“I do not believe that hell is populated right now, even though you often hear…television preachers say that not only is hell populated now by unbelievers but there are some pretty sensationalistic claims sometimes made about hell. …
“One of the things you learn about in Peter’s epistles is that when an unbeliever dies, he goes to a place of punishment. It’s kind of likened to a spirit prison where he awaits the future great white throne judgment. …He is in a holding place where he is presently being punished and there’s a future day when he will be resurrected from the dead and after he is resurrected from the dead he will then face…the great white throne judgment. …[It is there] he will be given the justification for spending eternity in the lake of fire…” Ron Rhodes, “False Views of the Afterlife,” In the Market with Janet Parshall, January 14, 2016 broadcast (about 33:05 to about 34:45 in the podcast) .
I have respect for what Ron Rhodes has accomplished in helping saints understand some important theological questions; especially his exposing the false teachings of false religions. But I disagree with this point of his about hell. I believe this misconception about hell not being currently populated is based on two misunderstandings as follows:
(1) He thinks the lake of fire and hell are the same place.
(2) He believes scripture never implies or states outright that hell is inhabited.
There is at least one passage of scripture that corrects both of these misconceptions that Mr. Rhodes and others have concerning hell. It just happens to be the very “great white throne judgment” passage he refers to in his quote above to defend his misconception. Revelation 20:11-15 says,
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away…
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened…
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
So we see here in the revelation Jesus Christ gave to John, hell and the lake of fire are two separate places. Hell is actually the temporary place of punishment where unbelievers are held until the great white throne judgment. The people in hell, and hell itself, will be thrown into a greater hell called the lake of fire after this judgment.
The following scriptures also debunk the two misconceptions above:
- 2 Peter 2:4–God created hell for the angels that sinned as a holding place of punishment until his day of final judgment.
- Isaiah 5:14–Even though the Lord originally created hell as a prison for fallen angels, hell was enlarged to accommodate humans who die in their unbelief.
- Luke 16:23–Christ used the story of Lazarus and the rich man to illustrate that hell is populated and people there are in torment and could, at that time, see into the place where the deceased saints stayed.
- Matthew 10:28–Jesus said God had the power to destroy people’s souls and bodies in hell. The present tense he used at that time implied God could and did send people to hell during that time.
- Ezekiel 31:16-17–The Lord told Ezekiel to warn Pharaoh that the warriors of the Assyrian Empire were in hell after they were slain by Babylon.
These scriptures are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the fires of hell, where dead unbelievers dwell.