The Lord Jesus Christ said that hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Scripture also teaches that hell will be the abode of all who are unconverted (Revelation 20:15). I made the point in my previous post that hell is a real place. As a place it certainly is not pleasant to think about. Hell is horrifying.
For how long do the unbelieving go to hell? Some have suggested that no one will go to hell (universalism), but this ignores the clear teaching of Scripture (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:15). Others say that the punishment in hell is limited, that is to say, those that go to hell will be annihilated and not suffer everlasting torment (annihilationism).
What does the Scripture say concerning the duration of hell? I believe the Scriptures teach an eternal conscious punishment of the wicked. Though the OT teaches an eternal punishment of the unbelieving (Psalm 78:66; Isaiah 33:14; Isaiah 66:24; Jeremiah 23:40; Jeremiah 25:9; Daniel 12:2), I will restrict myself to some NT verses in this post.
The Lord Jesus Christ said a lot concerning its duration. He said that hell is “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43), a place where “the worm does not die” (Mark 9:47-48), a place where there “will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12), a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41) and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). The language of these references is not referring to something of a limited duration. The final reference I quoted speaks of the righteous going into eternal life whereas the unbelieving go into eternal punishment. To redefine eternal punishment would also change the meaning of eternal life.
Some will object and say, doesn’t the Scripture speak of the lost being destroyed? The answer is yes it does (Matthew 10:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:10), but the word destroyed (Gk apollumi) can have varying meanings that are determined by the context. For example, the same word is also used of a lost sheep (Matthew 10:6) and a lost coin (Luke 15:9). On many occasions apollumi is used to refer to that which comes to ruin and loss. Given the teaching of the Lord Jesus in passages mentioned earlier, it is clear that when the unbeliever goes to hell, they will expereince destruction, ruin and loss – not annihilation. I conclude with the sobering words of John. When referring to the unbelieving he said they
“will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” Revelation 14:10-11.
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