The Nature of Hell (Part 2) – Does God Subject People to Never-Ending Torture?

It is commonly believed that hell is a place of never-ending torment created for the devil and all who do not put their faith in Jesus Christ. When we take a close look at the scriptures, is that what we are truly being taught?

Generally, there are four viewpoints here. The first is the most common, which states that hell is a place where unbelievers are in a state of never-ending torment. Another view considers hell to be a place of everlasting separation from God, and the “fire” is a kind of yearning for His presence. A third point of view states that hell is a place of redemption in which the evil natures of all are burned off, and ultimately, every soul will be redeemed. The last belief is annihilation, meaning hell is a place of total death and destruction.

In “The Nature of Hell (Part 1) – Hell Lost in Translation,” we discussed the various words that were grouped together into the single translation, “hell.” I recommend reading Part 1 before reading this article.

When considering the meaning of the words that have all been translated as “hell,” the idea was posed that there are actually three distinct “places” of hell: The Grave (Hades), The Pit (Taraturas), and The Lake of Fire (Genenna).

Since The Grave is death we all experience as wages for our sin—an unconscious state in which all await the resurrection and judgment, and The Pit (the bottomless pit, outer darkness, the deep) is a place in which devils and Satan are held, then the only place that could be viewed as a location of eternal torment would be Gehenna—or the lake of fire.

As in the description of Gehenna, the Lake of Fire is a place in which the wicked are burned. It is a place in which “the worms do not die and the fire is not quenched.”

To get some idea about the state of those who are cast into the Lake of Fire, let’s first consider the terms, “unquenchable fire” and “everlasting fire.”

Unquenchable Fire and Everlasting Fire

What is Fire?

This might sound like a silly question, but when we take a look at scriptures that mention fire, we see a few different contexts. We are told that the unfaithful are cast into fire. We are also told that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

When we compare the many instances of “fire” in the New Testament, all come from the Greek word pur or pýr. The definition of pur and pýr has been rendered as fire, heat of the sun, lightening, strife, trials, and the eternal fire. That’s quite a broad description.

In the following passages, each use of the word “fire” has the same translation, though we see fire in different contexts:

Matthew 3:10-12 And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Luke 3:16-17 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
John 15:6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Hebrews 12:27-29 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:For our God is a consuming fire.

1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

What can we say about fire?

As we see in the scriptures, fire is both a cleansing agent and a destructive agent. Even when destructive, such as the trial of our faith which is “by fire,” this is constructive. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is called the “baptism of fire.” The dead things within us (our sinful nature) are burned up so life is brought forth.

What about fire as a place in which the wicked are eternally destroyed? What is the nature of fire in this place?

Additional passages to consider when viewing fire as punitive rather than purifying:

Matt 13: 41-43 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. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Matt 13: 47-50 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Matt 18: 8 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.
James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

My Thoughts:

The fact that God is a consuming fire causes some to believe that hell is a place of purification, not a place of destruction. Though we might like to believe this idea, there is no evidence of this given in the scriptures. The Lake of Fire is not a location in which people are cast into God, but rather, this is a place of constructive destruction in the sense of having all unrighteousness purged from the creation (Matthew 13:41-43).

However, we are also told

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

My thoughts here: When Jesus returns, the wicked one and all things that are lies will be destroyed because he who is The Truth will be shining bright. Nothing wicked or untrue can survive the brightness of The Truth. This is another example of constructive destruction, because when all lies are burned up, the true things are given total power. Lies are sin and death, and truth is light and life.

The fire the Lord “set on the earth” is the brightness of his coming. He says:

I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? (Luke 12:49).

Of course I’m fond of that scripture for obvious reasons. Vanities, vanities, right? As Christians, we should all be “on fire” for the Lord and prepare ourselves for his coming. We do this by Seeking First the Kingdom of God.

For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltiness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another (Mark 9: 46:50).

Every person will taste the fire of God. We are either cleansed by the fire of God while we live by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, or we are cast into the lake of fire and destroyed. However, there is no indication that the lake of fire is a place of redemption.

To determine whether this is a place of never-ending conscious torment or annihilation, let’s explore this idea further.

How is Fire Unquenchable or Everlasting?

When we read the New Testament scriptures, it is easy to assume that hell (or the lake of fire) is a place of never-ending torment. Phrases like “unquenchable fire” and “everlasting fire” seem, on the surface, self-explanatory. There are only a few passages that use this phrasing in the New Testament. They are:

Matthew 25:41 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 18:8 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 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Luke 3:17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
  • What does unquenchable mean? In these passages, the word unquenchable means “inextinguishable.”
  • What does everlasting mean? In these passages, the word everlasting means “age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.”

What can we say about “unquenchable” or “everlasting” fire?

Consider this. In Jude 7 we are told that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with “everlasting fire” and is a “warning to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6). Are these cities burning today? Of course not.

