Never has a word in the English language generated so powerful an emotional reaction. Disturbing images grip the imagination as the mind grasps the full implications of the word. Perhaps one might picture a place of fire and torment, where the dammed suffer throughout all eternity. The mind conjures up images of flames of fire engulfing the shrieking lost, and demonic entities tormenting and torturing as though it were an activity of leisure. The thought crosses the mind of people dying one minute, and the next waking up in fire to be tormented without end.
While these images fill the mind, what is said of such a place is all the more disturbing. There are many who claim that Hell is a place where those who do not love or serve the monarch of the galaxies go to be tormented forever. We are told and expected to believe that Hell is the realm of the suffering dammed, where those who have died without our precious savior in their lives are now suffering in a lake of fire. The report has circulated that at an undisclosed location in the universe the lost are now in torment, and will be there throughout all eternity.
Dear friends, have you ever burned your hand on a hot stove? Dare I say that you might be feeling the agony of your mistake for a time? Now let us imagine that pain on a much grander scale, and toss eternity into the mix. Never ending pain and suffering is the product of our analysis. Spellbound by the horror of such a thought, one can only clench their fists as questions in regards to the character of our redeemer fill the mind. What is it that a man can do that would warrant such punishment? One cannot help but question the justice of never-ending torture as the sheer implications of the concept sink in.
It is perhaps such questions that have lead others to reject the monarch of the galaxies totally. Unable to resolve apparent philosophical flaws in such teachings, many have rejected the very idea of our Lord’s existence and have stormed away from him in anger. With every sense of justice offended, they are left with no other option. Than it is clear that the stereotypical concept of Hell has lead many to atheism, severely hindered the advancement of our Lord’s work, and provided those skeptical of the Bible with more than enough ammunition for criticism.
I am therefore lead to inquire, who is your God? As stated before, this subject matter deals very heavily with the character of our Father in Heaven. We do well to remember that we tread on holy ground. It has been said, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” – 1 John 4:16. Supposing that the stereotypical teachings in regards to the punishment of the wicked are not the truth, than it is clear that rather serious railings upon our Lord have been accepted as fact by the masses.
The obvious inconsistencies between the above passage of scripture and what appear to be the traditional teachings of Christianity display these facts to us. Yet, supposing such traditions have a strong foundation in God’s word we find ourselves in a position where we have no right to question this teaching. We are therefore left with the question, why investigate the matter at all? It perhaps seems sound to reason that since it has been the traditional teaching of Christianity for as long as many can remember, and so many have believed it than it must be correct.
In all reality, popularity and tradition are not proof of the truthfulness of doctrine. In addition, the length of time in which a particular teaching has been believed does not attach biblical accuracy to it either. History is filled with the testimony of men who have discovered the traditional doctrines of the established Church to be false and have no foundation in the word of God, and who were then placed in the peculiar position of having to stand up for the truth. We are told plainly by the testimony of scripture, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” – Isaiah 8:20. In the face of such a warning from scripture, we should not be afraid to place the matter to honest investigation, especially if the teaching in question is only a tradition of men.
Jesus made a very interesting statement in the book of John. He said, “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, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” – John 5:28-28. These passages present some rather serious questions for us. Why is it that there are any in the graves? After all, is it not the truth that as soon as some one dies they will be instantly transported to either heaven or hell? Were this the case, the thought certainly crosses the mind that a resurrection is a rather pointless exercise. It is an obvious logical flaw and point of sheer confusion to imagine oneself sent down to hell at death, only so that you can be brought back up into your body to be taken back down to Hell again.
In light of this fact, it should be very clear to us that no one is in Hell at this moment. My dear friends, it is my hope that this revelation is a source of relief to you. There are many who have been tormented day and night with the thought that their unsaved loved ones are suffering in Hell, yet these passages clearly teach us that this is not the case. At this point in time all reside in their graves, awaiting resurrection. Yet even beyond this, we find obvious inconsistencies between the traditions of men and the word of God. Is it therefore logical to conclude that if scripture has provided us with such a massive contradiction to what is commonly taught, than we are dealing with nothing more than a false theory?
