Are there different levels of punishment in hell?

Question: "Are there different levels of punishment in hell?"

The idea that there are different levels of punishment in hell probably derives from the Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and 1321 and widely considered the central epic poem of Italian literature. In it, the Roman poet Virgil guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell. The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the center of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes. Each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. People who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found in Purgatory, where they labor to be free of their sins, not in Hell. According to Dante, the circles range from the first circle, where dwell the unbaptized and virtuous pagans, to the very center of hell reserved for those who have committed the ultimate sin—treachery against God.

Although it does not specifically say so, the Bible might seem to indicate that there might be different levels of punishment in Hell. In Revelation 20:11-15, the people are judged “according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12). All the people at this judgment, though, are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-15). So, perhaps, the purpose of the judgment is to determine how severe the punishment in Hell. Whatever the case, being thrown into a slightly less hot portion of the lake of fire is no consolation to those who are still doomed for eternity.

Whatever degrees of punishment Hell contains, it is clear that this is a place to be avoided. Unfortunately, the Bible states that most people will wind up in Hell, not in Heaven. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The question one must ask is “which road am I on?” The “many” who are on the broad road have one thing in common—they have all rejected Christ as the one and only way to Heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If He said He is the only way, that’s exactly what He meant. Everyone following any other “way” beside Jesus Christ are on the broad road to destruction, and whether or not there are different levels of punishment in Hell, the suffering is hideous, dreadful, everlasting, and avoidable.

Recommended Resource: Four Views on Hell edited by John Walvoord.

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Related Topics:

What does the Bible say about Purgatory?

Is the Divine Comedy / Dante's Inferno a biblically accurate description of Heaven and Hell?

What does the Bible say about when God will judge us?

Is annihilationism Biblical?

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Are there different levels of punishment in hell?