A Biblical Examination of the Debate Over the
Destiny of the Unsaved
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2018 F. Wayne Mac Leod
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Title Page
Chapter 1- The Character of God
Chapter 2- A God of Justice and Wrath
Chapter 3 - The Reality of Hell
Chapter 4- Is Hell Eternal?
Chapter 5- The Wages of Sin
Chapter 6- The Nature of the Soul
Chapter 7- The Human Spirit
Chapter 9- The Resurrection and the Judgement
Chapter 10- The Nature of God’s Judgement
Chapter 11- The Duration of Hell’s Suffering
Chapter 12- No Condemnation In Christ Jesus
About The Author
here is a growing debate in Christian circles over what the Bible
teaches about the eternal destiny of the unsaved. Of course, the
traditional Christian view has been that those who do not know the
Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour are destined for hell and eternal
punishment. The idea is that they live forever in conscious awareness of
their torment.
Annihilationism, however, states that while there will be a punishment for
sinners, that punishment will not last forever. Robert Peterson defines
annihilationism as follows:
Annihilationism is the view that lost people in hell will be
exterminated after they have paid the penalty for their sin.
(Robert Peterson, “Annihilationism or Eternal Punishment?
Retrieved from
Probably the most famous contemporary evangelical theologian to call for
greater acceptance of the doctrine of annihilation was John Stott. This
brought him into conflict with those who held a more traditional view. Stott
is quoted as saying:
Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal conscious torment]
intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it
without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the
strain. (John Stott Annihilationism, Retrieved from
His emotional struggle with the doctrine of eternal punishment is
understandable. Whether we believe in the eternal punishment of the lost or
not, there should be in our hearts a deep sense of grief over the thought of
an unending terror and separation from the God of all comfort.
In their booklet “Heaven & Hell, What Does the Bible Really Teach?” the
United Church of God states:
“Would a merciful and loving God inflict excruciating torment
on human beings for trillions upon trillions of years—
throughout all eternity without end? Could the Creator God of
the universe be so unfeeling and uncaring? (pg. 4)
How do you comfort the parents of an unsaved teen who lies in the coffin at
the gravesite? It is not easy to reflect on his or her future, apart from God.
Human nature, as evil as it is, wants to offer hope to those parents.
The debate between annihilation and eternal is not limited to emotions and
personal understanding of the character of God. People from both sides
seek to back up their positions from Scripture. The discussion also centres
around an understanding of Biblical texts and theology.
As easy as it would be to avoid this study, the questions being debated are
serious. What is the character of God? What is the nature of sin? From what
did Christ come to save us? Does humanity have an immortal soul? What is
death, and is it the complete cessation of all consciousness? What do we do
when we don’t understand God and His ways? What do we do when we
don’t like what Scripture teaches? These questions are of fundamental
importance for us in the Christian life.
I trust that this study will bring some clarity to this debate. May God be
pleased also to use it to bring greater harmony in His body and greater glory
to Him as the Triune God.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
am going to begin with the understanding that the reader has a basic
knowledge of the teaching of Scripture about the punishment of the
wicked and the doctrine of heaven and hell. Inevitably, in any
discussion about eternal punishment, the conversation turns to our
understanding of God’s character. An article published by the United
Church of God captures this well when it says:
Many who profess Christianity believe the wicked will burn
forever in hell. They sincerely believe this is what the Bible
teaches. But we need to ask a simple question: Would a merciful
and loving God inflict excruciating torment on human beings
for trillions upon trillions of years—throughout all eternity
without end? Could the Creator God of the universe be so
unfeeling and uncaring? (Heaven and Hell, What Does the
Bible Really Teach? Published by United Church of God, 2009,
page 4)
Those who oppose the idea of eternal conscious suffering in hell point us to
the love and mercy of God. For them, it is inconceivable that a God of love
and compassion would allow anyone to suffer forever. If even in our sinful
hearts we are capable of feeling empathy for the worst criminal, how much
more would a perfect God grieve for those who suffer terrible pain and
agony, no matter how sinful they were. Did the Lord not love and show
mercy toward us when we were sinners? Doesn’t His grace extend even to
those who have turned against Him? He showed compassion and offered
forgiveness to the apostle Paul when he was dragging Christians out of their
homes and persecuting them for believing in Jesus the Messiah (Acts 9:1-
5). Does the doctrine of the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked
undermine the mercy and love of God?
It is not just the mercy and love of God that is brought into question but
also the justice of God. Again, let me quote from the article “Heaven and
Hell, What Does the Bible Really Teach?”
The Bible indeed says that God “has appointed a day on which
He will judge the world in righteousness”(Acts 17:31). At that
time, those who have repented and accepted Jesus Christ as
their Savior will be given eternal life. “Salvation is found in no
one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men
by which we may be saved” (Acts 4:12, New International
Version). But what will happen in that day to the hapless people
who have never even heard or been exposed to that name? Will
they be cast shrieking into hellfire alone with those who
knowingly hate and despise God?
