img

Will the wicked burn forever and ever in the fires of hell?

img
Samuel Smith
5

LESSON 3

WILL THE WICKED BURN FOREVER AND EVER IN THE FIRES OF HELL?

You are welcome to another edition of Insights from God's Word, a Bible study programme that is committed to sharing God's Word by allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

In this edition, we continue with our series on The Truth About Hell. In this study, I want us to consider the topic: Will the wicked burn forever and ever in the fires of hell?

1. SOME BIBLE TEXTS THAT SEEM TO FURTHER THE TEACHING OF ETERNAL BURNING IN HELL

Many of God's children who further the doctrine that the wicked will be tortured in hell forever and ever do that on the basis of some of these Bible texts:

i) "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; Capital Emphasis Added).

ii) "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" (Matthew 25:41; Capital Emphasis Added).

iii) "And these shall go away into EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46; Capital Emphasis Added).

iv) "8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 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; Capital Emphasis Added).

v) "9 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, 10 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: 11 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; Capital Emphasis Added).

Many people read and interpret these texts to mean that the wicked will continue to suffer on and on in the fires of hell. But friends, if we carefully compare the texts above with other similar texts on the subject of hell, we come away with an entirely different conclusion.

2. FOREVER AND EVER AS USED IN THE CONTEXT OF HELLFIRE

In our everyday expressions, it is not all the time that we use the word ‘forever’ to denote a never-ending experience. Let us consider the following statement:

"It took forever for me to get my driver's license."

Friends, the use of the word ‘forever’ in this statement does not mean a never-ending experience. What I basically mean by the statement above is that it took me longer than I expected to obtain my driver's license. However, the delay of some few months I experienced seemed like forever to me. Friends, the word 'forever' is used in this same way in certain passages of Scripture. Let's check the biblical evidence:

i) From 1 Samuel 1:22, we read the following: "But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide FOR EVER" (Capital Emphasis added).

Friends, the word 'forever' as used in this text does not mean everlasting. It was the wish of Hannah that the child Samuel will abide in the house of the Lord as long as he lived (see 1 Samuel 1:28). Thus, the word ‘forever’ as used in this context means as long as the child Samuel lived.

ii) From the book of Jonah, we once again encounter the finite usage of the word ‘forever’. From Jonah 2:6, we read the following in relation to Jonah's experience in the belly of a great fish: "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" (Capital Emphasis Added).

Beloved, we know from Scripture that Jonah did not remain in the belly of this great fish. In fact, the chapter 1 of the book of Jonah makes it clear that" Jonah was in the belly of the fish THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS" (Jonah 1:17; Capital Emphasis Added).

From this account in the book of Jonah, we see how Jonah utilizes the word 'forever' for a mere period of three days and three nights.

iii) Sometimes, the word ‘forever’ is also used to denote just an ordinary lifetime (see 1 Samuel 28:2; Exodus 21:1-6; Genesis 44:32; 1 Chronicles 28:4).

Friends, the biblical examples above make it clear that the word 'forever' does not always depict a never-ending experience. The term may also mean ‘as long as’ or ‘a finite period of time’. In fact, the word 'forever' is used fifty - six times in Scripture in connection with things that have already ended. Thus, in connection with some scriptural passages (such as Revelation 14:9-11; Revelation 20:10 ; Psalm 92:7; Isaiah 34:8-10) on the subject of hell, the word ‘forever’ contained in them actually mean the wicked will burn on and on until they die.

3. WHAT ABOUT THE TERM EVERLASTING / ETERNAL FIRE?

In the context of hellfire, the usage of phrases such as 'everlasting fire', 'eternal fire', 'everlasting punishment' or 'everlasting destruction' in scriptural passages such as Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, and 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 may give the first impression that hellfire burns on and on. But friends, if we compare Scripture with Scripture, it becomes clear that the words ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ does not mean perpetual or continuous, but rather completely.

For instance, from Jude 1:7, we come across the following text: "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" (Capital Emphasis Added).

Friends, the Scripture makes it clear that the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire during the time of Lot (Genesis 19:1-30). When you visit the place where Sodom and Gomorrah were once located today, you will not find the people still being burned. This is because they have been burnt into ashes. This point is confirmed by the apostle Peter in the following text: "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ASHES condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6; Capital Emphasis Added).

Beloved, the eternal fire that came from God out of heaven (Genesis 19:24) reduced the people of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes. The results of the fire can be described as eternal because the place is left desolate even unto this day. The power of this eternal fire was so strong that no fire fighters could have prevented it from carrying out its work of complete destruction.

