(One of many Bible articles on the "Wielding the Sword of the Spirit" web site at www.matthewmcgee.org)
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Hell Part 1: Assurance of Eternal Torment for the Lost

Matthew McGee

There was a time when I assumed that any serious Bible student understood and accepted that there will be literal eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire for the lost. Scriptural passages dealing with this issue are so abundant, widely scattered, and straight-forward, that I thought that it was common knowledge among Bible students. However, I have since read articles and received email from those offering some valuable scriptural insights, but then claiming that eternal torment is not Biblical.

Therefore, in Part 1 of this study, we will examine some scriptural passages which simply establish the reality of eternal torment for the wicked. Then in Part 2 we will go into a more detailed study to understand the meanings of the Hebrew word "Sheol", the Greek words "Gehenna" and "Hades", and the English terms "Hell" and the "Lake of Fire".

This first passage from Revelation shows that the lost of the tribulation will be punished by eternal torment.

"And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Revelation 14:9-11).

Notice the phrase: "... in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb ...." I will comment more on this later.

The only way that their smoke can ascend up forever is if they are on fire and are not consumed by the flame. One may be reminded of Moses and the burning bush: "And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt" (Exodus 3:2-3).

This next passage from Luke shows that the wicked from the Old Testament went to a place of flames and torment. Jesus told of the account of Lazarus and the rich man. We know that this is not a parable because the actual names of Lazarus, Abraham, and Moses are given. The rich man was not in the Lake of Fire yet, but rather, he was, and still is, in Hades. The differences between the Lake of Fire and Hades are discussed in detail in part 2.

"There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:19-31).

Notice that the rich man is conscious, in great agony, and well aware of the fact that he cannot leave.

Jesus often spoke of eternal torment for the lost during his earthly ministry:

"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-48). Also see Isaiah 66:22-24.

The Greek word translated "worm" in the above passage is "skolex", which is simply a worm. Worms scavenge dead flesh and are mentioned doing so in several places in scripture such as Job 21:26 and Isaiah 14:11. Acts 12:23 describes how God smote Herod Agrippa I dead, "And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost." The phrase "eaten of worms" is translated from the Greek word "skolekobrotos" which comes from "skolex". Therefore, the statement, "their worm dieth not", may be a reference to how in the Lake of Fire the body (upon which the worms feed) will never be consumed.

Also in Mark 9:43-48 above, the Greek word translated as "never shall be quenched" is "asbestos", which is also sometimes translated "unquenchable". Asbestos is the substance which was used for insulation and for fire safety before it was discovered that its fibers could cause cancer. You may recall using a Bunsen burner in high school science lab and setting a beaker over the flame supported by a white mesh pad made of asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be woven like wool or cotton. Even in ancient times, it was valued because it does not burn. The Greeks sometimes even used it as napkins! They would wipe the food from their mouths with asbestos napkins and throw them into the fire. The flame would burn off the mess, but not consume the asbestos napkin. So it could be used over and over again. Likewise, the body of the lost person will not be consumed by the Lake of Fire, but will exist in the flames for ever.

In the passage below, we see the fate of the great whore of Revelation chapter 17.

"For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever" (Revelation 19:2-3).

At the end of Jesus Christ's 1000 year reign on earth, Satan will be cast into the Lake of Fire, where the AntiChrist (Beast) and false prophet will have been for 1000 years. The rest of the lost of all time periods will go into the Lake of Fire following Satan.

"And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:10-15).

Daniel prophesied of two future resurrections, one for the saved and one for the lost.

"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2).

Jesus also spoke of this: "... the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29). The two resurrections were separated by a semicolon, and it was later clarified in Revelation 20:5 that the two resurrections would be 1000 years apart.

When Jesus Christ returns to the earth at the end of the great tribulation, He will divide the Gentiles into two groups, sheep and goats. Look at what he says to the goats on his left hand:

"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:41-46).

The "sheep and goats" event described above is not to be confused with the great white throne of judgment of Revelation 20, which will not occur until 1000 years after the tribulation. Only the lost will be present at the great white throne of judgment.

In Isaiah 14, we see the prophecy of how Israel would one day have a "proverb against the king of Babylon" (Isaiah 14:4). The proverb tells of the king's doom and even includes the taunts of the wicked dead who are likewise damned.

"Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?" (Isaiah 14:9-17).

