The distinction between “Hell” and the “Lake of Fire”

There is a difference between ‘Hell’ and the ‘Lake of Fire’. They are not the same place. In most people’s minds these are blended into one, but that is not biblically accurate. We therefore need to distinguish these places from each other and define them clearly.

Hell is not the Lake of Fire. At this moment, as you read this, nobody is yet in the Lake of Fire. The first person to go into the Lake of Fire will be the antichrist, followed by the false prophet and then, 1000 years later, by Satan himself. This will occur in the future, after Jesus has returned to the Earth. It is not until after these enter it that the great mass of unbelievers will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Thus, nobody is in the Lake of Fire at the moment. Yet, there are countless people currently in Hell. What then is Hell?

The simplest way to describe Hell is to refer to some of the words that are used in the Hebrew and the Greek of the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament uses a Hebrew word “Sheol” and the New Testament uses a Greek word, “Hades”. These both refer to the same thing. Until the time of Jesus, Sheol or Hades, was divided into two sections. One of those is what we now call Hell. This was for unsaved unbelievers. The other section was for genuine believers who lived in Old Testament times, i.e. up until the time of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Until then, any genuine believing Jew would go to the good part of Sheol or Hades which was set apart for them. This was given another name, i.e. “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”. It was not heaven, but it was a place where those people were sent by God to wait until the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

After Jesus came and paid for their sins on the cross, those believing Jews and also faithful believers in God before the time of Abraham such as Adam, Abel, Seth, Noah, Job, etc, were then taken to Heaven. That is where they are now. We are now required to put our faith in Jesus Christ and in the sacrifice that he made (in the past) on the cross at Calvary. However, the Jewish people and other believers in the Old Testament did not know that that was going to happen. Therefore, they had to put their faith in God to forgive and save them. That is what God eventually did do when Jesus, their Messiah, finally came.

The Jewish People did not have a full understanding of what exactly the Messiah would do. They had no expectation of the cross, or the death of their Messiah on their behalf. But they knew that their Messiah would one day come. Thus, when He did actually come, it was possible for those who had already died prior to then to receive their complete salvation and to have it more fully explained to them. They were then taken up from that temporary paradise, or “Abraham’s bosom”, to Heaven itself. That is where they have been since that time.

Therefore, from then on, since the time of the resurrection, when Jesus removed the Old Testament believers from it, Sheol/Hades has been populated only by unsaved people. Thus only the ‘bad’ section remains in operation. This is now where a person goes when they die, if they are an unbeliever and are unsaved. Our word for it is ‘Hell’. They go there to wait for the judgment at the Great White Throne which is to come in the future.

They have at least 1000 years to wait for the Great White Throne Judgment, even if they were to die today. The millennial reign of Jesus Christ on Earth will itself last for 1000 years and that period has not yet begun. Some people have been in Sheol or Hades, or what we now call Hell, for thousands of years already. We know from the Bible that the people in Hell are fully conscious and waiting for what lies ahead of them. They are therefore in a dreadful condition of torment, fear and anxiety, combined with extreme regret and bitterness. It is difficult to imagine what a harrowing place Hell must be.

Consider how it must be waiting for a judgment, from which you know that you will inevitably go on to the Lake of Fire. The only question is the precise degree of punishment that you will have to receive there. It is a terrible prospect. It should motivate us to give our lives now to tell others about Jesus while we, and they, still have the chance. Consider this important passage from Luke chapter 16. In it Jesus speaks about a man who was already in Hell:

19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)
Many people assume that Jesus is teaching a parable here when He speaks about the rich man and Lazarus. A parable is a story which is not literally true, but which illustrates a point or a message. Jesus told many of these, such as the parable of the sower, or the wheat and the tares, or the grain of mustard seed and so on.

