The Truth About Hell - By Steve Wohlberg
The Very Hot Topic of Hell
Hell! It’s a terrifying subject and the truth about hell is very much misunderstood. A U.S. News and World Report article entitled “Hell’s Sober Comeback” reported that “Three out of 5 Americans now believe in Hades, but their views on damnation differ sharply” . Some teach that Hell simply means ‘separation from God’, that’s it. Others vigorously contend, “It’s not just separation, but fiery separation that lasts forever!” The traditional view is that Hell is a hot, smoky place somewhere beneath our feet where lost souls instantly soar at the moment of death. According to this theology, the damned are sizzling right now, somewhere, consciously, and painfully. A large percentage is convinced that Hell never ends.
To begin with, I believe there is a Hell, that there is a fiery Hell, and that the Bible is true – literally. So don’t worry about this. I’m not a liberal, or a heretic. Yet as we plunge into this controversial topic, my conclusions may shock you. So prepare yourself. As always, I encourage you to pick up a Bible and look up the texts. As you are about to see, what many think about Hell isn’t always exactly what God’s Word really says.
There are three different Greek words that are translated “Hell” in our English New Testaments. It’s important to know this, for they each mean something different. They are “Tartarus,” “Gehenna,” and “Hades.” Tartarus is used only once in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:4. The Scripture says,
“God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell [Tartarus], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” (2 Peter 2:4, KJV).
This verse says that “the angels that sinned,” which would include Lucifer, too, have already been cast down “to hell” by God Himself. Yet they aren’t roasting right now, obviously, and they certainly aren’t suffering somewhere far beneath Los Angeles or Tokyo. Tartarus means “dark abyss” or “place of restraint.” It isn’t a place of punishment either. Look carefully. 2 Peter 2:4 says Satan’s angels are “reserved unto judgment,” which means their punishment is yet future. For Lucifer and his diabolical demons, the fire hasn’t started yet. So much for Tartarus.
Next word: “Gehenna.” All authorities admit this word is derived from the name of the narrow, rocky valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem where trash, filth, and the bodies of dead animals were burned up in Bible days. Jesus Christ spoke about Gehenna many times such as in Matthew 5:22, 29 & 30 where He warned about “the danger of hell [Gehenna] fire” (Matthew 5:22). Gehenna definitely suggests real flames. But a key question is: when will this fire burn? In Matthew 13:40-42, in His explanation to His disciples about His parable concerning plants, reapers and a harvest, Jesus provided this definite answer:
“The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the weeds are gathered in burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of this world. The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40 -42, italics added).
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” As to when the fire burns, what should we hear? Christ’s direct answer is, “at the end of this world” (verse 40). Amazingly, Peter taught the same thing when he wrote:
“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:7).
Peter’s words may seem radical, but they are the truth of God. By analysing carefully 2 Peter 3:7, we discover:
* A real fire is coming.
* It will burn “the heavens” – the polluted atmosphere we breathe.
* It will burn “the earth” – the ground we walk on.
* These flames will blaze on “the day of judgment.”
* “Ungodly men” will end up in this fire.
Three verses later, Peter elaborated further,
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night; in the which the heavens will 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.” (2 Peter 3:10).
This passage is crystal clear: At some point in the future the sky above and the earth beneath will literally catch fire and “melt with fervent heat.” So if you’ve been taught that the sum total of hell-fire is some smoky place beneath the ground, think again. The Bible says our entire sin-polluted planet is destined for the flames. Peter concluded with this comforting assurance:
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13).
According to these truth-filled Bible verses, God will use fire to cleanse planet Earth of its wickedness, then He will marvellously recreate it entirely. This is His “promise” which “we” should be looking forward to.
The book of Revelation teaches the same message about a future Judgment Day and cleansing fire, followed by a new heaven and earth. Again, look carefully. After every lost soul is “judged… according to their works” (Revelation 20:13), then,
“Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away… And he that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 20:15; 21:1, 5).
Here’s the inspired sequence:
* Judgment Day
* The Lake of Fire
* A New Heaven and Earth
Thus we have seen, so far, that Jesus Christ, Peter, and the book of Revelation teach the same thing. Real fire is coming at the end of this world. It will not only become the place where the lost are punished, but will serve a dual function of purifying our polluted sky and chemically-saturated ground from every vestige of impurity. Then God will make a new heaven and earth to become the eternal home of His saved, blood-bought children.
