one another. Jesus speaks of this in a parable in Matthew 13:24-30. He tells of them being sorted at the harvest, the weeds being burned, and wheat being taken in. This is another telling of the final judgment where the sheep and goats will be sorted. (Matthew 25:31-46) The unrighteous, the goats, go off to eternal punishment. The righteous, the sheep, go on to eternal life.
So, for whom is hell and the lake of fire for?
- The devil and the fallen angels who rebelled against God
- Those who follow their father, the devil
- Those who choose to remain in their sinful lifestyle
- Those who reject Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior
- Those who are religious without a relationship with Christ
- Those who think they’ve kept the law, but we all fail
- The self-righteous
- Those without child-like faith
- The self-centered and prideful
- is pride at the root of all sin?
- Those whose names are not found in the Lamb’s book of life
The Lamb’s book of life is where the names of those who follow Christ are recorded. We see this once in Paul’s letter to the Philippians and 6 times in the book of Revelation.
Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the
book of life.
Philippians 4:3 ESV
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:15 ESV
At the great white throne judgment, books are opened. I believe the books include those that were written for us by God before we were created.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalms 139:16 ESV
And of course the Lamb’s book of life was also opened. It appears there may also be a book of the history of the life we lived.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before
the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
Revelation 20:11-12 ESV
At the end of the judgment, all that is not in the kingdom of heaven is cast into the lake of fire.
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades
were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:13-15 ESV
Those who serve Satan, and those who refuse to follow the Lord, will follow Satan into the lake of fire.