Revelation 20:15 says anyone not found in the Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire, which is another name for Hell. Hell in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word “Gehenna,” and it means the place of everlasting punishment. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “Hell” for both this place AND for Hades, which is the grave. Hell and Hades are different places though. (Hell in the Old Testament always means the grave.) There’s disagreement over whether or not those who’ve died and were unsaved are currently in a state of conscious misery. That’s not an issue that will be addressed here. What I’m addressing here is the final destination of the unsaved. A thousand years after the second coming of Christ they will be judged by God and then sentenced to the Lake of Fire (20: 4, 5, 11-14).
The issue of Hell used to really bother me. I knew that everyone close to me who had died apart from Christ would go there, and I thought that was wrong. I developed an intense hatred for God and declared myself a Satanist. I wanted to tell God, “How dare you sentence my loved ones to the same place as serial killers and mass murderers!” I thought everyone would have equal punishment, but I later learned that Scripture refutes this. (Note: The scriptural support for degrees of punishment disproves the false doctrine that the unsaved will cease to exist after death. If eternal punishment meant eternal sleep, all of the unsaved would be receiving equal punishment.)
Just as there will be degrees of reward in Heaven (Ps. 62:12; Matt. 16: 27), so will there be degrees of punishment in Hell. God “will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6), and we will all reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). God is a fair and just judge who will bring every work into judgment, whether good or evil (Ecc. 12:14). In Matthew 23:14 Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees they will receive greater damnation than others because of their great wickedness. In Matthew 11: 21-24 Jesus made distinctions between wicked cities based on degrees of evil. He said the Day of Judgment would be more dreadful for Chorazin and Bethsaida than it would be for Tyre and Sidon. He also told the people of Capernaum that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the Day of Judgment than it will be for them.
The least of the wicked in Hell will by no means be comforted just because their suffering is less severe than most of the others there. I’ve been in prison and can tell you that there are degrees of punishment there as well. Inmates in administrative segregation, also called “the hole”, are subject to harsher conditions than the ones in general population. Even in ad-seg there are different phases. But it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is in a place of punishment. Everyone in Hell will be miserable, no matter how much worse someone else has it. No one facing the Great White Throne Judgment is going to be reminded of others who are facing greater condemnation. If you face that judgment, you are going to be sentenced according to your faults and yours alone.
The victims of crime usually feel a sense of justice when the guilty party is sentenced to prison, so everyone who has been victimized by someone with no remorse should be relieved that God will repay that person for what he or she has done (Rom. 12:19; Col. 3:25). Even if a wicked person escapes justice in this life, he or she will be sentenced to appropriate punishment when facing God for the final judgment. Every single evil act will add more to a person’s punishment in Hell (Rom. 2:5, 6). A mass murderer may be given the same prison sentence as someone who has killed just one person, but if they both die without repentance, they won’t both be getting the same sentence from God. If God weren’t just, the most vile, sadistic human being to ever exist would be facing no more of a punishment than a petty thief. Fortunately, God won’t allow such injustice.
Hell is sometimes portrayed as a place where Satan will go around gleefully poking others with a pitchfork. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Satan isn’t going to be running things in a place of his own punishment. The Lake of Fire was prepared for him and the other rebel angels (Matt. 25:41). The devil as he’s portrayed today dates back to the tenth and eleventh centuries when he had been compared to pagan gods. The pitchfork was borrowed from Poseidon, a Greek god whose main symbol was a three-pronged spear. His goat-like features were borrowed from Pan, a Greek god that was depicted as a man with the legs, horns and ears of a goat. His red skin is the color of blood and fire. These characteristics that are used to depict the devil have no support from the Bible.
When I was a Satanist I used the issue of Hell to argue that God pressures people into obeying Him because they know they will be punished if they don’t. Now I try to imagine myself using this argument when I was sentenced to prison. I would be crazy to say it isn’t fair that people are “pressured” into obeying the law. I had no one to blame for my incarceration but myself. The judge didn’t send me to prison, nor did the prosecutor. I sent myself to prison by breaking the law. In the same way, those who break God’s laws are sending themselves to Hell. As Creator of all that there is (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 44:24; Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11), God has the ultimate authority to declare what is right and what is wrong. Unlike the judges of this world, He knows the true nature and intentions of absolutely everyone (I Chr. 28:9; II Chr. 6:30; Acts 1:24; Rev. 2:23). All of His judgments will be fair, and there will be no false convictions.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There will be no second chance after death. If there was, people would only change to avoid punishment. It’s a shame that so many hypocrites think they can avoid punishment and earn their way into Heaven by simply going to church. They must not be aware that Jesus said, “Not everyone saith unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father [God] which is in Heaven” (Matt. 7:21). If you break God’s laws and never repent before death, you will be punished with eternal separation from Him. (II Thes. 1:9). This is the second death (Rev. 20:14). The first death is when the soul is separated from the body, and the second death is when the soul is separated from God.