Question: "What was Jesus' teaching on hell?"


Regarding hell, C. S. Lewis once wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason. If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it” (The Problem of Pain, HarperCollins, 1940, pp. 119–120). Jesus taught frequently about hell—in fact, we learn far more about hell from Jesus’ words than from any other part of Scripture.

Jesus used the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem as an illustration of hell (Mark 9:47–48). This valley, also called Gehenna, was used as a public dump where garbage, dead animals, corpses of criminals, and all manner of uncleanness constantly burned. Jesus spoke of hell as “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12). He mentioned fire in relation to hell at least twenty times (e.g., Matthew 5:22; 18:9).

Jesus consistently contrasted hell with the kingdom of God. Hell is the only alternative to an eternity spent in God’s kingdom. It is the opposite of perfect fellowship with God forever. We will summarize Jesus’ teaching related to hell with five words: reality, rebellion, regret, relentlessness, and reconciliation.

Reality: Jesus taught that hell is a real place where some beings will spend eternity (Matthew 23:33, 25:41; Mark 9:43). In Jesus’ teaching, hell is not figurative or symbolic; it is a real place in which real experiences take place. Jesus portrayed what hell is like with vivid imagery such as fire and darkness (Matthew 5:22; 8:8–12).

Rebellion: According to Jesus, hell is a place for those who reject God, rebelling against His kingship and refusing His grace. Jesus’ parables consistently portray people rejecting God’s invitation to fellowship, and the only alternative to fellowship with God is an eternity in hell (Matthew 22:1–14; Luke 14:15–24). Sin is a form of rebellion against God, and hell is the just punishment for sin (Matthew 5:22). The devil and his minions are the original rebels against God, and they will suffer eternally in hell, which has been prepared for them (Matthew 25:41).

Regret: Jesus does not portray hell as a pleasant place or even a neutral state. To the contrary, it is a place of torment (Mark 9:48). As the dark place outside of God’s kingdom of light, hell is full of pain and regret. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42; see also Matthew 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28).

Relentlessness: Based on Jesus’ teaching, hell is not temporary, but eternal. Those who suffer in hell will suffer forever. “The fire never goes out,” Jesus said (Mark 9:48, NLT; cf. Matthew 25:46). There is no exit from hell, and no respite from it or comfort in it (see Luke 16:19–31).

Reconciliation: Thankfully, there is one way to escape hell before entering. God offers us reconciliation with Him, so that we never have to experience hell. That reconciliation was made possible through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the One who warned us about hell so often, is the One who saves us from hell. Through faith in Christ, anyone can be reconciled to God, apart from personal merit or virtue. Jesus gives the promise, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16–18).

If you have not trusted Him yet, don’t delay any longer. Turn to Him today, because someday it will be too late.