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Builders of Faith Explorer I:  Exploring Bible Truth

Lesson 24—The Final Punishment of the Wicked

 

 

1.  What are the major views that Christians hold on hell?

 

A.  Traditional—This remains the majority view by far among Christians today.  It teaches that the souls of the wicked go immediately to hell after the death of the body.  Then after the bodily resurrection, both soul and body will be returned to hell, where fire will torment them endlessly throughout eternity.

 

B.  Modern—This view teaches that the souls of the wicked go immediately to hell after the death of the body.  Then after the bodily resurrection, both soul and body will be returned to hell, where darkness and the mental torment that they will never be in the presence of God will last endlessly throughout eternity.

 

C.  Annihilationist—This view remains the minority view among Christians today.  It teaches that there is no immortal soul, but that when the wicked die (righteous also), the whole person dies, that is, experiences a dreamless sleep.  At the resurrection of the wicked at the end of the millennium, they will be burned up (consumed) by the lake of fire.  Meanwhile, hell does not exist today.

 

 

2.  What do the Biblical words for “hell” tells us about its nature?

 

A.  Sheol—This Old Testament Hebrew word is the only Hebrew word translated as “hell” in the Old Testament.  But it is translated as “grave” as often as “hell”, and in every single instance that this Hebrew word appears, “grave” would be an accurate translation.  And it’s not a place of punishment because Ecclesiastes 9:2-10 tells us that both the righteous and the wicked go to Sheol at death.

 

B.  Hades—This New Testament Greek word appears 11 times in the New Testament.  Most scholars recognize this word as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol and is thus the “grave”.

 

C.  Gehenna—This Greek word appears 12 times in the New Testament, where it is translated almost always as “hell”.  It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “the valley of Hinnom”, a garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem.  A fire was always burning because new garbage was continually be dumped there—including the corpses of the worst criminals.  But those criminals were always executed before being placed there.

 

D.  Tartaroo—This Greek word appears only once in the New Testament, in II Peter 2:4:  “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [tartaoroo] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment….”  We have already learned that God cast the evil angels to the earth.  So this earth is a place of darkness in contrast to when those angels lived in heaven.  And they are being “…reserved for judgment…”, not yet being punished at all, to say nothing of the fact that fire is not mentioned in this verse.

 

Special Note:  When the Biblical words translated as “hell” are used to describe a literal place, it simply refers to the “grave”, where the whole person is buried.  In only 12 cases (gehenna) it is referring to a place of burning fire.  But even there, the persons cast into it were executed first.  This is strong evidence that hell is not a place of conscious torment for the wicked, whether of fire or mental anguish.

 

 

3.  When does the punishment of the wicked occur?

 

“…then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment….”  II Peter 2:9.  “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition [destruction] of ungodly men.”  II Peter 3:7.

 

Answer:  The wicked are currently being reserved until “the day of judgment”.  We have learned that the living wicked at the Second Coming will be slain at that time.  Then all the wicked will be resurrected in the second resurrection at the end of the millennium and die the second death in the lake of fire.  (See Lesson #22 and #23.)

 

 

4.  How is the final punishment of the wicked described in Revelation?

 

“…And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.  The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.  And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”  Revelation 20:9-10.  “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”  Revelation 20:15.  “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his [beast’s] name.”  Revelation 14:11.

 

Answer:  The first text above says the wicked will be “devoured” by fire from God in the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:9, 15).  The other texts describe the unholy trinity and wicked people as being tormented forever, and that the smoke of their torment “ascends forever and ever”.  How can devoured be reconciled with torment and the smoke of their torment ascending forever and ever?

 

 

5.  Where does this language of smoke ascending forever and ever come from, and what does it mean?

 

“For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, The year of recompense for the cause of Zion.  Its streams shall be turned into brimstone; Its land shall become burning pitch.  It shall not be quenched night or day; Its smoke shall ascend forever….”  Isaiah 34:8-10.

