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TXT: Lake of Fire vs. Hell

Question: What is the difference between the lake of fire and hell?


Good question! The Bible assigns a unique name to the ultimate place of judgment for those who reject the gospel of grace.  To best answer your question, let me define a few things…

First, those who have died without repenting and trusting  Christ’s  payment for their sin (thereby receiving the  imputation of His righteousness to them see – 2 Cor 5:21) are awaiting “final judgment” of their lives (Rev 20:11-15).  In contrast, the believer’s sin was judged at the cross through Christ’s atoning death (1 Cor 15:1-4).  So there is no judgment of  our sin at death because Christ’s perfect payment cancels our unpayable debt of sin to God!  (Jn 19:28)

The Bible states that when the unsaved die, they await final judgment of their sins in a place called Hades (the Greek word for the Hebrew word sheol) – c.f., Matt 11:23, 16:18; Lk 10:15, 16:23; Rev 6:8.

Hades is not the ultimate destination of the unrepentant (i.e., Hell). The ultimate sentencing of the unsaved occurs as a result of the final judgment called the “Great White Throne Judgment” (Rev 20:11-15).  All the unsaved receive God’s final judgment and condemnation at the Great White Throne Judgment.  The Bible calls the final place where the unsaved carry out their eternal punishment, the “lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14-15 describes this most serious, sobering and tragic truth in all of Scripture:

“Then death and Hades were thrown in to the lake of fire.This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyones’ s name was not written in the book of life,he was thrown into the lake of fire”

So the Bible calls what we think of as “eternal hell” the “lake of fire.”

There is debate among theologians about when this final hell described as the “lake of fire” comes into existence.  Some argue it may already exist (Matt 10:28), but if it does, it is currently unoccupied!!  Why? Because its first eternal inmates, the beast (Anti-Christ)  and the false prophet (an end-time world religious leader) will not begin serving their never-ending sentence until the end of the Tribulation (Rev 19:20).

So, to recap:

  1. “Hades” is the place where the unsaved go after death to await the “Great White Throne” Judgment.  The Bible intimates this is a “temporary” place of punishment (Luke 16:19-31). Hades is not eternal Hell.
  2. The “lake of fire” is the final destination for all the unrepentant for all eternity; this is what is commonly referred to as “hell.”  The Greek word for Hell is “gehenna,” not “hades” ( lit., “the place of the unseen”).

While everyone will die one day (except those “snatched away” in the rapture – 1 Thess 4:16-18!), anyone can avoid Hades and the just punishment of  Hell  by confessing their sin and trusting in Jesus Christ’s work of salvation . . . ” for the wages of sin is death (complete separation from God and serving out the  tragic consequence of the Lord’s just sentence/punishment for your sin forever).  Thank God for the second half of Romans 6:23 . . . but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Because of God’s grace, we do not have to experience eternal death but can inherent eternal life through personally receiving the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ!

If you have not confessed to God that you are  sinner by nature and a sinner by choice, repent and trust Christ for the complete payment of your sins.  The Bible repeatedly declares that you are headed toward God’s perfectly just judgment  and condemnation for your sins.  If you have not personally cried out to God for His mercy, please do so now! (Read  Luke 18:9-14!)  I beg  you to repent and agree with God that you need to embrace and trust Christ alone as your only Savior and Lord (Rom 10:10).  Only He qualifies to be your perfect substitute and is able to make complete atonement for your sin! (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Please recognize your  inability to pay for your sin and earn God’s favor by your efforts! Do not accept the false notion that living a “moral life” or doing “good things” makes you right with God. Rather, embrace and receive God’s free offer of forgiveness and eternal life through trusting in the finished work of  Christ alone (1 Peter 3:18) . . . then begin to  live for Him now with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, knowing that He will one day bring  you to the never-ending  joy of heaven — to an eternity that is inexhaustibily blessed!  He will bring you to the ulitmate meaning of  life: to experience an everlasting life of glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever! (Jude 24-25)

Author: Peter Spiers

Peter is an executive with CFA, a national healthcare consulting firm, and invests all his off-work time into his church and his family. He is faithful to invest his life into men and loves to see people transformed by God's Word.


