QUESTION: I have a question I would love to hear your thoughts on when you have time. Is Hell a physical place, and, if so, where is it?
THE FINAL STATE
ANSWER: I would suggest that final hell is not a physical place, though it may begin in an embodied state.
The Final State begins very clearly with a resurrection for all. This is the clear teaching of both Jesus and His Apostles:
- John 5:28-29 Jesus was clear all the dead will be raised, some to life and some to judgement;
- Rev 20:12-15 speaks of all the dead being raised and then judged;
- 2 Peter 2:9 speaks of the unsaved being held some intermediate state until judgment;
- Acts 24:15 Paul says there shall be a resurrection of the dead both of the just and unjust etc.
If this is so, then the lost are currently in some state that is NOT physical (that is, not embodied). It is probably best to think of it through the lens of Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the unnamed Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). There is consciousness there, clearly, but it is not the final state. At the Resurrection, it seems the Lost must receive some kind of body. They are “raised” after all.
WHAT KIND OF BODY?
But of what type? Not the glorious bodies described by Paul when talking about the resurrection of us in Christ (1 Cor 15:42-57). So again, what kind?
Nothing is said in Scripture at all. So if the lost are raised with bodies of some type, for the purpose of judgment, it would suggest Hell must be a physical place with a physical location. But I don’t know this has to be true. For Jesus describes hell as the place of destruction of “both body and soul” (Matthew 10:28).
If the body is destroyed there, does it start physical and then change somehow, like our current bodies decompose over time? But if the soul is destroyed there, is the place physical at all? It’s called the “2nd death”, so maybe the physical existence of the damned is for their judgment only, then eternal death overwhelms them and they are cast into another dimension that Jesus called hell which is non-corporeal.
We don’t know. We do know Hell is clearly a place made by God. So it has objective existence somewhere. But where? We are never told.
IN THE EARTH?
Some have speculated that it is inside the earth. Maybe this should go without saying, but I think this can’t be true. Obviously, we’ve researched the earth’s core and it seems to be entirely a physical place.
Any reference in Scripture to the wicked going “the way of the earth” or associating hell with the ground must be metaphorical. After all, all the dead do go to the ground. That the ground or the earth or “things under the earth” became a biblical way of thinking about hell or the damned or the powers of evil, does not require us to believe in a three tiered universe nor that under our feet was the actual physical location of hell.
Nevertheless, if the Lost are raised physically, and Jesus said their “bodies” are destroyed there, it suggests some place corporeal, and physical. I think we have to be content with ignorance about its location or nature. That it is a location in this space/time dimension, seems very unlikely.
THE LOCATION OF HEAVEN
However, I will say that I am less skeptical that the Kingdom itself will be in a completely different dimension of space and time. Many think that at the resurrection, all things are destroyed and a completely new reality is made. I have reason to doubt this. The Kingdom is always described as the New Heavens and New Earth. Jesus comes to make “all things new” not “all new things.”
So I have some expectation that the physical reality into which we will be born anew with new bodies may be this very place. This earth, made new. And not just this 3rd Rock from this particular sun, but this Universe itself. This is speculation on my part, I should be clear. But even less clear is the location of the damned.
I think since they have a specific abode made for them (well, actually not for them, but for the Devil and his angels, yet used for any human spirits who side with them Matt 25:41), it could be in any dimension God chooses. And since the lost always seem to be portrayed as grass, fading, withering, small, often nameless, being destroyed, it seems that wherever hell is, it is shrinking, not growing, just as a burning log shrinks as it is destroyed.
HEAVEN AND HELL MEET?
CS Lewis likens hell to a speck in the dust of heaven, small and inconsequential to all who live in bliss. You find that idea in his fictional vehicle to talk about hell/heaven, “The Great Divorce.” I think you’d enjoy it.
Wherever that reality of Final Hell exists and however it will exist, we know it will not overlap heaven. So likely not in the same physical space/reality at all. For Jesus said they’ll be banished, quarantined forever:
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!”
So no final answer can be given on location. As to whether it is a physical place – at least partially, initially? Perhaps. Does it remain so for all eternity? I doubt that.