We cannot know exactly what hell looks like or how hot it will be. But Scripture does use some descriptive language of hell, and that gives us an idea of what hell will be like. It is sure to be a place of torment, which the Bible often pictures as fiery. For the purposes of this article, the terms hell and lake of fire are used interchangeably.
Some interpreters take the Bible’s descriptions of hell to be symbolic, because some of the descriptions are difficult to reconcile with each other. For example, picturing hell as both fire (Matthew 25:41) and outer darkness (Matthew 8:12) seems paradoxical. Of course, the God of the impossible can do anything, including make dark fire. So, the descriptions could be literal. Even if the language describing hell is symbolic, the place itself is real—and the reality will no doubt be worse than the symbols.
The scriptural descriptions of hell are meant to emphasize the torment and suffering that will be experienced by those sent there. The “fire” may picture the wrath of God that is experienced by unbelievers in hell, whereas the “outer darkness” may picture the alienation from God’s love, mercy, and grace. Whether the vivid language is symbolic or literal, we can be assured that hell is a terrible, terrifying place. Possibly the most terrifying aspect of hell is its duration. The suffering is eternal. It has no end. For us, here and now, the concept of hell should drive us to the cross of Christ. It is only by repentance and faith in Christ that we can be saved from the wrath to come.
Here are some of the passages that describe hell:
Matthew 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
Matthew 8:12, “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
2 Thessalonians 1:6–9, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
Revelation 20:10, 15, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Romans 2:8, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”
Matthew 25:30, “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Hell, although we do not know exactly what it will look like, will be a place of unending suffering and torment from which there will be no escape. Therefore, now is the day of salvation. Now is the day for all to repent and believe the gospel. Now is the day for us to proclaim the good news that Christ has come to save sinners who trust in Him for forgiveness. Those who look to Christ now will be saved from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10).
Prophet Nathan Emol
The lake of fire is a term used in only a few verses near the end in the book of Revelation (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8). Jesus refers to Gehenna/hell several times (Matthew 10:28; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:5), as well as an “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13). These all seem to be different references to the same thing. Hell, the lake of fire, and outer darkness are all terms describing the final destination of those who reject Christ. This is a state of complete separation from God, never-ending and inescapable.
According to the Bible, the lake of fire is the “second death.” This is the ultimate consequence of sin, which is to be totally cut off from God. The lake of fire will be a place of perpetual suffering and misery. Scripture indicates that every person whose name is not in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The lake of fire will also be the fate of the beast and false prophet from the end times (Revelation 19:20), as well as Satan himself (Revelation 20:10). The Bible indicates that both death and Hades—the temporary destination of the unsaved dead—will also be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
Even though hell is described using terminology such as fire and flame, it is not meant to be thought of as only a physical place. Hell is described as a place of “torment,” not “torture,” initially intended for purely spiritual beings (Matthew 25:41). In fact, the worst aspect of hell is an eternity of conscious, guilty, shameful separation from God and all forms of goodness. In that sense, hell is far worse than a literal inferno; a purely physical hell is actually not as terrible as what the Bible describes.
In other words, the Bible tells us what hell is “like,” using symbols such as the lake of fire. But Scripture does not tell us too much about what hell “is,” in direct terms.
Fire is often used as a symbol of God’s judgment. The symbolism stems from real-life examples of God’s use of fire to punish the wicked—the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), for example, and the destruction of Elijah’s enemies (2 Kings 1:12). Prophets often described God with a stream of fire coming from His throne, a symbol of His holy punishment of sin (e.g., Daniel 7:10; Isaiah 30:33). The fact that the destiny of those who reject God is described as a “lake of fire” speaks to how serious the judgment is. When God finally abolishes sin and death, all sinners will be condemned to the worst possible fate, described in the Bible using the most horrific terms.
