Today’s question is, ‘Did God create hell?’
I suspect that behind the question is another question—“If God did create hell, why?”
Most English translations of the Bible loosely use the term “hell” to frequently translate the Hebrew word “Sheol” and the Greek words “Hades” and “Tartarus.” For example, in 2 Pet. 2:4 “Tartarus” (trans. “hell”) is not hell at all, but a holding area for rebellious angels awaiting the Day of Judgment and their final condemnation to hell. And in Luke 16:23, “Hades,” mis-translated “hell,” actually refers to the realm of the dead who are also awaiting the Day of Judgment. “Hades” is roughly equivalent to “Sheol,” the Old Testament Hebrew term for the realm of the dead.
Hell, according to Jesus, was prepared specifically as a final punishment for the devil and the angels with him who rebelled against God early in creation history. Unfortunately, as Jesus indicates in the following passage, there are many human beings who will also be cast into this eternal fire that was never designed for them: “Then he (Jesus) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
The Bible describes hell as a lake of burning sulfur, where the fire never goes out. The “beast” and the “false prophet” of the book of Revelation are thrown alive into this lake (Rev. 19:20), where they are joined a thousand years later by the devil. There they will all be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (lit., “into the ages upon ages”)—a hyperbole for eternity.
Some claim that while the fires of hell may be eternal, those who enter there are annihilated, not imprisoned. In other words, the fire is eternal, but the torment is not. This, however, contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture: And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:10). Not only is the fire eternal, but the suffering is as well. The “second death” is not a synonym for ceasing to exist. The sad truth is that this is a place of unending torment (Rev. 19:20).
Hell is not only described as an eternally burning lake of fire, but is expressly referred to as “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). It earns this moniker because here death itself will be destroyed: Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15).
It is from this horrible end that Jesus came to rescue mankind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).