Concerning the final destruction of the wicked, we read the following from Malachi 4:1, 3: "1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, SHALL BE STUBBLE: and the day that cometh SHALL BURN THEM UP, saith the LORD of hosts, that IT SHALL LEAVE THEM NEITHER ROOT NOR BRANCH. 3 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" (Capital Emphasis Added).Friends, it is important to note that it is not only the wicked people of all generations that will be devoured in hell (Revelation 20:7-9), the Bible makes it clear that even the devil will be brought down to ashes. Here is the biblical evidence: "28:12 Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.

28:13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

28:14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.

28:15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.

28:16 By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

28:17 Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.

28:18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I 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."

(Ezekiel 28:12-18; see also Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:7-10, 14)
Friends, the Bible is clear. The fires of hell will burn up the wicked into ashes. When Satan and the wicked are reduced to ashes in the flames of hell, they will not exist anymore in the universe of God (see Psalm 37:9-10; Ezekiel 27:36; Ezekiel 28:19). Thus, as the Bible points out, their punishment can be described as everlasting or eternal. The upcoming segments of this study will add more insights to what we have gained from this section.

4. THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED IS DEATH

The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment of the wicked is death (the cessation of life) not eternal life in hellfire. From Scripture, we learn that it is only the righteous that will be rewarded with eternal life. Let us check out some Bible texts that make this point clear:

i) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE" (John 3:16; Capital Emphasis Added).

ii) "BUT THE WICKED SHALL PERISH, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away" (Psalm 37:20; Capital Emphasis Added).

iii) "For the wages of sin is DEATH; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23; Capital Emphasis Added).

iv) "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in THE LAKE WHICH BURNETH WITH FIRE AND BRIMSTONE: WHICH IS THE SECOND DEATH" (Revelation 21:8; Capital Emphasis Added).

v) "10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into THE LAKE OF FIRE AND BRIMSTONE. 14 And death and hell (the grave) were cast into THE LAKE OF FIRE. THIS IS THE SECOND DEATH" (Revelation 20:10, 14).

vii) "9 For evildoers shall be CUT OFF: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. 10 For yet a little while, and THE WICKED SHALL NOT BE: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be"(Psalm 37:9-10; Capital Emphasis Added).

Friends, the Bible is clear. The fires of hell will burn up the wicked, leaving them neither root nor branch. In other words, a time is coming that the unrighteous from all generations of human history, including Satan himself will cease to exist (see Psalm 37:9-10; Ezekiel 26:21; Ezekiel 27:36; Ezekiel 28:19). As you might have noticed earlier, the Bible describes the final destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire as the second death (see Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14 ; Revelation 21:8). Unlike the first death that mankind experiences today, those who will experience the second death will never again see a resurrection. They will be eternally separated from the arms of a loving God whom they have despised and rejected. Thus, contrary to the popular teaching about hell today, the Scripture reinforces the point that while the results of hellfire (second death) will be everlasting, the actual burning will be a temporary condition.

5. THE FORMER THINGS WILL PASS AWAY

Through the lake of fire that engulfs the planet, God will cleanse the earth from sin and sinners (see Revelation 20:7-9, 15). After the lake of fire has cleansed the earth from the virus of sin, it will then go out. The Lord will now create a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). It is important to note that the lake of fire goes out before God embarks on the mission of creating a new heaven and a new earth. You see friends, if the lake of fire that engulfs the earth raged on forever and ever, then the earth could not be re - created. But God's Word says clearly that the Lord will create "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1). What this means is that the fires of hell will be terminated by God at a point in time; specifically, when it's work of cleansing is done.

Moreover beloved, God's precious promise for His children in relation to the coming New Earth is this: "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" (Revelation 21:4). Friends, one fact we can glean from the text above is this: if the wicked were to be confined forever in the fiery flames of hell, then there will continue to be sorrow, crying, writhing, pain and mourning on the earth as the wicked suffers. But God's Word is clear; the former things will pass away (Revelation 21:4). Beloved, these wonderful promises of God from Revelation 21:1 and 4 come to support the clear biblical position that the wicked will not burn on and on in the fires of hell.

6. WHO SHALL DWELL WITH EVERLASTING BURNINGS?

After the fall of mankind, no mortal has been privileged to behold God face to face. This is because in our sinful condition here on earth, we cannot behold the face of God and live. When Moses, that great servant of God, wanted to behold the glory of the Almighty, here is what the Lord told him:"33:18 And he (Moses) said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.