One frightening thought is that “all liars” will wind up “in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). This should impress us with the importance of knowing and speaking the truth.
We need the truth about Hell.
Above all, we need the truth about Jesus Christ, His love, and His death, burial, and resurrection in our behalf.
May we be washed from our sins by the blood of the Lamb so we can be assured of a place in God’s recreated earth.
Hell. Few Bible topics generate such emotion and controversy. Liberals reject the idea, yet Jesus Christ plainly taught a real Hell when He solemnly warned that the lost will be cast “into a furnace of fire” where “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (see Matthew 13:42). Thus liberals are wrong in denying Hell’s existence. On the other hand, many conservative Bible-believing Christians often misunderstand the subject as well. This goal of this article is to continue separating fantasy from reality.
Earlier in this article on the truth about hell we saw that there are three different Greek words translated “Hell” in our English New Testaments: “Tartarus,” “Gehenna,” and “Hades.” “Tartarus” is used once, in 2 Peter 2:4, and means “a place of darkness or restraint.” “Tartarus” is where Satan and his demons reside now. It isn’t a place of punishment or flames. That comes later. Satan and his hosts will reap their reward in due time.
“Gehenna” is used many times in the New Testament, such as in Matthew 5:22, 29, and 30, and refers to a place of fire, brimstone, and punishment. Earlier we discovered that Jesus Christ clearly pinpointed the time of this fire as being “the end of this world” (see Matthew 13:40) and that Peter identified the place of this fire as being “the heavens and the earth which are now” (see 2 Peter 3:7). On Earth’s last day, “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” (2 Peter 3:10). In other words, earth itself is destined for flames. Then God will create “new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13; see also Revelation 21:1). We shall discuss the duration of this fire soon in this article on the truth about hell.
Now for “Hades.” This Greek word is also translated “Hell” in many English Bibles, such as the King James Version. In Revelation 6:8, the King James Version refers to “Death, and Hell [Hades].” It does this same in Revelation 20:14. Yet some English Bibles leave the word “Hades” itself, such as the New International Version, which translates both Revelation 6:8 and 20:14 as “Death, and Hades.” Now here’s a key point: in Revelation 20:14 “Hades” (“Hell”) is eventually “cast into the lake of fire.” Thus “Hades” itself is not a fiery place, but is cast into “the lake of fire.”
Here is Revelation 20:14 in both the KJV and NIV:
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14, King James Version, italics added)
“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14, New International Version, italics added)
In my personal King James Version, which I often preach from, there is a marginal reference beside the word “Hell” (Hades) listed in Revelation 20:13 and 14. It says “Hell” literally means “the grave.” Thus Revelation 20:14 could properly be translated, “death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.” This makes sense.
To make it simple, biblically speaking, Hades means the grave. This is easy to prove from 1 Corinthians 15:55, which in the King James Version states,
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV, italics added)
If you look in any Strong’s Concordance, you’ll discover that the original Greek word here translated “grave” is “Hades.” By looking at the context, it’s obvious that “Hades” means “the grave” because it is God’s saints who rise out of “Hades” when Jesus Christ returns. See for yourself:
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up on victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave [Hades] where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:51-55, King James Version, italics added)
“O grave [Hades] where is your victory?” the redeemed triumphantly shout. Thus “Hades” here cannot mean a place of burning, for who can imagine God’s people writhing in flames as they await the resurrection? Impossible!
Additional proof that “Hades” means “the grave” is the fact that “Hades” was the place Jesus Christ’s body rested in immediately after His death. In Acts 2:31, the King James Version declares,
“His [Christ’s] soul was not left in hell [Hades] neither [did] his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:31, KJV, italics added).
The New International Version translates Acts 2:31 as,
“He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.” (Acts 2:31, NIV, italics added)
Thus Christ’s “body” (NIV) or “flesh” (KJV) was not allowed to see “corruption” (KJV) or “decay” (NIV) because it remained in the grave only a short time before He rose. This should be plain to any unprejudiced mind.