Only a minority of the earth’s population lays claim to being
Christian. Those who profess Christianity total only about a
third of the world’s population. Vast numbers of the other two-
thirds have never had the opportunity to genuinely repent and
accept Christ simply because of where they live. Millions more
through the centuries likewise never had the opportunity
because of when they lived. Would it be just and right for God
to subject them to the same punishment He will give to those
who willingly reject Him and choose to make themselves His
enemies? (Heaven and Hell, What Does the Bible Really
Teach? Published by United Church of God, 2009, page 5)
Does the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment in hell call the justice of
God into question? Is there an imbalance in the judgment of God if He
punishes the sinner forever for something they did or did not do in a mere
seventy or eighty years of life on earth? Would it not be more just for God
to destroy the body and soul of those who have sinned against him? Would
not justice be served by annihilating the sinner rather than keeping them
alive forever in terror and agony?
Consider also the holiness of God. As a holy God, our Creator cannot
tolerate sin and rebellion. How do we reconcile the holiness of God with the
fact that He allows sinners and rebellion against Him to remain for all
eternity in hell? Does an eternal hell give Satan victory? Is this not what
Satan has been longing for –perpetual rebellion against God? Is hell a
kingdom set up in opposition to God? Will hell not prove that Satan got his
way, and Christ did not ultimately defeat him? Would a holy God allow sin
and rebellion to continue in hell for all eternity? Would a righteous God not
choose to destroy sin and all hint of resistance, proving His total victory
over it rather than to isolate it and allow it to continue?
For many people, it is impossible to reconcile what they know about God
with the idea of eternal conscious punishment of the wicked in hell. The
annihilation of both the body and soul in hell is easier to accept.
As compelling as these arguments are, we dare not reduce God to human
understanding. Some time ago now I was in a local print shop. I was
picking up a book I had written. A young man came in and saw what I was
picking up and started a conversation with me. Seeing that the book was
religious, he shared with me that he had problems with the Christian
doctrine of the Trinity. He told me that it made no sense to him and,
therefore, he could not accept it as true.
I still remember the words the Lord gave me that day. In response to his
statement, I said: “I am glad there are things about God I cannot understand.
If I could understand everything about God, He would be no bigger than my
brain. I need a God that is bigger than me and what I can understand.”
I am mentioning this incident because the Lord gave me those words, not
just for that young man but also for myself. I often go back to that
conversation and listen again to those words. I cannot pretend to understand
all there is about God. He is bigger than my capacity to understand Him. He
defies my human logic and reason. We often believe that that we can put
God in a box. We feel that we know all there is about God and His
I have been married to my wife for over thirty-eight years now, but there are
things about me she does not understand and things about her that I do not
understand. We share a common human nature, but I cannot say that I know
her perfectly. How small is a god we can know better than our friends and
loved ones? There will always be a mystery to God. We will have to accept
certain things by faith even when we cannot possibly understand them?
Those who say that a God of mercy would never permit a person to suffer
throughout all eternity will also struggle to understand why there is so much
suffering in this world today. Why does a merciful God allow diseases to
ravage the earth stripping parents from their children? Why does a God of
justice enable a government to exist that brings hardship to Christians
around the world? Why does a God of holiness allow abuse and crime to
ravage this earth as we know it today? Why do floods, storms and other
natural catastrophes cause the death of many people every year? History is
filled with violence, oppression, injustice and abuse. Where is God in all of
We have all met people who refuse to believe in the God of the Bible
because they cannot reconcile what is happening in the world or their
personal history with what the Bible says about Him. “I cannot believe in a
God who would allow this or that to happen,” they say.
After completing Bible school, I went to university to do a degree in
Religious Studies. One of the things I quickly discovered at university was
that faith was considered a weakness. To the keen minds of these religious
studies professors, everything needed to be scientific, logical and
understandable to the human spirit. Human logic and reason were elevated
to the point where they became the judge of what was true or false. There
was no room for accepting what could not be proven intellectually or
For the believer, however, human logic and reason are not the judges of
truth and error. The Word of God, as contained in the pages of Scripture,
must be our guide. The Bible reveals the character of God and His purpose.
There are times when we do not understand why God has determined that
we do things in a certain way, but we accept this as being from Him and
submit. There is a tendency in our day to elevate human reason over the
Bible. There is little room in the church for blind acceptance of the truth.
We need to understand it, or we can’t accept it.
This need to understand why we do things the way we do or believe what
we believe has had some positive benefits for the church, but it has also
been the source of many problems. In our attempt to understand everything,
we also question everything. We elevate our understanding above God and
His purpose. If we don’t agree with what the Bible seems to be saying, we
have a hard time accepting it and will do everything we can to explain away
the clear command of God.
Will we reject a God we cannot understand? Will we replace Him with a
theological idol that is more appealing to us? Or will we accept that there
are things about God we will never grasp? Will we see faith as the
weakness of those who cannot understand? Or will we accept the
mysterious ways of God and trust Him when those ways make absolutely
no sense to our human mind?
The challenge for us in this study is to see what the Word of God teaches
and to accept it even if we cannot reconcile all the details in our human way
of thinking. I dare say that we will never come to a complete understanding
of God and His ways in this life. There will be much about Him we will not
comprehend. Those who reject what they cannot understand, however, miss
out on some of the greatest blessings God has to offer.
n all our talk about the love, mercy and compassion of God, we
sometimes forget that the Lord does become angry. As a God of
justice, He demands payment for sin. A few years ago, I was speaking
with a neighbour. He told me that he could not accept a God who would
sentence people to hell.
