Hell is on everyone’s lips as a slang word, but is it a myth just to frighten us into unselfish behaviour? Will it give us real torment between death and judgement day to reform us for heaven? Will it burn people up? What did Jesus teach?
- The nature of hell
 It was symbolised by the Holy City’s garbage tip: Jesus spoke of Gehenna; the Valley of Hinnom was a deep ravine outside the south west wall where Jerusalem’s waste was dumped, including the unburied remains of executed criminals being eaten by worms, smelling of sulphur, sunlight never penetrating its depths (compare Revelation 21:1-2, 8).
 It was prepared for Satan and his agents: see Matthew 25:41.
 Humans will enter it bodily: ‘It is better,’ said Jesus, ‘that you lose one of your body members than that your whole body be thrown into hell’ (Matthew 5:27-29).
 It will be a place of conscious torment: Satan and his agents will be ‘tormented day and night for ever and ever’ in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
 There will be varying degrees of punishment: some will receive ‘a light beating’ and others ‘a severe beating’ (Luke 12:47-48; compare Matthew 11:24; 12:41-42).
 Its fire and smoke are eternal: see Mark 9:47-48; Isaiah 66:24; Revelation 14:11.
 Its fire destroys: (2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2:8; 2 Peter 3:7). It is obvious that human bodies are mortal, but are our souls? The first and last references to ‘the tree of life’ are instructive: only if Adam ate of its fruit could he continue his existence in his fallen state forever; and only ‘overcomers’ who ‘wash their robes … have the right to the tree of life’ (Revelation 2:7; 22:14; Luke 20:34-36). Does eternal punishment mean everlasting punishing? The Son of God endured ‘eternal judgement’ during three earthly hours on the cross, and the ‘unquenchable’ fire kindled in the gates of Jerusalem in 586 BC no longer burns there (Jeremiah 17:27; Jude 7).
- Who will be sent there?
Jesus’ answers throughout Matthew include: those disciples who: 1. speak with contempt of other disciples (Matthew 5:21-26); 2. indulge adulterous imagination (Matthew 5:27-30); 3. work miracles but show no fruit of the Spirit (Matthew 7:15-23); 4. withhold their witness to Christ through fear of others (Matthew 10:26-32); 5. grow in God’s field as weeds (Matthew 13:36-43); 6. stumble the faith and trust of children (Matthew 18:1-18); 7. accept the gospel invitation but fail to put off ‘the old man’ and ‘put on Christ’ (Matthew 22:1-14); 8. abuse the Master’s servants (Matthew24:45-51); 9. don’t keep topping up their lamps with the oil of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 25:1-13; Ephesians 5:18); 10. are members of the Good Shepherd’s flock but offer no care to people in need (Matthew 25:31-46). So we see how important it is to take hold of the grace of God for oneself and display one’s faith by works of love, thus making certain that hell will never be one’s destiny.