Billy Graham: We Must Talk About Hell

Billy Graham: We Must Talk About Hell

The most unpopular subject a minister can choose to preach about is hell. Yet the Bible has almost as much to say about it as any other subject. I cannot ignore it, even though it makes people uncomfortable.

The word hell is used in thousands of conversations in hundreds of different ways every day.

Some people use it in swearing.

Others use it to describe their lives.

I once received a letter from an alcoholic saying that he was enduring a living hell. A woman wrote that she had been married only two years, but her home was already a hell on Earth. 

But in the church, the doctrine of hell is not only unpopular, it is almost forgotten. In glancing through the books in my library, I found that there have not been many sermons on this subject in recent years.

Because it has not been preached, few people seem to believe in hell anymore. I have had a number of ministers tell me that they have never preached a sermon on hell.

Yet, as I read the New Testament, I find again and again direct references to this subject, and most of them are made by Jesus Christ.

Perhaps because some people associate hell with a kind of outmoded theology in which the devil is pictured as a fire-engine-red creature with a fork, tail, split hoofs and horns, we cannot imagine anyone taking the subject seriously. 

But I must remind you, with all the earnestness of my soul, that the same Bible that tells us about the love of God and the beauties of Heaven also tells us about judgment and hell.

There is only one person who was ever qualified to speak authoritatively of the future life, and that is Jesus Christ. Read in the New Testament some of the statements that Christ made about this place called hell: 

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41).

I have heard some people say that they live by the Sermon on the Mount, and therefore they do not believe in hell. But listen to what Christ had to say in that sermon: “Whosoever says [to his brother], ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

There are many similar utterances which fell from the lips of our Lord in which He emphasized the fact that people should avoid hell at all cost.

There are four words that have been translated hell in our Bible. One word is sheol, which in the Old Testament is translated a number of times as hell. It means an unseen state—a shadowy underworld. Words of sorrow, pain and destruction are used in connection with it.

The second word is hades, which is translated from the Greek and is used 10 times in the New Testament. It means the same as the Hebrew word sheol in the Old Testament. Judgment and suffering are always connected with it.

The third word is tartarus, used only once, in 2 Peter 2:4, where it says that disobedient angels are cast into tartarus. It indicates a place of judgment such as a prison or dungeon where there is intense darkness.

The fourth word is gehenna, used 12 times in the New Testament and translated as hell. It is the illustration that Jesus used of the valley of Hinnom, a place outside Jerusalem where rubbish and debris burned continually.

No one can read the Bible without recognizing that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). No one can read the Bible even casually without realizing that there is a day of reckoning and judgment coming. No one can read the Bible without recognizing that there is a hell.

We fashion our earthly hells out of the passions, the selfishness and the sin that floods into our lives. There is always plenty of material for the fabrication of a hell on Earth, and many of us have made one from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

However, the Bible indicates not only that there can be a hell of our own making on Earth, but that there is a hell in the future, toward which everyone who rejects Christ is going.

Many people ask, “Why should this doctrine, which seems irrelevant to many in this modern age, be brought to our attention? Why should we give it any consideration? Why should we warn people to flee from it?”

First, we should shun hell because of God’s warnings concerning it. God does not waste time in idle chatter. He makes every word count, and we do well to heed His tender, loving warnings.

His Word says, “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly … the Lord knows how … to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4-5, 9).

Second, we should shun hell because of Christ’s estimate of it. He called it “everlasting punishment.” He called it “outer darkness,” where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

He called it “a furnace of fire.” He called it “a place prepared for the devil and his angels.” He called it a place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

He told us that it is a place where we have consciousness and the use of our faculties. In the story of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Christ said the rich man in hades lifted up his eyes—he had vision. He was in agony, being in torment.

He had the faculty of speech; he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (Luke 16:24). He had memories; he said, “I have five brothers … testify to them, lest they come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:28). These are Jesus’ words, not mine. I make no attempt to explain them away.

Christ has told us enough for us to know that hell is a place to be shunned. He considered it so awful in its darkness, its separation and its agony that He spoke at length, both to the multitudes, and to His disciples, about its terrors. 

He told men to flee from it, to pluck out an offending eye, if need be. “It is better,” He said, “for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Mark 9:47). 

Jesus used every descriptive word at His command to warn people to flee the wrath of God that will fall upon sinners who reject God’s plan of salvation.

Third, we should shun hell because of what it cost God to save us from it. Heaven would not have sacrificed her Royal Prince, God would not have given His only Son, and Christ would not have willingly died on the cross, if the penalty facing mankind had been a light one. God so loved us that He gave His only Son to die in our place in order to save us from the judgment of our sin.

Finally, we should shun hell because God did not create man for it. Hell was created primarily for the devil and his angels. But if you insist on rejecting Christ, then you are destined to spend eternity with the devil and his angels.

Essentially and basically, hell is separation from God. It is “the second death,” which is described as banishment from the presence of all that is joyous, good, righteous and happy.

The Bible has other fearful descriptions concerning the awful condition in which the soul without Christ will find itself after death, yet people will prepare for everything except death.

We prepare for education; we prepare for business; we prepare for our careers; we prepare for marriage; we prepare for old age; we prepare for everything except the moment we are to die. But the Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27).

Everyone would like to ignore death, but everyone must face it—the prince and the peasant, the fool and the philosopher, the murderer and the saint. Death knows no age limit or partiality.

And after death, there is an appointment with God on the judgment day, and all who have deliberately ignored God during their lifetime will be banished from His presence.

If you are out of Christ and away from God now, in many ways you are in hell; for hell is separation from God.

We were not made for sin. We were not made for bondage. We were made for life, for joy, for peace, for happiness, for love, for Heaven and for God. Christ is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36).

Renounce your sin. Repent of your sins and receive Christ as your Lord and Savior. At this moment surrender yourself to Him. Let Jesus into your life. Give Him your heart and your devotion.  ©1956 BGEA

Is Your Soul Right With God?

If you are not sure where you stand with Almighty God, you can be sure today. First, confess your sin and turn away from it. Second, receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, putting your faith in Him alone to save you. You can do that right now. He promises to live in you and transform your life. You can have a new life, a new beginning, if you will surrender to Christ.


You can pray a prayer like this:

“Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I’m sorry for my sin. I want to turn from my sin. Please forgive me. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son; I believe He died on the cross for my sin and You raised Him to life. I want Him to come into my heart and take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”


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