Biblical Expressions, Biblical Explanations - Supplement
to Lesson 12
- 1. Will Sinners
- 2. Everlasting Fire
- 3. The
Word "Hell" in the Bible
- 4. Killing
the Body, But Not the Soul
- 5. The Rich Man and
The doctrine of endless burning of
sinners is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Nowhere does
it say that God will sustain the lives of those who
transgress His law. The wages of sin is not merely
suffering or torment, but death. On the cross Jesus paid
our penalty by His death. If the penalty was eternal
torment, Jesus could not have fulfilled that requirement
and be resurrected on the third day.
So what do you do when you find an
occasional expression in the Bible that initially seems
to contradict the clearest Biblical passages on a
subject? There is only one safe course to follow: Always
let the Bible explain its own terms. By
examining the Bibles own use of a particular
expression, you discover the perfect agreement that
exists throughout the Bible on the subject.
Some people are misled by the
expression "unquenchable fire."
This term is used in Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43-48; and Luke
3:17. Does the fact that the fire is unquenchable mean
that sinners will burn forever?
Lets ask the Bible to show us
an actual example of this kind of fire. Through Jeremiah,
God prophesied that if His people would not hallow the
Sabbath, Jerusalem would be burned with fire which
"shall not be quenched" (Jeremiah 17:27). That
prophecy was fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:19-21; Jeremiah
52:12, 13). But notice that although fire could not be
quenched the fuel was consumed!
In Isaiah we read that the wicked
will "burn together, and none shall quench
them" (Isaiah 1:31). Yet the same chapter explains
that they "shall be consumed" (Isaiah 1:28)!
Did you know that the Bible has
also recorded for us an example of a time when "eternal
fire" was used? Jude 7 says that
"Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them...are
set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of
eternal fire." The story is recorded in Genesis 19.
According to this example, how thoroughly does eternal
fire burn things? The answer is found in 2 Peter 2:6,
"Turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into
ashes...making them an ensample unto those that after
should live ungodly."
The Bible indicates that those
involved in the final conflict against God will be
tormented day and night "for ever and ever"
(Revelation 14:11; 20:10). How long, in the Biblical
sense of the word, is "for ever and ever?" Are
there any Biblical examples of this measurement of time?
Here is one. In the Jewish economy,
all Hebrew servants were released every seventh year. But
if one should choose not to leave his master, "his
master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he
shall serve him for ever" (Exodus 21:6). Obviously
"for ever" only means "as long as he
Here is another example. Hannah
dedicated her child Samuel to the Lord and took him to
the house of the Lord that he might "there abide for
ever" (1 Samuel 1:22). She clarified the meaning of
her words in verse 28 by saying, "as long as he
The term "eternal
punishing" is not found in the Bible.
However, Jesus did speak of "everlasting
punishment" (Matthew 25:46). Do you know
the difference? What is the punishment for sin? "The
wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Everlasting
death. The Scriptures clearly foretell the fate of the
wicked "whose end is destruction" (Philippians
3:19). "Everlasting destruction" (2
Thessalonians 1:9). "Thou hast destroyed the wicked,
thou hast put out their name for ever and ever. O thou
enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end:
and...their memorial is perished with them" (Psalm
9:5, 6). "This is the second death" (Revelation
20:14). The Bible is very clear on this subject. (See Job
8:22; 20:4-9; Psalm 1:6; 21:9; 37:38; Proverbs 2:22;
Isaiah 65:17; Zephaniah 1:18.)
Follow the Bibles teaching on
this important subject:
Q: What kind of fire
will be used to destroy the wicked?
fire." Matthew 3:12. "Fire that never shall
be quenched." Mark 9:43-48. "Fire
unquenchable." Luke 3:17. "Everlasting
fire." Matthew 25:41.
Q: What is the source
of this never-ending fire?
A: "Then the Lord rained
upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from
the Lord out of heaven." Genesis 19:24.
"From God out of heaven." Revelation 20:9.
Q: What do we know
about the nature of the eternal God?
A: "Our God is a consuming
fire." Hebrews 12:29. "His throne was like
the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A
fiery stream issued and came forth before him."
Daniel 7:9,10. "And the sight of the glory of
the Lord was like devouring fire." Exodus 24:17.
Q: What ingredient
accompanies the fire which is continually in the
presence of God?
A: "And mount Sinai was
altogether on a smoke , because the Lord descended
upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as
the smoke of a furnace." Exodus 19:18.
"There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and
fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by
it." 2 Samuel 22:9. "I saw also the Lord
sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his
train filled the temple...and the house was filled
with smoke." Isaiah 6:1-4. "And the temple
was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from
his power." Revelation 15:8.
Q: What happens to the
wicked in the divine presence?
A: "And he said, Thou
canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me,
and live." Exodus 33:20. "He shall be
tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of
the holy angels and in the presence of the
Lamb." Revelation 14:10.