 

Answer:  Almost all Bible scholars recognize that this language in Revelation is borrowed from Isaiah 34; and most Bibles with textual references will point the reader to Isaiah 34:8-10.  First, it is important to note that Isaiah 34 is written in the style of Hebrew poetry, as most modern English translations show.  And poetry is designed to paint word pictures, with its details not necessarily to be taken literally.  Second, we know we should not take Isaiah 34:8-10’s words literally because most of the rest of the chapter speaks about various animals and plants living in the very place whose smoke ascends forever and ever—which would be literally impossible if fire and smoke were literally present.  Therefore, we must conclude that this poetic language of smoke ascending forever and ever is an idiom that refers to complete destruction.  Then after everything has literally burned up, the fire and smoke ends, and eventually certain plants and animals return to inhabit the land.  This is the same meaning we must apply to the Revelation passages under Question #4 above—which explains how this language is consistent with Revelation’s 20:9’s language that the wicked will be devoured by fire.

 

 

6.  How does the Bible help explain what it means by terms like everlasting, or eternal, fire?

 

“…as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”  Jude 7.  “…and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly….”  II Peter 2:6.  “…Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?  Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”  Isaiah 33:14.

 

Answer:  In the first two texts above, what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah is used as an example of what the wicked will suffer.  Jude says they are “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”, while Peter tells us that they were turned to ashes in destruction.  Are Sodom and Gomorrah still burning today?  No.  They have been literally destroyed a long time ago.  Therefore, “eternal fire” must refer to the fact that the consequences of the fire are eternal—not that the duration of the fire itself is eternal.  The Isaiah passage cited above is even clearer.  As Hebrew poetry, “devouring fire” is parallel to “everlasting burnings”.  And because a devouring fire is one which devours, or completely destroys what it burns, the nature of everlasting burnings is that in which the results of the destruction are everlasting in nature, not that the fire will never go out.

 

 

7.  What is meant by the term “unquenchable fire”?

 

“But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”  Jeremiah 17:27.

 

Answer:  Scripture mentions fires that cannot be quenched at least nine times.  The Biblical words for “unquenchable” mean not able to put a fire out.  However, we have all experienced the simple truth that once the fuel has been exhausted, the fire naturally goes out.  In the text above, note that this fire will devour much of the city, but it won’t be quenched.  Later, the Babylonians fulfilled this prediction by burning Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  But is Jerusalem still burning today?  No.  All the text means is that when this fire comes, no one will be able to put it out; they will have to wait for the fire to exhaust the fuel, and then the fire will naturally go out on its own.

 

 

8.  Is the so-called undying worm the immortal soul that burns forever?

 

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’”  Mark 9:47-48.

 

Answer:  Many Bible scholars interpret the worm here as a symbol of the immortal soul of the wicked, which allegedly never dies in the flames of hell.  However, the Greek word for “hell” here is Gehenna, which we earlier observed was a garbage dump into which already dead corpses were sometimes thrown.  Therefore, the worms are actually maggots, which literally fed on the dead bodies in the garbage dump.  And surely no one is arguing that maggots have an immortal soul!  The worm never dies in the sense that the fire was always burning because new “fuel” was being dumped there.  By contrast, the final punishment of the wicked will have an end, that is, they will be devoured or burned up.  Therefore, this passage uses picturesque language to make the point that the wicked will be completely and utterly destroyed.

 

 

9.  What do the plain, unambiguous Bible texts tell us about the final punishment of the wicked?

 

Answer:  The following are just representative samples of numerous Bible texts that clearly and without figurative language tell us what will happen to the wicked at the end-time:

 

A.  Psalm 37:10, 20:  “…the wicked shall be no more….”  “…the wicked shall perish….  Into smoke they shall vanish away.”

 

B.  Psalm 104:35:  “May sinners be consumed from the earth, And the wicked be no more….”

 

C.  Isaiah 1:28:  “…those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.”

 

D.  Malachi 4:1, 3:  “…all who do wickedly will be stubble.  …the day which is coming shall burn them up.”…“they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet….”

 

E.  Matthew 3:12:  “…He will burn up the chaff [wicked] with unquenchable fire.”

 

F.  Philippians 3:18-19:  “…the enemies of the cross of Christ:  whose end is destruction….”

 

G.  II Peter 2:12:  “…[the wicked] will utterly perish in their own corruption….”

 

H.  Revelation 20:9:  “…And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.”

 

 

10.  What are the only two choices for people’s eternal destiny?

 

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16.