To summarize the meaning of the three Greek words translated “Hell” in our English Bibles:
* “Tartarus” means “a place of darkness or restraint” (2 Peter 2:4). Satan abides there now.
* “Hades” means “the grave” (Acts 2:31; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:14). Jesus Christ’s body rested there, and His saints rest there now awaiting the resurrection.
* “Gehenna” means a place of fire, brimstone, and punishment (see Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, described in Matthew 13:40-42, 2 Peter 3:7, 10-12). These flames are yet future, at the end of the world.
In its description of this final fire, and the doom of the lost, the Bible’s last book solemnly declares,
“Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15).
Will “the lake of fire” burn forever? Or will its unfortunate inhabitants – including Satan and his demons – finally burn up, and thus cease to exist? What does the Bible really say?
Death Discussions – The Truth about Hell
Will Hell burn forever, or will its flames finally cease smouldering? To discover the correct answer, we must accept what the Bible says above the opinions of men. Do you agree? I hope so. As we dive into this controversial topic, let me make my personal position clear. I believe God’s Word above popular theories.
That said, first of all, the subject requires close examination, for some texts appear contradictory. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus Christ warned that unsaved sinners will enter “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Many read this and say, “That settles it for me! The lost will sizzle forever. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise.” Yet Jesus Christ also declared, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, italics added). So which is it? Will the damned roast eternally in “everlasting fire,” or finally “perish,” and thus cease to exist?
Another example of apparent contradiction concerns the fate of Lucifer himself. The book of Revelation says that “The devil,” along with “the beast” will “be tormented day and night forever” in the lake of fire (see Revelation 20:10). Some respond, “There’s more proof! Satan will never cease frying like an egg in a skillet.” Yet Ezekiel chapter 28 reveals a different picture. Initially discussing the ancient “king of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:12), God’s prophet then looks behind the scenes and identifies Lucifer himself, “the anointed cherub” (verse 14), who inhabited “Eden, the garden of God” (verse 13), and who was originally “perfect in [his] ways from the day [he] was created,” until “iniquity was found in [him]” (verse 15). Moving forward to this fallen angel’s final fate, God declares, “I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you… You have become a horror, and shall be no more forever” (verses 18 and 19, italics added). Again, which is it? Will Satan be “tormented day and night” throughout endless ages, or will he become “ashes,” and “be no more forever”?
Let me clarify: the Bible DOES NOT contradict itself. These are only APPARENT contradictions. The solution is to examine what the whole Bible says about the fate of the lost, discover its overall teaching, and then to closely analyse the difficult verses until we understand them correctly. Once we do, we will discover that everything fits and makes perfect sense.
Obviously, this isn’t the place to quote every Bible verse about the fate of the unsaved. But I will cover enough to make my point, and hopefully, this will motivate you to further research. In the remainder of this article on the truth about hell, I will list a group of exceedingly clear verses describing the doom of the damned, and then soon in this article on the truth about hell we will take a closer look at some other apparently contradictory verses to see what they really say, and don’t say.
Looking forward to the Day of the Lord, God Himself declares:
“‘Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly, will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That it will leave them neither root nor branch’” … ‘[And] you shall trample down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the souls of your feet on the day that I do this, says the Lord of hosts’” (Malachi 4:1, 3).
This is “the Lord of hosts” speaking, not Steve Wohlberg. Here God says that when His final day bursts upon the wicked, it will “burn them up” and reduce them to “ashes” so that “neither root nor branch” remains. Think about it. If a plant is destroyed, so that “neither root nor branch” remains, how much is left? Absolutely nothing. This is what God says will happen to “all who do wickedly.”
David wrote about the fate of the unsaved,
“As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” (Psalms 68:2, italics added).
“For yet a little while, and the wicked shall be no more.” (Psalms 37:10, italics added).
“The enemies of the Lord, like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish, into smoke they shall vanish away.” (Psalms 37:20, italics added).
“But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:38, italics added).
John the Baptist proclaimed about the Messiah,
“He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12, italics added).
Paul wrote about those who “obey not the gospel”,
“These shall be punished with everlasting destruction…” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, italics added).
Paul also declared,
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, italics added).
