In most Christian circles the doctrine of “Hell” teaches that wicked, unrepentant people are sentenced to an afterlife of eternal torment and pain. Some people ponder this teaching and ask: Would our Almighty Father torment people for eternity if He really is love? (1 John 4:8) Is that real love, especially coming from a God who tells us to love our enemies? (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:20-21). And beyond that, does it make sense that God would dish out such a permanent punishment for something those ones did while living in a temporary state?
The Bible reveals that the idea of burning people never came up into God's heart (Jeremiah 7:30-31) and that such activity was viewed as an abhorrent practice in His eyes (Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 16:3, 17:16-17, 21:6, 23:10). The practice of burnt human sacrifice was prevalent in the land of Canaan and was one of the reasons God commanded the Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:1-6, Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
The Bible also reveals that when a person dies the state of death itself is the consequence for one's sins. (Genesis 2: 16-17, Romans 6: 23) Thus, if death itself is the consequence sin, then it would be unjust for God to force us to continue to suffer further consequences for our sins after having already endured the prescribed consequence for the occasion. It would be a akin to forcing you to continue repaying on a debt that you've already finished repaying. It is neither fair nor just.
So, what about the Biblical references concerning Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, and The Lake of Fire as synonyms for Hell? Let's look at these one at a time:
The entry for “Gehenna” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is as follows:
In short, the real Gehenna was a waste place used for the burning of rubbish. Historians also note that the corpses of animals and criminals were burned there as well. Law abiding citizens received a proper burial whereas criminals were left in the open air for maggots and incineration with the other garbage. This burning of corpses and trash occurred around the clock every day as a matter of basic sanitation, meaning that this incineration was ongoing and the end results were permanent: A corpse that was thrown into Gehenna couldn't be taken back later for a proper for it would be totally destroyed by the fire. A corpse destroyed in Gehenna was forgotten in time as there was no grave marker or tomb to remember the person with. Therefore, not only was the body completely destroyed but the memory of that person was also destroyed. Because of this thoroughness of destruction, in tandem with the continual burning of the waste fire, Gehenna became a symbol of permanent, or endless, destruction.
Some Bible versions correctly use the original word "Gehenna" in places such as at Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33, Mark 9:43,45,47, Luke 12:5, and James 3:6. (Amplified Bible, English Standard Version footnote, Young's Literal Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible footnote, New Living Translation footnote, New American Standard Version footnote) while others replace "Gehenna" with the word "Hell" (King James Version, New Internatinal Version, Today's New International Version, Darby Translation, American Standard Version). However, if you compare the verses with an interlinear Greek Bible, you will see that the original word should be "Gehenna", the place in which wicked people's corpses were disposed of and forgotten.
The entry for “Sheol” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is as follows:
Notably, “Sheol” indicates merely a place for the dead; the common grave. It is usually translated correctly as "grave" (Genesis 37:35, 42:38, Numbers 16:30, 1 Samuel 2:6, 1 Kings 2:6, Job 7:9, Ecclesiastes 9:10, Isaiah 14:11)(King James Version, 21st Century King James Version, New King James Version, New Living Translatin, New Internatinal Version), though many times it remains the original word “Sheol” (Holman Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, Young's Literal Translation, Amplified Bible, American Standard Version, English Standard Version, New International Version footnotes). Interestingly, however, in some Bible versions, this very same Hebrew word “Sheol” a.k.a. “Grave” is incorrectly replaced with the word "Hell" (2 Samuel 22:6, Job 11:8, Job 26:6, Psalms 9:17) (21st Century King James Version, New King James Version, King James Version, Amplified Bible, The Message).
Sheol is used in connection with being covered in maggots (Isaiah 14:11) and has a connection of having no consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:10) (Holman Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, American Standard Version, Young's Literal Translatin, English Standard Version, Amplified Bible), supporting its definition of being simply a grave. There is no valid reason to change "Sheol" into "Hell" in any of the cases that some of the translators do so. If you compare the verses in an interlinear Hebrew Bible, you can see this very clearly. (Free online Hebrew Interlinear Bibles are available on the internet). Thus, Sheol is not a formal title for "Hell"; it is simply a reference to the common burial grave.
According to Strong's Greek Lexicon the definition for Hades is as follows:
The word "Hades" comes from Greek, and literally means "underworld" or "place of the dead", without regard to a person's righteousness or wickedness. Basically, it's the grave and is the Greek version of the Hebrew “Sheol”.
"Hades" is also often translated as "Hell" in some Bible versions (Matthew 11:23, 16:18, Luke 10:15, Acts 2:27,31 King James Version, Wycliffe Bible, New International Reader's Version, 21st Century King James Version), and yet is sometimes translated correctly as a general reference for a place of the dead (Today's New International Version, New Century Version, Amplified Bible). Sometimes it remains worded as "Hades" (Matthew 16:18, Revelation 6:7-8, Revelation 20:13-14 New International Version United Kingdom, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, Young's Literal Translation, American Standard Version, New King James Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible), depending on the Bible version you are reading.