I answered him by saying: “Isn’t it interesting that when it comes to
criminals in our society, we demand justice. If a murderer or child molester
has his or her sentence reduced and is released early from prison, we are
angry with the judicial system. When it comes to God, however, we expect
that He will ignore our sin out of compassion and love. Should we expect
less of God than our worldly law enforcement officers?”
God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to care for it and enjoy its
blessings. The one command of God was that they refrain from eating of
the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He would punish anyone who
ate from that tree:
[2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit
of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat
of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither
shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3)
Notice that the punishment for eating from the forbidden tree was death.
When Eve ate from that tree and gave its fruit to Adam, she and her
husband experienced the reality of that death. For the first time, they knew
shame and hid their naked bodies from each other (Genesis 3:7).
Brokenness came to their marriage. When God came into the garden to
speak with them, Adam and Eve hid out of fear (Exodus 3:8-10). They
experienced separation from God.
As a result of this disobedience, God told Eve that she would experience
pain in childbearing. Adam would eat the fruit of the earth through the pain
of hard toil (3:16-17). Pain and suffering were introduced into the world.
The land would be cursed and produce its fruit only with reluctance
(Genesis 3:17-18).
Finally, the Lord told Adam and Eve that they would ultimately return to
dust. The bodies God had given them would age with time and one day
cease to exist. Physical death was the result of this disobedience.
Let’s bring this up to our present day. Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve
in the garden, humanity has suffered brokenness in relationships with each
other and with God. Every abuse and criminal act committed against
another human being has its roots in the soil of Eden. Every war with its
death and destruction is the result of the sin that entered this world. Pain,
suffering and disease all trace their origin to that first rebellious act. The
sickness of the earth as a result of the curse of sin has resulted in natural
catastrophes and the loss of countless lives. Every life laid down in death is
evidence of what took place in the Garden of Eden.
I have often heard people blaming God for all this evil. It is not God who is
to blame, but sin and its curse. It was Adam and Eve who chose to disobey
and open the door to sin. The fault lies squarely on their shoulders. While
God did not bring sin to this earth, the question we need to examine in this
context is this: Why does He allow us to suffer under its consequences?
Some people tell us that a loving and merciful God would remove all these
consequences from us so that we did not have to experience tragedy and
suffering in life. These people question why God would even put a
forbidden tree in the Garden.
While the answers to these questions merit another book, suffice it to say
that true love and devotion require a choice. God gave Adam and Eve the
opportunity to love and obey Him from the heart –they chose disobedience.
Their love was not forced. Nor was it a love offered because there was no
other option –before them was the option to walk away from fellowship.
That is what they chose.
God has provided the solution for the problem of sin—His very own Son.
The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for the sin of the world. He now offers us
an alternative to the curse of sin and death. Those who come to Him can
experience this victory. To refuse the solution is to remain under the curse
of sin and death. The penalty for sin demanded the slaughtering of God’s
Son. God would not bypass justice.
The sin that ravaged the earth deeply grieved the heart of God. As it
increased, we read in Genesis 6:
[5] The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the
earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was
only evil continually. [6] And the LORD regretted that he had
made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. [7] So
the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from
the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and
birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
(Genesis 6)
Notice how God’s heart grieved because of the evil in the human spirit.
Note the response of God to sin in the days of Noah. God determined that
He would destroy every man, woman, animal, bug and bird He created. In
the days that followed, the great flood did just that. Apart from Noah, his
family and the animals in the ark, the waters destroyed all living creatures.
In the days of Moses, the people of Israel turned against God when Aaron
set up a golden calf in their midst. Listen to the response of God to this
incident in Deuteronomy 9:
[13] “Furthermore, the LORD said to me, ‘I have seen this
people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. [14] Let me alone,
that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under
heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater
than they.’ (Deuteronomy 9)
It was in the mind of God to destroy the entire nation of Israel and raise
other people to be His own. This may very well have happened, were it not
for the intercession of Moses on their behalf.
In Numbers 16, Korah and his sons led a revolt against Moses. They
resented the fact that he was the leader and that God spoke only to him.
God told Moses to separate the people from Korah and his family. The Lord
then opened the earth, and the entire family of Korah and their worldly
possessions were swallowed up.
When the people of Israel complained about the death of Korah’s
descendants, the Lord responded:
[43] And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of
meeting, [44] and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [45] “Get
away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume
them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. (Numbers 16)
A great plague fell on the nation of Israel for questioning the justice of God.
Fourteen thousand seven hundred people died that day (not counting the
family of Korah). Numbers 16 leaves us to believe that more people would
have died were it not for the intervention of Moses and Aaron pleading for
their lives.
As the people of God prepared to cross over the Jordan River into the
Promised Land, Moses warned them about turning from God to serve idols:
[23] Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your
God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the
form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.
[24] For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous
God. [25] “When you father children and children’s children,
and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making
a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is
evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to
anger, [26] I call heaven and earth to witness against you
today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you
are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in
it, but will be utterly destroyed. (Deuteronomy 4)
Moses describes the God of Israel as a jealous God of consuming fire (verse
24). He warned his people about making idols and told them that if they did
so, they would “perish from the land” and be “utterly destroyed” (verse 26).