Prophet Nathan Emol
Sleep is a physical necessity for our earthly bodies. Without sleep, our brains stop working correctly, and our bodies refuse to cooperate. The sleep-wake cycle is just another of the many cycles God has put into place on the earth—others include the cycle of the changing seasons, day and night, and the water cycle. These cycles are part of life on this planet. However, the current heaven is in a different realm. Upon death, those who are “in Christ” will be immediately with Him (2 Corinthians 5:8) but will not yet have their completely restored bodies. We must wait for the resurrection to receive those (1 Corinthians 15:40; 2 Corinthians 4:14; John 5:28–29). It is likely that, during the interim period in heaven, after death and before the resurrection, our souls will not need sleep; rather, we will enjoy unbroken worship and joy in the presence of the Lord.
Most people assume that Christians will “live forever in heaven” after they die, but that is not what Scripture says. Heaven is in the spirit realm, beyond our universe, and earthly bodies are unequipped for existence there (1 Corinthians 15:50). Therefore, “sleeping” in heaven may not even be possible or necessary. Jesus described the temporary resting place for the righteous as being “near Abraham” (Luke 16:23). We will have some type of body, and we will recognize each other. We will have some knowledge of the affairs on earth (Revelation 6:9–10). But we should take careful note of the reactions of human beings who saw God in His glory as did Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1–5), Moses (Exodus 33:20–23), and John (Revelation 1:17). Living in the manifest presence of the Lord God Almighty will change everything. The things of earth, including sleep, will no longer have the same value to us.
However, God created human beings to inhabit a physical realm. He intends to restore all things as new (Acts 3:21). At the resurrection our spirits, which have been with Christ, will be reunited with our restored bodies. We will then inhabit the new, completely restored earth with Jesus (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1–2). Eternity will be spent living in perfect bodies on a perfect earth with Jesus as our undisputed King. In the eternal state, sleep may again be part of our experience, as will eating and drinking (Luke 14:15; Revelation 19:9). But sleep will not be necessary due to exhaustion or weakness because our bodies will be perfect like Jesus’ body after His resurrection (Luke 24:41–42). The fact is that we don’t know enough from Scripture to state definitively whether or not we will sleep in heaven or in the eternal state. That’s one of the thousands of questions we will have answered in heaven. One thing is for sure: when we first see Jesus, sleep will be the last thing on our minds.
Prophet Nathan Emol
Yes, Jesus is the only way to heaven. Such an exclusive statement may grate on the postmodern ear, but it is true nonetheless. The Bible teaches that there is no other way to salvation than through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is not a way, as in one of many; He is the way, as in the one and only. No one, regardless of reputation, achievement, special knowledge, or personal holiness, can come to God the Father except through Jesus.
Jesus is the only way to heaven for several reasons. Jesus was “chosen by God” to be the Savior (1 Peter 2:4). Jesus is the only One to have come down from heaven and returned there (John 3:13). He is the only person to have lived a perfect human life (Hebrews 4:15). He is the only sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 10:26). He alone fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). He is the only man to have conquered death forever (Hebrews 2:14–15). He is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the only man whom God has “exalted . . . to the highest place” (Philippians 2:9).
Jesus spoke of Himself as the only way to heaven in several places besides John 14:6. He presented Himself as the object of faith in Matthew 7:21–27. He said His words are life (John 6:63). He promised that those who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:14–15). He is the gate of the sheep (John 10:7); the bread of life (John 6:35); and the resurrection (John 11:25). No one else can rightly claim those titles.
The apostles’ preaching focused on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Peter, speaking to the Sanhedrin, clearly proclaimed Jesus as the only way to heaven: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul, speaking to the synagogue in Antioch, singled out Jesus as the Savior: “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Acts 13:38–39). John, writing to the church at large, specifies the name of Christ as the basis of our forgiveness: “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name” (1 John 2:12). No one but Jesus can forgive sin.
Eternal life in heaven is made possible only through Christ. Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To receive God’s free gift of salvation, we must look to Jesus and Jesus alone. We must trust in Jesus’ death on the cross as our payment for sin and in His resurrection. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22).
At one point in Jesus’ ministry, many of the crowd were turning their backs on Him and leaving in hopes of finding another savior. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67, ESV). Peter’s reply is exactly right: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69, ESV). May we all share Peter’s faith that eternal life resides only in Jesus Christ.
Prophet Nathan Emol