33:19 And he (God) said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

33:20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

33:21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

33:22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

33:23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen."

(Exodus 33:18-23)
Friends, Moses was graciously not permitted to behold the face of God. This is because "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). No flesh that is plagued with the virus of sin can behold His face and live. This is the reason why the wicked will be slain when they behold the glory of Christ at His second coming (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Isaiah 11:4). But we are told concerning the same event that the saints will see His face and live (see 1 John 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The righteous will be saved at Christ's second coming because they will go through a translation. The Lord will replace their corruptible mortal body with a glorious incorruptible one ( 1 Corinthians 15:51-54). It is this translation that will make it possible for the righteous to dwell in the presence of God without the fear of death.

Beloved, the key point I want to make in this segment of our study is this: if there is any group of people that will actually 'burn forever', so to speak, then it is the righteous and not the wicked. The wicked will be consumed in the lake of fire (Psalm 37:20). However, the righteous will dwell forever and ever in the presence of The Consuming Fire (see Revelation 21:2-3). Here is what the prophet Isaiah says in support of this interesting theology:"33:14 The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?

33:15 He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;

33:16 He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.

33:17 Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off."

(Isaiah 33:14-17)
7. Friends, from the scriptural passages we have reviewed so far in this study, it is clear that the fate of the wicked is not eternal life in hellfire but rather death, which is actually the cessation of life. The Bible teaches that God is love (1 John 1:8, 10), merciful (Ephesians 2:4-5), forgiving (1 Peter 5:1) and also just ( Deuteronomy 32:4).

Beloved, how could our God be described as loving, merciful, forgiving and just if He will actually confine people in the fires of hell to burn forever and ever for the short period of a sinful life they spend here on Earth? Even with people who support the idea of capital punishment, how many will support the law that murderers or robbers should be tortured forever and ever in a furnace of fire without ever dying? Even we as sinful human beings don't want to carry vengeance to impossible heights. Yet some of us have no problem attributing this wicked unforgiving character to the Creator God; the God who is described by the following touching words: "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18).

You see friends, the teaching of eternal torment of the wicked in the fires of hell is not supported by one verse of Scripture. It is actually a pagan doctrine that has entered into the church of God. This doctrine was designed by Satan to destroy the beautiful character of our heavenly Father. It is sad to learn that many today worship God not because they are drawn by His goodness or love (see Romans 2:4; Jeremiah 31:3) but because they want to escape the fiery flames of an eternally burning hell. And beloved, not a few people have walked away from true religion with the words: "If your God will actually torture people in a furnace of fire forever, then I don't want to have anything to do with Him".

Friends, the picture I'm trying hard to paint about the assassination of God's character through the false doctrine of an eternally burning hell has been nicely crafted by Clark Pinnock in these strong words: "There is a powerful moral revulsion against the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell. Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God as a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for His enemies whom He does not even allow to die. How can one love a God like that? I suppose one might be afraid of Him, but could we love and respect Him? Would we want to strive to be like Him in this mercilessness? Surely, the idea of everlasting, conscious torment raises the problem of evil to impossible heights" (Clark Pinnock: quoted in Bacchiocchi Popular Beliefs, p. 150).Exhortation: Beloved, it is encouraging to learn that the Bible refers to the final punishment of the wicked in the fires of hell as the strange act of God (Isaiah 28:21). In other words, the Lord does not delight in the destruction of sinners. In fact, from Ezekiel 18:23, we learn that the Lord does not wish anyone to perish (see also Ezekiel 33:11), let alone make people suffer in the fires of hell for all eternity. It is my prayer that through this presentation you will be led to accept the clear words of Scripture on this subject instead of placing your belief in popular dreams and visions about hell today. May the love of God that is stronger than death and hades draw you closer into the bosom of the living God.

In our next study, we will consider the topic: "Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched": an exposition on Christ's words in Mark 9:44. The Bible Study references for this study are Mark 9:43-44, Matthew 3:12, Isaiah 66:24, Malachi 4:3, 2 Chronicles 28:3, 2 Chronicles 33:6, 2 Kings 16:3 , Jeremiah 32:35, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 17:27 and 2 Chronicles 36:19-21. Please do well to go through these passages before the next study is released.

Stay blessed and keep shining for King Jesus.

Maranatha!

Powered by White Throne Ministries