Most of us have wondered what hell is like. One of the best clues we have about the nature of hell is what happened with Jesus on the cross and in the grave.
Jesus laid down His life to atone for sin. He died to atone for sin. He went to the grave to atone for sin. With His death, He fully paid the wages of sin for those who trust Him with their salvation.
Those who do not trust Jesus with their salvation will pay the wages themselves. They will atone for their own sins. How? The same way Jesus did—by dying the second death. This is the death from which there’s no resurrection (unless you’re God—unless you are the life force yourself).
Jesus is not suffering eternal torment to atone for sin. Those who trust themselves for their own salvation will not suffer eternal torment to atone for their sin. They will go to the grave, as Jesus did. It’s no surprise, then, that the word usually translated as “hell” in English Bible translations means “grave.”
Hell Is the Grave
So, when we ask what hell is like, we ask what the grave is like—basically, what it’s like to be dead. After Jesus’ resurrection, He had no experience to report. After Lazarus’s resurrection, He had no experience to report. In the Bible, people whom God raised from the dead had nothing to report. God resurrected them from nothingness: “The dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
Just as God brought Adam into existence from nonexistence (Genesis 2:7), we return to nonexistence when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7). That’s why the word usually translated as “hell” in English Bible translations means “grave.” That’s why the Bible refers to the destruction of the lost as “the second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8).
When we seek to understand what hell is like, we can take clues from Dante’s Inferno (still good for literary value), Far Side cartoons (still good for a laugh), or the Bible. (If you’re thinking that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is the model, please read this).
“It Is Finished”
It comes down to this: Why would the lost receive a different consequence for sin than Jesus did? Why would Jesus pay a different price for sin than the lost will? The old covenant atonement system required the death—not the eternal suffering—of an innocent lamb. The wages of sin is death.
Regarding Jesus’ atonement act, “it is finished” and complete. Regarding the atonement for the lost, it will be finished and complete. There will be an end to suffering. “’There shall be no more death.’ Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain” (Revelation 21:4).