The answer to this question rests in the authority of the Scripture, because the Bible certainly teaches us of a very real and very terrible place of punishment for those who keep Christ out of their lives.
It's very sad to me that we so often hear people speak of Hell lightly. To many it is something to be joked about, or a curse word used casually.
The fact of the reality of Hell is taught throughout the Bible in innumerable passages. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself probably had more to say about it than anyone else. He was a teacher with the most impressive credentials--a sinless life, a miraculous ministry, and an empty tomb that could not hold Him.
Christ is often spoken of as "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," but that label hardly fits with the language we find in Mark chapter nine as He affirms the fact and reality of Hell. We read these strong statements:
And 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, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
In another passage Christ calls the Scribes and Pharisees a “generation of vipers,” and warns them, "How will you escape the damnation of Hell?" (Matt. 23:33) Those are pretty strong words from the Lord Jesus. He laid it on the line. He told it like it is.
When someone questions the fact and reality of Hell, he's actually questioning the authority of the Bible, and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Christian faith is all tied up together, and when it is attacked at one point, it becomes vulnerable at all. It holds together beautifully.
If Christ is the Son of God, and if He came into time from eternity, and came into the world from Heaven and died and rose again from the dead, then anything He ever said on any subject is worth hearing and ought to be heeded. And is really to be received without question. So people who have problems with the fact and reality of Hell sometimes do not realize that their real problem is with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and who He is and why He came to the world.
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Author: Dr. Bruce W. Dunn, Grace Communications. Copyright © 1999, Grace Communications, Used by permission.
Is it possible that the unsaved will simply be annihilated and pass out of existence?
There have arisen some among evangelical Christians who argue that these traditional views are founded on early Greek philosophy and that the biblical texts are capable of an alternative interpretation.
There are two texts of Scripture that suggest to me that Hell involves everlasting punishment. Matthew 25:46 sums up the judgment on the “sheep and goats” with the words. "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." The same word aionion (eternal) is used to describe the punishment of the wicked and the blessing of the righteous. Whatever we say about the duration of “eternal” life for believers must be said about “eternal” punishment for unbelievers. Since “life” for believers is everlasting (John 10:28), so must be the punishment for unbelievers.
In a second text, Revelation 20:10, John describes those in the “lake of fire” being "tormented day and night forever and ever." The expression day and night is used in Revelation to express the concept of “forever.” The lake of fire is described in Revelation 19:20 as a place that "burns with brimstone." In the saddest verse in the Bible, John declares that anyone whose name is not written in the book of life is "thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15).
The doctrine of eternal punishment for those who have rejected Christ appears to be thoroughly biblical. This is not an easy teaching or one that brings us joy. But the unpleasantness of a doctrine should not cause us to deny biblical truth.
Author: Dr. J. Carl Laney, Answers to Tough Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1997), pp. 205-206. Copyright © 1997, 1999, Kregel Publications, All Rights Reserved. Book available at your local Christian bookstore.