The concept called Eternal Punishment, as opposed to the other side's concept called Annihilation (not a punishment at all, just an end), is the only one that makes sense from the point of view warning people of the consequences of disobedience.
There are many verses that touch on this subject, but because there are so many people on both sides of the issue, maybe it is one of those disputable matters. Here is a list of verses that can be found quickly by searching for "eternal punishment":
The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God. (NIV)
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (NIV)
12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm - shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted - twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (NIV)
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
37 He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear." (NIV)
42 "If anyone causes one of these little ones - those who believe in me - to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.  [a] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  [b] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where
" 'the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.' "(NIV)
[a] Mark 9:44 Some manuscripts include here the words of verse 48.
[b] Mark 9:46 Some manuscripts include here the words of verse 48.
9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "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." (NIV)
Matt 25:34, 41, 46
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.' "
41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (NIV)
2 Thes 1:8-9
8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (NIV)
20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (NIV)
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (NIV)
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. (NIV)
for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
This one in Luke 16:28
for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
is used by many to say that we go to Heaven or Hell immediately when we die, but then they still believe that sinners are "poofed" without punishment, negating the second resurrection altogether. Some use this verse to show that we will be aware of what is happening to the damned in Hell, but I don't think that's the case or the point here. Even if it is only a parable, the teaching point seems to be the continuing torment and the "I'm sorry I didn't listen!" attitude of the rich man.
Let's take a look at each of the passages listed above.
Psalm 9:17 refers to the realm of the dead - a place where everyone goes when they die. It's only speculation on my part, but a realm seems to be a place someone inhabits or where they exist. This is a far cry from the belief that the righteous go directly to the Heaven realm at death, but all the dead go somewhere to wait for the final judgment.
Dictionary.com defines "realm" this way:
1. a royal domain; kingdom:
the realm of England.
2. the region, sphere, or domain within which anything occurs, prevails, or dominates:
the realm of dreams.
3. the special province or field of something or someone:
the realm of physics; facts within the realm of political scientists.
What's happening in the realm?
Most Christians think either that permanent destruction happens at death, or that the eternal punishment begins then. If the complete destruction is immediate, then nothing is going on there in that realm because no one is there to do it. If the eternal punishment begins at death, then there is no need for a "great white throne judgment" at the end of the Millennium because the judgment is complete at the death of the wicked.
Are you sitting on the fence?
Neither of these scenarios for the realm of the dead fit the words of the Bible. Those scenarios beg the question of the need for a first or a second resurrection, or even a judgment, the one for the dead "not in Christ" that happens after the Millennium. Help me out here. Either you have a judgment after the final resurrection of the wicked or do not have one at all. Which is it? John says in Revelation that it will happen, so you either believe him or you don't.
Following this line of thought, accepting that John is correct, from where will the resurrected be resurrected? Well, everyone dies and goes somewhere for "storage" until the time of their resurrection. That storage place is Sheol, the grave, the realm of the dead - both righteous and wicked. If you believe the account in 1 Samuel 28:
10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, "As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this."
11 Then the woman asked, "Whom shall I bring up for you?"
"Bring up Samuel," he said.
12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!"
13 The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?"
The woman said, "I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth."
14 "What does he look like?" he asked.
"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
15 Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"
where Saul had a medium call Samuel up from death, you can see that both the righteous and the wicked go to the grave (Sheol) to wait for the resurrection.
Well, there is one thing...but it makes no difference
There is one thing that made me look a little deeper into this. The ESV, my new favorite CJSB, and NASB Bibles quote Psalm 9:17 as the wicked "returning" to Sheol:
The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God. (ESV)
The wicked shall return to Sh'ol, all the nations that forget God. (CJSB)
The wicked will return to Sheol, Even all the nations who forget God. (NASB)
This kind of implies that they have been there already, then are returned after a judgment. However, according to the list at Bible Hub, most of the rest of them say "turned to" or "turned back to" Sheol. Checking with the Interlinear Bible, I found:
Sheol is a current destination for all the dead, and future for the wicked
So, the Hebrew and the NIV, my second favorite, say the same. The bottom line here is that the wicked "shall be" (future) sent, whether turned or returned, to Sheol, the realm of the dead. Currently, they are awaiting the separation of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25:31-46
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
45 "He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
After that, the wicked will be waiting for their dip into the Lake of Fire. The confusion I see is whether the Lake of Fire will be in Sheol, or if Sheol is still just a holding place after the righteous receive eternal life. Psalm 9:17 says the wicked will be sent to Sheol, but Jesus said in Matthew that they will go to eternal punishment. If Sheol is part of that eternal punishment, it must have been made so after the righteous were removed. Still working on that one.
