Does hell have levels, each with a different degree of punishment?
The Bible does not offer clear information to indicate whether or not there are different "levels" of hell. Rather, the idea that hell includes different levels was first popularized in the Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and 1321. In it, 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 befitting their crimes. Each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. 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.
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While this account of hell is fictional, there may be some fact to support varying degrees of punishment in hell. The primary passage to support this possibility is found in Revelation 20:11-15. There, people are judged according to what they had done as "recorded in the books" (Revelation 20:12). While this may indicate that the "lake of fire" is made up of varying degrees of torment, the Bible's emphasis is on avoiding eternal separation from God. It is to be avoided since God desires that no one would perish (John 3:16), but have eternal life.
While it is not enjoyable to discuss the afterlife of unbelievers, Jesus was clear that many would spend the afterlife apart from Him. Matthew 7:13-14 notes, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Notice again that the emphasis Jesus gave was to follow Him and to avoid hell, not to seek a lower punishment in hell.
Luke 16:19-31 also notes the punishment of hell will be severe for all who endure it. In Luke 16:24, a certain rich man begged for a drop of water on his tongue to quench his agony. Furthermore, he begged God to send someone to warn his family about the agony of hell so they would not receive the same punishment (Luke 16:28).
The emphasis of the Bible is not on the degrees or levels of hell, but on avoiding it altogether and helping others to avoid it as well. God went to great lengths to provide salvation for us through Jesus, including subjecting His own son to a painful crucifixion. He did this to provide an opportunity for men to experience eternity with God. We are called to receive Him (John 1:12) as well as to tell others about the love of Christ so that they too can enjoy heaven with Him (Matthew 28:18-20).
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Truth about Eternity