  1. Google this string “what-the-hell-is-hell” and get ready to use your head and read a lot.

  2. “Universalism”(the belief that everyone will be saved regardless of whether or not they personally repent, receive the gift of saving faith found in the person and work of Christ alone) is a pernicious and deadly deception that denies the plain, accurate unfolding of Scripture.Jesus Christ Himself made these definitive, irrefutable statements regarding the reality of hell and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ alone:

    “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body soul and body in hell”(Mat. 10:28)

    “I am the way,the truth and the life no man comes to the Father but through Me(Jn. 14:6)

    “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:3)

    “So it will be at the end of the age: the angles shall come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matt 13:42;50;22:13;24:51;25:30)

    The repeated teaching of Jesus Christ Himself establishes the fact that there will and must be a judgment of the unrepentant and condemnation to real place of separation and punishment forever(Matt 25:41)

    Hence my earnest plea for all to embrace the gospel of the grace of God found only in Jesus Christ!

    “The Spirit and the bride say “Come”. And everyone who hears say “Come”. And the one who is thirsty say come; let the one who wishes take the water of of life without cost”(Rev.22:17)

  3. Pete,
    I love the way you worked in the gospel! You could’ve just answered the question and been fine, but wrapping everything up with the gospel of grace was perfect! I need to learn how to work that into life’s everyday issues.
    Great job brother!

  4. Mario,

    Thank you…it is such an awesome privilege to show and share the gospel of grace.It shines forth most brightly against the reality of God’s holiness!

    Serving Him with you…Peter

  5. Pingback: Who Goes to Hell? Part 1 | The Hip Opinion

  6. I don’t usually comment on this stuff but I gotta say.. nice blog

  7. Anybody that at this stage is still believing that God is not real, hell is not real and also does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is playing with real FIRE! Meanwhile, it is not too late cos that is one of the reasons that Jesus Christ has not come, so that all would have heard about Him and there won’t be any excuses. JESUS IS LORD!

  8. As a former SDA I am trying to understand the prophecies of Revelation, especially those concerning judgment and the lake of fire. I have a problem. The beast, the false prophet, death and the grave are symbols of these powers or states of being (i.e. they are not living creatures), right? Yet the wicked are cast in alongside these! Now, if the lake of fire is literal then you have literal and symbolic in the same verse. Doesnt sound like good hermeneutics to me. Good hermeneutics demand that if in a verse something is symblic then everything else is symbolic. I don’t doubt that the wicked, Satan and his demons will be subjected to the second death but it seems to me that a correct understanding of the second death is predicated on a sound understanding of the lake of fire which causes it. Another thing, if it is literal, exactly where is this lake of fire?

  9. Hi Brian,
    Great questions…While prophetic literature in Scripture uses a wide range of word-pictures and metphors to describe events, people, places and things the terms “beast” and the “false prophet” in the book of Revelation and elsewhere in biblical prophecy(see Daniel 7) are descriptions given to two literal persons who emerge on the world stage during the tribulation period.The “beast’ or as in Rev.13 the “dragon” is the coming world -ruler called the Anti-Christ( see Rev.13:1-10;Dan.7:8;23b-25)

    The other descriptions are of real things that exist in this world like” death”(physical death/spiritual seperation or death) And the “grave” or place of burial for the physically dead.

    Scripture is saying that every vestige of this fallen world(sin,evil,and it’s consequences; death and the grave will be placed in a literal place that God has prepared and will not be experienced again in a newly created heaven and earth that God will provide!(Rev.21:1-8).It also says that those angels(Satan and his demons) and every person who rebells against Him and rejects His free offer of forgiveness and right standing with Him through Jesus Christ will pay for their offenses against Him forever in the lake of fire(see Rev. 20:11-15)

    The bible does not give a precise location for this place.But declares God has prepared it(Matt.26:41).

    While the doctrine of hell is frightening and revulsive to us it is biblical. Jesus said “And do not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul.But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”(Matt.10:28)

    Let’s chat again Brian…Peter

  10. Peter I appreciate your replying to my question and I have noted the explanation you have given. However, notwithstanding you allow in your interpretation that the beast and the false prophet are literal individuals or even that they are personified by individuals , death and the grave are not individuals nor can they be personfiied. Thus they remain symbols. In Bible interpretation one cannot use literal and symbolic together. If Revelation were to be understood literally then you might be correct. However, Revelation is a book of symbols.
    Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified (Greek semaino) it by his angel unto his servant John:
    As it is without doubt that the Bible uses symbolic as well as literal terminology, it is evident that we are required to discern the one from the other.
    Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
    We need to decide whether this lake of fire and brimstone is real or symbolic. The text tells us that the lake is (or represents) the second death.
    14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
    I see that the lake of fire represents complete destruction for the following reasons:
    Death cannot be literally cast into a lake of fire
    Hell cannot be literally cast into a lake of fire
    The Beast which theoretically could be cast into a lake of fire cannot be understood as a literal beast. There is no such beast with seven heads and ten horns literally tormented in a lake of fire – it represents something else which will be destroyed.
    The false prophet (which some argue is another name for the two horned beast) cannot be a literal person – if it represents apostate religion – something which cannot be literally tormented by fire.