One instance in which the original word "Hades" is used is when referring to Christ as having been in Hades after his death (Acts 2:31-- NKJV) Are we to suppose that Christ, who was sinless, deserved to go to a tormenting fiery hell, even for just a brief time? Many people point to the Scripture that state Jesus bore our sins upon himself, (1 Peter 2:24) and believe he had to enter fiery hell for our sins. However, as pointed out earlier, it is death that pays the debt for sin. Since Jesus, a sinless man, DIED, and went into the grave for three days, that was the debt he paid for us, not entrance into a fiery hell.
This is supported at Revelation 6:7-8, which informs us that Hades closely follows the horseman of death. Since burial in a grave always closely follows a person's death, this makes sense. Later, the book of Revelation tells us that both Hades and death are hurled together into the Lake of Fire for destruction (Revelation 20:13-14). Again, this points to Hades being the grave because death and the grave are tied together. Having death and the grave destroyed together goes with God's plan to rid the world of death and mourning (Isaiah 25:8, John 6:58, 1 Corinthians 15:54, Revelation 21:1-4, Psalms 37:29).
So, now, this brings up the next one: The Lake of Fire.
LAKE OF FIRE :
According to the Bible, the Lake of Fire is mentioned only in the book of Revelation:
In the usual views about "Hell" Satan is the one causing the torment and not the one who is being tormented, so what do we make of this Scripture? It helps to realize that the word "torment" was sometimes used interchangeably for the word "destruction", as shown in the comparison of same account as told between the two Gospel writers Mark and Matthew:
The next reference for “The Lake of Fire” is found at Revelation 20:14-15
Note that it states that death and Hades (the grave) are cast into the Lake of Fire for destruction, further negating the idea of Hades being an everlasting place of torment. And, since death and the grave are hurled in the Lake of Fire to be destroyed after Satan is hurled into it, we can see that this “torment” is merely symbolism for the literal destruction of all these things in the Lake. Having Satan, Hades/the grave, and death destroyed is mentioned in Scripture, when Jesus Christ destroys all of God's enemies, with the last enemy being death (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). As a result, neither Satan nor death will plague mankind after Christ accomplishes this mission.
WHAT ABOUT REVELATION 14:11?
The Scripture at Revelation 14:11 says:
What are we to make of this?
First of all, note that it's not saying that the torment itself lasts forever; instead it states that the smoke of their torment goes up forever. Since we've seen that this word "torment" could actually mean total destruction this could mean that their death is lasting forever. "Smoke" is the evidence of the "fire" -- hearkening back to the everlasting destruction visualized in the Valley of Hinnom/Gehenna. Since evil will be destroyed the evidence of this destruction will basically be the absence of all wickedness, AND this evidence will be continually noticed, much like the smoke from the endless fire in the valley of Gehenna was continually noticed by the citizens.
RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
Some people point to Jesus Christ's parable about the Rich man and Lazarus, believing it proves that a fiery Hell is actual and real. For those unfamiliar with the parable, here it is straight from Scripture:
Although this passage initially seems to support the doctrine of a fiery hell, we need to look at this entire thing in context.
To begin with, this wasn't Jesus telling a true story, it is common knowledge that this is simply another one of his parables. It is also common knowledge that all of his parables were known to be allegorical stories, not literal. Interestingly enough though, many preach this one single parable as if it actually were literal in spite of the fact that all of his other parables are not treated in the same fashion.
Let me bring this a little closer to home: To take this passage as literal would require also accepting the idea that people in Heaven could see the suffering of those in the fiery Hell -- this would put a serious damper on the joy of being in Heaven! If this parable were literal you would have to accept that a single drop of water could quench the thirst brought on by the fire – not to mention the notion of a drop of water surviving the intense heat of the flame to begin with. Consider also that the Bible states there is no consciousness after death (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10, Psalms 115:17). Also consider that nobody at this time has gone to heaven except for Christ Himself (John 3:13), as the Judgment will not happen until after Christ returns (Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-12, Revelation 11:18, Revelation 20:12-15) – if Judgment has not yet happened, then it impossible for anyone to have been sent to either Heaven OR Hell!
We cannot pick and choose which parts of this parable we want to be literal and which parts we want to be allegorical; either the parables are allegorical or they or not. They cannot simultaneously be both.
By checking the original language of Biblical writing, we can clearly see that the concept of a literal fiery Hell did not exist in Biblical times. We can also see that the synonyms for "Hell" (Gehenna, Hades, Lake of Fire, and Sheol) are actually synonyms for the grave or burial site, instead of a fiery, painful realm for the wicked.
May our God and Father give you peace on these matters.