Will Hell burn forever, or will its flames finally cease smoldering? To discover the correct answer, we must accept what the Bible says above the opinions of men. Do you agree? I hope so. As we dive into this controversial topic, let me make my personal position clear. I believe God’s Word above popular theories.
That said, first of all, the subject requires close examination, for some texts appear contradictory. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus Christ warned that unsaved sinners will enter “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Many read this and say, “That settles it for me! The lost will sizzle forever. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise.” Yet Jesus Christ also declared, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish , but have eternal life” (John 3:16, italics added). So which is it? Will the damned roast eternally in “everlasting fire,” or finally “perish,” and thus cease to exist?
Another example of apparent contradiction concerns the fate of Lucifer himself. The book of Revelation says that “The devil,” along with “the beast” will “be tormented day and night forever” in the lake of fire (see Revelation 20:10). Some respond, “There’s more proof! Satan will never cease frying like an egg in a skillet.” Yet Ezekiel chapter 28 reveals a different picture. Initially discussing the ancient “king of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:12), God’s prophet then looks behind the scenes and identifies Lucifer himself, “the anointed cherub” (verse 14), who inhabited “Eden, the garden of God” (verse 13), and who was originally “perfect in [his] ways from the day [he] was created,” until “iniquity was found in [him]” (verse 15). Moving forward to this fallen angel’s final fate, God declares, “I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you… You have become a horror, and shall be no more forever ” (verses 18 and 19, italics added). Again, which is it? Will Satan be “tormented day and night” throughout endless ages, or will he become “ashes,” and “be no more forever”?
Let me clarify: the Bible DOES NOT contradict itself. These are only APPARENT contradictions. The solution is to examine what the whole Bible says about the fate of the lost, discover its overall teaching, and then to closely analyze the difficult verses until we understand them correctly. Once we do, we will discover that everything fits and makes perfect sense.
Obviously, this isn’t the place to quote every Bible verse about the fate of the unsaved. But I will cover enough to make my point, and hopefully, this will motivate you to further research. In the remainder of this article, I will list a group of exceedingly clear verses describing the doom of the damned, and then in Part 10 we will take a closer look at some other apparently contradictory verses to see what they really say, and don’t say.
Looking forward to the Day of the Lord, God Himself declares:
“ ‘Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly, will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That it will leave them neither root nor branch’ ” … ‘[And] you shall trample down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the souls of your feet on the day that I do this, says the Lord of hosts’ ” (Malachi 4:1, 3).
This is “the Lord of hosts” speaking, not Steve Wohlberg. Here God says that when His final day bursts upon the wicked, it will “burn them up” and reduce them to “ashes” so that “neither root nor branch” remains. Think about it. If a plant is destroyed, so that “neither root nor branch” remains, how much is left? Absolutely nothing. This is what God says will happen to “all who do wickedly.”
David wrote about the fate of the unsaved,
“As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God ” (Psalm 68:2, italics added).
“For yet a little while, and the wicked shall be no more ” (Psalm 37:10, italics added).
“The enemies of the Lord, like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish, into smoke they shall vanish away ” (Psalm 37:20, italics added).
“But the transgressors shall be destroyed together ; the future of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psalm 37:38, italics added).
John the Baptist proclaimed about the Messiah,
“ He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire ” (Matthew 3:12, italics added).
Paul wrote about those who “obey not the gospel”,
“These shall be punished with everlasting destruction …” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, italics added).
Paul also declared,
“ The wages of sin is death , but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, italics added).
I presented these passages – and many more like them – at a Bible Seminar in Woodbury, New Jersey. A Jewish man named Corrie listened with rapt attention. With great carefulness, I built my case that a loving God will administer nothing more than perfect justice on Judgment Day, and that this will result in the tragic, total annihilation of those who have rejected His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. At the end of my talk, with teary eyes, Corrie approached me with an outstretched hand. “Steve, now I can believe in God’s love!” He then told me that the notion of God torturing unsaved sinners forever – including his unbelieving Jewish mother – had always hindered his having personal faith in Jesus Christ. Then he walked away.
The next night Corrie again approached me, but this time, his face was glowing. “Last night,” he excitedly reported, “I went home, dropped to my knees, and accepted Jesus as my Savior. Praise God!” he happily announced, “I’m born again!” At the conclusion of my seminar Corrie was baptized. His mother came. “I don’t know what has happened to my son,” she commented, “but he’s happy. What more can a mother want?”
The doctrine of God eternally tormenting sinners in a smoky place called “Hell” had prevented Corrie from becoming a Christian. During my seminar, he rejected this idea, became a believer in Jesus Christ, and was baptized.
Was Corrie deceived, or had he discovered the truth?
To be continued…
*Steve Wohlberg’s series, Deadly Delusions about Death and Hell, available on DVD, explores this topic more fully.