Moses would go on to tell Israel what would happen if after entering the
Promise Land they intermarried with the ungodly foreigners of the land:
[3] You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters
to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, [4] for
they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve
other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled
against you, and he would destroy you quickly. (Deuteronomy
If they intermarried with the foreigners of Canaan, the anger of the Lord
would be kindled against them, and H would destroy them quickly. To
prevent this from happening, notice what Israel was to do:
[2] and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and
you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete
destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show
no mercy to them. (Deuteronomy 7)
Israel was to kill every inhabitant of the land. They were to show no mercy.
This is not the only time the Lord issued such a command. In 1 Samuel 15,
Samuel the prophet came to King Saul with these words:
[15:1] And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint
you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the
words of the LORD. [2] Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have
noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way
when they came up out of Egypt. [3] Now go and strike Amalek
and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them,
but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep,
camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15)
God commanded Saul to wage war against the Amalekites. In this battle,
Saul was not to show any compassion. He was to destroy the people, killing
both men and women. He was to slaughter the young children as well as
infants in arms. No animal was to be spared. No living creature was to be
left alive. It was the will of God to protect His people from the sins of the
Sometimes we believe that God is obligated to show mercy to His people.
The Bible teaches, however, that God is under no such obligation. Justice
demands punishment. Will we condemn our earthly judges because they do
not show mercy toward a hardened criminal? Are they in error if they chose
to make them pay for their illegal acts?
Listen to the words of God through His prophet Hosea.
[6] She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD
said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have
mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. (Hosea 1)
God spoke clearly to His people through the birth of Hosea’s child, telling
them that He would no longer have mercy on them or forgive them.
Speaking to Jeremiah, the prophet, the Lord commanded:
[14] “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or
prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me
in the time of their trouble. (Jeremiah 11)
Jeremiah was not to pray for his people or bring their needs to God. God
told him that He would not listen to any prayer for them. While they would
call out to Him in their trouble, God would not listen. God is not obligated
to listen to our prayers for help. He is not a servant that we can command to
do whatever we want.
When Jesus arrived at the temple of Jerusalem during the Passover and saw
the money changers and merchants, He was greatly angered. That day He
found some cords and made a whip out of them. With whip in hand, He
forcibly drove the animals, merchants and money changers out. He
overturned their tables in explosive rage over the desecration of the temple
of His Father (see John 2:13-17).
When Ananias and his wife came to present their offering to God and lied
about how much he made from the sale of their property, Peter openly
condemned them for lying to the Holy Spirit. That day God struck them
both dead for their sin. He would show no compassion on them for their lies
(see Acts 5).
The apostle Peter reminds us that a Day of Judgement is coming for the
[10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the
heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies
will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works
that are done on it will be exposed. [11] Since all these things
are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in
lives of holiness and godliness, [12] waiting for and hastening
the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens
will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will
melt as they burn! (2 Peter 3)
The wrath of God will be poured out on this earth in the end times. Peter
tells us that the heavens, as we know them, will be set on fire and dissolved.
As pleasant as the mercy and compassion of God are, we need to
understand that God is also a God of justice and wrath. He is not obligated
to show kindness toward us. He is not unjust for punishing sin.
No child likes the anger of a father or mother. But whether we like it or not,
this is who God is. He does not sin by giving us what we deserve. Any
kindness shown toward us is a gracious choice, not an obligation. God can
intervene in our lives or leave us to our own devices and outcomes. He is
right in being angry with sin. He is just in punishing it.
One thing is sure; we cannot change God. Scripture portrays Him as a God
of compassion and kindness but also as a God of justice and wrath. We have
one of two choices to make when it comes to God. We can accept Him as
He is, or we can turn from Him and make our own theological idol
comprised of all the elements we like and throw out the characteristics that
don’t appeal to us. If you do this, however, be aware of the prophetic words
of Moses to Israel:
[25] “When you father children and children’s children, and
have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a
carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil
in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to
anger, [26] I call heaven and earth to witness against you
today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you
are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in
it, but will be utterly destroyed. (Deuteronomy 4)
The question is often asked, “How could a God of love and mercy send a
person to hell?” The question supposes that God is only a God of mercy and
love. It does not take the whole character of God into consideration. To say
that God is only loving or only merciful is to present a God that is not found
in the Bible. We must accept God as He is, not for who we want Him to be.
n the last chapter, we examined the teaching of Scripture about the
justice and anger of God. It now falls on us to see what the New
Testament has to say about hell as a place of punishment and
suffering. This is not a comfortable topic. It would be so much easier for us
to believe that those who receive the Lord Jesus receive eternal life and
those who reject Him perish in the grave. This is not the teaching of the
Bible, however.
Resurrection And Judgement
Speaking to Governor Felix in Acts 24, the apostle Paul said:
[15] having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept,
that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
(Acts 24)
The apostle makes it quite clear in this verse that there will be a resurrection
of both the “just and the unjust.” Death is not the end for us, whether we
accept the Lord Jesus or not. Both believers and unbelievers alike will be
raised from the dead.
