Is HELL “EVERLASTING”?
Where did “Hell” come from? What is it’s origin?
What IS it? Is “hell” a mere state of mind? Is it merely
a symbol of torment and suffering? Is hell a place of
eternal fiery torment for the immortal souls of the wicked?
What is the TRUTH about “hell”? Let’s take a new look
at this old subject and see what the Bible itself really
has to say on this mysterious subject! The truth is
William F. Dankenbring
There are many ideas about “hell.” Most people use it as a curse word, or a word of disgust. Most people don’t believe in a literal “hell,” whatever it is supposed to be. Strange as it may seem, even pagan religions have a “hell” in their theology – a place where demons terrorize and torture men and women.
Years ago, when I was a teenager, my
father and brother and I visited
Why do both pagan and Christian religions have a version of “hell”? What is “hell,” anyway? Will sinners and evildoers ultimately be cast into an ever-burning hell?
There is no reason why we should remain ignorant. The Bible speaks plainly about the subject of hell. The truth about hell will astound you! There really is a hell according to the Bible – but it is not at all what you have been taught! The truth is surprising and astonishing – and goes far beyond what any of us have imagined in our fantasies or daydreams!
The Greek Words for “Hell”
Actually, there are three Greek words used in the Bible, all of them translated “hell.” They do NOT refer to the same thing. Their meanings are totally different. One word is tartaroo. It is used only once in the entire Bible – II Peter 2:4 – and refers to the condition of restraint of the fallen angels. It never refers to men! It refers to a subterranean region, doleful and dark, the place where the wicked, fallen angels are held captive and restrained, awaiting their final day of judgment. Peter writes, “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [Tartaros] and committed them to chains of eternal darkness to be kept until the judgment” (NRSV). Thus this word does not refer to men, nor does it refer to the final judgment – it is a place of restraint, a “prison,” as it were, where the fallen angels are imprisoned awaiting their final judgment and fate.
The second Greek word often translated “hell,” in English, is hades. The word hades comes from two roots which literally mean “unseen,” “unknown,” “unperceived,” or “unconsidered.” It always refers to the grave, the place the dead are buried! You can see the connection easily. When a dead person is buried, he is out of sight, unseen – no longer known or perceived. He is gone. The word hades is never used in the Bible to refer to gehenna fire, or the final hell fire! It always refers to the “abode of the dead” or the GRAVE! The Old Testament Hebrew word translated “hell” is sheol. It has the same meaning as hades and refers to a grave or pit or hole in the ground.
Hades (the grave) is the “hell” Christ was in for three days and nights (Acts -27). The Moffatt translation renders this verse: “because thou wilt not forsake my soul in the grave, nor let thy holy one suffer decay.” (When the King James translation of the Bible was made, Englishmen commonly spoke of putting potatoes in “hell” for the winter. They used the word to refer to a pit or hole in the ground.)
The King James translators themselves knew that hades meant “grave.” They so translated it in I Corinthians 15:55. It could not possibly refer to the lake of fire or gehenna, because we read in Revelation that “death and hell (hades, the GRAVE)” will both be cast into “the lake of fire.” Hades, then, refers to the grave – or the abode of the dead – not God’s final punishment upon the wicked!
Hades is the hell that every human being, except those who are alive and changed to meet Christ at His second coming, goes to when they die! All men alike, saint and sinner, rich and poor, kings and slaves, whether white, black, brown or yellow, go to this “hell” when they die. No one escapes!
Solomon explained it clearly: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place [THE GRAVE]; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Eccl. -20).
Think about that a moment. If men go to a fiery hell when they die, then so do cats, dogs, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, deer, elk, moose, and every kind of animal! Isn’t it ridiculous to think “good” animals go to heaven, but “bad” animals go to hell forever and ever? Animals don’t sin. But Solomon said men have the same fate as animals – one is no better than the other in death. Both go to the grave and turn to dust after they die!
Solomon understood. He declared: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (Eccl. 9:5). Solomon said in verse 10: “For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
How clear, then. When people die, they go to the GRAVE and remain there. Their bodies turn to dust. The Bible says nothing about them being plunged instantaneously into a fiery hell. “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return,” God says (Gen. 3:19).
The term “Hades,” and “Sheol,” therefore, are rightly interpreted as “the abode of the dead,” without necessarily distinguishing where that abode is in every case. Obviously, the body goes back to the earth and decomposes and returns to dust. However, the spirit does not necessarily remain hovering about the grave. Rather, it “returns to God who gave it” (Eccl.12:7).
The “abode of the dead,” therefore, also includes the place where the spirit of the person goes, after death, as the spirit continues in existence even after the body moulders and turns to corruption in the grave, returning to “dust.” The “spirit” returns to God who gave it – but we are not told precisely “where” that location is. However, the spirits of the wicked and unjust are kept in a part of hades or sheol, which is the “abode of the dead,” until the day of final judgment. Thus these surviving “spirits” continue in existence, even after the body itself dies and becomes dust of the earth.
What do we know about these “spirits” of the dead? The Scriptures in Isaiah 14 indicates that they are suspended in stasis, a state of inability to do anything, but even so it would appear that they possess a degree of consciousness and awareness, as the spirits of the kings of the world, long since deceased, discern the death of the king of Babylon when his spirit joins them in Sheol.
On the other hand, what about the spirits of the deceased righteous? Where do they go? They also go to the place known as ‘Sheol,” which simply defines the “abode of the dead.”
