What happens to those who have rejected Jesus Christ’s free gift of salvation once they die? Various “brands” of Christianity teach different things. Some believe that they “fall asleep” in the grave, ceasing to exist for eternity. Others believe you might end up in a temporary limbo (Purgatory), suffering in flames of fire until God decides you’ve paid for your sins, then you get to go to heaven. And still others believe that they will go to hell and live in anguish and torture, but the servants of God will continue to go and preach to them and over time they will accept salvation and end up in the lowest parts of heaven.
So what does the Bible say?
Jesus is the only way. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
Those who reject Jesus will be cast into the lake of fire for all eternity. 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46)
There is nothing temporary about this punishment. “He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.” (Revelation 14:10b-11a) “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)
There will be no second chances after you die. “9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10a)
Your body may fall asleep temporarily when you die, but it will be resurrected at the great day of judgment. “2Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
Even though your body may temporary sleep in death, your spirit is still awake in the spiritual realm. 22“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity 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 fire.’ (Luke 16:22-24) 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Hades… Hell… Gehenna… Sheol… The Grave… The Lake of Fire… What?
Hades: a temporary holding place of punishment for those awaiting final judgment
Before Christ was resurrected from the dead, everyone went to Hades. On one side of a chasm, there was a place of torture for the unrighteous and a place of comfort for the righteous (Abraham’s bosom). See Luke 16:19-31. The righteous did not yet go to Heaven (John 3:13). After Jesus died on the cross, he went into Hades and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-19). The righteous who were on the “Abraham’s bosom” side of Hades were led to Heaven by Jesus (Ephesians 4:8-10). Apparently some of them also came to earth for a short time and burst out of the graves and appeared to people along the way! (Matthew 27:51-53) Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:18) There is no Biblical evidence that Satan once held those keys and that Jesus had to fight for them or steal them back, even though this is popularly preached.
Hades is the place that unbelievers go as soon as they die. It is a temporary place of punishment by fire until the great day of judgment. It is in the depths of the earth. In the Hebrew Old Testament, it is Strong’s OT#7585 (Sheol). In the Greek New Testament, it is Strong’s NT#86 (Hades).
Gehenna: an eternal place of punishment
Hades is currently a place for temporary punishment where the spirits of unbelievers go. However, a judgment day is coming for all those who are not followers of Jesus. This day is referred to as the second resurrection and second death. Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, where the Antichrist and False Prophet had already been thrown into (Revelation 20:10). Hades will deliver up the dead in it for judgment, and death and Hades be thrown into the Lake of Fire. All those whose names are not found in the book of life will be thrown into the Lake of Fire as well. (Revelation 20:11-15)
Gehenna is the Greek New Testament word that Jesus used to refer to the Lake of Fire. It is Strong’s NT#1067. We know that when Jesus speaks of Gehenna, he is referring to the Lake of Fire because he warns that the body and soul are both destroyed there. (Matthew 10:28) Before the day of judgment, unbelievers’ bodies are asleep in the earth, but their spirits are in torment in Hades. At the day of judgment, unbelievers’ bodies are resurrected, the unbelievers are judged, and then cast into the Lake of Fire. Therefore, Gehenna must be the Lake of Fire because that is where bodies and spirits are punished.
And the confusion is because…
Both words Hades (NT#86) and Gehenna (NT#1067) are translated interchangeably as “hell” (as well as other things like the depths or the grave) in many English translations of the Bible. However, in looking at the original language, we can see a clear distinction between Hades (a temporary place of punishment while unbelievers await judgment) and Gehenna (an eternal place of punishment after unbelievers have been judged).
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. (2 Peter 2:4-9)
Regardless of what you actually call it, Hell / The Lake of Fire is a real, eternal place of everlasting punishment for those who reject the free salvation of Jesus Christ. Unbelievers will not simply fall asleep for eternity and cease to exist. Nor will they be given a second chance or be able to earn their way out of eternal punishment. Eternal is eternal. Everlasting is everlasting. Forever is forever.
Jesus wants to save you from eternal punishment by receiving His love and forgiveness!
Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He lived a sinless life and died on a cross to pay the price for our sins. He was resurrected from the dead and he is currently sitting at the right hand of Father God in Heaven interceding for us. You can receive Jesus’ free gift of salvation and eternal life by acknowledging that you aren’t perfect and you need help, repenting (turning away from) your sins, making Jesus the Lord and master of your life, and believing that Jesus is the resurrected, sinless son of God. Salvation is not based on works – we can’t earn our way to heaven by living right or trying hard to be good. When you accept Jesus into your heart, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside you and gives you the power to overcome all temptation just as Jesus did. Jesus clearly taught that the fruit of salvation includes repentance from sin. We do not do this in our own strength, but through the strength that the Holy Spirit provides. Salvation is not praying a one-time prayer and receiving your “free ticket to heaven” or your “fire insurance.” Becoming a follower of Jesus and receiving salvation is about having a personal relationship with the living God through prayer and reading the Bible (the word of God), and putting what we learn into action in our lives. Our love for Jesus results in an overflow of righteousness and good expressed towards others.
I pray that this post will shed light and truth into the dark places of the world. If it has impacted you in any way, please feel free to leave a comment!.