According to the Bible (and not Dante), what is Hell like? All this brimstone and torture sounds non-biblical.
Dante’s Divine Comedy is based on his political views at the time of its writing. There have been some updates in the recent past. But he wrote the Divine Comedy to point out the hypocrisy in his day. He gives significance to our understanding of Hell today. Many of our assumptions are based on his work.
The fire and brimstone preaching about Hell can be heavy-handed. Christian ministers may overplay images of Hell to show the real dangers of sin and what it leads to. But if they overplayed too much, it weakens the reality of Hell.
Hell is described in the Bible in several different ways. Jesus talks a lot about it. He talks about Gahanna, an image based on a real place outside of Jerusalem (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). In the later tradition, one of the rabbis describes Gahanna as a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where people burned their trash. But there was so much trash that the fire of Gahanna burned 24/7.
Jesus used this image to show that the fires of Hell are eternal. The punishment of God on the devil, demons, and those who do not choose Christ, lasts for eternity (Matthew 25:41). He also described Hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:50).
Revelation talks about Hell as the Lake of Fire, which is where we get the idea of brimstone or sulfur (Revelation 20:7-15). We get the idea of the eternal punishment from 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
Isaiah 66:24 describes an eternal place of judgment where the “worm shall never die, fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” The worm probably refers to the decaying of the body. Fire is mentioned again, and the memory of these evil people Isaiah references will be disgraceful.
Atheists and unbelievers tend to think Hell will be a party with all of their friends. This is not the way the New Testament characterizes this as an eternal place of punishment. None of the descriptions of Hell sounds so pleasing.
Some Christians relegate Hell to be metaphorical instead of real. A common phrase Christians use to describe it is that, “For Christians, earth is the only Hell they will ever experience because they know Christ, but for unbelievers, Hell happens after they die.”
Some Christians don’t believe Hell is real place. Perhaps they don’t want to offend unbelievers. Others teach that Hell is the bad choices we make and their consequences.
But Jesus talked about it as a real place. When Christians don’t talk about it the way Jesus does, and if they don’t believe it’s a real place and a real danger, they are depriving unbelievers of the truth presented in Scripture.
We must talk about Hell the way the Bible does, because when we don’t, and unbelievers arrive before the judgment seat of Christ, they will find a very rude spiritual reality made physical. And they will hate us even more for not telling them the truth of Hell.