    To recap
    Into this (symbolic) lake are thrown:
    • The Beast (not literal? – represents Godless government)
    • The False Prophet (not literal? – represents apostate Religion)
    • Death (not literal? – represents mortality)
    • Hell (not literal? – represents the grave)

    If the lake is not real it follows that those rejected cannot be literally thrown into it.
    If we ask the question ‘What does the lake represent’ the answer is given to us twice – in v.8 and again in v.14
    ‘the lake… is (represents) the second death.
    From this I understand that those raised from the dead for judgment who are rejected will die for a second time.
    What happens when we die?
    Psalms 146:4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very dayhis thoughts perish.
    Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
    6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
    There is no conscious existence in death.
    By dying for the second time they are excluded from the presence of God and his Glory forever. Paul calls this ‘everlasting destruction’.
    2 Thessalonians 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
    I notice that he also says that this is what they are punished with.
    Paul is here surely speaking literally not symbolically.
    Using Strong’s Concordance the word destruction is translated ‘die’ (in context meaning to be destroyed) in Acts 25:
    Acts 25:16 To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die , before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.
    The same word is translated ‘waste’ in Matthew 26 in the sense that the ointment, having been used, was gone forever.
    Matthew 26:8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste ?
    We can understand then that the lake of fire is a symbol for utter destruction.
    To recap again
    Into this (symbolic) lake are thrown:
    • The beast (Godless government?) – destroyed forever
    • The False Prophet (False Religion?) – destroyed forever
    • Death – destroyed forever
    • Hell (Graves will no longer be necessary) – destroyed forever
    • The Devil and his angels – destroyed forever
    • All those rejected at the Judgment seat (die for the second time) – destroyed forever
    The plain language used elsewhere is that the wicked shall perish (be destroyed).
    Psalms 37:20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
    Jesus came to save us from perishing.
    John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish , but have everlasting life.
    The choice is be saved or be destroyed.
    James 4:12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy : who art thou that judgest another?
    Using Strong’s, the meaning of the word translated perish or destroy seems clear in other places.
    Mark 3:6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
    Luke 6:9 Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?
    The terms ‘destroyed’ and ‘eternally tormented’ would seem to me to be mutually exclusive.
    I am forced to the conclusion that the fate of the unjust is literally to die again and be destroyed forever.
    I am not trying to be divisive I am trying to understand. I need to make sense of and be consistent with the rest of scripture.

    Your response to the above will be most appreciated.


  11. This is my first time on your blog, but I will for sure be back, because I really liked your articles. Take care. You are now on my Google Reader.

  12. Brian,

    I am a believer in Christ Jesus as Lord, Savior, the Way, the Truth and the Life and I believe the contents of the KJV Bible contain the true Words of God. Yes, many verses of the Bible may be “viewed” or interpreted many different ways but ultimately, there is only one true understanding which originates in the heart – not mind – while reading the bible.

    My humble understanding of the Bible concerning life-after-death is such:

    – When a believer (Old and New Testament) dies and his/her soul goes to Heaven,
    – When a non-believer (Old and New Testament) dies and his/her soul goes to Hell / Hades,
    – At the very moment of the Tribulaton, the bodies of Old Testament Jew believers will rise from the grave first and be joined with their souls then,
    – Directly following will be the bodies of Old and New Testament Gentile believers joined with their souls ,
    – At the very moment of the Tribulaton, the bodies and souls of living New Testament believers will rise directly.
    – After the seven years of the Tribulation and the 1000 years of peace, ALL those bodies and souls (including Satan himself) against God will be judged and tossed into the lake of fire for all eternity.

    So much analysis is done on the Bible.

    True believers should know their way.

    For skeptics, non-believers, and those who claim to be believers but try to state God’s Word differently, and take a “cafeteria” approach to the Word, will sadly know the Truth at a time when is too late.

    Even though almost everyone believes there is a life after death, and that “everybody” has their own interpretation of the after life, it amazes me that the most simple, true way to get to Heaven is 1) believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, 2) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and 3) “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Why must people fight these simple truths?