What about The Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) in the Old Testamen? As mentioned in Part 1, this was a location of ever-burning waste including corpses of enemies. Is this fire still burning today? It is not.

We can also read in Malachi 4:1-3 the following:

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.

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.”

My Thoughts:

When we consider Sodom and Gomorrah as an event that foreshadows the final judgment (as Paul the Apostle said), with an understanding that the fire that destroyed these cities was also described as “everlasting” and “eternal,” then we might conclude that there must be a different meaning here.

When viewed in light of Old Testament prophesies about the final judgment, we see that just as Sodom and Gomorrah, the wicked are totally destroyed.

In this sense, their judgment (which is by fire) will not be quenched. It only lasts for a season, but it will complete it’s work and there will be nothing remaining that is not burned up.

All things God speak will come to pass, and who can resist His judgment? Can the fires of judgment be quenched? No. We also have to consider descriptions of “the lake of fire which is the second death” – which we will get into in detail in Part 3.

What about scripture that says “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched?”

The same logic can be applied to these scriptures, along with considering Isaiah 66:24 which states:

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases 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.”

However, to make sure we are thoroughly considering this topic, I will discuss such scriptures in more detail in Part 3 as we consider what Jesus taught us about hell.

Everlasting Punishment and Eternal Judgment

We know that the judgment and punishment of the wicked are “by fire,” and now we have some understanding of what “unquenchable” and “everlasting” means in this context. Even so, one would be negligent to not also consider passages about “everlasting punishment” and “eternal judgment.” So, let’s get to that.

Matthew 25: 41,46 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. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Thessalonians 1:7-9 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.
Hebrews 6:1-2 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

What can we say about these passages?

  • Matthew 25:41 and 46: As mentioned in Part 1, there is a holding place for the devil and his angles. After the second resurrection, they are cast into “the lake of fire which is the second death” along with all who are not written in the book of life (Rev 20:14-15). This is “everlasting” punishment because unlike the first death (The Grave), one cannot come back from “the second death.”
  • Thessalonians 1:7-9: As we have concluded, the fire of judgment is everlasting in that it completely destroys, and the judgment of God is “unquenchable” or unstoppable because the Word has spoken it and it will complete the work it is created to perform. We want to be those who obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, don’t we?
  • Hebrews 6:1-2: Hmm…Going on to perfection. Repentance from dead works. Faith towards God. These things should sound familiar by now if you’ve followed KindlingTruth for long. We need faith in the whole gospel, not just part if we are to participate in the resurrection of the dead unto life instead of the resurrection of eternal judgment–pending the merciful judgment of the Lord.

My Thoughts:

The concept of “eternal judgment” and “everlasting punishment” are the same as “eternal fire” and “everlasting fire.” The judgment of God is set and will not be quenched until the work is completed. That work is total destruction of the wicked. However, as with Sodom and Gomorrah, this is a point of time that will only last for a season.

In Conclusion

It is my belief that “the lake of fire which is the second death” is not a place of never-ending torment. When we consider all of the scriptures with an understanding of what the fire of God is and how to view “everlasting” and “eternal” in proper context that considers history given in the Old Testament, we see that this is a place of annihilation.

It is, as stated, a second death—and one that no soul will come back from. In that sense, it is never-ending punishment and removal from the presence of God.

I do not see any support for hell or “the lake of fire” being a place of redemption. The scriptures show that the wicked are destroyed and the “righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The only purification we can experience from the fire of God is through the Holy Spirit and the “baptism of fire.”

The idea of hell being never-ending separation comes from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man: And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:26). I do not think there is any other evidence for such a belief, and when weighed in light of all the evidence to the contrary, I do not see this as a valid point of view. However, we will consider this further in Part 3.

We will consider scriptures about “the lake of fire” and the “second death” in “The Nature of Hell (Part 3) – The Lake of Fire and the Second Death. We will also revisit the teachings of Jesus about hell. All three parts are part of a series entitled, “The Nature of Hell” which is a sub-series within “Building Upon the Living Rock.”

Comments, questions, or points in which I might be off in understanding are welcome in Comments below. Please share if this article was helpful for you.

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Posted in Christian Doctrine, False Christian Teaching
15 comments on “The Nature of Hell (Part 2) – Does God Subject People to Never-Ending Torture?
  1. […] here’s the series in four parts: The Nature of Hell (Part 1) – Hell Lost in Translation The Nature of Hell (Part 2) – Does God Subject People to Never-Ending Torture? The Nature of Hell (Part 3) – The Lake of Fire and The Second Death The Nature of Hell (Part 4) […]

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Luke 12:5 is a scripture I refer to regarding hell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amanda says:

      “But I will show you whom you should fear: “Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

      Yes, I agree that is a key scripture. I apologize if I left that out.