Notice the statement: "They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee ..." in verse 16. Who are they? When will they look narrowly upon The King of Babylon? Isaiah tells more about this:

"For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh" (Isaiah 66:22-24). The new heavens and new earth refers to Revelation 21:1 and the eternity beyond the 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ. It appears that we will be able to see those being tormented in the Lake of Fire. Perhaps this is for a reminder of the punishment from which we were saved. See also the Revelation 14 passage referenced earlier and the phrase: "... in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb ...."

Notice the references to time and duration in this passage "... as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me ...", "... from one new moon to another ...", "... from one sabbath to another ...." Obviously, the destruction of the damned is not an instant annihilation, but an eternal process.

The Opposing View

In the face of this overwhelming evidence, many will try to twist the scriptures into saying that there is no eternal torment for the lost. They may use arguments such as the following:

1. They may point out 1 Timothy 2:4, which refers to God "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." The Greek word translated "will have" in this verse is "thelo" which means "to have in mind" or "to desire" or "to intend". But just because God desires something, does not mean that he forces it to happen. After all, he desires that we refrain from sin, yet we do sin.

2. Quoting Romans 11:26 they may say "... all Israel shall be saved ...." However, they are ignoring the fact that Paul says in Romans 9:6, "... they are not all Israel, which are of Israel ...." Only those with circumcised hearts will be saved, not merely circumcised flesh.

3. They may refer to passages such as 1 Timothy 1:15, "... Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners ...." Certainly, He will save many sinners, but to conclude that He will save them all, is logically flawed. For example, if you say you are going to the store to buy beans, you do not mean that you are going to buy them all.

4. Some may dispute the translation of the Greek word "aionios", which is most often translated "eternal" or "everlasting" in the King James Version of the Bible. They argue that this word does not mean "eternal", but that it just means "a long time". Let us examine this word more closely to see if this view has any credibility.

The prophecy in Matthew 25:46 provides two examples of the use of this word. At the end of the great tribulation, Jesus Christ will divide the Gentile tribulation survivors into two groups. Then He will say, "And these shall go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (aionios)." Here, the English words "everlasting" and "eternal" are each translated from the same Greek word "aionios". Over and over, the word "aionios" is also used to describe the punishment of the lost. For example, Matthew 25:41 says, "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting (aionios) fire, prepared for the devil and his angels ...." Some other examples are Matthew 18:8, Mark 3:29, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Hebrews 6:2, and Jude 1:7. Also, the word "aionios" is used over and over to describe the life of those who receive salvation. For example, Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal (aionios) life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Some other examples are John 6:47, Acts 13:48, Romans 5:21, 1 Timothy 1:16, Titus 3:7, 1 John 5:11, and Jude 21. Therefore, those who argue that the punishment in the lake of fire for the wicked will one day end, must also argue that the life of those who are saved will one day end.

The word "aionios" is used 71 times in the Bible, and every time it is used, it is describing something that is eternal. The word "aionios" is also used to describe the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), salvation (Hebrews 5:9), redemption (Hebrews 9:12), the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:11), the honor and power of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:16), God's glory (1 Peter 5:10), and our immortal bodies that we will one day receive (2 Corinthians 5:1). Those who argue that the punishment in the lake of fire for the wicked will one day end, must also argue that all of these will one day expire.

Finally Romans 16:26 says, "But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting (aionios) God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith ...." The word "aionios" is used here as an adjective directly describing God Himself. So, those who argue that the punishment in the lake of fire for the wicked will one day end, must also argue that God Himself will one day cease to exist! Obviously, God is everlasting, and so is the torment of the lost.

Besides all of this, there are many Bible passages which make it clear that the punishment of the lost is eternal without even using the word "aionios". Several of these passages have been quoted in this article.


The problem is that despite all that the scriptures say, many people simply do not think it would be fair for God to sentence the wicked to eternal torment. They know that God is just. And they reason, "If God is at least as smart as I am, He will agree with me." They rule out the possibility that God may have insights and information that they lack. Yet God says in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." A three-year old child is not capable of properly judging whether all of his father's rules are best. Similarly, we are not capable of stepping into God's shoes and determining what is just. God is the only one fit to judge our eternal destiny. His Word is very clear. There is a place of eternal punishment for the lost.

Hell Part 2: The differences between Hades and the Lake of Fire The meanings of the words Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, Tophet, and the Lake of Fire.

Roman Road to Salvation How to be saved.

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