Would a God of infinite love, delight in torturing sinners in a lake of fire for eternity? Does hell last forever? What does the Bible say?
If you have not already done so, please read the following gems that set the scene for what we are about to study:
Now let's dig deep in the word of God for answers. Always remember to have a prayerful, humble spirit as you study the Bible, that way the Holy Spirit can guide you into truth.
First of all, it is clear from Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death.
"For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." - Romans 6:23
Burning in hell forever is not death. Death is ceasing to exist. Life and death are opposites. The righteous receive eternal life, and the wicked receive death, and once dead and utterly destroyed they never live again. So in this sense we can call the punishment of the wicked 'eternal death'.
The righteous and wicked are opposite in character and life, so their reward is opposite: eternal life and eternal death.
Again we read about the wicked as ceasing to exist:
"For yet a little while, and the wicked [shall] not [be]: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it [shall] not [be]." - Psalms 37:10
In the book of Obadiah we read about the wicked that:
"...they shall be as though they had not been." - Obadiah 1:16
Again the psalmist makes the matter clear:
"Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever. O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them. But the LORD shall endure for ever..." - Psalms 9:5-7
Notice in the verse above, that the name of the wicked shall be put out forever and ever and their destruction shall come to a 'perpetual end', but the Lord shall endure for ever. In other words, the wicked are not being destroyed for ever, but they suffer a destruction that has everlasting consequences, namely eternal death. So when the wicked are destroyed in the second death, they will never come back to life their end is for ever.
But, as clear as these texts may be, the purpose of this gem is to also look at some of the texts that seem to suggest the wicked suffer an eternal torment.
When we are studying the Bible it is important to start with the clear texts, easy to be understood. Once we have a foundation in them, then we can seek to understand the more difficult texts. Remember, the Bible does not contradict itself. What we have just discovered must harmonise with the rest of scripture.
In Revelation chapter twenty verse ten, the Bible says:
"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." - Revelation 20:10
Preceding this verse we read that the thousand years has expired and the wicked from all ages have been resurrected and had encompassed the city of God. Verse 9 says:
"And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." - Revelation 20:9
As we have already seen, the Bible is clear that the fate of the wicked is death, not eternal torture. It also ought to be noted that the expression 'tormented day and night for ever and ever' is not used in reference to the great body of wicked, but to the devil. We read about the wicked that fire came down and devoured them. Nevertheless if only the devil were to suffer for eternity, the fact would remain. So let's study some other scripture texts to see a clearer picture.
The term 'for ever' can be used with certain limits. Jonah, when he was in the belly of the whale, said:
"I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars [was] about me for ever" - Jonah 2:6
We read about Sodom and Gomorrah that:
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." - Jude 1:7
Also in Exodus chapter 21, we read that if a Hebrew slave chose to serve his master for life that:
"Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever" - Exodus 21:6
Now we know that Jonah was only in the whale for three days, and not 'for ever'. Sodom and Gomorrha are not still burning today. And of course there are no Hebrew slaves that are still serving their masters now. So we can see that the term 'for ever' can have limits. In one case it was limited to three days, in another it was as long as fire took to destroy the city, and in another as long as life shall last.
With these things in mind, and also remembering that the wicked are to be totally destroyed, we can now harmonise the statement that they are to be tormented with fire and brimstone for ever and ever. This could mean many days or limited to a few.
Let's take another pertinent example.
In Isaiah 34 we read about God's judgement on the earth.
"For the indignation of the LORD [is] upon all nations, and [his] fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling [fig] from the fig tree." - Isaiah 34:2-4
Remember a few gems ago we read in 2. Peter about the heavens being dissolved, this refers to the great day of God, when He returns to this earth.
But notice what Isaiah says a few verses later:
"And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever." - Isaiah 34:9-10
This is talking about the earth here... saying that it would become a molten mass that not being quenched night or day, the smoke going up for ever etc... Does this mean it will be like this for all eternity? Or could it mean as long as it shall last, as we have seen in other references to 'for ever'?
In the next chapter of Isaiah the tables are turned! We read:
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, [shall be] grass with reeds and rushes. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." - Isaiah 34:1, 7, 10
So afterwards the earth is to blossom as the rose, and parched ground shall be a pool. As Peter says:
"Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." - 2. Peter 3:13
This settles the whole question. The wicked will be punished when this earth itself is a lake of fire, yet afterwards the earth is to be like Eden. It is very evident as in the case of the Hebrew slave, Jonah and others, that the term 'for ever and ever', as applied to the wicked in the lake of fire, is limited to as long as their life shall last. They will not have received their total punishment until they are dead, because the wages of sin is death. Their torment in fire is only a preliminary punishment, followed by death.
So dear reader, God does not delight in death or torture. God is love. There is coming a time when sin and sinners will be no more, and the perfect atmosphere of love will once again be restored to the universe. And the question remains... on whose side will you stand? Will you take your place under the banner of Christ, to stand for the right though the heavens may fall? Don't let any distraction and temptation of the devil lead you away from Christ. Walk with Him day by day, and the time will come you can stand on that sea of glass before God's throne and so shall you ever be with the Lord!
- by Emmanuel Higgins