Surveys continually show that substantially more people believe in Heaven than believe in Hell, and surprisingly this even holds true for Christians. Why would Christians not believe in Heaven and Hell equally since the Bible teaches that both exist? I believe that people choose not to believe in Hell because they have a wrong view of God’s holiness and the extreme wickedness of sin. I will attempt to outline the facts we know about the afterlife from the Bible.
According to Hebrews 9:27, all of us are destined to die once, and after that comes judgment. That one verse destroys the myth of reincarnation. However, it’s important to point out that after we die, we are sent to a temporary Heaven and Hell (Luke 16:22-28) before we are sent to our final destination on Judgment Day (Revelation 20:11-15, Revelation 21, and Revelation 22:1-5).
Notice that the dead whose names were not written in the Lamb’s book of life (Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8, and Revelation 21:27) will be judged according to what they have done. In other words their sins of commission and omission have all been recorded and God’s wrath stored up against them for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5). The final destination for those who are not saved is the fiery lake of burning sulphur, which is the second death (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 13:50, Matthew 18:8-9, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, Jude 1:7, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:14-15, and Revelation 21:8). It is also described as outer darkness (Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, and Matthew 25:30) because God is light (1 John 1:5) and being cut off from God means being cut off from all light.
Jewish tradition teaches that those who don’t immediately make it into Heaven will end up either in a temporary Hell that lasts for a maximum of 12 months (Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is somewhat similar). So in other words, Osama Bin Laden would face a maximum of 12 months of Hell before entering Heaven. That doesn’t sound like justice to me, and actually the Bible makes it clear that punishment for sinners is forever (Daniel 12:2 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that those who have not earned entrance into The Kingdom (their terminology for Heaven) will just die and enter an eternal state of unconsciousness. Again, that doesn’t sound like a very fair punishment to me for a serial killer, and in fact it could lead someone who’s terminally ill to commit suicide. After all, if I’m suffering through a painful disease it would be better to either get into Heaven or just enter unconsciousness.
In any case, the primary argument against the existence of Hell is that since the Old Testament doesn’t mention Hell then it was just added into later copies of the New Testament to scare and control people. It’s true that the Hebrew verses in the Old Testament use the word Sheol as a general term for realm of the dead, but what it didn’t explain was that this common realm is divided up into Paradise or Abraham’s bosom for those who are saved and the other side for those who are not saved. The story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 adds these details to describe the temporary realm of the dead (Hades in the Greek) as a place where both the saved and the unsaved will go after death. In addition, Ecclesiastes 12:7 confirms that the soul lives forever while Daniel 12:2 and Acts 24:15 confirm that some will awake to everlasting contempt. Psalm 11:6 describes everlasting contempt as fiery coals, burning sulfur, and scorching wind. It wouldn’t make sense for good souls to live forever while the bad souls were just destroyed–that sounds more like finite contempt rather than everlasting. Here are a couple more:
- “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66:24, cf Mark 9:48)
- “For a fire will be kindled by my wrath, one that burns down to the realm of the dead below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains.” (Deuteronomy 32:22)
Seventh-day Adventists teach that after we die we enter a state of temporary unconsciousness called soul sleep until the day of resurrection on Judgment Day. They base this teaching on the fact that several passages say that those who are dead are asleep (Matthew 9:24, John 11:11, 1 Corinthians 11:30, 1 Corinthians 15:6, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13). However, these passages are simply referring to the fact that when we die, our body sleeps in the dust of the earth while our spirit, which lives forever, leaves the body to go to the temporary Heaven or Hell and await Judgment Day (2 Corinthians 5:8-9 and Philippians 1:23). However, the Bible clearly teaches that soul sleep is not true:
- When Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, the dead are immediately taken to their afterlife with no mention of soul sleep.
- When Jesus resuscitates the dead girl, it says in Luke 8:55 that her spirit returned to her. Obviously her spirit wasn’t sleeping if it returned to her body from somewhere else.
- When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said to the thief “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He didn’t say today you will be asleep and eventually end up in Paradise.
- Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” He doesn’t say that he would rather enter an unconscious state of soul sleep.
- Paul says in Philippians 1:21-24 that he desires to depart from his body and be with Christ. He doesn’t say that he’s tired and wants to go to sleep until the resurrection.
- Even if we assume for the sake of argument that soul sleep is true, it’s kind of pointless because you don’t experience the passage of time when you’re unconscious. Therefore, you could be in soul sleep for a thousand years and it would seem as though no time at all passed between your death and your resurrection on Judgment Day.
The reason why people don’t want to believe in Hell is because they think that it’s too cruel of a punishment. However, Hell seems perfectly reasonable once you properly understand the holiness and righteousness of God as well as the extreme depravity of sin. Check out the Gospel Objection #7.
As pastor John Piper puts it, Hell exists because people prefer something else above God (Romans 1:23). Humans want to exchange God’s glory for something else, which means they value that other thing, whether it’s money or sex or power, more than they value the infinite creator God, the one who sacrificed His son Jesus to save us. And that is the ultimate insult.