I presented these passages – and many more like them - at a Bible Seminar in Woodbury, New Jersey. A Jewish man named Corrie listened with rapt attention. With great carefulness, I built my case that a loving God will administer nothing more than perfect justice on Judgment Day, and that this will result in the tragic, total annihilation of those who have rejected His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. At the end of my talk, with teary eyes, Corrie approached me with an outstretched hand. “Steve, now I can believe in God’s love!” He then told me that the notion of God torturing unsaved sinners forever – including his unbelieving Jewish mother – had always hindered his having personal faith in Jesus Christ. Then he walked away.
The next night Corrie again approached me, but this time, his face was glowing. “Last night,” he excitedly reported, “I went home, dropped to my knees, and accepted Jesus as my Savoir. Praise God!” he happily announced, “I’m born again!” At the conclusion of my seminar Corrie was baptized. His mother came. “I don’t know what has happened to my son,” she commented, “but he’s happy. What more can a mother want?”
The doctrine of God eternally tormenting sinners in a smoky place called “Hell” had prevented Corrie from becoming a Christian. During my seminar, he rejected this idea, became a believer in Jesus Christ, and was baptized.
Was Corrie deceived, or had he discovered the truth?
Mohammed Ali (as the story goes) boarded an airplane and refused to buckle up. “Mr. Ali,” commanded the flight attendant, “everyone must fasten their seatbelt.” “I don’t need one,” the fighter proudly responded, “I’m Superman!” “No, you’re not,” the woman countered promptly, “Superman didn’t need an airplane. Now fasten your seatbelt or you will be ushered off this aircraft.” Needless to say, the man with a punch complied.
The moral of this story is that each of us – including Mohammed Ali – needs a good dose of humility. Jesus Christ said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14). As we continue our journey into the highly controversial doctrine of ‘hell-fire,’ it is my hope that each of my readers will put aside preconceived opinions and humbly examine the Bible texts below. Fasten your seatbelt! You may need one.
First, let’s take a close look at the book of Jude, right before Revelation. At the beginning of his letter, Jude urged Christians to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (verse 3). Next he warned of “certain men” who were planting false doctrines inside the early church (see verse 4). In verses 5 and 6, Jude warned of the consequences of being led astray. Then he warned about “the vengeance of eternal fire” (verse 7). This is what we must examine, humbly and reverently.
Here’s the entire verse:
“Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, 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 7)
Notice carefully: it was the physical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that “suffered the vengeance of eternal fire,” not just the people. In addition, their punishment is “set forth as an example” of what will happen to the unsaved. In 2 Peter, we find an almost identical verse, yet Peter inserts one tiny, significant detail. Look closely:
“And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto all those that after should live ungodly.” (2 Peter 2:6, italics added).
What was the net result of that “eternal fire” which fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah ? Those cities became ashes. But that’s not all. Describing “the punishment of the sin of Sodom,” Jeremiah said that those evil cities were “overthrown as in a moment” (Lamentations 4:6, italics added). Now put the pieces together. By comparing Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6 with Lamentations 4:6, we discover plainly that the “the vengeance of eternal fire” was so incredibly hot that it reduced Sodom and Gomorrah “into ashes” in “a moment” of time. Now think about it. Are Sodom and Gomorrah still destroyed? Yes. But are they burning now? Obviously not. Then what does “eternal fire” mean? By comparing Scripture with Scripture, it means that the fire came from God and that the punishment lasts forever, not the flames. And again, both Jude and Peter called this punishment “an example” of what will happen to all the lost.
Jesus Christ also warned that He will someday declare to lost sinners, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, italics added). Is this fire the same type of fire mentioned in Jude 7, one which destroys completely? We know it is because five verses later our Lord clarified, “And these [the lost] shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:46). Thus the lost experience “everlasting punishment,” not punishing, just like the Sodomites.
Paul also wrote about “everlasting” consequences overwhelming unsaved sinners. Does his teaching agree with Jesus Christ and Jude? In the following passage, you will see that it does. Paul warned that when Jesus Christ returns He will come “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power…” (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9, italics added). Here “everlasting” is combined with “destruction,” which means the lost are destroyed forever, just like the Gomorrahites.