As we read in the book of Revelation, during the future Great Tribulation, soon to come upon the earth, the souls of the righteous dead will be disturbed from their slumber, and will cry out to God in deep concern, awaiting their resurrection.
Notice: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the SOULS of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should REST a little longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Rev.6:9-11).
These were dead saints. Yet their souls are pictured as crying out to God with a “loud voice”! They are obviously aware, and able to “think,” and to express their emotions and feelings to God. What an interesting Scripture!
we come to understand that there indeed IS a “spirit in man” which survives the
first, physical death, and that the “spirit” continues in existence, then we
should be able to discern these Scriptures for what they are REALLY
saying! As king Solomon wrote in
Ecclesiastes, these spirits cannot “work,” “plan,” “plot,” or perform any activities
of any kind (Eccl.9:10). They are
distinctly limited in what they can do.
But, on the other hand, they can in a limited way speak, discern their
surroundings, and communicate with each other, when necessary, and the spirits
of the righteous can even communicate with God, when appropriate, or when He
allows it! Write for our articles, “Hell
and the Soul,” and “The Spirit in
Gehenna – “Hell Fire”
There is yet one more Greek word translated “hell” which we have not covered. And it does indeed refer to a fiery type of hell fire! Let’s notice just what this “hell” is, when it occurs, and how long it lasts – and who will be sent there!
What is the ultimate fate of the wicked, those who reject God and despise Christ?
John the Baptist spoke about the final fate or destiny of the wicked. Seeing evil-minded, blasphemous Pharisees and their ilk coming around him as he preached the Gospel, John was moved to exclaim: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet [fitting] for repentance” (Matt. 3:78). He thundered to these hypocrites, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (verse 10). Speaking of Jesus Christ, he said, “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will BURN UP the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verse 12).
Here John described the fate of the wicked. Like worthless brush, thistles, or the chaff of the threshing floor, they will ultimately be cast into a fire and burned up! This fire doesn’t just singe, or scorch; it thoroughly CONSUMES whatever is cast into it! What strange fire was John talking about?
Jesus first mentioned “hell” in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus declared, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say unto his brother, Raca, [“vain fellow”] shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of HELL FIRE” (verse 22).
What “hell” was Jesus talking about? And what did He mean by these strange-sounding remarks? The Greek word for “hell” Jesus used in these verses is geenna (usually spelled and pronounced Gehenna), and refers to the ancient dwelling place of the sons of Hinnom, a valley just outside the city of Jerusalem which came to be used as a garbage dump or rubbish pit. Filthy, dirty garbage, dead bodies, and corpses of criminals were thrown into this valley and burned up. Jesus used this expression as a figurative symbol of the final HELL FIRE which will consume the bodies of the incorrigibly wicked!
But when will the wicked perish in this fire? When will unrepentant sinners be cast into Gehenna fire? And what about the billions of people who have lived and died, who never understood the truth of God, who never even heard about Jesus Christ?
And what about the saints – those who will inherit the earth? What about those who will receive salvation, and eternal life? When will all this happen? Just how will the plan of God work out? Let’s turn to the Book of Revelation, and see what God says! The truth is far more wonderful, and more glorious, than you have ever imagined!
First of all, when will the patriarchs, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with Moses, Enoch, Samuel, Joshua, David, and the Old Testament servants of God, along with true Christians – those who truly follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and accept him as Saviour – receive the promises? When will we receive ETERNAL LIFE and SALVATION? Notice the answers!
The Incredible FIRST Resurrection
The apostle Paul stated an important truth in the resurrection chapter of the Bible – he declared in no uncertain words, speaking of the hope of the resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits [the literal Greek says “firstfruit,” singular, not plural]; afterward they that are Christ’s AT HIS COMING. Then cometh the END, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father . . .” (I Cor.15:22-24).
Notice! When Christ returns from heaven, the SAINTS will inherit their reward! Many Scriptures spell out this wonderful truth. In this same chapter, Paul goes on, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, AT THE LAST TRUMPET: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (vs.51-52). Paul explained further to the Thessalonians, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall RISE FIRST: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thess.4:16-17).
What is the “last trumpet”? When does it sound? In the book of Revelation, seven trumpets (seven is the number of completion or finality) are depicted as being blown, one after another, concluding with the seventh trumpet (Rev.8-9, 11:15). The seventh trumpet is the LAST trumpet and it is blown at the second coming of Christ the Messiah! The apostle John says about this awesome, mind-boggling, staggering event: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. . . .
“The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those whot fear Your name, small and great; and should destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev.11:15-18, NKJV).
At the Olivet prophecy, Jesus Christ Himself spoke of this awesome event, when He returns to this earth: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man COMING IN THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels, with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven [the sky] to the other” (Matt.24:30-31).
This is the FIRST RESURRECTION! It occurs at the second coming of Christ!
John writes of this incredible event: “And I saw thrones, and they [the saints, the ones resurrected at Christ’s coming!] sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And THEY LIVED AND REIGNED WITH CHRIST FOR A THOUSAND YEARS. But the rest of the dead did not live again UNTIL THE THOUSAND YEARS WERE FINISHED. . .” (Rev.20:4-5, NKJV).
This is the first resurrection! Of that, there can be no doubt whatsoever! It is the resurrection of the saints at the coming of Christ, at the beginning of the Millennium, or thousand year reign of the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, called the Christ!
John goes on, regarding these saints, and those who are in the first resurrection: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (v.6).
