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Our God is a
Consuming Fire

Our God is a Consuming Fire

Hell - Are the Wicked Tormented Forever and Ever?

Traditionally, Christians believe that the unrighteous will be condemned to a never-ending fiery torment in hell. Were those old fire and brimstone preachers right when they shouted, “Repent, or you will be tormented in hell day and night forever and ever?”

We know there is a fiery judgment coming where the unjust will be punished in the lake of fire. But we want to investigate whether that punishment is an eternal, conscious torment that lasts forever and ever or whether the fire of God’s judgement kills and consumes its victims.

First, we want to look at what Jesus said about the word that is translated “hell.” Then we’ll examine what He said would happen to sinners who die without repenting. Will they be tormented for all eternity?

The first time Jesus mentions being in danger of hellfire is not for a big sin like murder or adultery, but for calling someone a fool.

And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:22

Listen to political commentators on television news stations. They constantly criticize members of the opposing political party. They regularly call them idiots and fools. According to Jesus, this name calling can put them in danger of hell fire.

This unleashing of hell by the tongue is spoken of in James where he says that the tongue is lit on fire by hell:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. James 3:6

Next, Jesus talks about cutting off parts of your body if they cause you to sin:

For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:30

In Matthew, Chapter 23, verse 15, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites for making their converts twice as much a child of hell as themselves. After many more woes against them, Jesus says, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33

Of these previously mentioned references to hell in the New Testament, do any of them hint that hell is a place of punishment that will last forever and ever?

If a case is to be made for eternal tormenting of the soul, it must be taken from Mark 9:48, which is the chief scripture used to justify a fiery place of eternal torment. However, a close examination of this scripture reveals the opposite is true.

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48

At verse 48, Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 66:24, and this passage is not about the living. It’s about rotting corpses!

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.

Both the fire and the worms will consume these rotting bodies. Jesus is not talking about living souls, but about the consumption and destruction of dead bodies. Both worms and fire are symbols of utter destruction. The death and destruction of the unredeemed will be horrific and complete.

If Jesus is not threatening eternal punishment to the unrepentant, where did this idea originate?

The concept did not come from the Bible but from Plato and is common in Greek philosophy. Plato taught that all souls are immortal. If that is the case, then if the righteous have eternal life in the Son, then the unrighteous must have eternal death and torment.

If the soul is eternal, it cannot die. But Jesus says that the body and soul can be destroyed:

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. Matthew 10:28

If the body and soul are destroyed, it is over. There can be no more tormenting.

There is very little in the Bible that might be taken to imply that all unrepentant sinners will be punished with eternal, conscious torment. The parable of the sheep and the goats at Matthew 25:46 mentions “eternal punishment":

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

But couldn’t this mean that once punished, there is no second chance, this is the final punishment? It is the result of the punishment that lasts forever. It is the punishment not the punishing that will be eternal. There will be no appeals, no second chance. Utter destruction.

When addressing the wicked, Jesus says they will be destroyed, that they will perish, that they cannot escape the damnation of hell.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

Destruction is the fate of those who take the wide way, not eternal torment in hell. The plain meaning of the gospel is that we choose between two paths - one leads to life everlasting, the other to damnation, punishment, and utter destruction.

Jesus says in Luke, Chapter 13, that unless you repent, you will perish:

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4-5

And here’s one of the most famous gospel verses:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Jesus didn’t threaten unbelievers with eternal torment. He said they would be destroyed. They will perish.

New Testament authors also mention the destruction of sinners. The author of Hebrews says the wicked will be consumed. Hebrews 10:27.

Peter also talks about the destruction of the ungodly:

By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:7

The imagery of fire is used in the Bible for God’s wrath and judgment because of fire’s spectacular, terrifying, and deadly power.

There is some vivid imagery in the book of Revelation describing what will happen to those who take the mark of the beast. They will be tormented and “have no rest day and night” as part of God’s judgment against them. Rev 14:11

Revelation uses cryptic symbols, not plain facts, to convey its message. Therefore, we cannot take this symbolic language at face value, especially when we have many other verses that clearly state that unrepentant sinners will be punished and then destroyed. For our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29

So, what is the end of the wicked? They will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And they will receive the worst punishment of all - eternal destruction and eternal separation from God.

But the righteous shall enter into eternal life. And they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:42-43

May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

Wake up and repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.