Is hell populated now or are people sent there only after Christ’s future judgment?

reaching out from the flames“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.

2 thoughts on “Is hell populated now or are people sent there only after Christ’s future judgment?

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  1. I think you have your timing wrong. If the devil and his angels were already in hell, then how could the devil be on earth tempting us today.

    You need to consider the question where is hell, if there is a hell today. The Bible says that the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire. Where could this lake of fire be? And since the Bible shows that the wicked will be resurrected from the earth, that means that hell will have the wicked with actual bodies. Which means that the Biblical concept that death is sleep when we first die. And that when we are resurrected some will be resurrected to eternal life and some to the second death or eternal death.

    John 3:16 clearly says that only the righteous inherit eternal life and the opposite of life is death. No where in the Bible does it equate death as a separation of or from God.

    Romans 6:23 also clearly states that the wages of sin is death, and that eternal life is through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Plus how are the wicked to live forever in Hell. Since God did not allow them to eat from the tree of life. In Revelation 22 it says that the only ones permitted to eat from the tree of life will be those who do God’s commandments, They will have the right to eat from the tree of life and enter into the gates of His City.

    God is love and a God who sends others to burn and suffer forever contradicts the basic theme of the Bible that God is love.

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    1. @Gerald,

      Did you read 2 Peter 2:4 or Jude 6? They leave no doubt there are fallen angels chained in hell right now. You made the false assumption that I was saying that ALL fallen angels were presently being held there. Obviously the scriptures say there are some fallen angels still roaming freely, including Satan.

      Even fallen angels who roam freely have hell as their headquarters. We find this out from Revelation 9:1-11 where the fallen angel Abaddon has the key to the bottomless pit, aka hell, to unleash hellish creatures in the future. We know the bottomless pit is hell because Isaiah 5:14 says hell has been enlarged without measure.

      I’ve already considered where hell is based on the 2 Peter scripture mentioned in my post, so your assumption that I haven’t is off-base. Hell, or the bottomless pit, is down in relation to both heaven and earth, which is why the beast symbolically ASCENDS from there (Revelation 11:7; 17:8). The Old Testament tells us several times that hell is down (Psalm 55:15; Proverbs 5:5; Isaiah 14:15; Ezekiel 31:16-17; Amos 9:2; Matthew 11:23). You question “if there is a hell today” but Jesus and his apostles left no question whatsoever that hell exists.

      The fact you introduce John 3:16 & Romans 6:23 to make a confused point doesn’t bode well. You twist the meaning of “eternal life” by implying that living forever in hell would be eternal life. That’s not even close to being true. Existing in hell forever is called “eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29).

      Your final “God is love” argument also omits the truth of scripture and imposes human understanding (eisegesis) onto scripture and onto God’s nature. Because God is the God of love, that automatically means he is a God of justice. Just as a person avoids being banished from society forever with life in prison or the death penalty by being a law-abiding citizen, a person can make their own choice to avoid eternal punishment by obeying the law of Christ. God gives us all multiple, innumerable opportunities for that in this life to avoid hell. If a person ends up burning forever, it’s their own fault, not God’s. Would God be holy, loving, and just if he allowed Hitler and Stalin a quick trip to hell letting them get away with tormenting millions over lengthy periods?

      Revelation 14:11 and 20:10 state clearly that people who ultimately end up in the lake of fire burn forever since the smoke of their torment lasts forever, especially given that the number of beings in the lake of fire will be finite. They will also not have any rest day or night, according to those scriptures. Hebrews 6:2 even speaks of “eternal judgment.” But Jesus leaves us no doubt what that really means when he repeatedly said in Mark 9 that wicked individuals in hell will not have their fire quenched and “their worm dieth not.”

      Please stop doubting the scriptures and broaden your understanding.

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