How can I show from Scriptures that hell is forever (eternal)? A friend I met insists God loves all people and wants them to be saved; that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world; and that if some spend eternity in hell, Jesus would not be an effectual Savior of all people.
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Before proving scripturally that hell is forever, it's wise to make sure your friend knows where you agree with him. When he says God is love, and that God loves all and desires all people be saved, he is correctly summarizing 1 John 4:16, John 3:16 and 1 Tim. 2:4. We not only agree that Jesus died for the world's sins (1 John 2:2), we even proclaim that God declared the entire world not guilty in Jesus (Rom. 5:18).
But while your friend is correctly sharing some scriptural truths, he is, perhaps unknowingly, omitting others.
Your friend isn't alone. Many Christians feel that God's reputation as a gracious God is forfeited if we don't modify the historic confession that hell is conscious, eternal suffering for everyone who dies in unbelief.
Our task, however, is not to make God sound palatable to cultural sensibilities. Yes, Scripture is clear that Jesus is Savior of all and that he also desires the salvation of those who do not acknowledge him. His tears for the unbelievers in Jerusalem were genuine (Luke 19:41).
Yet Jesus talks about hell more forcefully, frequently, and fully than anyone. He tells us that the broad and busy superhighway is the one leading to hell not heaven (Matt. 7:13). It is Jesus who vividly portrays the conscious, eternal suffering of the damned as he tells us about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19f).
It is also Jesus who coins the most common description of hell: the place where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). If we inquire how long this "weeping and gnashing of teeth" continues, he tells us in Matthew 25. After Jesus pronounces judgment on the sheep and goats (believers and unbelievers), he announces that the unbelievers "will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). We can no more argue biblically against the eternity of hell than the eternity of heaven.
How do you explain to someone the idea of hell who doesn't believe in it?
To explain the doctrine of hell you need to point people to the passages in the Bible that speak about hell. It is described as a place of torment that will never end, prepared for the devil and his angels. There unbelievers will spend eternity. (Isaiah 64:24, Matthew 3:12, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 5:29-30, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Jude 7, 2 Peter 2:4, Luke 16:19-31, Mark 9:43-48).
Unless people understand the law, which reveals the depths of human sinfulness and God's righteous wrath over sin, they will have difficulty grasping a place of eternal punishment. You might want to review what God says in Romans 1:18,19 and Romans 3:9-20. Make sure also to remember God's salvation, his plan of deliverance through faith in his Son, Jesus, whom he offered up as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins—and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world (Romans 3:21-28, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, 1 John 2:2). If a person understands the depths of his sinfulness and the punishment he deserves, he will more readily grasp the depths of God's love in offering his Son for our salvation. A proper understanding of the law and the gospel is important for a correct understanding of hell and heaven.
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