Most professing Christians’ concept of hell does not come from the Bible. Accepting the distorted ideas from this world, cut off from God, their beliefs originated from pagan philosophy. However, proper understanding must be based on the sound truths of the Bible. Before proving the truth about hell from God’s Word, we need to take note of the world’s traditional beliefs.
The New Jewish Encyclopedia comments on the subject of hell in a very definitive manner: “Judaism does not teach a specific concept of hell. It is assumed that evildoers will be punished, but the manner and place of chastisement are left to the justice of God.”
Other religions, also not based on the teachings of the Bible, exercise much more imagination to fit their concept of eternal punishment. One of the best summaries of man’s traditional concept of hell is found in the Encyclopedia Americana:
“As generally understood, hell is…whither lost or condemned souls go after death to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment…It is the place of divine revenge, untempered, never ending. This has been the idea most generally held by Christians, Catholics, and Protestants alike.” As to the similarity of the concept of hell among various religions, the article continues, “The main features of hell as conceived by Hindu, Persian, Egyptian, Grecian, and Christian theologians are essentially the same.”
The writings of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) made a strong impression on Catholics during the later Middle Ages. His work The Divine Comedy provided vivid detail of sufferings in the dismal setting he described as hell or “Inferno.” His influential writings describing this inferno were inspired by the philosophers Plato and Virgil, to whom he looked with reverence and attributed divine inspiration. Since this inspiration led these famous philosophers to envision ideas contrary to the Bible, it had to come from a source other than God.
After having seen in Lesson 8 that the saved do not go to heaven and, in Lesson 9, that man does not possess an immortal soul, you are now ready to learn the truth about hell. This lesson rounds off some very important understanding to which the world is oblivious. The goal of this course is to help you unlearn error and replace it with truth.
In the Authorized Version of the English Bible, there are three Greek terms and one Hebrew term translated “hell”: (1) sheol from the Hebrew and hades from the Greek—both terms clearly mean “the grave”; (2) tartaros from the Greek, meaning “a place of restraint”; and (3) gehenna, the Greek term for the “Valley of Hinnom,” a location just outside ancient Jerusalem. Gehenna can mean “hell” or “hell fire.”
As indicated, the Hebrew word translated “hell” in the Old Testament is sheol. It has a New Testament counterpart, hades. The term sheol, in a concordance, most always references the Greek word hades. They both mean “the grave, pit, world of the dead.”
The word hades is the most commonly used word in the New Testament for “hell.” Some translations have exchanged the word hell for hades. In the 1600s, people in England commonly spoke of planting or putting their potatoes “in hell” through the winter. They understood that hell was a dark, cold, quiet place that was a hole in the ground. This word held no mystery for them. Virtually all sources agree that sheol and hades are the same and that both refer to the grave. It was only with the passing of time that the pagan view of hell—as a blazing underground inferno—came to replace this original intent of the word.
The second Greek word translated “hell” is found only once in the New Testament. Notice II Peter 2:4: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” The word used here is tartaros and refers to angels, not people. It means “a prison, incarceration, place of restraint or a dark abyss.” This verse describes the imprisoning of the fallen angels (demons) on earth—their “place of restraint” or “prison” after their rebellion.
The third and final Greek word translated “hell” is found twelve times in the New Testament. Notice Christ’s words in Mark 9:43-48. These verses repeatedly refer to “hell” and “fire unquenched.” They also speak of “worms that die not.” (These terms are explained in our booklet The Truth About Hell.)
In Matthew 5:22, Christ spoke of those who could be “in danger of hell fire.” In Matthew 10:28, He warned to “fear Him which is able to destroy both soul [Spirit-begotten life as explained in Lesson 9] and body in hell.” Christ describes destruction in this verse, not ongoing punishing. The Greek word gehenna can be translated as either “hell” or “hell fire.” Grasping its meaning will explain the quote from Mark 9.
(2) When Christ became human, was He subject to death as was all mankind? Hebrews 2:14.
(4) What is the destiny of every mortal body upon death? Genesis 3:19.
(5) Does a common event befall both man and beast upon death? Ecclesiastes 3:19-20.
(6) Does a common event befall both the righteous and wicked upon death? Ecclesiastes 9:2.
Comment: If man is not able to consciously think after he dies, then neither is he able to feel pain or suffering. Therefore, the concept of eternal suffering in hell is contrary to what Scripture indicates about man’s fate.
(1) Is judgment a certainty for all men, just as the certainty of death? Hebrews 9:27.
(2) How did Christ defeat death? Acts 2:31.
Comment: The dead in Christ come up in the first resurrection, which occurs at the seventh and final trumpet of the seven trumpet plagues. (Future lessons will cover the three resurrections in detail.)
(5) How much time elapses between the first and the second resurrection? Revelation 20:5.