Q: What is the effect
of the fire upon the wicked?
A: "And there went out
fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died
before the Lord." Leviticus 10:2. "And
there came out a fire from the Lord and consumed the
two hundred and fifty men." Numbers 16:35.
Q: Only what kind of
people can survive in the midst of Gods
A: "Who among us shall
dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall
dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh
righteously, and speaketh uprightly." Isaiah
Q: Will the righteous
be able to dwell in the actual presence of God?
A: "He will dwell with
them, and they shall be his people, and God himself
shall be with them, and be their God."
Revelation 21:3. "Thou wast upon the holy
mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the
midst of the stones of fire." Ezekiel 28:14.
Q: So the righteous
will dwell and prosper in the very fire that consumes
A: "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." Malachi 4:1-3.
Q: How has this
contrasting effect been illustrated in the Bible?
A: "The flame of the fire
slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego." "He answered and said, Lo, I see
four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and
they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like
the Son of God." Daniel 3:22, 25.
Q: When the Lord
appears, from what will the wicked seek to hide?
A: "Hide us from the face
of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath
of the Lamb." Revelation 6:16.
Q: What is the
A: "For the great day of
his wrath is come; and who shall be able to
stand?" Revelation 6:17.
Q: What is the answer?
A: "These are they
which...have washed their robes, and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before
the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his
temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell
among them. They shall hunger no more, neither shall
the sun light on them, nor any heat." Revelation
The everlasting fire of which the
Bible speaks is the fire of the presence of God. In it
sinners cannot exist. Only those who have been cleansed
from all unrighteousness will dwell in the presence of
the holy God forever.
Many people do not realize that
there are actually four different original words which
are translated "hell" in the Bible. The
confusing part is that the four original words do not all
have the same meaning. If one attempts to combine the
meanings of all four words into one composite concept, he
not only emerges with a very confusing picture of the
fate of the wicked, but he also does injustice to the
The word "hell" is used
54 times in the Bible: 31 times in the Old Testament, and
23 times in the New Testament.
Every time you see the word
"hell" in the Old Testament, you can know that
the Hebrew word used there is sheol , which means
"the grave" (See Jonah 2:2, margin). In half of
the instances in which sheol is used, the translators
rendered it "hell." In half, they used the word
"grave." Nowhere in Scripture does sheol denote
a place of torment in which bodiless beings suffer.
The Bible makes it clear that all
people, both righteous and wicked, go to sheol when they
die! The patriarch Jacob said he would go to sheol when
he died, and his son Joseph would go to sheol also
(Genesis 37:35)! Righteous Job used the word sheol when
speaking of his own resting place (Job 17:13). There
everyone unconsciously awaits the resurrection.
The New Testament contains three
Greek words which are translated "hell." And
they each mean something different.
Ten of the 23 New Testament
references are translated from the word hades, which is
simply the Greek equivalent of sheol, and means "the
grave." (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23;
Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) Hades is
not associated with conscious torment anywhere in the
Bible except in a parable found in Luke 16:23 (See separate discussion
of this parable.)
In 12 instances the Greek word
gehenna is translated "hell." (Matthew 5:22,
29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke
12:5; James 3:6.) Gehenna, or "Valley of
Hinnom," is mentioned repeatedly in the Old
Testament (Joshua 15:8; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 33:6;
Jeremiah 7:31). It is a gorge near Jerusalem in which
idolatrous kings burned their children as a sacrifice to
the heathen god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:1, 6).
Because of this abomination, the Lord declared that He
would make it a "valley of slaughter" for His
rebellious people where the fowls of heaven would eat the
corpses which could not be buried for lack of room
(Jeremiah 7:32, 33: 19:6, 7).
The same valley was later used as a
refuse dump where animal carcasses and rubbish were
continually burned. Such places are generally infested
with maggots which help decompose the refuse (Mark 9:44).
Thus gehenna became associated in Jewish thought with the
place of final punishment. Therefore Jesus used it as an
illustration of the fire which will burn the wicked in
the final day of judgment. Nowhere does the Bible say
that the sinner is cast into gehenna at the moment of
death. The Bible clearly says that the fire that burns
the wicked will not touch them until the final day of
The word "hell" is used
in only one other place in Scripture, 2 Peter 2:4. Here
the Greek word tartaros is used, which means "the
deepest abyss." Peter used this term when speaking
of the banishment of the rebellious angels from heaven.
To summarize: Of
the four words translated "hell," we have seen
that the Bible distinguishes three separate concepts:
1. Sheol or hades: The
grave where all people go at death to unconsciously
await either the resurrection of life or the
resurrection of damnation.
2. Gehenna: A place of
burning, used as an illustration of the fire which
will one day destroy the earth and totally consume
3. Tartaros: Used only
one time in Scripture, but never in reference to the
destiny of man.