When Christ returns to this earth, the patriarchs and truly converted Christians will be raised from their graves. At that time, Jesus will reward the righteous, and they will then assist him in ruling over the entire earth for 1,000 years (see Revelation 20:4; Daniel 2:44 and 7:27).
But what then? What about the “rest of the dead” – all the billions upon billions of people who ever lived? And what about the “wicked”? What does the Word of God say about them?
The SECOND Resurrection
In the 20th chapter of Revelation we find a brief summary of God’s plan for the future. When Christ returns, Satan the devil will be bound (Rev.20:1-3), the saints will be resurrected, and they will reign on the earth with Him for one thousand years (verses 4-5).
“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished,” the Apostle John writes (verse 5). Therefore, at the end of the thousand years, all those who lived and died, who were not saints, will be resurrected. This tremendous resurrection, of untold billions of people, is recounted in verses 11 and 12:
“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.”
Notice. This is a resurrection to life. The book of LIFE was opened. Those coming up in this resurrection will be judged “according to their works”! This is not a resurrection to condemnation – but it is a resurrection to LIFE and to JUDGMENT!
Who are all these people who will stand before God at the END of the Millennial reign of Christ and the saints?
They will be the uncountable billions who lived and died in this life, who did not qualify to be in the FIRST RESURRECTION, at the return of Christ – to be a part of the “firstfruits” of God! The vast majority of them never even had a chance for salvation – they grew up, lived and died in a society which didn’t have the knowledge of God, or His truth. They are those who lived and died in ignorance, those who never understood or really heard the true Gospel of Christ during their lives! At that future time they will be “judged” according to their works, and most will be given a period of time to repent of their misdeeds in this life, to be re-educated, and to qualify for eventual salvation and eternal life! In that future resurrection, God will open their eyes, show them His truth, and give them their first and only chance for salvation!
Jesus Christ put the truth plainly. He stated: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the DEAD shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. . . Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which ALL THAT ARE IN THE GRAVES shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, to the RESURRECTION OF LIFE” – this is the first resurrection, which occurs at the second coming of Christ!
But notice! Jesus goes on, concerning the REST of the dead: “And they that have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29). The King James uses the word “damnation” here, but the Greek word means “judgment.” This means that all who have ever lived will be JUDGED by Christ based on how they conducted their lives. Those who were really evil, to the core – perhaps like a Ghengis Khan, or Adolf Hitler, or serial killers, or others who gave their lives over to do EVIL – will be condemned to the “second death” – the lake of fire called “Gehenna”!
Others, who have not been so wicked, who did a mixture of good as well as evil in their lives, but who never really understood the truth of God, or knew the name of Christ, whose lives were in reality a mixture of good and evil, will be given a chance to repent, and live out their lives in the flesh, to prove whether or not they will obey God. Not all will be condemned! In fact, in all probability, MOST of mankind, given this first real chance at salvation, will probably jump at the chance, deeply repent, and eventually qualify for salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of God! Some will be “close” to the kingdom of God, having learned many positive lessons in this present life; others will have a lot of changing and overcoming to do, to turn their lives around and to qualify for eternal life!
This second resurrection will not be a time of universal condemnation. It will be a time of universal JUDGMENT! All will appear before God and will be judged according to their deeds and works, and those who have not committed the unpardonable sin will be given their true opportunity for salvation. (Write for my article, “What Is the Unpardonable Sin?” if you have not read it.)
Notice the proof of this! John writes of this resurrection: “And I saw the dead [all who ever lived], small and great, stand before God; and the BOOKS were opened [containing the record of their deeds and misdeeds, both good and bad]: and another book was opened, which is the BOOK OF LIFE: and the dead were JUDGED out of those things written in the books, according to their WORKS” (Rev.20:12).
Some of these will be Gentile dead, who never understood God’s Law – who lived and died in ignorance and total darkness. Some of them, because of the internal conscience which they developed during their lives, were basically “good” people. Paul writes about them in Romans, chapter 2, where he says: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature those things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which shew forth the work of the law written in their hearts, their CONSCIENCE bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall JUDGE the secrets of men by Jesus Christ . . .” (Rom.2:14-16).
This will be a time of judgment – but not a time of total condemnation. God will at this time extend the possibility of salvation to all those who ever lived who never KNEW God, or anything at all about “salvation” – or who were deceived by the false religions of this world, and never really had opportunity to truly be “saved” in this present life!
Jesus spoke also of this time of judgment, when all nations that ever existed will be judged, in Matthew’s gospel. Notice! He declared to the Jews of His time: “The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the south [queen of Sheba] shall rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 13:41-42).
In another place, Jesus also rebuked those of His own generation, those among the Jewish people who rejected His proof of Messiahship. We read: “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be MORE TOLERABLE for Tyre and Sidon at the DAY OF JUDGMENT, than for you.
“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT, than for thee” (Matt.11:20-24).
Is this a “second chance”? Not really. The point is, many were never called of God during this life. Therefore, they never really had a “first chance.” That period of judgment will BE their first chance for salvation!
Although most evangelists don’t understand this truth, and most evangelical Christians think that “today” is the ONLY day of salvation, the truth is, THEY ARE WRONG!
The “Great White Throne Judgment” which occurs after the Millennial reign of Christ, when all the dead who ever lived are resurrected to physical, human life, will be a VAST OPPORTUNITY FOR SALVATION FOR BILLIONS OF PEOPLE who never understood God’s truth and His plan! Having never understood it, they never rejected it, or turned away from it, or denied it!
