Scripture presents a balanced view about God. Humanity, however, struggles to keep an even keel.
Today’s pulpits might quietly sidestep around God’s judgment and omit foretelling hell’s horrors. After all, who likes to hear an uncomfortable message? However, by so doing that silence promotes a distorted view of God and future reality. A closer look is warranted.
Scripture’s balanced view
When God described himself he chose to emphasize both his steadfast love and his refusal to turn a blind eye toward the guilty (Ex. 34:6-7). Paul captured this balance when he wrote, “Notice therefore the kindness and the severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). Even the gospel Paul proclaimed announced both God’s salvation and the reality of judgment (Rom. 1:16; 2:16).
When people portray God as being willing to acquit non-atoned sins (mistakenly identifying this as love) thus distorting God’s holy nature, they misrepresent the God who is there. Conversely, to assert God is an angry oppositional Judge looking for ways to condemn likewise twists the God who is.
Rather, because of his love God has made salvation universally available (John 3:16). Not only does God desire all people to repent, his patience delays judgment (2 Peter 3:9). And yet, one day without warning God will wield righteousness to judge even the darkest secrets people possess (Rom. 2:16; Acts 17:31).
Hades is the realm of the dead. Both the righteous and the unrighteous enter Hades upon death. The KJV version miscommunicated when it translated this as hell (Mt. 11:23; Rev. 20:13), a problem corrected in the NKJV.
Upon his death Jesus entered Hades . However God did not abandon him there but rather raised him up (Acts 2:31).
Within Hades a place of blessing exists called Paradise or Abraham’s side (Luke 23:43; 16:22). Hades also contains a place of torment (Luke 16:23).
Gehenna is a Grecian form for the Hebrew Hinnom. In the New Testament it is often translated as hell.
The Valley of the Son of Hinnom was located on the south side of Jerusalem (Josh. 15:8). A Tophet, that is a place to sacrifice children in fire, was built in this valley (2 Kgs. 23:10; Jer. 19:4-14).
In an effort to desecrate Tophet thus making it even unfit for pagan worship, garbage was dumped in it and burned. By the time of Jesus, the valley of Gehenna had become an image for God’s judgment against the wicked. Jesus told the people not to fear man who can only kill the body, but rather to fear God who can destroy both one’s body and soul in Gehenna (Mt. 10:28).
Jesus described condemnation as being discarded in Gehenna, that is abandoned in an unquenchable fire where the worm does not die (Mk. 9:47,48). He warned people to repent from those lifestyles, attitudes and actions that would cause them to enter the fires of Gehenna (Mt. 5:22,29,30).
Lake of fire is a phrase in Revelation vividly portraying the devil’s hellish end. This fiery lake is equated with the second death (Rev. 20:14). While the faithless and immoral will go into this burning lake, the second death has no power over those who overcome, namely those whose names are written in the book of life (Rev. 2:11; 20:6,10,14,15).
The eternal fire is the appropriate punishment prepared for the devil and his angels. However, those who reject the ways of God’s kingdom also go away into this relentless fire. (Mt. 25:41).
Tartarus in Greek thought as well as in Israelite apocalyptic literature referred to the deepest darkest realm of Hades where divine punishment was meted out. Hell is an appropriate translation. Peter used the verbal form of tartarus to describe God binding rebellious angels in darkness as they await judgment. (2 Pet. 2:4).
The verb cast out and the command depart depict the terrifying execution of damnation. Through his parables and teachings, Jesus repeatedly captured the horror of being helplessly thrust away from all that is good in order to be forever abandoned in darkness, weeping and gnashing of one’s teeth (Mt. 7:23; 22:13; 25:30,41 ).
The destruction of the ungodly and those who do not obey the gospel is associated with fire (2 Th. 1:8; 2 Pet. 3:7). It denotes suffering the punishment of eternal ruin, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Th. 1:9). It stands in contrast to inheriting life (Mt. 7:13-14).
God in his love has gone to extreme measures to ensure salvation is available for all. Jesus in his ministry considered it necessary to warn people about hell. Therefore it would be tragic if today people were to remain ignorant of God’s judgment and unmotivated to repent because Christians wanted to avoid saying something upsetting.