In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means “the place of the dead” or “the place of departed souls/spirits.” The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to “the place of the dead.” The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for “hell” and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called “heaven,” “paradise,” or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).
The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8), is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a literal place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46). Those who have rejected Christ and are in the temporary abode of the dead in hades/sheol have the lake of fire as their final destination.
Jesus refers to Gehenna/Hell several times (Matthew 10:28; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:5), as well as an “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13). These are all different references to the same thing. Hell, the lake of fire, and outer darkness are all terms describing the final destination of those who reject Christ. This is a state of complete separation from God, never-ending and inescapable.
According to the Bible, the lake of fire is the “second death.” This is the ultimate consequence of sin, which is to be totally cut off from God. The lake of fire will be a place of perpetual suffering and misery. Scripture indicates that every person whose name is not in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The lake of fire will also be the fate of the beast and false prophet from the end times (Revelation 19:20), as well as Satan himself (Revelation 20:10). The Bible indicates that both death and Hades/Hell—the temporary destination of the unsaved dead—will also be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
Even though Hell is described using terminology such as fire and flame, it is not meant to be thought of as only a physical place. Hell is described as a place of “torment,” not “torture,” initially intended for purely spiritual beings.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” Matthew 25:41
In fact, the worst aspect of Hell is an eternity of conscious, guilty, shameful separation from God and all forms of goodness. In that sense, Hell is far worse than a literal inferno.
Fire is often used as a symbol of God’s judgment. The symbolism stems from real-life examples of God’s use of fire to punish the wicked—the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), for example, and the destruction of Elijah’s enemies (2 Kings 1:12). Prophets often described God with a stream of fire coming from His throne, a symbol of His holy punishment of sin (e.g., Daniel 7:10; Isaiah 30:33). The fact that the destiny of those who reject God and the “lake of fire” speaks to how serious the judgment is. When God finally abolishes sin and death, all sinners will be condemned to the worst possible fate, described in the Bible using the most horrific terms.
But those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life should have no fear of this terrible fate. By faith in and the acceptance of the Christ and His blood shed on the cross for our sins, we are destined to live eternally in peace and in the physical presence of God Himself.
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Revelation 21:3