The truth is, only a limited few are called of God, now, during this lifetime. Jesus Christ said He spoke in parables, to the masses, so that they would NOT understand the gospel, and become accountable during this lifetime. He declared to His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt.13:11, NRSV). Only a comparative few are given their chance and “called” to receive their opportunity for salvation now, at this time, to become part of the “firstfruits of God,” when Christ returns! The rest of the people will be judged for their deeds during this life, later, at the Great White Throne judgment – and will then receive their chance for salvation!
This is NOT the “Only Day of Salvation”!
Today is not the ONLY day of salvation!
As Paul wrote, to the Corinthians, quoting Isaiah in the Old Testament, “For he saith, I have heard thee in A TIME ACCEPTED, and in the [the word “the” is a mistranslation, and ought to be “A”] day of salvation have I succoured thee . . .” (II Cor.6:2). The Englishman’s Greek Interlinear New Testament shows there is no article “the” in the Greek connected with the word “salvation,” and the line ought to read, “In A time accepted I listened to thee, and in A DAY of salvation I helped thee.” The rest of the verse ought to read: “lo, now is a time well-accepted; now is a time of salvation.”
This passage is quoted from the prophet Isaiah. His original words were: “Thus saith the LORD, in AN ACCEPTABLE TIME have I heard thee, and in A DAY OF SALVATION have I helped thee . . .” (Isaiah 49:8).
The Protestant idea that all must accept Christ now, before they die, as Saviour, or they will burn in hell for all eternity, is a FALSE, PAGAN CONCEPT! It is totally erroneous, and makes a mockery of both the power of God, and the love of God! Do you think Almighty God would create billions of people, and then allow Satan to deceive the vast overwhelming majority of them, causing them to lose out on salvation, so that they will be cast into Gehenna fire? Such a fantasy pictures Satan as overwhelmingly more powerful than God!
Let me assure you: God is in complete control of His Creation! Nothing can happen without His express permission, or contrary to His will.
Even the suffering in this world, God permits, to teach mankind the difference between good and evil, right and wrong – in a way that we will never forget it!
The Final Fate of the Incorrigibly Wicked
But now, notice what will happen to those who don’t qualify for eternal life, at this time – those who are so evil that they lose out on salvation. Their final judgment is to be destroyed and put to death in the lake of Gehenna fire. This same Great White Throne judgment scene continues, in Revelation 20, in the verses which immediately follow:
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell
[hades, meaning “the grave”] delivered up the dead which were in
them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell [hades] 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” (Rev. 20:13-15).
Here are those who do NOT qualify for eternal life – those who have been incorrigibly wicked. They will be cast into Gehenna fire!
The prophet Malachi wrote: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, 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. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the LORD of hosts” (Mal.4:1-3).
This awesome fire that will consume and annihilate the wicked is called the “second death” (Rev. 20:14). It is the FINAL DEATH from which there is no resurrection! This death is the penalty of sin (Rom. 6:23). It is the death Christ Jesus came to spare all of us from!
John writes, “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” (Rev. 21:8).
The Tremendous Holocaust
What about this “hell fire”? Where will it be? How hot? How big? How long will it last?
Peter helps us understand. “But 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” (II Peter 3:10).
Notice verse 7: “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”!
How plain. This great fire is the same as the “lake of fire,” mentioned in Revelation, when God judges the incorrigibly wicked. It will sweep around the entire earth! The elements themselves will be dissolved, the surface of the earth will be purged and consumed with tremendous heat. Every remnant of man’s sin, every sign of iniquity, every last trace of evil will be devoured by the heat of this fire.
Then there will be new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:12). But the incorrigibly wicked, those who deliberately persist in rebellion against God when they know better, will have no part in it. They will be annihilated in the lake of fire! God will never entrust the awesome powers of the God-Family to rebellious, selfish, spiteful, proud and perverse men who have repudiated His love and despised His government throughout their lives.
“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” (Psa.37:20). This describes the true fate of the wicked.
These are not just my words. These are the words of God!
In the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ twice uses the expression “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8; 25:41). Notice 25:41 – “Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
What did Jesus mean by “everlasting”? The Bible does not contradict itself (John 10:35). Jesus used a Greek word – aionios – which comes from the Greek aion, meaning an “AGE.” The word aion is translated “AGES” in Ephesians 2:7 and Colossians 1:26. The aionios fire Jesus spoke of refers to the age-lasting fire which will occur at “the end of this world,” and which will introduce the “world to come”! It is an epochal event!
Notice a Bible example which shows in what sense “Gehenna” will be “everlasting.”
Turn to Jude 7, where the identical Greek word, aionios is used, but where it is translated “eternal fire.” Read this verse carefully: “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 said the destruction of these two cities is an example for us. Their fate depicts the fate of all the wicked, at the end of the age! They suffered – notice it – the vengeance of “ETERNAL fire.” Now, what happened to these two ill-fated cities? Are they still “burning” today? Of course not! What happened to them that can be described as “eternal”?
Read the answer in the book of Genesis. “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire [a type of the “lake of fire”] from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the in habitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. . . . And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord: And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace” (Gen. 19:24-28).
This terrible destruction is a direct type of the final fire which will consume and annihilate the wicked! But did you notice? Jude calls this ancient punishment “eternal fire” – yet, the fire which devoured these cities in ancient times is not still burning in the Middle East, today! It burned itself out, long, long ago! Nevertheless, the awesome EFFECT of this tremendous fire IS “eternal” – and stands as an eternal witness for us, today!
