Is Hell Eternal?
It is commonly taught that when the unsaved die they go immediately to a fire that is not even extinguished after trillions of years. No distinction is made between one who sinned a little and one who sinned a lot. The first sin I can remember committing was when I was probably five or six; I lied to my mother. Some believe if I had died then an unrepentant sinner without the atoning blood of Jesus, I would have gone to excruciating suffering in fire for trillions of years and longer just like Satan, Adolf Hitler, Nero and others who had committed many more and much worse sins than I. At the same time, those who teach that God will make no distinction in punishment for those who sin a little and those who sin a lot claim that God is loving and just. Really? How can anyone believe that? Does God's Word teach that?
"For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." Ezekiel 18:32.
The Bible teaches that God would have no enjoyment in torturing the wicked for trillions of years and more. Would those saved in God's kingdom enjoy knowing one of their loved ones was suffering in eternal fire? Will we somehow lose human sympathy when we are serving a God of love? The Bible also teaches that different sins of the unrepentant will be punished according to their degree of sinfulness. Not all sins will be punished the same.
"And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worth of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whosoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Luke 12:47-48.
Hell and many other words in English have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. In the King James Bible 54 verses mention hell; that is more than will be listed on this page. I encourage you to look them all up; you can find them by using a Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. Below are some examples of the ways the word hell is used in the Bible.
Hell Meaning Death:
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow." David was alive at the time he wrote that so he was not referring to literally being in hell and burning but rather being in a situation where he easily could have died. In this text death and hell mean the same thing. Psalms 116:3.
Pslams 16:10 says, "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." In Acts 2:27 this was the verse Peter was referring to when he said, "Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." Jesus Christ was the one whose soul was in hell. Did Jesus burn in hell from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning? No, he was sleeping the sleep of death during that time.
Ezekiel 31:18 says, "I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth." In this text both "hell" and the "pit" mean death.
Isaiah 38:18 says, "For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth." In this verse, the grave, death and the pit are synonyms. Up above in Ezekiel 31:18 you can see that the pit and hell are the same so hell is synonymous with the grave and death.
Hell on Earth:
Deuteronomy 32:22 says, "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn into the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains." Notice that the fire starts outside of hell and burns into hell and that it is on earth as the "foundations of the mountains" burn. This text isn't about death but rather about a very hot fire.
"For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;" 2 Peter 2:4. The evil angels that were cast out of Heaven with Satan are spoken of as being in hell though we know they're alive and active in our world today. This verse speaks of the final destination of the evil angels and the hell is on this earth.
Hell a Hot Place:
"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." Mark 9:43-44. Notice it says the fire can't be quenched but not that it will never go out. The hell described here is a place where there is miraculous preservation of life and consciousness in a fire.
Malachi 4:3 says, And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts." Ezekiel 28:18 (read starting at verse 14 and you will know verse 18 is about Satan) says, "Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore I will bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee."
And the last verse in the King James Bible that mentions Hell; Revelation 20:14 which says, "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." So, there are two deaths; the first and the second. There is also a lake of fire which would be hot. Remember Deuteronomy 32:22 quoted above? It says a fire "shall burn into the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains." Second Peter 3:10 describes the same event when it says, "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." It is indeed a fire hot enough to melt rocks and mountains and will thus make a "lake of fire." It will be a fire than no one can quench but when the wicked (that includes Satan and his angels) have received the just amount of punishment for their evil deeds that they didn't confess and repent of, they will be consumed and turned to ashes. When there is no more fuel, the fire will go out.
The only reason to believe in an eternally burning hell is because of the belief in an immortal soul. If one believes in an immortal soul, it makes sense to believe the wicked who die suffer eternally. Also part of the confusion comes from not understanding what some words mean in the Bible.
"I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God." Jonah 2:6.
Notice that Jonah call his experience in the whale's belly "for ever" even though he only spent parts of three days there. It would have seemed like for ever to me as well. The book The Life and Times of Martin Luther published by the Moody Press in 1960 gives an example of the use of "everlasting" on page 351. A papal bull had been issued against him and he decided to burn it. "Luther held up the bull, and said: 'Since thou hast vexed the Holy One of the Lord, may everlasting fire vex and consume thee!' He then flung it into the flames." The bull is obviously not still burning; it burned only until it was consumed. One of the definitions of "eternal" in the Webster's Third New International Dictionary (unabridged) is "seemingly endless often to the point of weariness or disgust." For those in hell fire that burns them to ashes the experience will seem endless.
"Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire." Matthew 18:8.
The best news comes in Revelation 21:4 where it says, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." When the wicked are finally destroyed there will be no sorrow or pain anywhere and that would include a place some call Hell. The saved will not spend eternity in heaven while some loved one is burning forever in hell. The wicked will get their deserved punishment and no more. Those that have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ have had their sins erased from the heavenly books because they have confessed and forsaken their sins and have been cleansed by Jesus' blood.
Revelation 2:11 says, "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." Revelation 20:6 says, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power." Revelation 21:8 lists various types of sins and says that those who commit them "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. The second death is a permanent and eternal sleep that occurs after the wicked have been resurrected and judged and turned to ashes in the lake of fire. With the wicked, death and hell are also destroyed so there will be no more death. With no possibility of another resurrection; the wicked will be as though they never existed. The wicked don't burn or be conscious for eternity but their punishment is eternal.
© Martin J. Lohne 2018.