Jesus spoke of heaven and hell in His teachings, both directly and indirectly. His teaching on these subjects holds significant importance, despite contemporary thinkers who may say otherwise. Heaven and hell are not mere figments of the imagination; they are established realities, affirmed by the Son of God. Many have painted Jesus as being excessively lenient toward sin, but that contradicts the Jesus of Scripture. Jesus spoke extensively on hell, sounding the warning of God’s perfect justice. But did Jesus talk about hell more than heaven?
Surprisingly, there is no consensus on the subject. While respectable teachers like John MacArthur and D. A. Carson affirm that Jesus talked about hell more than heaven, other researchers come to a different conclusion. It’s not a simple matter of counting up all the times the word hell or heaven appears in the Gospels. Complicating matters is the variance in English translation used and whether we should consider teachings about the “kingdom of heaven” as being about “heaven.” What about parallel passages—should they be counted as one mention or two? And what about indirect references to either heaven or hell? The answer will vary, depending on how one approaches these questions.
Perhaps it would be prudent to focus on the undeniable reality that Jesus indeed discussed hell. Many modern congregations are discomfited by the mere mention of judgment. However, justice is a good thing; it is, in fact, one of God’s attributes. We call God less than good if we regard Him as perfectly loving but not perfectly just. Given the reality of evil, it would be terrible if God had no plan to deal with it justly.
To illustrate the reality of hell, Jesus used the Valley of Hinnom, also called Gehenna (Mark 9:47–48), a detestable place near Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, the Jews rebelled against God by performing child sacrifice in this valley, particularly to the god Molech. Prophets like Jeremiah condemned the valley for the idolatrous practices (Jeremiah 7:31–32; 19:2–6), and it was also defiled by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:10). During Jesus’ time on earth, the valley was a public dump, a place where refuse was burned and the corpses of animals and criminals were thrown. Like Gehenna, hell is where all uncleanliness and death will remain. Jesus also referred to hell as “outer darkness” and as “fire” (see Matthew 5:22; 8:12).
While it is inaccurate to liken hell to the description of it in Dante’s Inferno, the reality is much worse. Envision a realm devoid of good, a reality stripped of joy, goodness, and love—the outcome of persisting in self-rule and rejecting reconciliation with God. Even sincere belief and a desire to serve God cannot secure salvation if sought through adherence to the law (see Romans 3:19–23; 5:12; Galatians 3:22). The sole path to heaven is through God’s grace, manifest in Christ’s redemptive work (Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10; John 3:16; 14:6; Ephesians 2:8–9). In essence, we only get to God through God.
Did Jesus talk more about hell than heaven? It is possible that He did, but even if the opposite is true, neither Jesus nor His apostles shied away from teaching about God’s justice and the eternal condemnation of the wicked. Neither should we be afraid to discuss the reality of hell. The gospel is the good news that, due to God’s grace and the work of Christ, we don’t have to go there.