Hell: What does the apostle Paul teach about it?
There are those who say that because the Apostle Paul does not speak of or use the terms hell and lake of fire, they must not be an issue or a concern for people in our time. Some even believe that ultimately everyone ends up in heaven. However, the Apostle Paul never even hints at the idea that these places no longer exist or that there’s no reason for the unbelieving of our time to be concerned about them. The Apostle Paul clearly does speak of the ETERNAL punishment awaiting those who never accept God’s provision for their salvation. He at no point gives us any reason to believe that these places are not to be feared by unbelievers. Instead, he talks about the eternal punishment awaiting unbelievers to warn them about their need to accept the means God has provided for their salvation.
II Thessalonians 2:10-12
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth [the truth of what Christ did to provide them with a way of salvation], but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [Emphasis added]
The context here is to do with unbelievers in the coming time of Tribulation after we [believers] are raptured [resurrected] to be with the Lord forever. Paul is speaking of this to warn people of our time, called the Dispensation of the Grace of God. He’s providing the warning to say that people of our time will share in that fate too if they continue and die in unbelief, having never accepted God’s provision for their salvation. Paul speaks of God’s “wrath” being poured out on all unbelievers of all human history.
5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
7 To them [believers] who by patient continuance in well doing [accepting His provision for their salvation] seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them [unbelievers] that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation [anger] and wrath [retributive punishment], [Emphasis added]
Are these not warnings about God’s anger and subsequent punishment? God’s anger is clearly stated by Paul even though His form of punishment is not. The certainty of it is.
Throughout Paul’s writings he uses the word saved.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. [Emphasis added]
A logical question would be to ask what one is “saved” from through “salvation.” Clearly that must be the eternal punishment of hell and the lake of fire that is described in multiple other places of Scripture, even by our Lord during His earthly ministry. His statements about the rich man and Lazarus, being probably the most descriptive, serve as a stern warning. This is told by Jesus as a fact of history, with no indication at all that this is a parable. Personal names are never given in parables. Let’s look at it.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence [the additional torment of separation and loneliness].
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. [Emphasis added]
Are we to assume that this only happened to unbelievers who died in that day and age? In no place of the Bible is this mentioned as punishment that won’t be applied to every unbeliever of every period of history. The general principle of people reaping what they’ve sown and having to take responsibility for their own decisions IS clearly presented by the Apostle Paul and throughout the Bible.
7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. [Emphasis added]
The reaped harvest for the unbeliever will certainly not be God’s eternal blessing. Just as there are rewards for faith and faithfulness, there’s punishment for one’s unbelief. In both cases, the “reward” is eternal. It will last forever. The believer is saved [or delivered] from eternal punishment. The word for saved in the Bible is typically the translation given for the Greek word SOZO. It means to be snatched out of danger. In this case, it’s the danger of ending up in hell and the lake of fire and having to live there in that misery forever.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [the good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved [SOZO—saved or delivered from eternal suffering from punishment], if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
If we were all going to end up in heaven, there wouldn’t be anything from which to be “saved.” This “salvation” from the punishment of God’s wrath comes freely by grace through faith.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
The unbeliever manifests his unbelief by his choice to live life contrary to God’s will for him.
5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: [Emphasis added]
It was man’s sinfulness that necessitated a Savior having to come and pay the penalty for man’s sins and to provide a way for his salvation.
II Corinthians 5:19-21
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word [the message] of reconciliation.
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
Even the activity of “religious” righteousness produced by unbelievers is condemned because man presents it as a substitute for what Christ accomplished through the cross and His resurrection. Our Lord had nothing good to say about such people in His day. Only eternal punishment awaited them.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees [the religious leaders of that time], hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. [Emphasis added]
All this was an overt manifestation of their unbelief and rejection of what God provided. Only by faith in Christ can anyone escape the expression of God’s wrath in eternity.
I Thessalonians 1:10
10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. [Emphasis added]
I Thessalonians 5:9-10
9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. [Emphasis added]
Again, is it not the punishment of hell and the lake of fire that this is speaking? Of course, it is! All the details about that are given in numerous writings of the Scriptures.
The greatest of all dangers in life is that people depend on “a gospel” that does not provide them with salvation. This is so much of what Paul’s letter to the Galatians is about.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
This is so important that he repeats himself.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. [Emphasis added]
1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? [Emphasis added]
I now take us back to the passage I began with in this article. It certainly merits repeating.
II Thessalonians 2:10-12
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth [the gospel message], that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth [the truth of what Christ did to provide them with a way of salvation from hell and the lake of fire], but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [Emphasis added]
By accepting and following Paul’s message we are saved from God’s wrath and eternal punishment. Here he warns people about being led astray by the teaching of those who do not adhere to his message. He also assures us of all the coming blessings of eternal life through Christ.
17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
20 For our conversation [our citizenship, in contrast to theirs] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]
By contrast, the Apostle Paul tells us all unbelievers will perish. He says the wicked will be destroyed. Does this mean those in hell or the lake of fire will perish or be destroyed in a way that they will cease to exist? Not at all! These words do not have to be defined as meaning “destruction” in the sense that something is made “extinct.” They can mean that something has lost its purpose or usefulness for existence. In fact, these words can refer to land that has lost its fruitfulness [Ezekiel 6:14; 14:16], ointment that is wasted and used for no apparent purpose [Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4], wineskins that have holes in them [Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37]; a coin that’s useless because it is lost [Luke 15:9]; or the entire world that “perishes” in the Flood [2 Peter 3:6]. In none of these cases do the objects cease to exist. They simply cease to be useful or to exist in their original, intended state. Mankind was created of God to have purpose and meaning. But by rejection of God, he loses that forever.
Although the Apostle Paul does not use the Greek words translated “hell” or speak of “the lake of fire.” He does speak about the destination of those who reject God’s means for their salvation. He teaches that all those who reject this must endure the wrath of God, become useless, and be forever separated from God. This reality should motivate anyone to accept God’s provided means for their salvation. It should also motivate Christians to share the gospel with everyone, knowing that apart from Christ and the salvation He offers, they will spend eternity in complete misery.
Hell and the lake of fire are places for the eternal punishment of all those who reject God and His provision for their salvation. In His earthly ministry, Christ provided an ongoing truth about resurrection that applies to people of all the ages. We find that the unbeliever neither ceases to exist at physical death nor is guaranteed that ultimately he’ll be in a place of eternal blessing.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. [Emphasis added]
Those that “have done good” are those who have accepted by faith God’s means for their salvation in their time. Those “that have done evil” are those who have gone their own way, having rejected God and His way for them. The time for deciding on this is during one’s lifetime here on Earth. Whatever decision a person makes is one they will have to live with forever. In eternity, he will then either reside in a wonderful place of blessing or in a terrible place of suffering. What will your decision be on that? If you wish to be saved from eternal suffering, do what the Apostle Paul urged a Philippian jailer to do—believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved [Acts 16:31]. Accepting what God has provided for you as a means of salvation is something you’ll never regret.