by: Jerry Melisaratos
When most people think of hell, they think of Satan in that red suit with two horns and a pitchfork somewhere in the depths of the Earth where souls are tormented day and night on some kind of giant char broiler. Do something wrong in life and you’re condemned to an eternal damnation of flames. None of this could be further from the truth, and we should know better, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11).
The English word hell comes from the Anglo-Saxon hel, or in the genitive case helle, which means a “hidden place”, from the Anglo-Saxon word helan, meaning “to hide”. The word for hell in the Old Testament is the Strong’s Concordance word #7585 sheol in Hebrew, which simply means “grave.” In the New Testament it’s the Strong’s word #1067 geenna, or gehenna, in Greek, which was the name of a valley outside of Jerusalem where the city trash was burned. The word was meant to portray a state of degradation and death, rather than a geographical location of burning souls. In eleven other locations of the New Testament it is the Strong’s word #86 hades in Greek, meaning “unseen place” or “grave”. Whether it’s the word sheol in the Old Testament, or gehenna or hades in the New Testament, they all mean either the grave or the state of death.
There is a lake of fire in the book of Revelation 20:10: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Don’t let this verse confuse you into thinking God really does torment these individuals, or anyone else for that matter, forever in a fiery hell. A better description of this is in Revelation 14:11: “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever:” It’s the smoke from their extinguishing that rises for ever. The smoke is compared to a lamb on a spit in Psalm 37:20: “But the wicked shall be as the fat of lambs: They shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.”
We see the difference between the lake of fire and hell spelled out starting in Revelation chapter 20:
13. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Notice that if hell were the traditional burning dungeon of God, how could it be cast into a lake of fire? The lake of fire is a one-time situation that exists after the Millennium and should not be confused with hell in that the lake of fire exists for the sole purpose of the termination of all souls not passing judgment. Why would a loving God have His children burn forever in torment? He wouldn’t.
So where is hell? If we refer to the scriptures we know that the soul leaves the body immediately after death and returns to God in Heaven to await the consummation of this age and then judgment. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). No mention of fire or Satan. Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:20? We are shown all the dead waiting in heaven with a gulf that divides them that have overcome in life from those that have not? “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). The rich man asked for Lazarus to come to him but was told he couldn’t because of the gulf . This is the true meaning and location of hell: dieing and waking up in heaven in anguish and torment from the realization that you blew it in the flesh.
Don’t let anyone scare you with the threat of burning for ever in some kind of Dante’s Inferno. God has better things to do with His children than that. Hell is simply the state of death in heaven knowing you didn’t overcome in the flesh. You’re going to heaven one way or another when you die. What side of heaven you’re on will be determined by your actions in the flesh. Get it right now so that you don’t end up like the rich man in anguish knowing that you blew it when you had the chance.