Using the terms of the definition, something must occur, prevail, or dominate in the realm, otherwise there is no need for a realm to exist. The realm of the dead is where all the dead go upon death. This is the realm from where they will be raised up - the righteous to eternal life, and the wicked to eternal punishment - even though it will be at different times.
What else does the Book say?
Daniel 12:2 speaks of shame and everlasting contempt, which could be a reference to those who hold them in contempt. But, aren't we supposed to see only good things in the Kingdom of Heaven? This is evidently a reference to the people in the dark place who have contempt for each other - forever. How can you be ashamed or contemptible if you are "poof" gone after judgment? Also, who is holding you in contempt if no one is there? You can say that God is doing that, but doesn't that mean you have to be somewhere?
Jude 1:13 speaks of a place of the blackest darkness which has been reserved forever.
Matt 13:42 speaks of being in a blazing furnace where there will be activity going on - weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Worms don't die, but keep eating...
Mark 9:42 talks about worms that do not die eating people while the fire is not quenched.
No rest for...who?
Rev 14:9-11 is one of the most convincing to me, speaking about the smoke of their torment rising for ever and ever, and adding that there will be no rest for those who worship the beast...and for those who think that it is just the smoke that goes on forever, look at the second half of verse 10
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.
. How can you be tormented and get no rest in the presence of the holy angels if you are gone?
Everyone goes...somewhere eternally
Matt 25:34, 41, 46 - verse 34 appears to have sneaked into the list, as it speaks not about punishment but the inheritance of the righteous. However, it provides the contrast with verse 41 describing who will not receive the same inheritance but will received something. The word used for the length of time each will have their earned "reward" is the same word aionios
in verse 46.
So, if you say "eternal life" means life forever for the righteous, then "eternal punishment" means punishment forever for the unrighteous. As painful a thought as this is for us, to ignore the plain statement and insert another idea is to change the words of the Bible.
"You can't go in there, buddy"
2 Thes 1:8-9
8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might
speaks of everlasting destruction, which could be interpreted as "poof" if you close one eye and look sideways, but there is the comment about being shut out from the presence of the Lord. Why would that matter to someone who is not there? Taking a little liberty regarding understanding of God's purpose here, what purpose would it serve to threaten someone with something that will not affect them? That's like a wife telling her sky-diving husband, "If you die doing that, I'll kill you!"
But, then again, later on...
Rev 19:20 talks about the beast and the false prophet that are thrown into the Lake of Fire. Nothing here about punishment or annihilation, either one. So, it depends on the answer to the issue what happens to them.
Jude 1:7 agains refers to the punishment of eternal fire. There's that word punishment again. You can't be punished if you are gone.
In (Rev 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.
), the NIV says that the beast and false prophet "had been" thrown in the lake of fire, which doesn't say whether they are gone or not. However, the Greek Interlinear, and many other versions like KJV, NASB, and the NLT say that the devil was cast into the lake of fire, where the beast and the false prophet "are", or "joining the beast and the false prophet" (NLT). If they "are" there after a thousand years, then they are not annihilated. This beast and false prophet refers to two human people that will be "tormented day and night for ever and ever". That is definitely not a "poof".
Why else are we warned in the word...?
And lastly, Luke 16:28
for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.
has a message that speaks for itself. The gist is "This is not fun. Can you warn my brothers?" The response is, "That's what God has been trying to do all along. You didn't listen, neither will He." If the pastors wouldn't mess with that concept, and preached the whole word of God, I believe more could be saved from the subject matter of this page.
How do we take it? Get off that fence.
O.K. What do we seem to have? There are definitely some that can be interpreted as total destruction and being gone forever. However, there are many more that definitely suggest eternal punishment. Since the Bible cannot contradict itself, we should settle on one or the other. As hard as it is on my mind and my heart to think of such a thing, I'm afraid the future is going to be a long, rough time for the wicked.
Need a little help off the fence?
