Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
Question: If hell exists, what is it?
Answer: Although the above question is not discussed among Christians nearly as much as in
the past, virtually every Christian denomination and group has an official stance on this subject.
Let us consider what the Bible teaches about the existence of hell, and what it is.
Let us use Revelation 20: 13, 14 as our Scriptural text:
Verse 13: “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.”
Verse 14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
Perhaps surprising to many, the Bible not only teaches that hell exists, but that there is more than
one hell. Let us examine both of them below:
The first hell is referred to by the Hebrew word sheol (Old Testament) and its corresponding
Greek word hades (New Testament), both of which are translated hell in the King James Version.
Psalm 16: 10 (sheol) and Acts 2: 31 (hades) are examples. [Sheol may also refer to the second
hell, depending upon the context.]
An examination of these two words reveals that they carry the meaning of the unconscious,
oblivious condition of death, where all, both good and bad, go at death. We find proof of this in
passages such as Ecclesiastes 9: 5, 10:
5 “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they
any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,
do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave,
whither thou goest.”
The fallen human race, all of whom have descended from Adam, are on the road to the first hell,
the death state, because they are under condemnation to death on account of Father Adam’s sin
of disobedience. Recovery from this death state is only possible by the resurrection process (v.
13 of our text); and Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees that all who have not already
experienced their trial for life in this Age (the Church), will have the opportunity to experience
the future resurrection process in Christ’s Millennial- Age Kingdom (the world in general).
The second hell is referred to by the Greek word gehenna, which occurs 12 times in the King
James Version of the New Testament, and is translated hell in every instance. One example is
found in Matthew 10: 28:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him
which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].”
We may trace the word gehenna to a literal valley on the south side of Jerusalem called “The
Valley of Hinnom.” In Bible times, all kinds of filth, including the carcasses of beasts, and the
unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed were cast into this valley. Fires were kept
continually burning in order to consume everything thrown there. (Brimstone, a particularly
deadly element, was periodically added to keep the fires burning.) From this description, we see
that gehenna is a fitting symbol of death and utter destruction.
The Jews were strictly prohibited from casting any living thing into “The Valley of Hinnom,” for
they were not allowed to torture even lower animals. When Israel departed from God and
worshipped the heathen God Molech, they followed the practice of forcing their children to pass
through the fires in “The Valley of Hinnom,” causing them to suffer tortures. God responded by
severely condemning them, and called that practice a sin and an abomination, and something that
was completely foreign to His heart and mind (Jeremiah 7: 31).
From the above, we conclude that gehenna represents the utter, complete and eternal annihilation
of all willful sinners. The only ones who are liable to this severe penalty, however, are those who
have first been released from the condemnation of Father Adam’s sin, and have been placed on
trial for life. Any who fail in their trial for life, after being given every possible opportunity to
gain eternal life, will suffer the ultimate penalty of the Second Death.
Verse 14 (quoted above) speaks of both hells. We ask: What do death, hell and the lake of fire
symbolize in this verse? We answer:
death: The dying process, including the pain and suffering that the whole human family
undergoes, eventuating in actual death − the cause of this process being Adam’s sin of
hell: The death state, the grave, referred to above as the first hell.
the lake of fire: The eternal annihilation of all willful sinners, the second hell, also referred to in
this verse as the “second death.”
We take comfort from the statement of this verse that the dying process and the death state will
both eventually be destroyed during the time of Christ’s Millennial-Age Kingdom.
Note: Please find a more thorough examination of this subject in Studies 5 through 8 of Hope