The expression “everlasting” fire or “eternal” fire does not necessarily mean the fire itself will burn forever, any more than the “eternal” fire which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is still burning, today. Rather, this expression refers to a great CONSUMING FIRE, whose awesome EFFECT will be eternal! The fire itself will not BURN constantly, throughout the ages, forever, but its effect will be complete, total, eternal and permanent destruction! The wicked will be totally burned up, consumed to smoke and ashes, and never live again!
Another much misunderstood scripture is Mark 9:43 where Jesus speaks of “the fire that never shall be quenched.” Does this mean the fire burns forever?
Not at all. Take a match, light it and set a piece of paper on fire. Let it burn. Don’t let anyone put it out, or snuff it out. Just let the paper burn, until it burns up. Soon it will burn itself out. Now, what do you have? A burned-up piece of paper. But did you put it out? Was the flame “quenched”? No. You left it unquenched. It was not quenched.
Even so, the final Gehenna fire will not be “quenched,” or “put out.” Rather, when there is no more fuel to burn, in time, it will burn itself out – when the wicked and all their wicked works are burned up!
Any fire will go out when it runs out of fuel. That’s the way the final Gehenna fire will be. In time, it will consume all its fuel and naturally burn itself out! But that does not mean it cannot be reconstituted again, or exist again, in the future! We will explain this fascinating mystery later on in this article.
The fate of the wicked, in the Bible, is death – pure and simple – the second death in the lake of fire. The wicked will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). Their consciousness will be destroyed for all eternity. They will have no feelings, thoughts, emotions. The spirit component of their existence (“the spirit in man”) will be purged and purified and recycled by God as He sees fit. But the wicked personality and consciousness and “being” will be utterly destroyed. They will become dust and ashes under the feet of the righteous! As we have seen before, man is composed of dust. He is dust. He does not have an immortal soul abiding within him. Therefore, when the wicked are destroyed, there will be nothing left of them to show they ever existed. Their “spirit” component will be cleansed and reused by God (even as atoms from the sun are recycled on the earth and used in the bodies of living creatures on the earth). For more explanation about the “spirit in Man,” write for our articles on “Hell and the Soul,” “The Spirit in Man,” and “Saul and the Witch of Endor.”
Only those who obey God – who really repent of their sins, and turn to God in true heartfelt repentance and obey His commandments, accepting Christ Jesus as their Saviour and Redeemer – will inherit eternal life (John 3:16). True Christians and saints of God will receive this gift at the return of Jesus Christ, at the first resurrection. The rest of mankind will not be judged until they are resurrected, after the Millennial reign of Christ, at the Great White Throne Judgment. Ultimately, all the incorrigible wicked who do not attain to immortality will simply perish in the lake of fire!
But WHY Did Christ refer to “Hell” as “Everlasting”?
It is clear that when God judges the world, and sinners, that the wicked will be consumed away into dust and ashes. When there are no more wicked to be consumed, no more “FUEL,” then the fire will, of course, burn itself out. But does that mean there will not be any further “hell” in the future, beyond the Great White Throne Judgment?
Is there a very real sense in which “HELL” is indeed “forever”? That is, will God continue to use “Gehenna fire” as a garbage dump for all eternity, for any who transgress His commandments and turn to a life of sin and wickedness, in the future – in the world to come?
This brings up an interesting new concept. There is something the “eternal hell” advocates have never thought of. In this intriguing sense, there will indeed be an “everlasting hell” – that is, a place where future wicked beings will be punished, and destroyed, and eliminated from among the living. That future “garbage dump” will also be “Hell.”
Let’s notice once again that Greek word for “everlasting.” Jesus Christ declared, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire” (Matt.18:8, NKJV). He also declares to the wicked, in the day of judgment, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt.25:41).
Let’s now take another look at this passage.
What did Jesus really mean by the word “everlasting”? As I said, the Bible does not contradict itself (John 10:35).
As we have seen already, Jesus used a Greek word aionios which comes from the Greek aion. Let’s take a deeper look at this word. This same word is used in Matthew 19:29 where Jesus declared to His disciples that they would “receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life”! It is used in Luke 18:30 where the Master said, “There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come LIFE EVERLASTING [aionion]” (Luke 18:29-30).
The Greek word aionios literally means “perpetual (also used of past time, or past and future as well): – eternal, forever, everlasting, world (began).” See Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It comes from the word aion which means “prop. an age; by extension, perpetuity (also past); by implication the world; spec. (Jewish) a Messianic period (present or future): -- age, course, eternal, (for) ever (-more), . . . (beginning of the, while the) world (began, without end).”
Therefore, Gehenna hell fire can refer not only to the great fire which will burn at the end of this “world,” or “age,” but it has an even deeper, more profound significance.
It really does mean “forever.” There is no getting around this fact! So there will always be a “hell” ready for the bodies of the wicked!
Let’s understand this mystery! The usage of the word aionios for this great fire is of very great significance. The term also means “perpetuity,” “everlasting” or “eternal.” It is used of the great reward of the saints – “ETERNAL LIFE”! Surely, nobody in their right mind thinks that it does not mean literally “eternal” or “everlasting”!
So how can Gehenna fire have an “everlasting” quotient? If the bodies of the wicked are consumed and burned up, then why would Gehenna fire be referred to as “everlasting”? What is the answer to this enigma?
The answer is revealed when we take a new, careful look at God’s great Plan for the ages – all ages – eternity itself!