In addition to Jesus Christ, Jude, and Paul, John the Baptist also warned about “unquenchable fire” engulfing the unredeemed. On the surface, one might assume John was referring to ceaselessly burning flames. But he wasn’t. Calling the saved “wheat” and the lost “chaff,” the wilderness prophet announced that God’s Messiah would “thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12, italics added). Thus “unquenchable fire” isn’t fire that burns forever, but fire that can’t be snuffed out by man. It burns up the chaff until there is nothing left.
The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center no longer exist. On September 11, 2001 they were rammed by two hijacked planes on a mission of death. Airplane fuel ignited and blazing fires could not be quenched. What remains is little more than ashes and memories, somewhat comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah. For those who lost loved ones, the results of that fateful day seem eternal.
The Muslim terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers believed they were serving Allah. They also imagined they would be rewarded with 72 virgins in heaven for their faithfulness to God’s truth. But they were grossly mistaken. Their future will be quite different from their expectations. How about us? Do we know what the Bible really teaches about heaven, how to get there, and the fate of the lost?
In this article on the truth about hell we have discovered that Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:41, 46), John the Baptist (Matthew 3:12), Paul (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9) and Jude (verse 7) all predicted that “eternal fire,” “everlasting fire,” and “unquenchable fire,” will eventually “burn up” all unsaved sinners to their “everlasting destruction,” just like Sodom and Gomorrah became “ashes” in “a moment.” And Sodom ’s holy judgment is “set forth as an example” (Jude 7) to us today.
Let’s humbly learn this lesson from God’s Word.
Let’s “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
When Thailand police arrested American schoolteacher John Mark Karr in August 2006, investigators hoped a 10-year murder mystery had been solved and that the killer of 6-year-old beauty queen Jon Bennet Ramsey was finally in custody. Almost everyone thought they had their man, especially after the teacher himself candidly confessed, “I did it.” Yet shortly thereafter Karr’s DNA was tested and results didn’t match traces left on Ramsey’s corpse. Universally abhorred, Karr was labelled a sick, creepy craver of media attention, and released.
In the earlier parts of this controversial article on the truth about hell, I have attempted to systematically build my case from Scripture that although the flames of hell are certainly real and do await the lost, they will not crackle endlessly but will finally be extinguished at the end of the world. Unsaved sinners, after facing a just judgment before a righteous God, will ultimately reap “the wages of sin,” which is “death” (Romans 6:23). God Himself declares,
“Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly, will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, That it will leave them neither root nor branch.” (Malachi 4:1).
There are hundreds of Bible verses teaching the same thing – that the lost will “burn up” (Matthew 3:12), “be destroyed” (Psalms 37:38), and be “no more” (Psalms 37:10). Even Satan himself will become “ashes on the earth” (Ezekiel 28:19). This has been my earnest contention all along. Yet there are a few other texts that appear, at least on the surface, to pronounce me guilty of the crime of perverting Scripture. Am I guilty or not? While I certainly don’t identify myself with Mr. Karr, I believe a close analysis of biblical DNA will prove my innocence. More importantly, it will testify that Jesus Christ is not a Person who will endlessly torture those who reject His love.
That said, it’s time to examine some DNA about “the worm,” plus verses in the book of Revelation about being tormented “for ever.” Coming soon to this article on the truth about hell we will discuss a man named “Lazarus.” Let’s start with “the worm.”
The Worm that Dieth Not – The Truth about Hell
Jesus warned about being cast “into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43, 44). Many view this as evidence that I’m guilty of twisting the Bible. So let’s examine the DNA. First of all, by comparing Christ’s statement with Isaiah 66:24, it’s unquestionably clear that Jesus was quoting Scripture. See for yourself:
“And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men who 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 66:24).
This is precisely what Jesus Christ said. But notice carefully that Isaiah applied this morbid scene to the “carcasses” of sinners that God’s people will someday “look” at. In other words, at time’s end, the righteous will behold dead bodies, not living souls endlessly tormented. What about the fire that can’t be “quenched”? By comparing Isaiah 66:24 with Jeremiah 17:27, it’s clear this means that the fire can’t be quenched by man until it finishes its job. What about the “worm”? In the Isaiah text, the worm doesn’t die, but the people are dead. This is biblical imagery. In Bible days, outside Jerusalem, there was a garbage dump where the carcasses of dead dogs and criminals often ended up. Worms continually crawled there within rotting flesh. Jesus used this imagery, quoting Isaiah, to illustrate the fearful fate of the lost. But again, its dead bodies, not eternal torment, being described.