With the evidence tending toward such deductions, we may therefore press our inquiry without fear. What else than may be found in the scriptures to further validate what we have discovered? Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares, the interpretation of which reads: “The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in 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 which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 13:39-42.
What is the ultimate fate of those who are cast into this ‘furnace of fire’? Further to the point, do these passages refer to the punishment of the wicked in general or are they only in reference to the fate of the tares? Supposing that these passages are in reference to the general punishment of the wicked, than that would logically place that event at the end of the world in connection with the second coming of Jesus Christ. Theoretically, this chronology of events would present serious problems for the traditional viewpoint of the punishment of the wicked. Pieced together with the fact that the dead reside in their graves, the idea of Hell as a place of torment beneath your feet or at some undisclosed location that burns for eternity starts to vanish.
Paul once said of this very event, “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 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 2:7-9. As you wrap your mind around these facts, compare the above passages with that of Matthew 13:39-42. Are not the messages of the two sets of passages undeniably identical? Than we may logically come to the conclusion that those who are cast in the furnace of fire at the end of this world are “punished with everlasting destruction.”
It is therefore clear that those who were cast into the furnace of fire were completely destroyed. The term “destruction” places this fact on display. The obvious literal meaning of this term shows us the true fate of the wicked. Those who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will, at the time this world comes to its end, face complete destruction for all eternity. There will be no resurrection for them, and there will be no second chances. The fate of the wicked is an eternal death from which there is no return.
Even in the face of such evidence, it can be tempting to cling to traditional thinking. Many have brushed aside the exposure of plain contradictions between the sayings of men and the words of scripture, claiming that the conclusion that the wicked are destroyed is based off of one bible verse alone. They say, “you are basing your conclusions off of just that!” At this point, people then brush the truth aside and cling tenaciously to tradition.
If this is indeed not the case, than one should be able to produce more evidence from the scriptures with ease. What other passages of scripture may be found conveying a similar message? The book of Malachi contains a fascinating description of the fate of the wicked. In the third chapter of Malachi, we also find a question which has perhaps baffled many even in our day. Why is that God has allowed good things to happen to bad people?
“Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, what have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up, yea, they that tempt God are delivered.” – Malachi 3:13-15
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shal be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.” – Malachi 3:16-18
These passages from the book of Malachi establish the context of what is to be found in the fourth chapter of Malachi. They clearly determine the subject matter presented between these two chapters. A question is asked in the third chapter, and that is clearly a question of “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” Language such as “they that tempt God are delivered”, “And now we call the proud happy”, and “they that work wickedness are set up” make this fact apparent to us. The question is also asked as to what the point in serving the Lord is, when all of this takes place.
The response that immediately follows is filled with salvation language. We read, “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” The obvious promise here is that something positive will eventually happen to the righteous, we do not follow the Lord in vain while the wicked prosper. All of this and what follows is an obvious response to the questions asked in these texts.
In the fourth chapter of Malachi we read, “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.” – Malachi 4:1
“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.” – Malachi 4:3
The language here used indicates complete destruction. When Malachi 4:1 says “the day that cometh shall burn them up”, the obvious conclusion is that the wicked shall be consumed. The fact that the wicked “shall be stubble” is further evidence of this fact. The word “stubble” in Hebrew means “straw” as shown below. No one would argue against the fact that straw is material which burns rapidly when lit ablaze to the point in which it is utterly consumed. The fact that the scriptures use this kind of a picture makes it very clear and plain that the wicked are to be destroyed.
From H7197; straw (as dry): – stubble.
As if this evidence were not enough, Malachi 4:3 expands on the information already given. We are given the description that the wicked “shall be ashes under the soles of your feet.” This imagery indicates that there is to be nothing left of the wicked, that they are to be completely consumed by the flames.
We find this concept again in the book of Job. In the twentieth chapter we read, “Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for this I make haste. I have heard the check of my reproach, and the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer. Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, Where is he? He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found: yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night.” – Job 20:2-8
A close examination of this language further confirms what we have discovered. The question here found in Job appears to be addressing a similar problem to that found in Malachi. It reads, “Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?” The target in question here is the wicked, and their apparent triumph and prosperity here on this earth. But this is stated to be “short” alongside the joy of the hypocrite being defined as “but for a moment.”