When we really look at God’s great plan, we see that in a very real, palpable sense the PUNISHMENT OF GEHENNA FIRE IS GOING TO BE KEPT AROUND THROUGHOUT THE AGES TO COME, so long as there are wicked people, beings, or even angels, who go astray and who must be “terminated.”
This will be true, even in the New Heavens and the NEW EARTH! Let’s understand this profound “mystery of the ages”!
There are several “hints” to this ongoing Plan of God. It will enter into a new phase after the Millennium, during the “New Heavens and New Earth.”
In Genesis, during the time of Noah, God said, when He gave mankind the symbol of the “rainbow,” “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for PERPETUAL generations” (Gen.9:12). What is meant by “perpetual generations”? The Hebrew word for “perpetual” is olam and means “everlasting,” “always,” “eternity,” “without end,” “to the vanishing point.”
Does this imply that God will begin again with new human life, and start a new cycle of His Great Plan? Since the creation of Adam and Eve, about 6,000 years have passed. According to Scripture, there are 40 years in a Biblical generation (Num.14:34). So there have been about 150 generations since the time of Adam.
John declares in the book of Revelation: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
“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” (Rev. 21:1-4).
At this time, God says, “See, I am making ALL THINGS NEW” (Rev.21:5, NRSV).
In that new heaven and earth, there will be NO MORE DEATH for those who have been given immortality! Everybody will live forever! The whole earth will be populated with SAVED CHILDREN OF GOD – IMMORTAL SONS OF GOD!
“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
“And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (vs. 5-7, KJV).
The new Jerusalem will sparkle like a diadem upon the earth (Rev. 21:9-21). It is the bride of Christ. Those who qualify to enter God’s Kingdom, to be born of God through the Holy Spirit, will be made immortal sons of God and will dwell in the New Jerusalem, with Christ, and reign with Him on His throne, over the entire Universe, forever and ever!
Jerusalem will be the headquarters for the Throne of God; from it God’s rule will extend throughout all the galaxies of space, to the uttermost bounds of the Universe, to the farthest reaches of all Creation itself!
Yet, believe it or not, the Plan of God will CONTINUE!
In the new heavens and earth, there will be a NEW CYCLE of the PLAN OF GOD!
God says in the Torah, speaking of His Covenant, “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy FOR A THOUSAND GENERATIONS with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut.7:9).
You’d better rub your eyes, and take another, closer look at that promise. God speaks of A THOUSAND GENERATIONS! Simple arithmetic shows that 40 years to a generation multiplied by 1,000 generations equals 40,000 years! Yet we are living in the 6000th year since the sin of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden of Eden, in 3997 B.C. The year 2004 A.D. – this very year – is 6,000 years from that ancient event. In fact, Cheshvan 17, which was November 1, this year, is the anniversary of the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden (see my article on “Countdown to the Apocalypse” in last month’s issue of this magazine).
King David also alluded to this promise of God. He wrote in the Psalms, “He is the LORD our God; His judgments are in the earth. He remembers His covenant FOREVER, the word which He commanded for A THOUSAND GENERATIONS” (Psalm 105:7-8).
In fact, when God revealed Himself to Moses, He revealed the “Thirteen Divine Attributes” of God to Him. “And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7, NKJV).
The Hebrew for “thousands” here is eleph, a form of aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It denotes “thousands” – or , in this case, “thousands of generations.” It also denotes “a family,” as the Aleph is like an ox’s head and is the first letter of the alphabet, and was eventually used as a numeral – it represents both 1, and 1,000, or thousands. Alaph is a primitive root, meaning “to associate with,” hence, “to learn, teach, utter.”
The Hebrew in Exodus 34:7 can refer to the thousandth or two thousandth generation – which literally could be interpreted as 1,000 x 40 years or 40,000 years; or 2,000 x 40 years = 80,000 years. Or, literally, multiple “thousands” – stretching forward into infinity of eternity.
Isaiah the prophet alludes to this mystery. He writes in chapter 9, “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the INCREASE of His government and peace there will be NO END, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, EVEN FOREVER. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, NKJV).
That is, the Kingdom of God will grow and grow, multiply and expand – FOREVER – always INCREASING, with justice and peace, with eternal growth and EXPANSION! A growing Kingdom “with no end” – no limitation, no boundary, no termination point!
The apostle John continues, describing the New Earth: “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:23-26).
Says the NRSV, “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev.21:24-26).
Notice! These are “nations” of mankind – people! The King James Version uses the word “saved” but this can be understood as the nations which at that time are in the process of “being saved,” or which are then “in a saved condition.” It does not necessarily mean those who have already been made immortal! In other words, the family of God will keep on growing and expanding, with new members being added!
More evidence that this is so is found in Revelation 22, speaking of the new heavens and new earth. John writes: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the HEALING OF THE NATIONS” (Rev.22:1-2).
Notice it very carefully! The leaves of this tree will be for HEALING NATIONS! This means there will be nations of mankind in existence, then, and they will require HEALING! The word for “healing” here is the Greek word therapeia which means “attendance (spec. medical, i.e. cure): fig. and collec. domestics – healing, household.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon has it, “1. service, rendered by anyone to another. 2. spec. medical service, curing, healing.”
This means for thousands of generations, there will be HUMAN BEINGS living and IN NEED OF HEALING, CURING, SAVING – SALVATION!
These generations will be born, and go on forever, growing, overcoming, and qualifying for entrance into the immortal Kingdom and Family of God! They will be flesh and blood; they will be mortal; they will be given the choice of learning to obey God and develop His character in their lives, or disobeying, rebelling, and earning the consequences of disobedience!
