I was sent a message today with the question, “Did Paul really not ever preach on hell?” Apparently, my friend’s preacher told the church that Paul didn’t talk about hell when sharing the Gospel. Instead, the preacher insinuated that if Paul didn’t preach about it, hell either doesn’t exist or isn’t important. *sigh*
“Yes, my dear friend, Paul warned of hell because he taught exactly what Jesus Christ taught.”
First things first … Paul never says the word “hell.” This is true. The word was not found in the Greek language. But to simply say he did not tell his listeners about hell is distorting the truth because Paul absolutely spoke of eternal consequences.
Paul spoke of the fate of ponērós. It is the Greek word for wicked. He taught that ponērós are condemned and will suffer God’s wrath. 2 Thessalonians 2:12 says, “All will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Truth in Paul’s teachings is believing in Jesus Christ. Therefore, anyone who does not believe in the truth equates to wickedness.
Romans 2:5, 8 says, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed…But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” Paul describes God’s action against unbelievers and deniers of the truth with the word “wrath.” Wrath is never used when talking about salvation and sanctification. Why? Because the believer is not wicked, requiring eternal judgment.
Paul is clear that those who are unrepentant of their sins and reject the Lord will face God’s wrath on the Day of Judgment. “It is because of these things (lust, idolatry, greed, sexual immorality, and other sinful deeds) that the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” Colossians 3:6
However, Paul doesn’t just give us the fate of the ponērós. He tells us the good news that those who believe in Jesus Christ will have eternal salvation, showing his listeners that there is a choice to be made: eternal salvation or eternal judgment.
• “Therefore, since we have now been justified [declared free of the guilt of sin] by His blood, [how much more certain is it that] we will be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” — Romans 5:9
• “For they themselves report about us, tellingwhat kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to [look forward and confidently] wait for [the coming of] His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who [personally] rescues us from the coming wrath [and draws us to Himself, granting us all the privileges and rewards of a new life with Him].” — 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
• “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died [willingly] for us, so that whether we are awake (alive) or asleep (dead) [at Christ’s appearing], we will live together with Him [sharing eternal life].” — 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian church to combat false teaching. He opposed the false teaching so strongly that he said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” — Galatians 1:8-9 Eternally condemned certainly does not equate to anything good.
Paul wants everyone to fully understand that they have a choice to make. And they must make it quickly. “He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.” — Romans 2:7-8
Paul continues his teaching of hell. Romans 2:9, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” This is a picture of the afterlife because we know that those who do evil don’t always experience trouble and distress. It is most often the righteous who are persecuted and go through tribulation (trouble). Paul is teaching that those who reject God and do evil will experience trouble and distress in the next life rather than this one. It’s satan’s way of seducing us into turning our backs on Jesus Christ.
Paul was profoundly intent on sharing the Gospel everywhere he went. He did not leave out the parts that made people uncomfortable or offended them. He understood that their eternal souls were at stake with each word he spoke. Unfortunately, there are many preachers today who fail to live by this same conviction. They twist the words of scripture so that it’s more appealing to sinful ears. And the result is more sin, more wickedness, and more lost.
But Paul wasn’t finished. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 is one of the most important passages about hell that Paul preaches. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among those who have believed.”
Everlasting destruction. This means that the punishment for those unbelievers and twisters of truth is to be “shut out from the presence of the Lord” eternally. If this isn’t hell, what is?
Paul talks of eternal destruction several times.
• The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. — Galatians 6:8
• And in no way be alarmed or intimidated [in anything] by your opponents, for such [constancy and fearlessness on your part] is a [clear] sign [a proof and a seal] for them of [their impending] destruction, but [a clear sign] for you of deliverance and salvation, and that too, from God —Philippians 1:28
• For there are many, of whom I have often told you, and now tell you even with tears, who live as enemies of the cross of Christ [rejecting and opposing His way of salvation], whose fate is destruction, whose god is theirbelly [their worldly appetite, their sensuality, their vanity], and whose glory is in their shame—who focus their mind on earthly and temporal things. — Philippians 3:19
• “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” — 2 Thessalonians 2:10
Quite simply, the ungodly will be destroyed, but believers will be given eternal life. Therefore, ‘eternal destruction’ is the severity of the punishment awaiting the enemies of God for eternity. Considering that Jesus spoke of heaven as a place of joy, the place where those not of God’s kingdom would be hell. Although Paul does not use the Greek words translated “hell,” he speaks about extensively.
Finally, Paul was an extraordinary apostle and his example is one to follow. But Paul was a sinful human being. Our ultimate teacher is Jesus Christ. Paul did not contradict Jesus so we can look to Jesus’s teachings for a final authority.
Jesus talked about hell more than any other person in scripture. In Luke 16, he describes a great chasm over which “none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew 25, Jesus tells of a time when people will be separated into two groups, one entering into his presence, the other banished to “eternal fire.”
Jesus says hell is a place of eternal torment (Luke 16:23), of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), where people will gnash their teeth in anguish and regret (Matt. 13:42), and from which there is no return, even to warn loved ones (Luke 16:19–31). He calls hell a place of “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30), comparing it to “Gehenna” (Matt. 10:28), which was a trash dump outside the walls of Jerusalem where rubbish was burned and maggots abounded. Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven, and describes it more vividly.
The fact is, without hell, there is no eternal punishment. Without eternal punishment, there is no need for salvation. Without salvation, there is no need for Jesus Christ. Be warned, my friends, of the false teachers. They tickle your ears with the teachings of satan, luring you closer to eternal destruction.