The very next thing mentioned is they “perish for ever.” To suggest that the term “perish” in this text means anything other than what it says on the surface is dishonesty and foolishness, and an attempt to twist scripture in an effort to support traditional thinking. The word perish suggests “death”, and is found linked with “for ever” indicating that the wicked are to be destroyed permanently. The poetic language that follows hammers this point in further, stating “they which have seen him shall say, Where is he?” The implication here is that the wicked have been thoroughly destroyed to the point where nothing is left. They are therefore completely consumed.
Knowing that John 5:28-29 speaks of a resurrection of damnation in which the wicked are to rise to meet their doom, it should be obvious to us that this text cannot be applied to the first death here on earth but must rather be applied to the ultimate fate of the wicked. In spite of the fact that these passages do not reference the word “hell” and do not mention fire, this application should be made clear to us by the questions presented and their apparent response. This application is also made undeniably clear to us by words such as “perish for ever”, eliminating the possibility of this referencing anything other than this application.
Even beyond all of this, there is something often overlooked by many. Many read over the plainest statements of scripture without the slightest thought that they contradict traditional thinking. In the book of Genesis, we find in the third chapter a description of something powerful.
“And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” – Genesis 3:22-24
In the beginning, man had access to something called the “tree of life.” As long as he ate from this tree, he had access to eternal life. Man was enabled to have immortality. This was the only way that men could be immortal. The passages above make this fact clear to us. They demonstrate that the entire purpose of kicking mankind out of the garden of Eden was so that he would not have access to this tree and he would not be able to live for ever. This is a fact which sets up a standard. God showed that he would not immortalize sin or sinners.
The question should then be asked, is there a tree of life in the lake of fire? If the tree of life is the only way that men may be enabled to have immortality, than there would logically need to be a tree present in the lake of fire in order to keep those who were burning alive permanently. Without this, the inhabitants of the flames would inevitably burn up.
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” – Revelation 22:14-15
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielder her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” – Revelation 22:2
“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
A comparison of Revelation 21:8 with 22:15 displays to us the position of the lake of fire. Revelation 21:8 mentions “whoremongers”, “murderers”, “sorcerers”, “idolaters”, and “liars”. These same sins are pointed out as causing an individual to be outside the city in Revelation 22:15. This would logically connect the two passages, since they are talking about the same subject matter. Revelation 21:8 mentions that these people will be burned in the lake of fire, while simultaneously being defined as being outside the city, therefore positioning the lake of fire outside the city.
With that being the case, note the location of the tree of life. Revelation 22:14 states that the righteous will have access to the tree of life, and be able to enter the city. Revelation 22:2 states that the tree is located in the “midst of the street of it.” Revelation 21:1-2 provide the context, since there has been no change in subject from those passages up to this point. Both texts read, “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.” – Revelation 21:1-2.
The “midst of the street of it” is therefore an obvious reference to the New Jerusalem, placing the tree of life in the middle of the city. With the tree of life in the middle of the city, and those who are lost described as being outside of it, than we can therefore conclude that there is no tree of life in the lake of fire. One might spend the rest of their life searching through the different scriptures which speak of the fate of the wicked and not find one single statement describing a “tree of life” in the lake of fire. With this fact before us, it is therefore impossible for the wicked to burn for ever, since there are no means present to sustain them throughout eternity.
But what of terms in the scriptures such as “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment”? Or what about when the Bible says the fire “shall not be quenched”? Doesn’t the scriptures use the phrase “for ever” to describe how long the wicked burn? What about the rich man and Lazarus? The use of the phrase “for ever” in the Bible is a complex issue, which will have it’s own article. The Rich man and Lazarus is something we will also examine separately. However, we will examine the rest of these terms here. There are perfectly logical answers to all of these questions.
The term “everlasting fire” is found twice in the new testament.
“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
“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
It would seem that these terms are clear, and that they simply must support traditional thinking. However, an important principle when studying the scriptures is that we must allow the bible to explain itself rather than jumping to conclusions. We find an answer for these terms in three passages of scripture.