For this plan to go on, and to continue, there will have to be a NEW GEHENNA FIRE – NEW “HELL” – in the New Heavens and New Earth!
The Scriptures declare that God is eternal, and He does not change. His plan itself will not change or be altered. There is a “HELL” for the present world, for all who rebel and become incorrigible. There will be a “hell” in the world to come for those physical beings who then turn aside, go astray, and refuse the goodness of God. This fate also would await any future angels or angelic beings who – like Lucifer and his angels – turn aside and reject the commandments of Almighty God! Therefore, in this unique sense, the words of the Messiah stand everlastingly true. The fate of a “hell” or “Gehenna fire” for the wicked is an eternal reality.
Isaiah tells us more about this New Heavens and New Earth. He describes it thus: “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a job . . . There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; BUT THE SINNER being a hundred years old shall be ACCURSED” (Isaiah 65:17-20).
Notice carefully. During the new heavens and new earth, there will be people who will live out normal lives, children will grow up, and there will be homes, towns, villages, and cities. All people will have a fullness of days, to prove to God whether or not they are deserving of eternal life in His kingdom! This may mean that people will live at least one hundred years. But any who are still “sinners,” at the end of one hundred years, will be ACCURSED! That is, they will be judged worthy of the lake of fire, the punishment of Gehenna!
Isaiah concludes his final chapter describing the “New heavens and new earth,” declaring: “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make will remain before Me, says the LORD, so shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all FLESH shall come to worship before Me, says the LORD. And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isa.6622-24, NKJV).
Here is a plain description of the Gehenna fire, burning up the wicked, during the time frame of the new heavens and new earth! The “worms” feast upon their bodies, and they are eventually consumed in the fiery flames. These are not “immortal worms,” but pupae. After they complete the pupae stage of their existence, they metamorphose into moths and fly away. That is why they do not “die” as worms; they change into moths when they complete the pupae stage of their life cycle.
But if all this is true, some will wonder, thenwhat about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Wasn’t the rich man cast into an ever-burning fire? What about this story?
Lazarus and the Rich Man
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus gives the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man. “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. . . 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. . .”
This story says Lazarus died and was carried to Abraham’s “bosom.” What exactly is a bosom? If we can find out what a bosom is – in this case Abraham’s – we will know where the beggar was taken.
Any dictionary will tell you that a bosom is the breast of a human being, with the arms as an enclosure; a loving embrace by the arms of one person about another; an intimate relationship. Lazarus then, was carried into an intimate relationship with Abraham. Lazarus is pictured here as a Gentile who received salvation, by becoming Christ’s follower or disciple. Notice! “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed (children), and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Through Christ, Gentiles may become Abraham’s children. Through faith we all become “the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).
The Promise to Abraham
Abraham is an heir of God. God gave Abraham a promise and his children will become heirs of it. But what was this promise that Abraham will receive, and the beggar who is his heir?
In Genesis 12 we read where God told Abraham of the land of Canaan: “. . . Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Again, later God promised Abraham: “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed FOREVER” (Gen. 13:15).
The promise was not heaven. The promise God gave to Abraham was land on this earth. It was forever, so the promise given to Abraham and his seed (which the beggar became, spiritually speaking) included eternal life, and eternal inheritance on planet earth!
The beggar, like all Christians, is an heir to the promise to Abraham.
In Acts 7, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, speaks of Abraham: “And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our Father Abraham . . . and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into THE LAND which I will show thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans. . . into this land, wherein ye now dwell. And He gave him none inheritance in it . . . yet He promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him.”
This truth is also stated in Hebrew 11:8-13: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed . . . By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise . . .These all died in faith, NOT HAVING RE-CEIVED THE PROMISES, but having seen them afar off. . .”
Jesus said Abraham would receive the promises, including eternal life, through the RESURRECTION: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:31-32).
Jesus told the Pharisees they would see Abraham in the Kingdom because Abraham, now dead and in the grave, will be RESURRECTED from the dead (Luke 13:28).
Abraham is dead, and so is the beggar. When will they receive the promises? Both will receive the promises at the resurrection when Christ returns to set up His kingdom: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:31-34).
Carried by Angels
In Luke’s account we read where Lazarus was to be carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. We know that Lazarus is in a state of sleep as is Abraham awaiting the return of Christ, when the resurrection will occur. In Matthew 24:31 we read that Christ shall return and “send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds” – out of their graves in a RESURRECTION. Lazarus and Abraham are to be carried by the angels through the air to meet Christ, at His return.
There is no doubt as to how the Bible uses the word “bosom.” In Isaiah 40:11 God shows he will care for His people as a shepherd cares for his sheep, which He will carry “in his bosom.” Jesus says He was in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), enjoying the Father’s blessings and close relationship.
To be in one’s bosom is to have that one’s love and protection, and share his blessings and inheritance. So it will be at the RESURRECTION that Lazarus will be in Abraham’s bosom.
The Rich Man in “Hell”
What did Jesus mean when He said “. . . the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments . . .” (Luke 16:22-23).
The Greek word used for “hell” in this verse is hades which I have already shown to mean “grave” or “tomb” or “abode of the dead.” Jesus said, “When the rich man lifts up his eyes he will see Lazarus and Abraham.” Lazarus and Abraham will not be together till the resurrection – this is when the rich man will open up his eyes and see them.