Tormented Day and Night forever – the Truth about Hell
There are three places in book of Revelation that say, “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11), “her smoke rose up forever” (Revelation 19:3), and “tormented day and night forever” (Revelation 20:10). “Those verses prove you’re wrong, Mr. Wohlberg!” I sometimes hear. Again, let’s analyse the DNA.
Everyone knows that Revelation contains some symbolism, such as its references to a seven-headed beast, a Babylonian harlot holding a golden cup, and a glistening woman clothed with the sun. Obviously, these aren’t literal. What about the ‘tormented forever’ texts? Could they be symbolic too? Here’s something significant: If you look closely at each ‘tormented forever’ passage, every one is connected to symbolism. Revelation 14:11 and Revelation 20:10 refer to “the beast,” and Revelation 19:3 states, “her smoke rose up forever.” Whose smoke? The Whore riding the beast. Will a literal Harlot sizzle forever? No. This is symbolism.
Here’s more evidence worth considering: While Revelation 20:10 refers to torment forever, verse 9 says the opposite and contains no symbolism.
Verse 9 - And they [the lost] went up on the breadth of the earth [at the end of the Millennium], and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city [the New Jerusalem], and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.
Verse 10 – 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 forever and ever.
Verse 9 has no symbolism and says the lost are “devoured.” Verse 10 has symbolism and says they are tormented “forever.” Which is it? The literal truth lies in the text that contains no symbolism: “fire came down… and devoured them.” Beyond this, after “the lake of fire” is again described in verse 15, the next verse says,
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)
Revelation 20:9 says the lost are upon “the earth” when God’s fire devours them. Thus “the earth” is the location of “the lake of fire.” Then Revelation 21:1 says the “first earth” passes away which must include the lake of fire! Then there will be “no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). Here’s even more proof that “the lake of fire” will disappear.
“I did it,” Mark Karr claimed, but he didn’t. DNA evidence revealed otherwise. Dear friend, I hope you are open-minded enough to accept DNA truth from the Bible. Jesus Christ is good. He’s not a wicked murderer (like Mr. Karr claimed to be), nor an eternal tormentor of souls.
One day soon, when the smoke clears, the entire universe will proclaim, “just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Revelation 15:3).
The Rich Man and Lazarus – The Truth about Hell
My own mother – who recently turned 73 years old – is not presently a believer in Jesus Christ. Neither is my brother. Nor are many of my Jewish relatives. According to many well-meaning Christian teachers, if nothing changes, these relatives of mine are doomed to eternal flames.
Throughout this article, I have tried to disprove this popular teaching from God’s Word. I’ve quoted Scriptures like, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and Jesus Christ’s own words, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Based on my research, words like “death” and “perish” do not mean “conscious eternal torment.” Rather, they mean just what they suggest, that the unsaved will someday cease to exist. Because of their sinful choices, the lost have forfeited eternal life. After the Day of Judgment and a just sentence, the only thing a merciful God can do is to finally pull the plug, thus ending their existence. I pray that my family members will wake up before it’s too late.
In previous chapters we have closely examined key passages that seem, at least on the surface, to contradict my conclusions. We’ve discussed “absent from the body” (2 Corinthians 5:8), the dying thief (Luke 23:43 ), the appearance of Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28 -36), and souls under the altar (Revelation 6:9-11). It’s now time to zero in on the Mother of all Hell Verses – the Rich Man and Lazarus. More than any other passage, this section is used to prove that lost sinners don’t sleep unconsciously in their graves awaiting the resurrection (which so many Bible verses plainly teach – see Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, Psalms 13:3; Acts 7:60; John 5:28, 29; 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:11-14, etc.), but that they plunge instantly into flames at death, and sizzle eternally. Let’s take a closer look.
The story is found in Luke 16:19-31. Because of space limitations, I will not quote the entire passage. Jesus Christ declared:
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then 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.’
