Is Hell Forever?
In a previous article we noted that many people are very uncomfortable with the idea that there could be a place called Hell wherein God would assign to eternal punishment the souls of the unrighteous. Looking to the scriptures, God’s word, we learned that the Greek word most commonly rendered “Hell” in our English translations is “Gehenna.,” a specific word that identifies a definite place. “Gehenna” is used twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of those by the Lord Himself. Repeatedly it is used in phrases such as “cast into Hell” (Matt. 5:29, 30; Mk. 9:45; Lk. 12:5), “destroyed in Hell” (Matt. 10:28), “cast into Hell fire” (Matt. 18:9; Mk. 9:47) and “to go to Hell“ (Mk. 9:43). Reading objectively, it is nearly impossible to conclude anything other than Hell is a real place!
The fact that Hell is a place of punishment and agony for the ungodly is equally undeniable. It is variously described as a place of “fire” (Matt. 5:22; 18:9; Mk. 9:44, 45, 47; Jas. 3:6; Rev. 21:8), condemnation (Matt. 23:33), destruction (Matt. 10:28), torment (Lk. 16:24, 28) and “outer darkness” and agony (Matt. 22:13; 25:30) such as demonstrated by “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:41-42, 49-50). The souls therein are completely separated from God’s presence (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Some people accept the reality of Hell, at least to some degree, but they have great difficulty believing that God would cause the souls of the unrighteous to experience the punishment of Hell forever. So, if Hell is real, is it also forever?
One passage of scripture that brings great clarity to the question is Matt. 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The word “everlasting” is a straightforward term literally meaning “lasting forever.” The punishment of the unrighteous, then, will last forever. This understanding is reinforced by the comparison made in the same verse to the reward given to the righteous: “eternal life.” The two potential destinies- “everlasting punishment” and “eternal life”- are parallel in effect. The apostle Paul made a similar statement emphasizing the eternality of Hell: “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction…” (2 Thess. 1:9).
There are some who accept the concept of “everlasting punishment,” or “everlasting destruction,” while at the same time putting a sort of back-door limit on it. They believe that “everlasting destruction” means that the soul of the unrighteous is destroyed forever; it ceases to exist. The technical term that describes this belief is annihilationism.
However, the Lord painted a very different picture. In speaking of the unrighteous being consigned to Hell, He emphasized the eternally ongoing nature of the punishment. Twice He spoke of their being cast “into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mk. 9:43, 45). Three times He described their lot as follows: “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:44, 46, 48). The image is one of an existence in which the punishment of Hell is an ongoing experience that never comes to an end.
The evidence is clear and overwhelming. Not only is Hell real, but it is also forever. We need to learn from this just how terrible, and eternally deadly, sin is. This is not a theoretical discussion, it is a study of fact. God’s grace, extended to save man from the guilt of sin, is so wonderful because the effect of sin is so aweful. Let us learn the lesson. The consequence of not doing so is too terrible to contemplate…
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Gary L. Hutchens