Do we have proof that Hell will last forever? If so, how could God do such a thing?
I firmly believe that Hell will last forever. Although Hell will have additional torments, I believe Hell also has literal flames of fire, making it the literal Lake of Fire, as the Bible describes. Some of these teachings of God’s Word are under fire (no pun intended) these days, even by some evangelicals. Why cannot we simply take the Scriptures as they read and leave it at that? The same old rule applies—if the Scripture makes sense, seek no other sense.
Someone observed the tendency of man to, as he put it, install “air conditioning” in Hell. And the question could be asked, Are we, after rejecting the liberalism of the early 20th century, now ready to embrace its tenets in the 1990s under a more subtle label?
Passages of Scripture that deal with the subject of Hell, including its eternal nature, its pain, and its occupants, certainly abound. We want to consider some of the main ones. But let’s deal with the second part of your question first: How could God let Hell go on forever? Many people also ask how a God of love could send people to Hell in the first place. Neither question considers adequately the nature and viewpoint of God; they are products of man’s finite mind. We might think it unfair that someone who lived on earth only a hundred years or less would need to be tortured for all eternity even though he lived a life apart from God.
But the Bible makes it clear that man’s estimate of sin, himself, and justice differs vastly from God’s. For one thing, man tends to look on the superficial or outward appearance, while God sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). God is perfect; He created the world. Therefore, He sees everything perfectly. So why fall upon human reasoning and say that Hell is unfair in any way, shape, or form? Such reasoning ignores or minimizes the fact that God sent His only Son to save us from sin and that by simply believing on Jesus Christ we can have eternal life. We don’t have to do anything—Jesus paid it all. Surely every living person who has been born again proves that God is fair and just.
God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. A person sends himself there by refusing to accept God’s love gift of salvation through the finished work of Christ on the cross. On the other hand, God’s righteousness and absolute justice demand a place called Hell. Again, we must remember our view of sin and its utter repulsiveness toward God is incomplete and distorted compared to God’s perfect view. And God’s attributes of holiness and righteousness in no way conflict with His love. Exodus 34:6 and 7 show both: “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.”
Now let’s look at some key Scripture passages and answer the first part of your question. One “plain- as-day” passage is Matthew 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Here we have Jesus’ own words. The words “everlasting” and “eternal” are the same in the original. We can conclude that if the future of the righteous is endless, then the future of the wicked (unsaved) is endless as well. The word does not indicate some period of time that will eventually come to an end. If that were the case, God’s eternal existence would be in question because this verse says the righteous will live in Heaven eternally. If Hell is for a certain period of time only, then Heaven would have to be for only a certain period of time, on the basis of this statement of Christ.
Another passage is the last verse of Isaiah: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” The context of Isaiah 66 speaks of the Lord’s establishing the new heavens and new earth and the contrasting judgment of the lost—they will suffer eternal torment. This Old Testament reference is repeated in Mark 9:43–48, where Jesus Himself warned that Hell is eternal (“where the fire never goes out”—v. 44, NIV).
Consider 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 9: “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” What plainer words have we than these from the apostle Paul? From this passage we again see that punishment in Hell (“flaming fire”) is never ending. It is an eternal, conscious punishment.
Finally, we go to the great book on last things, the book of Revelation:
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10–12, 15).
If these verses aren’t true, we have no need to proclaim the gospel of grace. Mankind faces only two destinies: eternal bliss in Heaven with Christ and other believers; or eternal Hell, the Lake of Fire, with Satan, his angels, and all the lost.
I should mention a few arguments that have been raised against the never-ending aspect of eternal punishment in Hell.
One argument is that there would never be enough combustible material to keep a fire going on forever. This, of course, is man’s finite thinking. God Himself is spoken of as “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). God has the wherewithal to keep His Word and make it so. If He can create and sustain the universe, He can keep the fires of Hell going throughout all eternity.
Others have argued that God could never stand to see His children suffer forever in Hell, even if they had rejected Him. Here we need to keep in mind that while all people are God’s creatures, not all of them are His children. Scripture speaks of the unsaved, Christ-rejecting people as “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and “children of disobedience” (v. 2). Those who are truly God’s children through faith in Christ will be with God in Heaven (John 1:12, 13; Gal. 3:26).
Still others have said they couldn’t be happy in Heaven if others were suffering in Hell. This is mere sentiment; the Bible tells us that we are going to focus upon the Savior and upon the wonderful things of Heaven when we are in Glory; we are not going to be looking in on Hell. Our concern about people being in Hell should happen now, while we still have a chance to witness to others about their need and Christ’s provision.
Some have used 1 Corinthians 15:26 to argue that unbelievers will not remain in Hell forever: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” But this does not refer to unbelievers. It refers to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and the resultant physical resurrection of believers in Christ.
Finally, some have argued against the eternal nature of Hell by saying it denies the reality of various degrees of punishment. The fact that people remain in Hell for all eternity is just one aspect of the torments of Hell. Other torments will include the pain of memories, the separation from God without further chance to know Him, and so forth.
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