However the account of the rich man and Lazarus is not actually a parable, even though some people wrongly assume that it is. Here Jesus is giving a true account which involves the real facts of two real men who had died. The people in parables were never given names. So, we learn from this literal account that Jesus gives in Luke 16 what Sheol/Hades was like at the time prior to Jesus’ resurrection, when it was divided into two parts. It is Hell that is being referred to in the next passage from Psalm 49. We are warned not to trust in or focus on financial wealth, because we cannot take any of it with us when we die:

16 Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendour of his house increases;
17 for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendour will not descend with him.
18Though while he lived he counted himself blessed—
and men praise you when you prosper-
19 he will join the generation of his fathers,
who will never see the light of life.
20A man who has riches without understanding
is like the beasts that perish.

Psalm 49:16-20 (NIV)
The rich man described in this psalm is pictured here in Hell (without his money) awaiting the final Great White Throne Judgment. That thought is meant to sober us.

The Lake of Fire
Just to clarify again, the Lake of Fire does not at present, have anybody in it. But in the end, there will be thrown into it not only the antichrist, the false prophet and Satan, but also all of the fallen angels that we know as demons. They fell with Satan out of Heaven when he rebelled against God. This took place before the world was created. At that time Satan had the name ‘Lucifer’ and was the most senior angel in heaven. He was, in effect, God’s Prime Minister. But his pride swelled up and he decided that he wanted to be like the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. He envied the Son of God and wanted His place and started to look upon himself as equal to Him. There began in him at that time a hatred for, and a rivalry with, the Son of God that has continued ever since.

God exposed Satan’s rebellion, and threw him out of Heaven. But He did not do so until approximately one third of the angels in heaven at that time had joined with Satan to rebel against God. Because of this, they too were thrown out of Heaven. They now operate as demons, causing havoc on this earth. They do so through opposing and sabotaging the work that God wishes to do in our lives, particularly the preaching of the gospel and the saving of human beings from their sins.

Satan and his demons have pledged themselves to oppose God in all of this and especially to resist people’s salvation. They are filled with hatred and do all that they can to attack, undermine, deceive, demoralise and discourage God’s people. (See later books in this series for more details of what Satan and his demons are and how they operate in your life day by day).

The demons will, one day, go into the Lake of Fire for eternity. Indeed the Lake of Fire was originally created for them, not for us. It was intended for Satan and his fallen angels before any human being was ever created. Therefore those human beings who end up in the Lake of Fire are going to a place that was never originally intended for them.

I regret the fact that I have had to dwell so long upon these very unpleasant and terrifying things. But, without doing so you cannot understand what the good news is, because Jesus Christ came to save us from these very things. Without realising how terrible they are, we cannot fully appreciate what a magnificent thing Jesus has done for us. He died on the cross to suffer all that punishment in our place. That enables us to be saved and to avoid Hell, the Great White Throne Judgment and the Lake of Fire. Please remember that God does not want anybody to go to Hell or the Lake of Fire. He takes no pleasure in condemning any of us:

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

Ezekiel 33:11 (NASB)

Bible References

16 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.

I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.

So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?

And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.

Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.

11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?

12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?

13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.

15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:

28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

49 Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:

Both low and high, rich and poor, together.

My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.

I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.

Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?

They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:

(For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)

That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.

11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.

12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.

16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;

17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.

18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.

19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.

20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.

33 Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.

When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?

11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

12 Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.

13 When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.

14 Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;

15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.

16 None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

17 Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal.

18 When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.

19 But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.

20 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.

21 And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me, saying, The city is smitten.

22 Now the hand of the Lord was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.

23 Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

24 Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance.

25 Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land?

26 Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbour’s wife: and shall ye possess the land?

27 Say thou thus unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely they that are in the wastes shall fall by the sword, and him that is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and they that be in the forts and in the caves shall die of the pestilence.

28 For I will lay the land most desolate, and the pomp of her strength shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, that none shall pass through.

29 Then shall they know that I am the Lord, when I have laid the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.

30 Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord.

31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.

32 And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.

33 And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.

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