According to the Genesis 2:7 equation, the body is a
component of the soul. How then do you explain Matthew
10:28? "And fear not them which kill the body, but
are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which
is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Does
not this teach that the body is one thing and the soul
another, and therefore the soul is a separate entity from
Answer: We must be
careful not to read into this verse any more than it
actually says. The text does not say that the soul
continues to live when the body dies. It does not say
that the dead retain consciousness.
The word "soul" refers to
the person as an individual life, and Jesus here assures
the Christian of eternal life, even though they may
experience temporary death in this world, and their
present bodies decay. Job said, "And though after my
skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see
God." Job 19:26. At the resurrection, clothed in new
fleshnew bodies which will never diewe shall
The context of Matthew 10:28 is
Christs forewarning that persecution will come to
His followers. His point is that although in this life we
may be killed, no one can steal our eternal inheritance.
When God declares that you shall have eternal life, no
man can take that privilege from you no matter what he
does to you. Whether you live or die, you still have the
assurance of receiving immortality when Jesus comes.
Now notice what the rest of the
verse says. "Fear him which is able to destroy both
soul and body in hell." Clearly, this text teaches
that no sinner has an immortal soul. Sinners souls
are destroyed in hell. The verse also clearly states that
the bodies of sinners are included in what burns in hell.
So the fact that dead bodies can still be dug up today
indicates that the wicked have not yet gone to hell.
Certainly, if I was trying to find Biblical evidence for
the natural immortality of the soul, or for a present
burning hell, I would have to avoid this verse.
In all the Bible there is only one
passage which suggests conscious suffering in
deathLuke 16:19-31. The inspired testimony of the
rest of Scripture teaches that death is a sleep, and
punishment is future. The purpose of this allegory was
not to describe the state of the dead. But the parable
does teach several important points.
It definitely teaches that every
person will reap what he sows. God will not bend the
rules in order to spare those who have consistently
spurned His grace. The parable teaches that in this life
men decide their eternal destiny. While they are alive
Gods grace is offered to all people. But if they
selfishly waste their lives, and fail to take eternity
into consideration now, they have lost their opportunity
for eternal life. There will be no chance to repent after
The parable also is a warning to
those who trust in their riches rather than in God. And
it tells that the time is coming when those who are poor
in this worlds goods but have trusted in God, will
When the parable is closely
examined, it is doubtful that anyone would claim its
details as the basis for a doctrinal position on the
subject of life after death. The details certainly do not
present the beliefs of those who teach the immediate
torment of a bodiless "soul" at death.
1. In the parable, there is no
mention of a bodiless soul at all. The rich man was
in hell with a body. He had eyes, a tongue, etc. No
one believes that the bodies of the wicked go into
the flames as soon as they die.
2. Nobody believes that
Abrahams literal bosom is the abode of the
righteous dead. In keeping with the nature of the
allegory, this is obviously a figure of speech.
Incidentally, the angels will gather the saints
(verse 22), but according to Matthew 24:31, that
takes place at the coming of Jesus, not at death.
3. Another point is that
paradise and hades are here pictured to be so
situated that their inhabitants may hold normal
conversation with each other across the gulf. But the
Bible says that for the redeemed, the former earth
will "not be remembered, nor come into
mind" (Isaiah 65:17).
4. The rich mans request
in verse 24 is hardly characteristic of someone in
his condition. His whole body is on fire, and all he
asks for is that Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in
water and then come and touch his tongue! How much
relief could he expect to get from that? Especially
after Lazarus has to traverse the gulf and make his
way through the flames to get to him. How much
moisture did he think would be left on his finger
after such a journey? No one believes that this type
of thing takes place between the righteous and the
wicked after death.
5. In speaking of the request
for Lazarus to go and warn the rich mans living
brothers, the Bible says that Lazarus would have had
to have "rose from the dead." (Verse 31).
Far from supporting the idea of conscious
communication or mobility in death, this gives
support to the fact that in order for Lazarus to do
anything at all he would have to be resurrected!
6. In the parable, Jesus points
us to the source of divine instruction: "They
have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them"
(verse 29). That is where we must look to learn the
fate of the wicked.
Jesus made the details of His story
so obviously unreal that no one would take them
literally. He wanted His hearers instead to focus on the
lessons brought out in the parable.
Apart from the intended point or
moral of the story we cannot base doctrinal beliefs on
the incidentals of an allegory. For instance, a thistle
cannot ask for the daughter of a cedar for the wife of
its son (2 Kings 14:9). Neither can trees go forth to
anoint a king over themselves (Judges 9:8-15). When
dealing with parables, ask yourself, "What is the
speaker trying to illustrate by this parable?" Then
if you want to know about the nature of trees or the
nature of dead people, go to a passage where that is the
topic of discussion.