This was the teaching of the Lord Jesus in John 5:28-19:
[28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who
are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those
who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who
have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5)
Jesus taught his disciples that there is a day coming when both the righteous
and the unrighteous will hear His voice and rise from the dead. According
to Jesus, there will be a resurrection of life and a resurrection of judgment.
Both the believer and the unbeliever will be raised from the dead.
The apostle John describes this in his vision in Revelation 20 when he says:
[12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the
throne, and books were opened. Then another book was
opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by
what was written in the books, according to what they had
done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death
and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were
judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
[14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone’s
name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown
into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20)
There can be no doubt for those who examine the Scripture that there is a
judgement after death. This judgement takes place after the resurrection of
the body from the grave. This seems to be saying that we will face the Lord
in the flesh and not just in spirit. Our death on this earth is not the end.
Unbelievers will be resurrected from the dead to stand before their Creator
in the flesh. At that time, they will receive their sentences.
The Nature Of The Judgement To Come
Understanding that we will all stand before God after the resurrection, the
next matter we need to address is this: What is the sentence for those who
have rejected the Lord Jesus and His offer of eternal life? A variety of New
Testament passages hint at the nature of this judgement.
Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 9:
[43] And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better
for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,
to the unquenchable fire. [45] And if your foot causes you to
sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two
feet to be thrown into hell. [47] And if your eye causes you to
sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God
with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, [48]
‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9)
Here in this passage, the Lord Jesus told His listeners that it would be better
for them to cut off their hand or foot and go through life crippled than to
face the judgement to come. It was preferable to pluck out their eye than to
be thrown into hell. In other words, the worst suffering that could be
inflicted on the body on earth was nothing compared to the agony of hell.
One day Jesus was met by a Gentile centurion who asked Him to heal his
servant. This centurion did not feel worthy of having the Lord come to his
home, so he asked Him simply to speak the word, and his servant would be
healed. In response to this example of faith, Jesus said:
[10] When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who
followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I
found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and
west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the
kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be
thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8)
Jesus declared that men and women like this Gentile would be with Him in
heaven while many of the Jewish faith would be thrown into outer darkness
where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The expression
“weeping and gnashing of teeth” is an important one as it shows us the
nature of the punishment to come. The Greek word for weeping is
“dakryo,” which refers to quiet grief with tears. The second word,
“gnashing,” however, comes from the root “klaio,” which describes a loud
cry of pain and agony.
Revelation 20:10 has this to say about the lake of fire (hell):
[10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the
lake of fire and unbelievers where the beast and the false
prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever
and ever. (Revelation 20)
What is crucial for us to note here is the word “tormented.” The devil, the
beast and the false prophet who were thrown into this lake of fire, were
exposed to torment.
The Bible describes hell as a “hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22), “eternal fire”
(Matthew 25:41), “a lake of fire and sulphur” (Revelation 20:10). It is also
portrayed as a place of “gloomy darkness” (2 Peter 2:4), and a bottomless
pit filled with smoke and darkness (Revelation 9:1). According to the New
Testament, hell is a place of suffering, torment, weeping and intense
Those Who Receive The Judgement Of Hell
The Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust.
It also confirms the reality of punishment in hell and that it is a place of
suffering and torment. The final question we want to address here is this:
Who will be sentenced to hell?
The apostle Paul answers this question when he wrote to the Thessalonians.
[8] in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not
know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord
Jesus. [9] They will suffer the punishment of eternal
destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the
glory of his might, (2 Thessalonians 1)
Paul speaks of two groups of people in this passage. He tells us that God
will inflict vengeance on those who do not know Him, and on those who do
not obey the gospel. These individuals, says the apostle, will “suffer the
punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and
the from glory of His might.”
Hebrews 10:26-27 adds another group to this list:
[26] For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the
knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for
sins, [27] but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of
fire that will consume the adversaries. [28] Anyone who has set
aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of
two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment, do
you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled
underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the
covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the
Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10)
The writer to the Hebrews speaks in these verses about those who
deliberately continue in sin even though they have heard the truth and
understood it. These individuals should expect a “judgement and a fury of
fire that will consume” (verse 27).
In Revelation 21:8, the apostle John shares the words give to him by the one
who was seated on the throne of heaven:
[8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for
murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all
liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and
sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21)
These individuals have lived their lives apart from the gospel and its
influence on their lives. According to John, their destiny in the “lake that
burns with fire and sulphur.”
In Matthew 23, the Lord Jesus rebukes the hypocritical religious leaders
and says:
[33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape
being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23)
Jesus would explain that these religious leaders had misled those under their
authority and drove them from the kingdom of God.
[15] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you
travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when
he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of
hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23)
Notice how the Lord Jesus describes these religious leaders as “children of
hell.” They served the cause of religion, but they drove people from God.
They would be sentenced to hell.
While it is not our place to go into detail about the beasts of the end times,
Revelation 19 is quite clear about their destiny:
[10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the
lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet
were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and
ever. (Revelation 19)
Notice here that the devil, the beast and the false prophet were all thrown
into the lake of fire and sulphur to be tormented day and night forever.