 

Answer:  Death is contrasted with eternal life in the first text, and perish is contrasted with everlasting life in the second text.  Paul and Jesus would be lying if the popular view of an immortal soul as the essence of the person were really true.  The popular view tells us that we have a choice between everlasting life in hell or everlasting life with Jesus.  But the Bible gives us no such choice!

 

 

11.  How will God finally punish Satan?

 

“The devil…was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone….”  Revelation 20:10.  “…And I destroyed you, O covering cherub….”  Ezekiel 28:16.  “…Therefore I brought fire from your midst; It devoured you….”  Ezekiel 28:18.  “…And I turned you to ashes upon the earth….”  Ezekiel 28:18.  “You…shall be no more forever.”  Ezekiel 28:19.

 

Answer:  The past tense in the first three clauses cited from Ezekiel 28 above is an example of the prophetic past, in which a future event is so certain that God refers to it as having already occurred.  Isn’t that good news?  Satan will come to his end and “be no more forever.”!  In four different ways, Ezekiel 28 tells us that Satan will be completely destroyed someday.  If anyone deserves to burn in hell forever and ever it is Satan, the originator of evil in heaven and on earth.  But if he is not going to burn eternally in hell, then neither will any of the wicked among the earth’s inhabitants!

 

 

12.  Are the Traditional and Modern views of hell compatible with God’s justice?

 

“…My [Jesus] judgment is righteous….”  John 5:30.  “…Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!”  Revelation 15:3.

 

Answer:  God is clearly a just God, justice personified.  By almost any standard of justice, justice requires that the punishment fit the crime.  This is reflected in the Old Testament’s civil laws as well as in every decent human society today.  Clearly, the sentencing of a finite sinner to any kind of punishment of infinite duration would violate this principle of justice.  It would be an unjust sentence.  For example, is it really just to punish a pickpocket longer than a mass murderer simply because the former died and allegedly went to hell several centuries earlier than the latter?  For God to cast anyone into a hell of eternal duration would make Him far worse a tyrannical monster than all of the human monsters who have ever lived!  And we do have the right to reason this way, because God Himself has declared that He is just.

 

 

13.  Are the Traditional and Modern views of hell compatible with God’s love?

 

“…God is love.”  I John 4:8.  “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God.  ‘Therefore, turn and live!’”  Ezekiel 18:32.  “The Lord…is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  II Peter 3:9.

 

Answer:  Miraculously keeping someone conscious in order that he can feel the intense pain whose duration is eternal is definitely not love.  Neither is it consistent with the texts above in reflecting God’s desire for everyone.  Although He will not compel people to choose Him, neither would He inflict any kind of suffering that would endure eternally.  That action reflects neither justice nor love.

 

 

14.  What does the cross tell us about the nature of hell?

 

“…Jesus,…by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”  Hebrews 2:9.  “And He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”  I John 2:2.  “‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”  Matthew 28:46.

 

Answer:  These texts mean that Jesus took the punishment that we deserve.  And we deserve what Revelation 20 calls the “second death”, or hell death.  The Matthew text here strongly suggests that Jesus somehow did not know whether God the Father would accept His life and sacrifice or not.  So as far as Jesus was concerned, He died without the assurance that He would be resurrected.  Therefore, His punishment was infinite in quality.  However, it was finite in duration, for He was indeed accepted and resurrected two days later.  Yet teachers of an eternal hell would have us believe that it takes an eternity to punish each individual wicked being for his sins!  If that were true, then Jesus should still be on that cross, where He should remain for an eternity.  Or, to put it another way, the fact that Jesus is not still on that cross means that He did not pay for everyone’s sins—that His atonement was not complete.  What a preposterous perversion of the gospel the doctrine of an eternal hell is!

 

 

15.  Will there be degrees of punishment in the lake of fire?

 

“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.  But he who did not know, yet committed the things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.”  Luke 12:47-48.

