In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus is reported to have said:
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
The idea of eternal punishment offends a lot of people today, even among believers. And not just today, either—a number of the ancient Church Fathers tried to soften this doctrine by turning it into a kind of pre-Catholic purgatory, where sinners go to get the sin burned out of them so that they then can enter into the eternal blessings of heaven. But Jesus wasn’t one to try and accommodate what you might call the harsh teachings of Christianity with the nice-guy sensibilities of the meek and moral. All of his reported teachings on hell, like the passage above, assume that once you’re thrown into hell, you stay there.
Think about it. Suppose that hell were just a place where evil souls spent a finite amount of time on their way to becoming good souls. Compared to spending eternity in heaven, any finite amount of time spent in hell is going to be relatively infinitesimal compared to the amount of time you spend in heaven. If we assume that hell is just a relatively tiny waypoint on the road to heaven, and we read Jesus’ teachings as recorded in Mark 9, it comes out like this:
If your hand or your foot or your eye causes you to sin, you should cut it off, because it’s better to spend eternity blind and maimed than to keep your whole body, spend a relatively tiny amount of time in hell, and then spend eternity unblinded and unmaimed.
Obviously, that’s nonsense. The reason it’s better to go to heaven maimed is because it’s better to go to heaven, period. And in Jesus’ theology of hell, that’s something that does not happen to sinners who are cast into hell. The whole point of hell is that it does not end—the fire never goes out, the worms gnawing on your body never go away.
Morally and ethically, that’s a terrible theology, of course, which is why so many Christians are anxious to repudiate it. But Jesus wasn’t one of them.