The judgement of hell, according to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles is
reserved for a long list of individuals:
1. Those who do not know God
2. Those who do not obey the gospel
3. Those who know the truth but deliberately go on sinning
4. Cowards, the faithless, detestable people, murderers, the sexually
immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, liars
5. Hypocritical religious leaders
6. The Beast and his false prophet
7. Satan and his demons
There is no question in the minds of Jesus and the apostles that hell and
judgement were a reality after the resurrection of the body. We will all be
raised from the dead to face our Creator. Some will enter the presence of
their Saviour. Others will be separated from Him and sent to suffer in hell.
I confess that these words are hard to write but they do convey the teaching
of the Bible that:
“an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his
voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the
resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the
resurrection of judgment. (John 5).
e have seen that hell, as a place of suffering and torment, is a
concept taught by both Jesus and the apostles. The next
question we need to address relates to what the Bible teaches
about the eternal nature of hell. Is hell eternal or temporary? Let me be clear
here. I am not speaking about the suffering of those who are cast into hell in
this chapter. My goal is to establish whether the Bible teaches that hell, as a
place, is eternal.
Unquenchable Fire
Let’s begin with the words of John the Baptist to the religious leaders of his
day in Matthew 3:
[11] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is
coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not
worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and
fire. [12] His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear
his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the
chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3)
John warns the religious leaders who had come to hear him speak that the
Lord Jesus, who was coming after him, would bring judgement to this earth.
Comparing humanity to a threshing floor, he told them that Jesus would
separate the wheat from the chaff. The wheat would be safely stored in His
barn, but the chaff would be burned with unquenchable fire. John speaks
here of heaven and hell and the judgement to come. He describes hell as a
place of “unquenchable fire.” The term seems to indicate that the fire of hell
will never go out.
Jesus repeats this imagery of hell as a place of “unquenchable fire” in Mark
9 when He says:
[43] And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better
for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,
to the unquenchable fire. (Mark 9)
Both John the Baptist and Jesus speak of hell as a place of unquenchable
fire. That is to say, a place where the fires continue to burn and cannot be
put out.
Eternal Fire
In Matthew 25:4, Jesus has this to say to those who had rejected Him:
[41] “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,
you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his
angels. (Matthew 25)
Notice the term “eternal fire” used by Jesus in this verse. Jude uses these
same words when he says:
[7] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities,
which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued
unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a
punishment of eternal fire.
An eternal fire is one that never goes out. From this, we can assume that the
flames of hell will burn throughout all eternity. These flames will not be
Where The Worm Does Not Die
In Mark 9 Jesus describes hell as a place where the “worm does not die, and
the fire is not quenched:”
[47] And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for
you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two
eyes to be thrown into hell, [48] ‘where their worm does not
die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9)
The word “worm” refers to a worm or maggot that feeds on dead bodies.
This worm does not die but continues to feed on the death that surrounds it.
The fire is not quenched, for it has an abundant source of fuel to consume.
Day And Night Forever And Ever
The apostle John tells us what will happen to the devil and his angels in
Revelation 20:10:
[10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the
lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet
were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and
ever. (Revelation 20)
We will touch on this verse later in another context. What is essential for us
to note here is that the torment of the devil, the false prophet and the beast
is described here to be “day and night forever and ever.” The agony of these
creatures was constant and eternal. “Forever and ever” implies that this
would go on through all eternity without end.
Eternal Judgement
In Hebrews 6, the author challenges the Hebrews to move on to maturity in
their Christian life and to build on the fundamental truths they had learned.
[6:1] Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ
and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of
repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and
of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the
resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6)
Notice that one of those truths they had learned was the doctrine of eternal
judgment. This again is something we will touch on later in another context,
but the phrase is important in this chapter. Hell is the place were this
judgement takes place. If the judgement in hell is described as eternal, then
the implication is that hell itself will be eternal.
The Word “Eternity”
The Greek word used for “eternity” in the New Testament is the word
“aionios.” It comes from the root word “aion,” which means an age (in
time). This has led some to say that we could interpret the word eternal to
mean something that is to happen in a future period and not something that
necessarily lasts forever. The nature of the words used to describe hell by
Jesus and the apostles, however, make it abundantly clear that hell is not
just something that will happen in the age to come but also something that
will endure forever. Hell’s fires are eternal or unquenchable –their flames
will never be extinguished. The worms of hell will never die –they will
feast perpetually on the death and decay of hell. The punishment in hell of
Satan, the beast and the false prophet will be forever and ever, implying that
there will be no end to their punishment. While it would be much easier to
believe that hell is only temporary, this is not what it taught in Scripture. We
can safely assume that hell is eternal in the sense that it will exist forever as
a reminder of the wrath and anger of God against sin and rebellion.
n Genesis 3, we read the story of Eve’s temptation in the Garden of
[3:1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of
the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman,
“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the
garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat
of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You
shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the
garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3)
What is significant in these verses are the words of God concerning the
punishment for sin. God told the first couple that they would die if they ate
from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This command of God is found in Genesis 2:16-17:
[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You
may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day
that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2)
Notice the words of God to Adam that day: “for in the day that you eat of it
you shall surely die” (verse 17). The phrase, “in the day that you eat,” tells
when they would die. Death would be immediate.
These words of God create a problem for us. Genesis 5:5 tells us that Adam
lived 930 years before he died. If his death would be on the day he ate the
fruit of the tree, why did he live until he was 930 years old? What was the
nature of the death Adam experienced that day?
