Are Heaven and Hell Real Places, or merely concepts?

A survey conducted by LifeWay and Ligonier Ministries reveals what many self-proclaimed Christians believe about different theological topics. The results of this survey can be found at In this survey, 66% of about 3,000 ‘Christians’ surveyed said they believed in the literal existence of a place called Hell. That means 34% believe Hell to only be a concept, not a literal place.

In the same survey, only 41% of the 3,000 indicated that they believed Hell is an eternal place of judgment where God would send people who do not believe in Jesus. From this we might extrapolate that less than half of those who claim to be Christians actually believe that Hell is a place of judgment.

72% of those surveyed indicated that they believe Heaven to be a real place, not just a concept. 61% of people indicated that they believed Heaven is a placed where all loved ones will be united. 52% indicated that they believed they contribute to earning their place in Heaven. 40% indicated that they believed there would be people in Heaven who have never heard of Jesus Christ, and 44% indicated that they believed there are many ways to get to Heaven.

These statistics only account for those questioned within organized Christianity. Within organized Christianity, then, we might see the broad belief that Hell might exist, but is not a place of eternal torment for people. Everyone eventually gets to go to Heaven. Heaven is not necessarily a place where people will be with Christ, but where all people will eventually be united with their loved ones. This does not even break the envelope of organized Christianity in the world today.

As we discussed previously, science is unable to prove anything in regard to an afterlife. Philosophy can reveal a little, but not much about specific places. The only source we have, then, is to say that someone is privy to that information and trust what they say about Heaven and Hell. John 13:3 states that “Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God.” Jesus has always been and was intimately involved in the creation of all things (John 1). Jesus is God and is one with God (also John 1). If there is any authority on the existence of Heaven and Hell, then Jesus is that authority and we really don’t have any better options. For our purpose, here, we will simply read a parable that Jesus told. We will not answer all of the questions about Heaven and Hell today but will consider descriptions in the weeks to come.

Luke 13:22-30

He went through one town and village after another, teaching and making His way to Jerusalem. “Lord,” someone asked Him, “are there few being saved?”

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able once the homeowner gets up and shuts the door. Then you will stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up for us!’ He will answer you, ‘I don’t know you or where you’re from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets!’ But He will say, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you’re from. Get away from Me, all you workers of unrighteousness!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but yourselves thrown out. They will come from east and west, from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God. Note this: Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Heaven and Hell

Someone asks Jesus if all people will be saved and Jesus replies with this parable. There is a master and this master is welcoming a few into his house, but the doorway is narrow. Many will try to enter, but they will be unable. When the master closes the door, everyone who was not welcomed in will remain outside where there are weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will see the master’s banquet table and those seated with the master, but will themselves be trapped outside where there are weeping and gnashing of teeth.

From the words of Jesus, we can see that not everyone will be with the master. Not everyone will be saved. In fact, Jesus seems to be confirming the suspicions of the person asking Him the question; that fewer people will be saved than not. Furthermore, there are two possible destinations. One destination in the master’s house with the master, and the other destination outside the master’s house. One of these places will be a place of fulfillment and satisfaction while the other will be a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In this passage of Scripture, we don’t receive information like the duration of this future existence, but there is a sense of finality. Once the door is shut, those who have not been brought in to the master’s house will not be able to enter later even though they are knocking and begging the Lord to let them in.

Last week, we discovered that existence does continue after the physical body dies. Some are resurrected to judgment while others are resurrected to life. Here, we begin to gain a clearer picture. There is a place of torment and a place of fulfillment. So, Christ gives the instruction, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able” (v. 24).

Jesus did not try to scare people into following Him or try to scare the Hell out of people. He was honest about the reality of the afterlife. Many people from all over the world through time will live with the Father. Many more will be separated from the Father in anguish.

Would a loving God really send people to Hell?

One chapter earlier, Jesus encourages the thousands of people who have congregated around Him, trampling on one another:

“And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4-7).

In this, Jesus has said that people should fear the one who has authority to throw them into Hell. Then, Jesus proclaims that people are so dear to God that He knows them so intimately as to know the number of hairs on their head. People, to God, are worth much more than many sparrows. All people are worth more than we can imagine to God and His love for people is deeper than we could probably ever imagine. Later in chapter 13, we read of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because the people would deny Him because they were not willing to be saved by grace. They would rather try to earn their own way, which is to become slaves to sin.

In context, these are the very people who are unable to enter the master’s house. They tried to enter by some other way than through the door. Those whom Christ does not bring into the house by grace must have another destination that is outside the master’s house. If God were not a loving God, no one would be able to enter through the narrow door. Since He is a just God, only those who are in Christ, who is the only righteous one, will be able to enter the master’s house. God weeps over the multitudes who only trust in themselves because His love is so deep. What this means is that a majority of people who refer to themselves as Christians disagree with Jesus on the reality of Hell and on what it takes for someone to enter into the master’s house. In fact, that is what we glean. If we live by works and expect to contribute to our salvation, we are gravely mistaken and in opposition to the Gospel, which is by grace.

Questions for consideration:

    1. Do you think that there are “Christians” who are destined for Hell and who will be surprised when they discover that they haven’t trusted in Christ?
    2. Has Christ made it difficult for us to understand what it takes to enter the master’s house?
    3. Will you be found in the master’s house or locked outside, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?

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