We cannot know exactly what hell looks like or how hot it will be. But Scripture does use some descriptive language of hell, and that gives us an idea of what hell will be like. It is sure to be a place of torment, which the Bible often pictures as fiery. For the purposes of this article, the terms hell and lake of fire are used interchangeably.
Some interpreters take the Bible’s descriptions of hell to be symbolic, because some of the descriptions are difficult to reconcile with each other. For example, picturing hell as both fire (Matthew 25:41) and outer darkness (Matthew 8:12) seems paradoxical. Of course, the God of the impossible can do anything, including make dark fire. So, the descriptions could be literal. Even if the language describing hell is symbolic, the place itself is real—and the reality will no doubt be worse than the symbols.
The scriptural descriptions of hell are meant to emphasize the torment and suffering that will be experienced by those sent there. The “fire” may picture the wrath of God that is experienced by unbelievers in hell, whereas the “outer darkness” may picture the alienation from God’s love, mercy, and grace. Whether the vivid language is symbolic or literal, we can be assured that hell is a terrible, terrifying place. Possibly the most terrifying aspect of hell is its duration. The suffering is eternal. It has no end. For us, here and now, the concept of hell should drive us to the cross of Christ. It is only by repentance and faith in Christ that we can be saved from the wrath to come.
Here are some of the passages that describe hell:
Matthew 25:41, “Then he 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.’”
Matthew 8:12, “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
2 Thessalonians 1:6–9, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
Revelation 20:10, 15, “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. . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Romans 2:8, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”
Matthew 25:30, “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Hell, although we do not know exactly what it will look like, will be a place of unending suffering and torment from which there will be no escape. Therefore, now is the day of salvation. Now is the day for all to repent and believe the gospel. Now is the day for us to proclaim the good news that Christ has come to save sinners who trust in Him for forgiveness. Those who look to Christ now will be saved from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10).