In this "Bible Note" on "HELL" I am trekking into what has become a "controversial" topic in these "post-modern and post-Chistian times". It is also a very emotional subject for many. For others it is a topic that creates many theological difficulties in their minds. The Ancient Church's teaching on the topic of hell is clearly established in the "doctrine of the Church". It is to this "Orthodox Faith" I will appeal for understanding of the "Truth" concerning "hell" and the questions that arise when "hell" is discussed: such as, "Is hell literal?"; "Is hell a place or a condition?"; and "Is hell eternal?". There was a time when the general Christian consciousness was that there was "a hell to be shunned and a heaven to gain". Now, even Evangelicals question whether a Good and Loving God could send people to hell??? And punish them??? Forever??? Of course the Roman Catholics have a way around the eternal realities of hell through their doctrine of purgatory. They can suffer in the afterlife for their sins and eventually make heaven their home. It should be noted that they also believe in gehenna/hell fire for those who are lost.
This blog is dedicated to "Bible Notes", so I will appeal to the Holy Scriptures as the primary source for this post on the subject of "hell", particularly to the words of Jesus on the subject since He spoke of hell more than anyone else. Though it is perfectly fine to include other aspects of Holy Tradition to establish a doctrine, ie. liturgical texts, writings of the Church Fathers and Teachers, Lives of the Saints, I think on this subject it is especially important to appeal to Holy Scripture, especially the 12 times Jesus teaches about hell. But I will say that my research has discovered that even among some modern Orthodox scholars there seems to be a lack of reliance on the Holy Scriptures as the primary source of "Truth" and "doctrine". Remember that the Orthodox have an understanding within "the world of doing theology" where theologians and Christians are allowed "theological opinions". But these opinions are permissable as long as they do not stray outside the boundaries of the Orthodox Faith. There is room for opinions but if the Church is clear on a matter of doctrine than beware, lest you stray beyond the gray areas of opinion and into the black of heresy.
This long introduction is necessary because of the controversy heaped upon this subject by atheistic scoffers, and those within the Christian Church-world who have developed an aversion to the idea of hell, eternal punishment, and eternal fire. Post-modern people and post-Christian western civilization is uncomfortable with absolutes, moral absolutes, religious absolutes. "No one knows anything for sure", they say. I will have to be the contrarian here and proclaim that there is "Truth"(John 8:32). Jesus is the Truth and the true Way to God(John 14:6). His Holy Spirit inspired Words are Truth(John 14:17). His Holy Orthodox Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth(1 Tim. 3:15). And what Jesus Himself teaches about "hell" and eternal punishment is the Truth on the subject, forever settled in heaven. An infamous teacher of the the 3rd century, Origen, dared to proceed beyond the limits of Holy Scripture, fell into heretical ideas, teaching that hell was not eternal and that ultimately everyone and everything would be reconciled to God. His followers spread this heresy which created a problem in the church large enough that it had to be dealt with at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople(553 A.D.) where Origen's teachings on various topics were condemned as heresy and Origen himself was deemed a heretic. 1000 years later, at the Council of Florence(1439 A.D.), the Roman Catholic teachings on purgatory were refuted by the Orthodox Church in the person of St Mark of Ephesus who demonstrated that the notion of purgatory and all the falsehoods that accompany it are to be rejected by the True Church.
HELL - A PLACE PREPARED BY GOD
The existence of "hell" was made clear by the Master Himself. Jesus, creator of all things, visible and invisble(Col. 1:14-18), proclaims to the goats on His left hand at the judgment which happens at the coming of the Son of Man, "...Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels"(Mt. 25:41). Hell/Gehenna was/is a place/space prepared by God to incarcerate the devil and the angels that fell with him.
WHAT IS HELL?
Hell is a place as well as a condition, a state of being. Upon being judged unworthy of being welcome into heaven, the sinner will be consigned to a place of torment known by Jesus as Hell/Gehenna, the "Lake of Fire", "Everlasting Torment",
UNDERSTANDING THE GREEK WORDS FOR HELL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
There are three Greek words translated as "hell" in the KJV of the New Testament.The first Greek word is "tartarus" and is translated "hell" in 2 Peter 2:4 and is understood to be a compartment in the nether world where fallen angels are bound awaiting the final judgment. The second Greek word is "hades" and is translated as "hell" in Mt. 11:23; Mt. 16:18; Lk. 10:15; Lk. 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. Hades is understood to be the "place of the departed/the dead" in the heart of the earth where Old Testament saints and sinners(Lk. 16:19-31) awaited the coming of the Messiah and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, either in Paradise/Abraham's Bosom or far across a great chasm in flaming Torment. Upon the Passion of Christ, His Crucifixion and death opon the Cross, Christ descended into "hades" where He destroyed him who had the power of death that is the devil(Heb. 2:14). Then Christ preached to the spirits in prison there(1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2:6-8). Jesus, being God, could not remain in "hades", nor could His body see corruption in the grave. He was raised from the dead, leading all the captive saints who were being held in "captivity" and they were lead by him from there. Some of the saints who arose with Him appeared to many in Jerusalen after His resurrection(Mt. 27:55; Eph. 4:9,10; Acts 2:27,31; Acts 13:31) The third Greek word translated "hell" in the New Testament is "gehenna" (Mt. 5:22,29,30; Mt. 10:28; Mt. 18:9; Mt.23:15,33; Mk. 9:43,45,47; Lk. 12:5; Jms. 3:6) which is the eternal "lake of fire" which Jesus warned of, and into which "death and hades" will be cast into on the great day of judgment(Rev. 20:14). "Gehenna is the Hebrew ge - hinnom - the valley of the son of Hennom. It was located southeast of Jerusalem. During the time of idolatry there was an idol of the god Maloch in the form of a bull, and when fires were burning beneath it, children or even adults were thrown into the fire as human sacrifices. This is why the valley was called the valley of mourning. King Josiah (7th century B.C.) declared that place unclean and ordered all the unclean things to be thrown there - the refuse of the city, the carcasses of animals, the corpses of people who had been condemned to death and unburied dead. The destruction of all these was done by fire, whose purpose was also to disinfect the area. During the day clouds of smoke, rising from there, covered the surrounding area, while at night the huge flames could be seen from a considerable distance. Because of this the place was called - gehenna of fire - and it became a symbol of hell, since people would say: "The hell of sinners must be something like this!". This is why the Lord used this image, which was familiar to his contemporaries in order to describe the weight of the punishment and the severity of eternal hell."(The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, p. 518)
It is important to note that "hell" should not be confused with "hades". Hell/Gehenna is described as eternal, where "hades" is described as being "temporal". Jesus says of Himself, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hades and of death"(Rev. 1:18). Then in Revelation 20:14 we see written, "And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death". At the general resurrection those in hades will be resurrected to stand before the Great Judgment Seat. Hades will be cast into the "lake of fire" which is Gehenna or hell. "and whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire"(Rev. 20:15). Only a few verses earlier do we read of the destiny of the devil and his cohorts, "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(Rev. 20:10). So we see that "hades" and it's occupants upon the resurrection of the dead, after being judged and found not to be in the book of life, are cast into the "lake of fire" which is "hell", and which is the second death, the eternal death. This is the "resurrection of damnation"(John 5:29,30).