 

Answer:  This text, a part of Jesus’ Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servant, in the very context of being prepared for the Second Coming of Jesus, gives us the principle that there will be degrees of punishment for the wicked.  Therefore, it suggests that some will burn longer in the lake of fire than others, depending upon their degree of knowledge about Him.  But that does not negate the idea that eventually every being in the lake of fire will be burned up—and never be resurrected again.

 

 

Quiz for Lesson 24—The Final Punishment of the Wicked

 

1.  Which of the following statements are true about the various Christian views of hell? (4)

  The Modern view teaches that hell is an eternal place of darkness and conscious separation from God.

  The Traditional view teaches that hell is an eternal place of torment with fire.

  The Annihilationist view teaches that hell exists now, but that it will end at the Second Coming.

  The Annihilationist view teaches that hell does not exist now, but it will be the lake of fire that consumes the wicked at the end of the millennium.

  The Traditional view of hell is held by the large majority of Christians today.

Answer

The Modern view teaches that hell is an eternal place of darkness and conscious separation from God.
The Traditional view teaches that hell is an eternal place of torment with fire.
The Annihilationist view teaches that hell does not exist now, but it will be the lake of fire that consumes the wicked at the end of the millennium.
The Traditional view of hell is held by the large majority of Christians today.

2.  Which of the following Bible words for “hell” are correctly matched up with their meanings or associations? (2)

  Hades—grave

  Gehenna—fire

  Sheol—fire

  Tartaroo—grave

Answer

Hades—grave
Gehenna—fire

3.  The wicked dead are being punished right now. (1)

  True

  False

Answer

False

4.  Which of the following words or terms are associated with the final punishment of the wicked in the book of Revelation? (4)

  Devoured

  Tormented

  Lake of fire

  Eternal fire

  Forever and ever

Answer

Devoured
Tormented
Lake of fire
Forever and ever

5.  When the Bible speaks of everlasting or eternal fire, what does it mean? (2)

  The fire cannot be put out.

  The duration of the fire lasts forever.

  The fire eventually goes out, but the results of the fire last forever.

  It means that the wicked will be turned to ashes.

Answer

The fire eventually goes out, but the results of the fire last forever.
It means that the wicked will be turned to ashes.

6.  What do the plain statements of the Bible teach about the punishment of the wicked? (3)

  The wicked shall be no more.

  Those who forsake the Lord will be consumed.

  The wicked will remain in a conscious state, forever knowing they will never be with the Lord.

  All who do wickedly will be stubble and ashes under the feet of the righteous.

Answer

The wicked shall be no more.
Those who forsake the Lord will be consumed.
All who do wickedly will be stubble and ashes under the feet of the righteous.

7.  According to the Bible, which of the things below are part of the final spiritual choices that people can make? (2)

  Everlasting life in heaven

  Everlasting life in hell

  Death

Answer

Everlasting life with Jesus
Death

8.  Which of the following below represents what Ezekiel 28 says will happen to Satan himself? (4)

  He will spend an eternity in hell-fire.

  He will be destroyed.

  He will be devoured.

  He will be turned to ashes.

  He will be exiled and confined to a small asteroid.

  He will be no more forever.

Answer

He will be destroyed.
He will be devoured.
He will be turned to ashes.
He will be no more forever.

9.  Neither the Traditional nor the Modern view of hell is consistent with God’s characteristics of justice or love. (1)

  True

  False

Answer

True

10.  Which of the following statements about Jesus’ punishment on earth and hell are true? (4)

  Jesus died on the cross not knowing whether His sacrifice was going to be accepted or not.

  Jesus took the punishment of the wicked, which means that He experienced hell for us.

  Jesus’ suffering and death was unique and cannot be applied to the final punishment of the wicked.

  The hell that Jesus suffered was infinite in quality, but it was finite in duration.

  If hell-fire itself must last for an eternity, then Jesus did not pay the full price for our sins.

Answer

Jesus died on the cross not knowing whether His sacrifice was going to be accepted or not.
Jesus took the punishment of the wicked, which means that He experienced hell for us.
The hell that Jesus suffered was infinite in quality, but it was finite in duration.
If hell-fire itself must last for an eternity, then Jesus did not pay the full price for our sins.