“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” – Jude 1:7
“And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;” – 2 Peter 2:6
“But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.” – Luke 17:29
Jude 7 states that the inhabitants of Sodom & Gomorrha were to “suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.” Obvious questions are raised as to whether or not Sodom & Gomorrha are burning today. You would be hard pressed to locate the smoke of their cities still rising. Perhaps this is something which CNN will soon do a story on? Or maybe it is more likely to appear on Fox News? These two cities are clearly not burning today, yet they are described as “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
In 2 Peter, we find an identical passage where Peter states that these two cities are an example for those who live an ungodly life. Jude 7 uses the same language. Therefore we may conclude that whatever happened to these cities will be the same fate of the wicked. Peter then states that they were turned into “ashes”, a fact which provides a parallel to Malachi 4:3. However, the book of Luke finishes everything off with a statement from Jesus saying that “fire and brimstone rained from heaven, and destroyed them all.”
It is an undeniable fact that terms such as “everlasting” and “eternal” carry virtually the same meaning. This is a fact that only he who is grasping at straws would argue against. We may therefore connect Jude 1:7 with the statements from Matthew which use the phrase “everlasting fire.” The chain of evidence provided by the three passages above make the meaning of the term “everlasting fire” plain to us.
Everlasting fire is fire which destroys, the effects of which are everlasting. This should be clear to us given the fact that these two cities are defined as being destroyed by “eternal fire”, and that they are not burning today. It should be therefore obvious to us that terms such as “Everlasting fire” do not hold the meaning they appear to on the surface, and that they are wrested to support traditional thinking.
We can see this kind of thing happening again with the phrase “the fire is not quenched.” In the book of Mark we read, “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” – Mark 9:43-44
These passages are misinterpreted by many. The phrase “worm dieth not” is misread as though this is some how referencing an undying soul, which will never die in the flames as it is tortured. The phrase “the fire is not quenched” is interpreted to mean that the flames therefore go on for ever. Is this the proper way to interpret this passage?
We find the following curse in the book of Jeremiah, “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of the Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” – Jeremiah 17:27. Were Israel to not do as it was told, the punishment to be inflicted on it was a fire which “shall not be quenched.” Does this mean that Jerusalem was to be on fire throughout all eternity? Is Jerusalem on fire today?
“And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.” – 2 Chronicles 36:19-21
The description here given in 2 Chronicles indicates that Jerusalem was completely destroyed. Jerusalem was burnt to the ground and the inhabitants of it were carried away captive. It is obvious that Jerusalem is not on fire today. This would be a very ridiculous suggestion that nobody would attempt to defend. In view of that fact, we can see the phrase “fire shall not be quenched” in connection with a fire which eventually went out. It is therefore logical to conclude that this phrase merely means that the fire cannot be put out, and not necessarily that it goes on for ever.
As for the phrase “worm dieth not” in Isaiah we read the following, “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that 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. The language here used is identical to that which appears in Mark. In fact, we might go so far as to say that Jesus, who had a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, was likely quoting from this text. We must point out that while the worm doesn’t die, the individual it belongs to is a carcass. We are more than likely dealing with worms feasting on carcasses rather than some kind of undying soul.
What of the phrase “everlasting punishment?” In the book of Matthew we read, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” – Matthew 25:46. It is at this point that a believer in eternal conscious torment will exult, saying “See! I told you! The punishment is everlasting!” What exactly then is the punishment in this passage defined as?
“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. In response to this question, we present some previously examined texts. Note that in verse 9 when it says “Who shall be punished” this must logically be a reference to those who “obey not the gospel” mentioned previously, and that this sentence in of itself speaks of their ultimate fate while the verse before hand targets their fate at the second coming of Christ.
This statement found here in 2 Thessalonians defines their punishment as “everlasting destruction.” It is to be compared with the passage found in Matthew in order to obtain a proper definition of exactly what the “everlasting punishment” mentioned is. The everlasting punishment mentioned in that passage from the book of Matthew is “Everlasting destruction”, a death from which there is no return, and not eternal conscious torment in fire.
The wicked are to be destroyed for ever. They will not return to cause further problems for God or the righteous. The universe will be purged from sin by fire. The fate of the wicked is Everlasting destruction, not torment for ever in fire.