      The word hell in this verse is a transliteration of the word “gehenna,” which was proposed as a reference to the Lake of Fire — which is the “second death” — a place of final judgement and destruction of all death including hell (as translated from “hades” meaning the grave), Satan, devils, and all who follow him.

      “Death and hell (hades meaning the grave) were cast into the lake of fire, this is the second death” (Rev 20:14).

      Like

  3. Matt Brumage says:

    Amanda, again, a well thought out interpretation. I had a professor in school, Dr. E. Earl Ellis, who frustrated me to no end. He interpreted Scripture to support soul-sleep and annihilationism, as you have. He was considered our “Scholar in Residence”, so you’re in good company in your view. But he was also in a minority among the professors at the school. If you can find any books of his, he was a great writer, much better than he was a lecturer. People skills were not his strong suit. I don’t think he would add much to what you have here, except, maybe a more thorough treatment of “soul-sleep”. His position on that was really weird to me. His reasoning on annihilationism was that a loving God would never torture anyone for eternity, something that has troubled modern theologians, and inspired the view that it simply means “separation”, not torture.

    Ironically, the eternal torture concept didn’t bother the culture of the first century AD or prior. Life was pretty cheap, and forever a more “fuzzy” concept than the philosophical position of “infinity”. The cosmos was a much smaller place for them. Social decorum was more brutal than it is today. So, all of that too needs to be understood as part of our “filter” through which we look back over 2,000 and more years to understand the inspired message of our Master. The cultural “lens” through which we look back over the thousands of years obscures much.

    Thank you for the point of view!

    Blessings,

    matt

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks again for the comment. I might look his writings up. I’ve had no formal training, at least not from any Christian institution. Though I have had the privileged of learning from a very Spiritually-gifted man, which started my own desire to learn more about Jesus and what he stands for.

      I agree with what you say about our culture lens. I don’t think my position is influenced by our culture though. I see my position as one that goes against pop Christian culture, though I expect many would be relieved to be freed from the idea of never-ending torture. Even so, death is a severe punishment, and can arguably be considered more severe than being alive in torment, because at least then there is some form of existing and life.

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  4. Don says:

    Hi Amanda,

    In reference to the Lake of Fire and everlasting torment, it’s important to recall that Jesus says the Lake of Fire was not prepared for people, but for the devil and his angels – Matthew 25:41. Serving as the Second Death for the wicked is a secondary purpose. Scripture pretty clearly states that the torment of the devil and his angels will never end, likely because they are not mortal beings as we are. So although the wicked may indeed be annihilated in the Lake of Fire – and death and Hades destroyed – the torment of the devil and his angels will go on forever. Revelation 20:10

    “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

    Interestingly, this same fate is said to befall any person who worships the Beast or receives his mark: Revelation 14:9-11

    “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand,
    10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.
    11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

    I absolutely agree that we need to examine all relevant Scriptures on the subject, and you’ve done a pretty thorough job of it!

    ~ Don

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amanda says:

      That’s a very good point. I do believe that God knows the beginning from the ending, however. This might be a secondary purpose, but that does not mean it is any lesser or that God did not plan for this purpose. I would consider it is possible that the devil and his angels will be tortured forever, except we are told that when the new heavens and new earth are created, there will be no more pain. Is that no more pain except for the devil and his angels? I suppose we could read that into the interpretation.

      I’m glad you brought up that passage from Revelation. I should have included that. I do suppose though that the torment being “forever and ever” is a hyperbolic statement, as with the fires of Sodom that rose “forever.”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Don says:

    Matt’s comment about death being “relational” is interesting. There have always been speculations that “hell” might simply be a separation from God. To be separated (eternally?) from the only source of light, love, joy, peace – sounds a lot like the “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amanda says:

      It is interesting, but I think the scriptural support for this argument is not that substantial. It might seem so when we look at a few scriptures, but when taken in context of all the scripture, especially those in Revelation (which I regret not getting into in the Part 4 of my hell study), we see that God’s words are true. The punishment for sin is death. Also, the only way to be separate from God is to die. How can we live someplace distinct from God when he is omnipresent? We might like the idea of separation because it seems more humane, but that is not what I believe to be true. Of course, you are welcome to believe what you will. The only reason I even get into these discussions is because it relates to a better understanding of the gospel. I used to pursue Christianity as an intellectual pursuit. I get that draw. Now, I just want to live the gospel and pursue the righteousness of God. However, to make my case for the gospel, I have to debunk many common ideas about heaven and hell. I mean no disrespect or anything. I can see how my comments might seem rude. I’m just tired, and I’m not one for debate. I suppose that is a weakness when you have a blog 🙂

      Like

    • Amanda says:

      Hi again, Don. I thought you might find this article by Matt interesting. I know I did.

      https://knotholetheology.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/shift-your-paradigm-for-the-kingdom-is-near/

      Liked by 1 person

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These are the things that ye shall do: Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things I hate, saith the Lord.  — Zechariah 8:16-17