We are all very familiar with Romans 6:23 that says:
[23] For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal
life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6)
The New Testament confirms what God told Adam in Genesis 2. Sin brings
death. The question we want to address here relates to what the Bible
teaches about death as the penalty for sin.
Let’s return to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God told them that
they would die on the day they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good
and Evil. To understand the nature of this death, we need to look at what
took place in the days and weeks that followed their disobedience.
Death In Social Relationships
Listen to the words of Genesis 3:6-7:
[6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be
desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she
also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
[7] Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they
were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made
themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3)
Adam and Eve were together in the garden when they ate from the
forbidden tree. Notice what happened as they wiped the juice of the fruit
from their faces— “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they
were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves
loincloths” (verse 7). The passage leads us to believe that the immediate
result of eating the fruit was an awareness of their nakedness and shame
that made them hide that nakedness from each other. A barrier came
between them as a couple. They pulled back from one another in shame.
They hid from each other. The innocence was gone. There was a break in
personal relationships. With the entrance of sin, there was cause to be
fearful. Evil thoughts and desires would now plague every relationship from
that point forward. Adam and Eve would experience this personally, but
more specifically, they would experience this in the relationship that existed
between their sons. Their son Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy.
From that point forward, humanity would experience this death of social
relationships as sin moved them to fight and betray one another. Nation
would wage war against nation. Abuse, violence against humanity,
prejudice, and hatred of all kinds would ravage and devastate relationships
across the globe. There was a death of social relations. That took place the
moment Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord in the garden.
Death Of Relationship With God
As we move on in the story of Adam and Eve, we see something else that
took place immediately. In Genesis 3:8, we read:
[8] And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the
garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid
themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees
of the garden. [9] But the LORD God called to the man and
said to him, “Where are you?” [10] And he said, “I heard the
sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was
naked, and I hid myself.” [11] He said, “Who told you that you
were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded
you not to eat?” (Genesis 3)
It appears that the Lord God would visit with Adam and Eve in the Garden.
After eating from the forbidden tree, however, the encounter between God
and the couple changed. Genesis 3:8 tells us that when Adam and Eve heard
the presence of God in the Garden, they hid from Him. When asked why
they did so, Adam told God that he was afraid because he was naked. Adam
was afraid of God and ashamed. Shame and guilt now stood between Adam
and his Creator. Notice in verse 11 that God attributes this to the fact that
they had eaten of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating from
that tree brought death in the relationship between Adam and his God.
Adam now had cause for fear. He had offended a holy and just God. This
death in relationship with God spread from Adam to every human being on
the earth.
King David declared in Psalm 51:
[5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my
mother conceive me. (Psalm 51)
The prophet Isaiah would later declare:
[2] but your iniquities have made a separation between you
and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so
that he does not hear. (Isaiah 59)
Sin separated Adam from his God. That took place on the day that he and
his wife ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That sin
spread from person to person so that all were affected. Quoting from the
Old Testament Psalms, the apostle Paul wrote:
[10] as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; (Romans
From the time Adam and Eve ate from the tree in the centre of the garden
onward, humankind has suffered this death in their relationship with God.
We are separated from our Creator and under His judgement. Sin brought
spiritual death.
Environmental Death
Listen to what God told Adam in Genesis 3:17,18:
[17] And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the
voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I
commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground
because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your
life; [18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and
you shall eat the plants of the field.
Creation was cursed the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The
ground would now reluctantly yield its crops. Thorns and thistles would
choke out the food produced in the soil. Adam and all humankind after him,
would cultivate that fruit by sweat and hard work.
The earth as Adam knew it died that day. Sin ravages our environment.
Floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters are the result of sin.
Draughts and famines are a reminder to us that the curse of sin continues to
ravage our earth. Sickness and diseases brought about by environmental
causes spread throughout the world. The environment, as we know it today,
is in the process of death and decay.
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:
[20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but
because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation
itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain
the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we
know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the
pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8)
The apostle makes it very clear that this earth on which we live has been
subject to bondage and corruption as a result of sin. It longs for the day
when it will be set free to be all it was intended to be. On the day that Adam
and Eve sinned, they brought the curse of death to this earth.
Physical Death
God told Adam in Genesis 3:19:
[19] By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you
return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are
dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3)
When we think of death, we usually think of the death of the body. God told
Adam that this would also be the result of his sin. His body would age and
become weaker. Eventually, his heart would stop beating, and his body
would cease to function. His physical body would decay and return to dust.
It should be noted that pain and suffering would also be part of this ageing
and decaying of the body. God told Eve that she would give birth to
children in pain (Genesis 3:16). Adam would eat of the fruit of the soil
through hard work and pain (Genesis 3:17-18). From the moment Adam ate
the fruit of the tree, he experienced the effect of the curse of death on his
physical body. While he would not die for many years, he knew that his
body was ageing, and he was living under the curse of death.
The wages of sin is death, but death is much more than what happens when
we lose a loved one. Death affects relationships with people and with God.
