...there is only the Spiritual realm, ...and to which one either serves God in heaven or resides in hell awaiting Judgment.
This is an actual quote from someone during an online discussion on the subject, but this is not anything against who ever said it, but rather a response to the prevailing view behind it that people generally seem to adhere to.
The topic of Hell in itself is a rather large subject that is much more complex that you might initially think, and is a topic I intend to cover here soon as a series.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. A lot of Christians would say that hell is the 'final destination' of the dead who are not "in Christ". But if the dead already reside in hell then surely they have already been judged? If not, then why are they there? What use is the final judgement if God has already pre-decided what most people's fate is? That isn't judgement, that's a decision with no consideration.
Look at the definition of judgement in the Oxford dictionary:
The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.
Or in another definition: "The capacity to assess situations or circumstances and draw sound conclusions".
If its already been decided that the dead without Christ are going to hell, then they haven't been judged in the way the Scriptures portray - and definitely not with "considered decisions" about the "situations or circumstances" of the people involved.
So how does Scripture portray God's judgement on people? Let's look at the Great White Throne judgement:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.
This judgement sounds a bit different to simply being condemned to hell automatically. At least here it appears as though God is considering his judgement on the people before deciding, else what is the point to this process?
Another thing to consider is what Paul writes about the Law being written on our hearts so that we are without excuse - another verses often bandied about, but we must consider the full statement made by Paul and not stop short of it:
When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
This is in line with Revelation's depiction of judgment as God looks at their deeds in his books, he sees everything we've ever said and done, and even then some deeds and thoughts may "excuse them" on the day of judgement.
I feel confident in God's justice here that those who didn't know Christ "personally" but still lived as though they did, or still lived as though they followed his commands, will have that taken into account by God. But before you quote John 14:6 at me and cry out "but none come to the Father except through Christ!" - remember who is the one judging: Jesus. If he accepts them as righteous on the day of judgement, then they have indeed still come to the Father through Jesus, even if it's not in the way we would have expected.
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