Don't just take my word for it. There is a little book I found recently called erasing hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. No, I didn't misspell it, the title has no caps. At first I though it was just a book that was taking hell discussions off the table. However, it turned out to be a very well written book describing how most Christians just avoid the whole discussion. In fact, many just don't believe that hell is a real worry for anyone. The authors go to some lengths to analyze the statements in the Bible that describe hell. If you want to read a straight-forward book that gets to the point and stays there, this one might do it for you. Their main point? Hell is real and you need to address the issue because in the end, it affects everyone.
"But, then what happens?"
Now, a friend of mine says that he cannot conceive of a God that would torture someone forever in hell. He seems to think that this is only going to scare people into believing in God. I understand that thought, but when the warning is out there and people do not listen, God has always given what He promised, not necessarily what people wanted Him to do. By the way, I just loaned him the book erasing hell. I'll let you know what he says.
Scaring into belief?
That thought about scaring people into believing, by the way, is kind of a contradiction in terms. If you believe in God and obey, you will not be afraid of Him. If you don't believe in God or what He says, you will not be afraid and will just ignore Him. If you believe in God and do not obey, then you should be scared. For those who think that God will save those who do not believe but are not outright wicked, well, He told you that if you do not believe in the Son, Whose Word is the same as God's, you will not gain eternal life. (John 3:36
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them. (NIV)
The KJV puts it this way:
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (KJV)
The NLT puts it this way:
And anyone who believes in God's Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn't obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God's angry judgment. (NLT)
). Actually, if you look at the Greek, it does not limit the required action to believing in Jesus, but adds a requirment that many Christians miss. Look at the word that is translated in the NIV as "rejects" and in the KJV as "believeth":
The NLT gets it right this time. The word in the Greek is apeithon, and means "not obeying", which causes the wrath of God to abide on the offender. Many Christians believe in Jesus, but do not obey everything He says, which really means they do not believe in the real Him. How should we understand that?
Should we ignore this because John is being too scary? Note that when you read this verse in all versions shown, you see the Son as an authority figure, not a buddy who has your back even if you ignore obedience. This message is supposed to get people's attention because of the scary consequences, not lull them into a false sense of security leading to complacency.
For unbelievers who are not outright wicked
Regardless of what we feel about those good people who do not believe in God, their fate is up to Him. John 6:44
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV)
gives us a clue. If He wants to save an unbeliever, God can draw the "good" unbeliever to Jesus. All we can do is take what the word actually says and try to refrain from inserting what we want to happen because we just can't believe something bad will happen. He will do the right thing for all of us according to His plan, not necessarily our wishes. Remember that line in the Lord's Prayer:
"Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven"
We may not like it, but we all ask for it. You take that however you want, but let's try to follow what the Word actually says. Think about it. When you say that you believe in Jesus, it should mean that you believe everything He says, not just the parts you like. If you believe, you will not fear. If you believe something that the Word does not say, or even says the opposite, then you accept the consequences of that belief whether you want to or not.
What does the Bible say?
We could stop here, but there are some other verses that raise questions in my mind about things to do with this issue. 1 Cor 15:42-44
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (NIV)
speaks about the perishable and imperishable body. The language is such that many take it to refer only to the body of the believer, and it supposedly totally ignores the non-believers.
Then, what's the point?
However, if this is a description of all bodies, because there is a resurrection of the un-believing dead (Rev 20:4-5
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (NIV)
) after the Millennium ends, and if that body also becomes imperishable after it is raised, what would be the reason for this if not to "endure eternal punishment"? If the purpose is to make them gone, wouldn't it be more "humane" to just leave them "dead and gone" instead of resurrecting them for judgment and then do away with them again?
Another curious thing about the quote from John 6:44
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV)
, it seems to be directed to the believer only. However, since the rest of the dead will be raised also, there seems to be more to this than is stated in the words. Staying with my own advice, though, being dogmatic about what is not actually stated is dangerous.
14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24:14-15 NIV)
28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out - those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28-29 NIV)
mention a resurrection of the wicked in their writings. Combining this with the statement of Paul about perishable and imperishable bodies, I get a bad feeling for the wicked if they do not change their ways.
What do you think?
I am anxious to hear from those of you who see things a different way. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will post them as long as they are presentable to the public.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us, please!