It impacts nature and the environment in which we live. Death curses every
aspect of our lives. It deteriorates the quality of life. Instead of peace, it
brings enmity and separation between God and His creation. Instead of
health and joy, it brings sickness and sorrow. It replaces fruitfulness with
barrenness. Death separates us from the fullness of God’s blessing. It places
us under His curse. In the hundreds of years left in Adam’s life, he would
live in this death and separation from God.
There is an interesting passage in Hebrews 11 that speaks about Enoch:
[5] By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see
death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now
before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
(Hebrews 11)
We have seen that the wages of sin is death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23).
Here in Hebrews 11, we read, however, that Enoch did not see death. Was
Enoch perfect? Could we assume from this that he never sinned and,
therefore, did experience death? The verse causes a problem only if we see
death to refer to the cessation of the physical functions of the body. Enoch,
though he did not experience a physical death, certainly lived in a world
that was under the curse of death. He experienced the effects of sin on his
body and heart like every other human being. He lived separated from the
fullness of God’s blessings. The fact that God chose to bring him into His
presence without experiencing a physical death does not diminish the fact
that even Enoch lived under the curse of sin and death throughout his life.
Paul, the apostle, cried out to God in Romans 7:
[22] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [23]
but I see in my members another law waging war against the
law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that
dwells in my members. [24] Wretched man that I am! Who will
deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7)
The apostle saw within himself what he called a “body of death.” This body
of death was a part of him that waged war against the purpose of God for
his life. This was his sinful nature. It hindered him in his spiritual walk, and
he hated its presence in his life. He longed for deliverance from this death.
The death to which the apostle refers here is not physical death but a fleshly
desire that was contrary to God and His purpose. He lived daily with this
death in him.
John recounts what he heard in his vision of heaven in Revelation 21:
[3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold,
the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them,
and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them
as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning,
nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have
passed away.” (Revelation 21)
The apostle tells us that he heard a voice saying that God would wipe away
every tear and death would be no more. There are several significant details
we need to see here in these verses. Remember that death came as a result
of sin, brought separation from God and tremendous pain and suffering on
this earth. The voice that spoke in heaven that day told John that the effects
of this curse would be broken. God would dwell with His people. There
would no longer be any separation between them. All pain and suffering
would be banished, and there would be no more cause for tears and
mourning. Death would be no more. Through the work of the Lord Jesus,
the curse of death would be broken. Heaven is a place where we live in
absolute freedom from the effects of death in all its dimensions.
The penalty for sin is much more than the cessation of bodily and mental
functions—it is a life separated from the blessings and presence of God. A
quick look around us shows us just how much sin has affected us. It has
cursed this earth. Not one of us is spared the pain, suffering and brokenness
it brings. All of this was the result of a single act of disobedience. Every
agony we have ever experienced has been the result of this sin and the curse
that it brought to us. Sin must never be taken lightly. It is a deadly plague
that has taken more lives than any other disease. It has ravished our earth
and every single person who was ever born. It will ultimately destroy every
one of us, and unless we are freed from its deadly curse, it will separate us
eternally from our Creator.
What does this teaching have to do with the subject at hand? Some people
say that a loving God would never allow us to suffer. He would never take a
loved one from us. Those who say this need to open their eyes to the truth
of Genesis 3:3. God declared the sentence of death on anyone who ate from
the tree in the midst of the garden. Just take a look at the evil that surrounds
you. Consider the injustice and disappointments in life. Consider the
horrible atrocities of history and the abuses of our day. This is the curse of
sin and death. It is the punishment of disobedience. It was the declaration of
God about what would happen if Eve ate the fruit of the tree. Would a
loving and compassionate God allow this to happen? If you believe in the
God of Genesis, then you have to admit that He would.
here is much debate over the nature of the soul. The Hebrew word
used in the Old Testament is the word “nepes” which refers to the
breath, thoughts and emotions. The word “nepes” is not used
exclusively of human beings but applied to animals as well (Genesis 1:20;
Job 41:21; Jeremiah 2:24). In the New Testament, the Greek word for soul
is the word “psuche” which means to breathe or to blow. The soul is our life
or breath as distinguished from our physical bodies. It is what makes us
conscious of our surroundings and able to interact with our circumstances.
The soul is capable of emotions and feelings. Speaking to Jacob in Genesis
34:8 Hamor said:
[8] But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son
Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be
his wife. (Genesis 34)
The Lord God challenged His people not to listen to false prophets for He
was testing them to see if they loved Him with all their heart and soul:
[3] you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that
dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to
know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13)
Jesus experienced deep sorrow in His soul in Mark 14:
[34] And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to
death. Remain here and watch.”
The soul is the part of us that is capable of reason and emotion.
Can The Soul Die?
It is quite clear that our physical bodies will one day die. What about our
souls? Can our souls die as well?
In Genesis 35, we read about the death of Rachel.
[18] And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she
called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
(Genesis 35)
Genesis 35:18 tells us that Rachel’s soul was departing and connects this
with the fact that she was dying. In other words, at death, our soul leaves us.
We are no longer capable of reason, feeling or experiencing life.
Listen to the words of Job in Job 33:
[22] His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring
death. (Job 33)
Job describes the soul as drawing near the pit. The pit is the place of death
—a place where life and breath are stripped away.
In Psalm 22:2, the Psalmist pleads with the Lord to deliver his soul from the
[20] Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the
power of the dog! (Psalm 22)