Bible Teaching about Hell and the
Punishment of the Wicked

General Introductory Comments

1) Creation:
In Genesis 1:1 we read that God “created the heavens and the earth” but there is no mention of the creation of another place called “hell”. Nowhere in the Bible do we read of the creation of hell.

2) The Mortality of Man:
We have seen that man was made from dust and returns to dust again. In death man is unconscious - he ceases to exist. If this is so then the idea that hell is a place of fire and torment where the wicked go at death must be wrong.

3) Resurrection and Judgment:
We have also seen that eternal life is to be given to the faithful at the time when Jesus returns to raise the dead. When the dead are raised they will be judged and given either eternal life or punishment by the second death. If this is so then the idea of heaven going (for the faithful) and consignment of the wicked to hell at death must be wrong, for it removes the need for resurrection and judgment.

Hell in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word translated “hell” is SHEOL. It occurs 65 times and is translated in the Authorised Version as follows:

  • 31 times as HELL

  • 31 times as GRAVE

  •  3 times as PIT

This word SHEOL always means the grave so that when we come across the word “hell” in the Old Testament it ALWAYS means the grave.

For example: “The sorrows of hell compassed me about, the snares of death prevented me” (2 Samuel 22:6). David in this verse is speaking about his narrow escape from death.

Again: “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice” (Jonah 2:2). Jonah was in the whale’s belly - his grave, had he not been delivered by God.

Note what Job has to say: “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave (= SHEOL - same word as translated “hell” in the above references), that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me” (Job 14:13). Obviously Job was not asking God to hide him in a place of fire and torment!! He longed to die to escape his suffering and hoped that God would raise him from the dead.

Hell in the New Testament

In the New Testament there are two Greek words translated by the English word “hell” (Actually there are three, but one of them only occurs once in 2 Peter 2:4 and is not important from the standpoint of this study). These are:

1) HADES: 
This means exactly the same as the Hebrew word SHEOL i.e. the grave. It is found 11 times and is translated “hell” 10 times and “grave” once. Examples:

“I am he that liveth and was dead: and, behold, I am alive for evermore and have the keys of hell (HADES) and of death” (Revelation 1:18). This is teaching that Jesus has the power to open the grave i.e. to raise the dead.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave (HADES) where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The word “grave” here is exactly the same as that translated “hell” in Revelation 1:18 above.

Thus HADES is that place from which the dead will be raised, i.e. the grave.

It is interesting to note that the English word “HELL” is derived from an old Saxon word, HEL, which means “to cover”. From this we get HELmet, a covering for the head; to “hel” a roof was to cover it with thatch. Thus HELL originally meant a covered place and was therefore a correct description of the grave.

This word is found 12 times in the New Testament and is always WRONGLY translated “hell”. Gehenna is really a Hebrew word in its Greek form and is the name of a valley on the south-west of Jerusalem.

Map showing the location of Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom (sometimes called the Valley of the Son of Hinnom).

The name of the valley, GAI-HINNOM (in the Hebrew, GEHENNA in the Greek) occurs many times in the Old Testament. For example we read of it in Jeremiah 7:22: “Therefore, behold, the days come saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the Valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet , till there be no place”.

Gehenna has indeed been a valley of slaughter in all the sieges of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is referring to the Babylonian invasion of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar when he filled the valley with dead bodies. But his prophecy had another fulfilment in New Testament times.

The last important siege of Jerusalem was in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Jesus warned the Jews of his day that they would not escape “the damnation of hell (GEHENNA)” (Matthew 23:23). They didn’t - they were destroyed just as Jeremiah and Jesus predicted.

Gehenna will become a valley of slaughter again when Jesus returns and God’s judgements are poured out upon the Gentiles who come against Jerusalem at the time of Armageddon. This is why Jesus warns believers: “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 (GEHENNA), into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-44).

Those who are raised from the dead and who are rejected at the judgment seat will suffer with the nations and meet their final end in those coming judgments. Gehenna will again literally become a valley of slaughter when Jesus “roars out of Zion to destroy his enemies.

The dead bodies of the unfaithful and the wicked of the nations in Gehenna will be a memorial in the early years of the millennium; a warning to the people who go up to Jerusalem to worship, as to what happens to those who disobey God:

“It shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:23-24)

(Note that Jesus was quoting this verse in Mark 9:44 quoted above).

The Wicked Punished by Everlasting Destruction - NOT Torments

Those who will be punished by being thus destroyed will consist of two classes of people:

1) The nations in general “who know not God”

2) The unfaithful believers who have disobeyed God.

This is demonstrated by the Apostle:

“The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”  (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)

Thus the Bible teaching about the punishment of the wicked is clear:

“The wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs. They shall consume, into smoke shall they consume away” (Psalm 37:20)




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