Scripture speaks of two locations as places of torment. Both places are commonly called “hell.” Hades is the current place of departed spirits who are not with the Lord, that is, those who never accepted the forgiveness that God offers in Jesus Christ. The rich man in Luke 16 describes his current location as a place of torment as the result of fire (verses 23–24). The second place of torment is Gehenna or the lake of fire, which will be the final place of punishment for those who die in their sins. Of course, whatever the differences between Hades and the lake of fire, one will probably be no better than the other for those who are experiencing them. In popular usage, hell is somewhat of an amalgamation of the two biblical terms.
If, when speaking of “hell,” one is thinking of the current holding place of the unrighteous dead, Scripture simply does not tell us when that place was created. Presumably it would not have been needed until the first unrighteous person died. Obviously, God may have had this place prepared some time in advance, but we simply don’t know.
If by “hell” one is thinking of the final place of punishment, the lake of fire, then we are given a little more information, but not very much. In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of a time of final judgment. To those who are finally condemned He says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (verse 41). If this refers to the lake of fire, then we know that it was created primarily for the spirit beings that rebelled, and their rebellion may very well have taken place long before the actual creation of the world.
When we think of God and time, it is always a bit confusing because God is not bound by the constraints of time, as we are. God does not have to “wait and see” in order to respond to a situation. From our time-bound perspective, it makes sense to think that the lake of fire was created after the rebellion of Satan but before the rebellion of human beings or else it would have been created for Satan, his angels, and people who follow in that rebellion. Although God knows the end from the beginning, there is some sense in which God did not create the lake of fire for people, even though those who refuse to bow the knee to Him will go there anyway.
The most important question is not when hell was created but how to avoid it. Those who have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit will not be affected by the second death (Revelation 20:6). To avoid hell, cast yourself upon the mercy of Christ, the One who died to pay for the sins of all who would trust in Him.
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