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 (; ). 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 (; ; ; ; ; ), 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 (; ), 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 () and a lost coin (). 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” .
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46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
66 And he put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting shame.
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
40 And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’”
9 behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.
2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 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.”