After denying his request, Abraham finally told the rich man,
‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’
To begin with, I want to make one highly significant mega-point: This is the ONLY place in the entire New Testament that says that a lost soul descends into a fiery hell immediately at death! Such a doctrine is not taught anywhere else – not by Matthew, Mark, John, James, Peter or Paul. Did you get that? Paul wrote most of the New Testament, and he didn’t teach it even once. Let this fact sink into your soul.
Second, Jesus often told “parables” or stories that were symbolic of deeper truths. Although parables contain many practical lessons, not every item should be taken literally. Is this story a parable? We believe so.
Here are 7 reasons why:
1. Jesus often began His parables with the phrase, "a certain…man." If you look at these verses in Luke’s gospel, you will discover that they are all parables. Thus it’s logical to assume the Rich Man and Lazarus story is also a parable.
Luke 12:16 “And he spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:”
Luke 13:6 “He spoke also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.”
Luke 14:16 “Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:”
Luke 15:11 “And he said, A certain man had two sons:”
Luke 16:1 “And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.”
Luke 16:19 “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:”
Luke 19:11-12 “And as they heard these things, he added and spoke a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.”
Luke 20:9 “Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.”
2. A man cannot physically enter into "the bosom" or chest of another person as Christ described.
3. Can someone literally burning in flames carry on a normal, rational conversation?
4. Can those in heaven and hell talk to each other? If that were the case then we would be able to see our loved one’s such as a family member and we would be able to see them burning and going through horrible suffering. Would this be something that we would desire? Would we enjoy heaven if it involved watching people we loved suffer like this. What if it was a son or daughter or a mother or father, could that person even for a moment enjoy there stay in heaven seeing this every day?
5. Jesus represented the rich man as being bodily in hell, with eyes, a mouth, a tongue, etc. This is obviously symbolic. If you were to dig up a real rich man's grave, wouldn't his body be there? Of course!
6. A real burning man would not request a little water to cool his tongue alone. What about the rest of his body? Would a drop of water really help? Besides the fact a drop of water would not survive the flames to get to his tongue, if you were in that situation would you ask for a drop of water or the whole local fire department?
7. Consciousness at death contradicts the rest of the Bible.
Significantly, Jesus didn’t interpret every parable He told. Yet when His disciples asked Him to interpret another parable about weeds in a field, Jesus plainly explained that hellfire occurs at “the end of this world,” rather than at death (see Matthew 13:36, 40-42, KJV).
There is a historian who wrote that this was a story popular in Jesus time and that He took this story and used it as a way to try to express spiritual truth to the people of His day. The story actually has nothing directly to do with death or hell and is teaching about faithfulness. It is also in line with other parables about faithfulness. So what is the meaning of this parable and what spiritual lesson is to be learnt from this story?
The rich man undoubtedly represents the Jewish nation which actually prayed to father Abraham. The poor man, Lazarus the beggar, represented the Gentiles. The Jews believed if you were rich, it was a sign of blessing from God because of their righteousness and that they were guaranteed getting into heaven. If you were poor they figured there was a curse upon you probably because of your sinfulness and so you had a poor chance of getting to heaven. The Jews also believed if you were a literal child of Abraham than you had it made.
So what did Jesus do?
Jesus flipped things upside down by describing a saved poor man, and a lost rich man
The context of Christ’s parable shows He was talking directly to wealthy Pharisees who were mocking Him with their tongues (see Luke 16:14 ). Those Pharisees believed the rich were blessed, while the poor lived under God’s curse. Jesus flipped things upside down by describing a saved poor man, and a lost rich man. The part about the rich man asking for his tongue to be soothed was a direct warning to those Pharisees that their lips were catapulting them toward hell-fire. Finally, at the end of His parable, Jesus declared that even resurrecting Lazarus from the dead wouldn’t convince the doubters.
This leads to the next point: Why did Jesus specify the name Lazarus? Because His parable was also a prophecy. Later Jesus would resurrect a real person named Lazarus, yet this miracle would not convince the Pharisees that He was the Messiah (John 11:1-53).
Here’s a solid principle: We should interpret parables in the light of the rest of the Bible, rather than the rest of the Bible in the light of one parable.