Jesus in speaking about the rich man and Lazarus, did not say WHEN the rich man will open his eyes. Other scriptures reveal that it will when he is resurrected, that is, after the Millennium! This story of Lazarus and the rich man does not contradict everything else we have read in the Bible. It does not support an eternal, subterranean, pagan “hell” or the “hell” of Dante’s vividly imagined Inferno, or the pagan Roman Catholic concept of “hell.” Not at all!
What Is This Flame?
When the rich man is resurrected after the Millennium, along with the rest of the “wicked,” he will open his eyes and see Lazarus and Abraham. But he will also see a mighty wall of fire, a massive, incredible inferno of flames and billowing smoke – a tremendous holocaust – approaching him. What is this fire – this “flame” which torments him or causes him great distress? In what sense is he “tormented”?
This is no doubt the incredible “Gehenna” fire – the “lake of fire” – that God Almighty will use to destroy the incorrigibly wicked! When the wicked rich man lifts up his eyes and sees this fiery wall of flame, boiling and thundering in front of his face, he will be terrified – and the incredible sight will stagger his mind and cause tremendous anxiety, anguish, mind-boggling terror, mental pain and great fear!
When the rich man opens his eyes, he will see Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom – his embrace. He will also see this awful flaming wall of fire – this lake of fire which is about to destroy him forever! He becomes terrified. His mouth suddenly becomes very dry, and his tongue sticks to his mouth. The rich man cries out in mental anguish, “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.”
What Is the Great Gulf?
In Luke 16:26, Abraham is quoted as telling the rich man, “Between you and us there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” What is this great gulf?
The “great gulf” mentioned by Abraham, represents IMMORTALITY! The rich man is resurrected to a flesh and blood body. Lazarus is resurrected to immoral spirit life. The very mortality of the wicked prevents them from escaping death by fiery destruction in Gehenna, whereas the spiritual immortality of the righteous keeps them from being burned up and consumed along with the wicked.
The rich man, realizing he is doomed, in verse 27, now asks if Abraham would send Lazarus to his father’s house to plead with his brothers, lest they come to his terrible fate. Abraham replied they had the writings of Moses and the prophets. But the rich man realized they would not hear these Scriptures. “Nay, Father Abraham,” he screams, “but if one went unto them from the dead they will repent!” (verse 30).
The rich man, having just come up out of his grave, having been DEAD and insensate for untold hundreds or thousands of years, had absolutely not the vaguest idea – no idea at all – of the vast amount of time that passed while he had been dead. He assumed his brothers were still alive. In talking to Abraham, it seemed to him only a split second between his death and his resurrection. Therefore he assumed his brothers were still alive.
The rich man, however, knew Lazarus was RAISED FROM THE DEAD! This one statement proves that the whole experience of Lazarus and the rich man was given by Jesus to show the truth of the resurrection and the final day of judgment – not to teach any immediate going to “heaven” or “hell” at the instant of death. It demonstrates the mortality of the wicked, who will die, and be DEAD for all eternity – as opposed to the eternal life which will be enjoyed by the righteous, such as Lazarus.
This amazing parable of Christ does not teach an eternal punishing beginning at a person’s death in an imaginary “hell” of Dante, and continuing on forever and ever, but rather the annihilation of the wicked in the fearsome flames of Gehenna fire at the end of the age!
As we have seen, the earth will in the ages to come be the headquarters of the entire Universe! The Plan of Salvation will be extended throughout eternity! So long as there are human beings, with free moral agency, and the ability to choose their own life styles, in existence, some will strive to qualify for salvation, and will be SAVED. But there will be others who will choose to follow the pathway set by Satan the devil, and will choose to disobey God’s commandments, and who will choose to sin and become lawless, and go astray. For such creatures and beings, the fate will be the same as for the incorrigible wicked at the end of THIS age – a fiery inferno of death and destruction, leaving them neither root nor branch (Mal.4:1).
What does this amazing new understanding mean for us, today?
Simply this: We must choose our own fate, our own destiny. God’s warnings are very real! The fate of the wicked, in the Bible, is death – the second death in the lake of fire. The wicked will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). Their consciousness will be destroyed for all eternity. They will have no feelings, thoughts, emotions. They will be dust and ashes under the feet of the righteous! As we have seen before, man is composed of dust. He is dust. He does not have an immortal soul abiding within him. Therefore, when the wicked are destroyed, there will be nothing left of them to show they ever existed.
Only those who obey God – who really repent of their sins, and turn to God in true heart-felt repentance and obey His commandments, accepting Christ Jesus as their Saviour and Redeemer – will inherit eternal life (John 3:16). True Christians and saints of God will receive this gift at the return of Jesus Christ, at the “first resurrection.”
All others will come up in an awesome general resurrection of all the remaining dead, at the END of the Millennial age. Some – perhaps the vast majority who ever lived, even billions of people – will learn God’s truth, repent, and qualify for eternal life.
But the truly wicked, the incorrigibly wicked, those who demonstrated by their wicked and malicious works that they would never fit in God’s Kingdom, will be punished by being cast into Gehenna fire. They will die the “second death.” For them, there will be no more resurrection – ever!
Do you see? God has placed two paths before us. One leads to eternal life. One leads to eternal death. Those are the two alternatives God places before us: eternal life on the one hand, and everlasting death on the other hand. And God says: “CHOOSE”!
Almighty God thunders, to every human being: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall PERISH; you shall not live long in the land . . . .
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you LIFE AND DEATH, blessings and curses. CHOOSE LIFE so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means LIFE to you [eternal life!] and length of days [eternity!] . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, NRSV).
What way will you choose?