Eternal Punishment in Hell
Because of His love for mankind, Jesus warns us to avoid the fires of hell. People who deny the existence of eternal punishment are simply rejecting the word of God. They do not believe the clear statements of Jesus and His apostles.
John the Baptist had warned his hears: "Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto 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. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:10-12 // Luke 3:9,16,17). The coming Messiah would bring a judgment of unquenchable fire.
In the Gospels Jesus repeatedly warns about the coming punishment of fire.
Not only murderers are in danger of judgment, "But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:21,22).
Using the most extreme language possible, He warns us to avoid hell at any cost!
"And if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29,30).
"And 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. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire" (Matthew 18:8,9).
The warnings of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are even more graphic: "And if your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' And if your foot makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' And if your eye makes you sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched'" (Mark 9:43-48).
Release from punishment could come in two ways: the fire could expire or the pain could diminish. The description "where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched'" indicates that neither of these escapes will be available.
To avoid hell and to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must bear good fruit and do the will of the Father: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:19-21).
Eternal punishment is also described as "outer darkness" where "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:11,12).
It is more important to avoid hell than to extend our physical lives: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
Death in Scripture never means ceasing to exist, but only indicates the absence of some kind of life. Physical death is the absence of physical life. Spiritual death is the absence of spiritual life. And the second death is the absence of the blessings of eternal life.
Some try to claim that hell does not involve eternal suffering because of the word 'destroy' in this passage. The basic meaning of the word, however, is "to ruin." To destroy a city does not mean that it no longer exists, but only that it is in ruins. This word may not be misused to nullify the passages which clearly state that the pain and suffering in hell will be unending.
The same warning of Jesus is recorded by Luke in these words: "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:4,5).
In many of His parables Jesus speaks of the judgment of fire.
In explaining the meaning of the parable of the weeds among the grain, Jesus says: "The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:39-42).
Notice that according to the teaching of Jesus there are just two possibilities. Either one is saved and inherits the kingdom of heaven, or one goes to eternal punishment.
In the parable of the dragnet, the fishermen would simply throw the bad fish away, but when Jesus explains the meaning, this is intensified to eternal punishment: "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:47-50).
In the parable of the wedding guests, even though one man had been admitted into the banquet hall by the grace of the king, because he had failed to wear a wedding garment, he was thrown out. The description of his punishment switches from the parable to a description of the judgment of the wicked: "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:11-14).
We can understand why the scribes and Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus, when we read the "woes" that He pronounces over them. They refuse to enter the kingdom, and prevent others from entering. They devour widows' houses while saying long hypocritical prayers. They travel land and sea to make a proselyte whom they then make twice as much a son of hell as they are! He calls them "Blind fools" because of their silly excuses for not obeying the law. He says they observe all kinds of details but neglect "justice and mercy and faith." They are full of "extortion and self- indulgence." They are like whitewashed tombs, full of rottenness on the inside. After these scathing denouncements, He is not unclear about their destiny. "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:13-33).
People to whom responsibility is entrusted by God are punished if they are unfaithful or unprofitable. Of the evil servant who gets drunk and beats his fellow servants it is said: "The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:48-51). Of the man who buried his talent in the ground, it is said: "And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30).
After the above two parables, Jesus tells of the separation of the "sheep" from the "goats" on the day of judgment. Again there are only two possibilities. The reward is great and the punishment is severe. "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels'" (Matthew 25:41). "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).
Many want to believe that most people will be saved, except for those who are 'really bad'. Some have even deluded themselves into thinking that everyone will be saved. Jesus teaches that most people will be lost.
"Then one said to Him, 'Lord, are there few who are saved?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:23,24). To those who have not entered when the Master has shut the door, the message will be: "Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity." "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:25-28).
The punishment suffered by the wicked after this life is graphically described in the account of the rich man and Lazarus.
"So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented'" (Luke 16:22-25).
When the rich man realized that there was no way his own suffering could be diminished, he expressed his concern for his brothers who were evidently headed for the same judgment: "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment'" (Luke 16:27,28).
It is popular at present, even among so-called 'Christians', to believe that one does not necessarily have to be a Christian to be saved. But according to Jesus, the only way to avoid the fires of hell is to be a fruit-bearing Christian, one who "abides" in Christ: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:5,6).
When Christ comes again it will be to rescue the faithful and to punish "those who do not know God" and "those who do not obey the gospel." This will happen "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
False teachers who bring in "destructive heresies" will "bring on themselves swift destruction." It is foretold that "many will follow their destructive ways." But their judgment is sure to come. "For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot" ... "-- then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment" (2 Peter 2:1-10).
Reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is also made in Jude: "...as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7). Notice that although the physical cities were destroyed never to be rebuilt, the residents continue to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
In the Revelation we are warned that those who serve the devil and his comrades will also share in their eternal punishment.
"Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name'" (Revelation 14:9-11).
"Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Revelation 19:20).
"And the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10).
"The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:13-15).
"But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
Because of His love for mankind, Jesus warns us to avoid the fires of hell.
He also provides the only way of escape.
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive