Hell: Will the suffering last forever?
There are people, even highly educated people, who don’t believe the suffering will last forever. There are others who don’t believe it will happen at all. We could talk all day about why this is, but the bottom line to it all is that these people either don’t know the Bible or they don’t believe what the Bible says about it. The first thing people need to know is that the Bible is a reliable book. It tells us what God says about a lot of things, including this place called hell, the lake of fire, and also the eternal suffering experienced there. If you’ve made the right preparation, all this is not something you need to be concerned about. But if you’ve not made that preparation, it should become your primary concern.
There are some people who believe in what is called “annihilationism,” the belief that God completely destroys the bodies and souls of people who have not accepted His provision for salvation. However, there is no Biblical basis whatsoever for this belief. That’s just an assumption on their part, and a wrong one. The Bible tells us something entirely different. It tells us that people without salvation will spend all eternity in agony. Their bodies and souls will never be consumed by the fires of hell and the lake of fire. It was Jesus Christ who said people should fear this suffering.
28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. [Emphasis added]
The Greek word for “destroy” in this verse is APOLLUMI. Vine’s Greek expository dictionary says, “the idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being.” In other words, unbelievers will not stop existing. They will continue to exist, but in misery. Our Lord’s words about all this are to be taken literally and seriously. Either He’s telling us the truth here or He’s lying. Obviously, there are those who think He’s lying. What is your thinking on this?
Another terrible thing about the future of the unbeliever is that in eternity he will lose his identity. When Matthew 10:28 speaks of the soul and body being destroyed in hell, it is referring to the body and soul of a person becoming useless. The very identity of the person is lost forever. This essentially means that the person in hell become a nobody. We will forever know about Lazarus, but not this rich man mentioned in Luke 16, which we’ll study next. This is apparently what is under discussion when the Bible tells us that a person in hell “loses his soul” and “loses himself.” Luke 9:25 says, “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” To lose yourself means to lose your identity. In hell and in the lake of fire, one becomes a nameless and worthless nobody.
Jesus Christ told an amazing story about all this during the time of His earthly ministry. Even then people had their opinion about all this. He, therefore, told a simple but very important story about all this so we’d have the facts of the matter. Let’s take a look at it. I’ll make a few comments about it as we walk through this passage about this man.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
First, please notice that he speaks of this as truth, not fiction. This is factual historical reality. You’ll notice that the rich man spoken of here is very wealthy. Purple clothing [because of the expensive dye used to produce it] and “fine linen” were very expensive. Also, when it says he “fared sumptuously,” it is telling us that he was a man of means. This is set in contrast to the situation with this other man mentioned in this story.
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
It also may be rightly said that this is not one of our Lord’s many parables, for He never used names of people in His parables.
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
This man was so poor that he could not afford medical care. The only medicinal care he received came from the dogs licking his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
Again, we have more contrast. Unlike that of the beggar, the rich man was probably buried with all the pomp and ceremony his status called for. But notice what we read about him next.
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Take note of what it says next. What a warning this is to us all!
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
Even though this is a place of torment, the individual is not consumed by the fires. A form of “life” goes right on in which there is intense suffering, even agony.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
Note that the rich man is even tormented by the things he remembers, knowing he could have been saved from all this misery.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Finally, there’s no hope for him of ever escaping his situation. Think about it! He has now been there in this place of torment for many centuries, and there’s going to be no end to it.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
He then thinks of his brothers, knowing that they, too, are bound for this same place when they die. But he has no way of contacting them to warn them. In eternity, there’s no way “the dead” can contact the living and there’s no way the living can contact “the dead.”
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
Having “Moses and the prophets” means they had the Scriptures. The Scripture passage we’re reading is a warning today for anyone who reads it.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent [have a change of mind].
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. [Emphasis added]
Some people even today claim they need to see a miracle to believe. Such is simply not true. The creation itself gives testimony every day about the reality of God. The creation bears clear evidence that there is a Creator. The truth about this matter is clearly stated in the Bible.
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. [Emphasis added]
There is a God and, as we noted in Matthew 10:28, all those who have not yet accepted Him and His means for their salvation should fear Him. Man’s basic problem is that he becomes so enamored by the creation that he ignores the Creator. His choice to focus on the world and the things thereof becomes a major distraction for so many. But notice what Jesus Christ said about that.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? [Emphasis added]
Losing out on God’s eternal blessing and reward is the greatest of all losses, so please take this topic seriously!
Jesus Christ stated plainly that there is more to life than this physical world and its temporal possessions. There is a spiritual world, an afterlife, to consider. Does it make sense to emphasize this temporary world and its corruptible things to the point of ignoring what your situation is going to be in eternity? Shouldn’t we all give our attention to preparing for this eternal future, rather than these temporal things? The way to do that is to begin by placing your faith in what God did for you through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ gave His life so that you’d have a chance to live forever in this wonderful place called heaven. And there’s nothing you have to do but accept this as the sole basis for gaining it. How much simpler can it be than that? Furthermore, how much more wonderful could it be than that?
Now, let us look at some verses that demonstrate how those in hellfire will exist forever and ever in torments.
10 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. [Emphasis added]
How much plainer could the warning be than that? Here he’s speaking of this “beast” who is called the antichrist and the false prophet who works with him. All unbelievers from all time will experience this eternal suffering with these two rebels. But notice that the suffering goes on for ever and ever. There is no end to it.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: [Emphasis added]
Again, how much plainer could the Scripture be? There obviously is no annihilation, no passing into nonexistence. The suffering never stops. The Greek word for “everlasting” is AIONION which means everlasting, something that lasts forever.
Then we have still other passages that provide clear warning about all of this.
43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
48 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [Emphasis added]
That’s five times in one passage where we are told that the suffering of hell and the lake of fire goes on FOREVER. The fire is never quenched!
Then we have two other passages that talk about everlasting fire.
8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. [Emphasis added]
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: [Emphasis added]
Then we have passages where this punishment is spoken of as everlasting contempt.
There are simply no other words that could be used to express this so clearly. The torment and the suffering from these fires will last forever.
2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [Emphasis added]
Both believers and unbelievers are resurrected. One is for everlasting blessing and the other for everlasting contempt.
We even find this principle mentioned in one of the smallest books of the Bible.
7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. [Emphasis added]
We are told that there will never be any rest for those who suffer in this torment.
10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. [Emphasis added]
Does any of this look like annihilation to you? Not at all! The suffering goes right on forever.
When an unbeliever dies in our time, their first stop is this place called hades, torments, and hell. There they are held until they stand before Christ at what is called the Great White Throne Judgment [Revelation 20:11-15]. Because their “works” are worthless, they are from there cast into the lake of fire where they will reside in suffering for all eternity. This “second death” spoken of is to do with their eternal separation from God and all the good things they could have had. The flames of hell will preserve the souls of the lost [Mark 9:48-50], just as the flames did not consume the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3.
People in hell and the lake of fire will never receive eternal life. Instead, they will receive eternal death, that is, eternal separation from God. God has lovingly [John 3:16; Romans 5:8] and graciously [Ephesians 2:8-9] provided for them a chance to escape through faith in the Gospel of Grace [I Corinthians 15:1-4]. In no way does this punishment of these people run contrary to God’s love, His righteousness, and more. On the contrary! This punishment is a magnificent demonstration of the justice of God, the absolute fairness of God. Through Jesus Christ God provided everything these people ever needed to be saved. In eternity God will simply honor their will, their decision to reject what He provided. And they will suffer for that decision for all eternity. In no way is God to be blamed for their outcome. God’s gracious provision for salvation has been offered to all without exception. Whatever any of us miss out on in God’s blessing will be our own fault, our own doing, not His.
Altogether this information tells us of the urgency of working to persuade people to accept the salvation from all this that God offers everyone. In Christ’s personal absence, as one’s who’ve been saved from all this, we serve as His personal representatives. All this information about the eternal suffering of the unsaved gives us reason to do everything we can to lead people to a knowledge of the free and gracious salvation God offers them through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We are to be God’s mouthpiece for letting people know of the grace that He has extended to them. Notice again these words of warning.
II Corinthians 5:19-21
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
This offer to be reconciled stands good to the very last breath a person takes. But once physical death occurs, the person will then have to “live” with the decision they’ve made for all eternity. The words of another passage come to mind as I write this.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [Emphasis added]
What specifically one must believe in our time is spelled out in this other passage.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
By having placed your faith in His work alone you can be saved forever with no concern or worry at all about suffering in eternity. God’s wonderful blessing will be yours to enjoy forever.