Hell is a furnace of unquenchable fire, a place of everlasting punishment, where its victims are tormented in both their bodies and their minds in accordance with their sinful natures, their actual sins committed, and the amount of spiritual light given to them that they rejected. Hell is a place from which God’s mercy and goodness have been withdrawn, where God’s wrath is revealed as a terrifying, consuming fire, and men live with unfulfilled lusts and desires in torment forever and ever.
In Matthew 13:47-50, the Lord Jesus tells a parable relating to the Judgment. In verses 49-50, the Lord describes the fate of the wicked: “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
In examining these words of the Lord Jesus, we should first notice that hell is described as being a furnace of fire. Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace was heated seven times hotter than normal and is described as a “burning fiery furnace” (Dan 3:23). John the Baptist spoke of “unquenchable fire,” and Revelation describes hell as “a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev 19:20). Can we really imagine the horror of which these words speak? Imagine every part of your body on fire at the same time, so that every fiber of your being felt the intense torment of being burned. How long could you endure such punishment? Christ tells us that “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” The lost will wail and gnash their teeth from having to endure the most intense pain and suffering they have ever felt as the flames consume them and constantly burn every part of their bodies. And there will be no relief.
Jonathan Edwards describes in graphic language what the fires of hell will be like: “Some of you have seen buildings on fire; imagine therefore with yourselves, what a poor hand you would make at fighting with the flames, if you were in the midst of so great and fierce a fire. You have often seen a spider or some other noisome insect, when thrown into the midst of a fierce fire, and have observed how immediately it yields to the force of the flames. There is no long struggle, no fighting against the fire, no strength exerted to oppose the heat, or to fly from it; but it immediately stretches forth and yields; and the fire takes possession of it, and at once it becomes full of fire. Here is a little image of what you will be in hell, except you repent and fly to Christ. To encourage yourselves that you will set yourselves to bear hell-torments as well as you can, is just as if a worm that is about to be thrown into a glowing furnace, should swell and fortify itself, and prepare itself to fight the flames.” 3
Hell is also described as a place of darkness. The Lord tells us of the guest without wedding clothes who was cast “into outer darkness” (Mat 22:13). Jude writes of those in hell for “whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 13). Christopher Love says in his work Hell’s Terrors : “darkness is terrible, and men are more apt to fear in the dark then light: hell is therefore set forth in so terrible an expression, to make the hearts of men tremble; not only darkness, but the blackness of darkness.” 4
Hell is compared to Tophet in Isaiah 30:33. Tophet was the place where the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to the heathen god Molech by casting them into the fire. Day and night shrieks and howls were heard in that place, as day and night shrieks, howls, and wailing are heard in hell.
Isaiah speaks of “the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone” setting hell ablaze (Isa 30:33). There is good evidence from the Scriptures that God Himself will be the fire in hell. Hebrews 12:29 says, “our God is a consuming fire.” The ungodly on earth ignorantly dance for joy when they hear pastors speak about the love and mercy of God, but they will be the beneficiaries of neither unless they repent. To them God will be an all consuming fire. Hebrews 10:30-31 warns: “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense [repay].” And again, “The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful [terrifying] thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” It is a fearful thing, it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
You shall not escape hell, sinner. God will be your hell and His wrath will consume you and be poured upon you as long as He exists. “Who knoweth the power of thine anger?” (Psa 90:11). It is because God Himself will be the fire in hell that words cannot possibly express the terrors of the damned in hell. “There is no reason to suspect that possibly ministers set forth this matter beyond what it really is, that possibly it is not so dreadful and terrible as it is pretended, and that ministers strain the description of it beyond just bounds...We have rather reason to suppose that after we have said our utmost, all that we have said or thought is but a faint shadow of reality.” 5
In Luke 16:19-26, Christ tells us of two men. One of them was rich (he has traditionally been called Dives); the other man was poor (his name was Lazarus). Both men died. The poor man was carried by angels to heaven and the rich man went to hell. The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich, nor did the poor man go to heaven simply because he was poor. The Lord shows us through this contrast that our circumstances may change drastically when we pass from time into eternity. We are not to be fooled that just because God may not have dealt harshly with us here, that He will not do so after death. The eternal abiding place of both men resulted from the condition of their hearts before God while they were on earth. Lazarus was a true follower of God; Dives was not. We want to carefully note what the Scriptures tell us about Dives and his condition, for from that we may learn much about hell.
Verses 23-24 indicate to us that Dives is “in torments.” What does it mean to be “in torments”? This torment refers to both torment in body and torment in soul as well. As we have seen, men’s bodies will be tormented in a furnace of fire. Every part of the body will feel the pain of that fire. Men with severe stomach pains can be in great agony from that alone, but this pain will be far greater. Death from cancer is sometimes said to cause extreme pain in the body, but the pain of hell will be far worse. If your body were afflicted with many different and painful diseases all at the same time, you still would not begin to approach the pain of the damned in hell.
Men’s consciences shall be in torment in hell as well. Conscience is the worm that will not die, which the Scriptures speak of (Mar 9:48; Isa 66:24). Dives is told to “remember…in thy lifetime.” Men will be tormented with extreme pain, but they will also be tormented by their own memories. They will remember hearing of hell and scoffing at it. They will remember being warned and told to repent, or told that accepting the blessings of heaven without submitting to Christ as Lord falls short of salvation—but they took no heed to those warnings. They will be tormented by seeing at a distance the glories of heaven (as Dives was able to do), and knowing that for all eternity they will be damned. They will be tormented by unfulfilled desires and unfulfilled lusts (Dives is not able to receive even a drop of water to cool his tongue). They will be tormented by the knowledge that they will never escape from hell (Dives is told that “neither can [you] pass to us”). They will be tormented by the cries, shrieks, and curses of the damned around them. The most extreme torments a man can experience on earth will be like flea bites compared to the torments of hell.
Jonathan Edwards speaks of men unable to find even a moment of relief in hell in his sermon on The Future Punishment of the Wicked : “Nor will they ever be able to find anything to relieve them in hell. They will never find any resting place there; any secret corner, which will be cooler than the rest, where they may have a little respite, a small abatement of the extremity of their torment. They never will be able to find any cooling stream or fountain, in any part of that world of torment; no, nor so much as a drop of water to cool their tongues. They will find no company to give them any comfort, or do them the least good. They will find no place, where they can remain, and rest, and take breath for one minute: for they will be tormented with fire and brimstone, and they will have no rest day nor night forever and ever.”