Question

Is God’s judgment present in hell or not? These verses oppose one another – 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 14:10.

Answer

God is most certainly omnipresent (cf. Psa. 139:7-12). And hell is an actual place! Although there are no postal routes there, it has an eternal zip code. But the apostle Paul does speak of those in hell as being cast away from “the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. At the same time John informs us in Revelation 14:10 that anybody who receives the beast’s image is “tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

So, Paul says those in hell are “away from” God’s presence, and John says they are “in” God’s presence. Which is it? Since we know that all Scripture is true, how do we then reconcile these two passages?

To put it simply, when Paul speaks of being cast away from God’s presence, he means being excluded from God’s presence as the source of all goodness and blessedness (Jas. 1:17; cf. Psa. 136:7). Being in God’s presence brings eternal rewards. As the Psalmist writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psa. 16:11; cf. Psa. 17:15; 21:6; 36:8; 46:4; 49:15, et. al.).

He most surely doesn’t mean away from God’s omnipresent sovereignty and lordship. How do we know this? One way is because Paul, the Hebrew of the Hebrews (Phil. 3:5), who was educated under Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law (Acts 22:3), quoted or at least alluded to Amos numerous times when he spoke (Acts 15:15-18 [Amos 9:11-12]; 1 Cor. 3:6-8; 9:7; 15:20 [Amos 9:13-15]). Indeed, he had many of the same theological concerns as Amos: (1) creation – 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Cor. 15 [Amos 4:13; 5:8; 9-11-14]; (2) concern over Gentiles – 1 Cor. 1:17-2:2; 9:19-22 [Amos 9:7, 11-14]; (3) God knowing his people – 1 Cor. 13:12 [Amos 3:2]; (4) the day of judgment – 1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Cor. 15 [Amos 5:18-20]; and (5) secrets and mysteries – 1 Cor. 2:7, 10; 4:1 [Amos 3:7], etc. So, Paul was very acquainted with the book of Amos, where we find the following:

If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them (Amos 9:2-3; cf. Prov. 15:3; Jer. 23:23-24).

Paul understood God’s omnipresence (cf. Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17). He knew Adam and Eve tried to escape it (cf. Gen. 3:8) – even Jonah (cf. Jonah 1:3). But none were or will ever be successful (cf. Isa. 2:10; Rev. 6:16). Paul was most certainly familiar with Jesus’ words as well, knowing that God is the eternal destroyer of both soul and body in hell (cf. Matt. 10:28). Make no mistake about it, hell is a horrible place, not because God is not there but because he and his eternal judgment are forever there (Matt. 25:46; cf. Rom. 1:18-19).

So, Paul wasn’t denying Scripture. Rather, he was upholding every jot and tittle of it.

Related Topics

Wasn't hell made for the devil and his angels and not real people?
Hell isn't forever, is it?
An Eternal Hell is for Real - The Heresy of Annihilationism?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).