Two weeks ago, we looked to Scripture and found a physical description of Hell (Hades to a lesser degree and then the Lake of Fire). This week, I want to consider what sort of things a person might experience in Hell. What is the hellish experience for the person?
Applying the description of Hell that we received, we know some things already about what the experience will be for those who are under the judgment of God.
- People will be under judgment.
- There will be a sense of disgrace and humiliation for every person there.
- People will not experience joy or gladness.
- There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for every person there.
- Each person will receive a degree of judgment in accordance with his or her own sin. Punishment will be fair.
- Every person will bow before Jesus.
If you missed any of this, please feel free to look the lesson up online at christoa.com.
This is not the breadth of the hellish experience that is described in Scripture for us. It is merely what we have deduced from the basic description of Hell. To see what Scripture states about the experience I want to observe what Jesus taught in one parable and one other story. We’ve already visited both of these teachings, but our focus will be different as we read them this time. The first if the parable of the Master’s Table, or the Narrow Way.
“…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” (Luke 13:25-30).
In this text, we learn a little about the experience.
- Weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- People will be aware of the joy that is experienced with Christ but will not be able to get there.
- There will be a desire to get to the place where joy is experienced.
- People will still be concerned with earning their way, trying to convince Christ that what they did should be good enough.
- People will believe that they can still in some way earn their place at the Lord’s table, at least by knocking on the door.
- People will be aware of the great number of people from every nation who get to be with Christ.
So, there is no fulfillment, but people are still working trying to earn that fulfillment within the context of Hell as it is described physically. We know people who are like this on this earth. They are workaholics or overly religious people who are trying to please someone (either human or God), and it just never seems like they are satisfied. This is the opposite of contentment and is a picture through the glass darkly of what Hell will be like for those who are not with Christ.
The second text we want to observe is Luke 16:23-31, the Rich Man and Lazarus:
And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’
“ ‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’
“ ‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house — because I have five brothers — to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
“ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”
Though this text is necessarily referring to the Lake of Fire, Hades is like the Lake of Fire, only not quite to the extreme. So, when thinking about experiences, the experience of Hades is like the experience in the Lake of Fire, only the Lake of Fire will be more extreme. Here is what we learn about the hellish experience:
- People will experience torment.
- People will be aware of a better existence.
- People will pray for reprieve or rest, but it will not be given.
- People will be reminded of the good things they had in their former lives.
- People will not be able to cross over.
- People will not desire that others are in this place.
- People will still think that they have all the answers (human pride will remain intact).
Even in Hell, people will not be convinced to change their ways or to suddenly live as though Christ is Lord. In a way, Hell is a place of great mercy and a place that exists as a result of love because people can continue trying to live as though they have something to offer. It will be a sad existence, though.
Questions to consider
- Do demons torment people in Hell?
- No. When the time comes, Satan and his angels will be cast into the Lake of Fire and themselves be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). For now, they are going to a fro on this earth looking for whom they might devour (1 Peter 5:8, Job 1:7).
- Will people be tormented forever?
- The Bible is only explicit about the eternal punishment of Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet. It is never stated in Scripture as to whether people will endure punishment in the Lake of Fire forever and ever. It is said that they will pay the penalty of eternal destruction (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This could either mean that their complete destruction comes from eternity or that the destruction itself is eternal. The correct understanding seems to be that the destruction itself is eternal, indicating punishment forever and ever.
- Do people become demons?
- Demons are angels that have rebelled against God, they are not people (Revelation 12:9).
- Are people stuck, reliving their worst moment over and over again?
- No. There is no evidence to support this claim. Existence in Hell will more likely be dynamic like life on this earth, only outside of the Master’s house. People will, though, be reminded of all the good things they had in their former lives.
- Will people have bodies?
- The destruction of Hell affects both the soul and the body (Matthew 10:28). People will have a type of body, but we are unsure as to the type of body people will have.
- Will people be isolated in Hell?
- We have already learned that people will be aware of the joy others are experiencing with Christ, and so there is not total isolation. Will people in Hell be isolated from one another? Scripture is not clear, though the story in Isaiah 14:3-21 seems to indicate that there will be some sort of communication between individuals. If this life is sight through a glass darkly, then we might assume that even with interaction, people may feel utterly alone. This is something quite different than literal isolation.
- Will God be completely absent?
- No. One of God’s attributes is omnipresence (Jeremiah 23:23-24). Every knee will bow to Christ. People will be aware of the Master dining with His people. When we say that sin separates us from God, what we mean is that it separates us from Him relationally, not necessarily physically.
- Do demons torment people in Hell?
Through the glass darkly
We will notice, reading through these hellish experiences, that people experience these things on the current earth. We even experience them in such a way that we pray for reprieve or rest and rest even illudes us here on many occasions. God has provided for us on this earth a foretaste of what Hell will be like, be it through a glass darkly and not nearly as terrible. Even when people experience these things on this earth, most would rather still try and earn their way rather than submit to the only one who provides contentment and joy. Because people would rather earn their way and try to provide for themselves, they will continue to do so forever apart from God’s saving grace, though still bowing before Christ as king. Those who accept the gift of salvation will forever be provided for as children in the kingdom of God.
As the church, we receive this challenge: let us strive to be the foretaste of the resurrection to life, not judgment. Sometimes people experience these things in the organized church, and that is a terrible thing. We ought to be a shining beacon of grace.