The Perfect Sacrifice – The Truth about Hell
To nearby residents, it will always be remembered as the “Esperanza Fire.” Deliberately ignited by an evil arsonist, the October 2006 wind-driven blaze destroyed nearly 60,000 acres and 34 homes 100 miles east of Los Angeles, California. Worst of all, it killed five fire fighters who were suddenly immersed in flames when the wind unexpectedly shifted. On Sunday, November 5, nearly 10,000 mourners attended a memorial service for the fallen fighters at an outdoor amphitheatre in Devore, CA. “We will never forget their sacrifice,” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared. As the ceremony concluded, a group of U.S. Forest Service airplanes soared overhead while bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."
Believe me, as awful as the Esperanza Fire was, it bears no comparison to the fiery sea of judicial punishment described in Scripture. West of Palm Springs, CA, five men lost their physical lives. At the end of the world, the consequences are infinitely more serious. Notice carefully the net result of being in cast into Revelation’s apocalyptic furnace:
“Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14, 15).
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
Twice the book of Revelation states that the fate of sinners who suffer in “the lake of fire” is “the second death.” Underscore that last word: death. Throughout this “Hot Topic of the truth about Hell” article, I have contended that contrary to popular opinion, the final fate of the damned is not to sizzle endlessly in conscious torment, but to ultimately “perish” (John 3:16) and become “ashes” (Malachi 4:3). “‘The day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘that will leave them neither root nor branch’” (Malachi 4:1). This is God’s Word, not my opinion.
But I have saved my best argument for last. Every true Christian who believes the gospel accepts the fundamental truth that, on the cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ paid the “full price” for the sins of the world. Agreed? The Bible says unequivocally,
“Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
“He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
This truth is basic. Jesus Christ paid the full price for our sins. Isaiah predicted, “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). “Chastisement” means “punishment.” It was our “punishment” that Jesus Christ endured in Gethsemane and on the cross. In other words, what should have happened to us, fell on Him. What we deserve, He endured. He took our place. Again, all true Christians accept this, but only a few realize the inescapable implications.
Think about it. If “the wages of sin” were conscious, unending, never ceasing, eternal torment, then the ONLY WAY that Jesus Christ could experience the full penalty for our sins would be for Him to consciously suffer eternal torment in our behalf. “I’m so glad we don’t have to sizzle forever,” the righteous would be saying throughout endless ages, “because Jesus Christ is burning right now for us!” Do you see my point?
There’s really no way around it. To say that “the wages of sin” is burning forever, and then to deny that Jesus Christ will burn forever, is to deny that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for our sins. In that case, He really didn’t. He would only have paid a mini, 3–day discounted price — between Friday and Sunday. And even then, “eternal torment” believers don’t believe that Jesus was consciously suffering from Friday to Sunday anyway. At least I’ve never heard anyone say this.
The only way to escape the proverbial horns of this dilemma is by accepting the Bible as it reads – “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ). Each time a lamb was sacrificed in the Jewish Temple, this message was proclaimed. Those animals died, and then portions of their bodies were consumed on Jewish altars. Period. That was it. On the cross of Calvary, after 6 hours of unimaginable horror, Jesus Christ breathed His last breath, and then He died. Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
But here’s a key question. What kind of death did Jesus die? It wasn’t a normal death, like we die, at the end of our lives. When people die today, their deaths are not “the wages of sin.” Nowadays, death comes alike to us all – the saved and the lost. Everyday deaths are called “sleep” in the Bible (see Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6, etc). Today, when lost sinners die, they sleep in the grave. At the end of the Millennium, they will be resurrected, judged, and then punished in the “lake of fire,” which is “the second death” (see Revelation 20:5a, 11-15). This “second death” is the full penalty of sin. It will be horrible. It will go beyond the pain of flames. And then, it will be over. Finished. Done. This is the death that Jesus Christ died when He cried out, “It is finished!”
“We will never forget their sacrifice,” Schwarzenegger declared about the five lost fire fighters. I pray we will never forget the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our behalf. And part of this remembrance is to teach the truth about hell.The Truth About Death If we say, “the wages of sin is eternal torment,” then we are really denying that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for our sins. May we “never forget” the Word of God, which declares,
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ).
What “Amazing Grace!”