Comment: The first sentence in verse 5 states, “But the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished.” This sentence is a parenthetical thought, discussing a resurrection following the first one. The next sentence states, “This is the first resurrection.” This short statement applies to verse 4, which discusses the first resurrection. It also ties in with verse 6, but is not related with the parenthetical expression, which breaks the flow of thought.
(6) Are those who are qualifying for the first resurrection being judged now? I Peter 4:17.
(7) Where is the reference to the second resurrection? Revelation 20:11-12.
Comment: Verse 12 is discussing the billions of people coming up in this resurrection standing before the judgment seat. They are not being sentenced. Rather, the people in this general resurrection live one hundred years (Isa. 65:20) and are judged as to how they live their lives. The “books” that are opened to them are the books of the Bible, which are opened to their understanding. These billions of people will then learn God’s truth for the first time, and most will overcome sins that plagued them throughout their lives. Yet, their reward will not approach that of those in the first resurrection.
Comment: This is the resurrection in which people are destroyed in the lake of fire. This is the second death, mentioned in Revelation 20:6.
(3) What did Christ say would be the fate of anyone who did not repent? Luke 13:5.
Comment: “Death” means the cessation of life. “Perish” means to suffer death or destruction.
Neither term implies a type of existence in a state of perpetual torment or torture.
(1) When the wicked perish, will they be tormented forever, or will they be consumed by the flames? Psalm 37:20.
(2) What happens to anyone subjected to the flames reserved for the wicked? Malachi 4:1.
(3) What remains of the wicked who suffer this fate? Malachi 4:3.
Comment: The flames that consume the wicked will leave nothing but ashes. The theologians and pagan philosophers who invented their versions of hell never demonstrated much understanding of Scripture, which describes a fire that quickly consumes virtually everything in its path. The state of those in the third resurrection will be physical; they are resurrected in order to suffer this second—and final—death. Remember, those in the first resurrection are no longer subject to the second death (Rev. 20:6), because they are spirit beings (Luke 20:36).
Comment: Many are confused by verse 10, which states, “But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away…” The term, “the day of the Lord” (and the “day of God” in verse 12), as used by the apostle Peter, is not specifically referring to the one-year period of God’s wrath, when the seven trumpet plagues will be unleashed just prior to Christ’s Return and millennial reign on earth. The frame of reference that Peter is using begins with the Day of the Lord, but also includes all the end-time events that follow, including all three resurrections and especially the description of events during the third and final resurrection. It is at this time that the earth and the atmosphere will be changed or purified with fire (Heb. 1:10-12). Thus, Peter was speaking of all the major end-time events leading up to the time of this flame, which devours all the wicked.
This fire is not quenched until it consumes all physical material and melts and purifies all metals.
The walls of flames that will engulf the entire earth will be so massive, it will be comparable to a “lake of fire.” Hence, this term is found in a number of places in Revelation.
(6) At Christ’s Return, where are the Beast and False Prophet cast? Revelation 19:20.
Comment: The timeframe of Christ’s Return is well in advance of the time when the lake of fire will engulf the earth during the third resurrection. However, the fire that will be burning in the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) is a small prototype of the colossal future lake of fire. The Beast and False Prophet only experience physical death, not the second death.
(7) Will Satan be cast into the lake of fire? Revelation 20:10.
Comment: Satan will be cast into “a” lake of fire—the same one referred to in Revelation 19:20, which indicates that the Beast and False Prophet “were cast alive into ‘a’ lake of fire burning with brimstone.” This clearly precedes the ultimate lake of fire that is to engulf the entire earth. The phrase in Revelation 20:10, “where the beast and false prophet are,” is misleading. Translators erroneously added the term “are.” It should read, “where the beast and false prophet were cast.” Satan will not be harmed by this fire, since he is a spirit being (Luke 20:36). Yet, the Beast and False Prophet will have long since perished in the flames before Satan is cast into the lake of fire. Satan will be tormented by seeing all his efforts to thwart God go up in flames, especially in the final lake of fire to occur later. The indication is that Satan is cast into this final, everlasting fire (age-lasting or unquenchable until it has run its course), as shown in Matthew 25:41. Yet, he does not remain in this fire forever. The New Heavens and the New Earth then come down after the earth’s surface has been purified (Rev. 21:1).
(8) In summary, what types of people will be quickly consumed by the final lake of fire, at the time of the third resurrection? Revelation 21:8.
(9) Where does the Bible discuss unquenchable fire? Matthew 3:11-12.
Comment: Here, John the Baptist was speaking of Christ, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and would later baptize the earth with fire. John referred to this fire as unquenchable. Also, Mark 9:43-48 makes five separate references to a fire that is not quenched, with reference to the Gehenna fire. “Not quenched” does not imply that that fire burns forever. It simply means that as long as there is fuel from plant or animal remains or other combustibles, the fire will continue to rage.
In recent years, there have been wildfires raging in the Western United States, in which the continuous walls of flames have extended for 10 or 20 miles, some reaching over 100 feet into the air. Virtually uncontrollable, these fires create their own wind drafts with numerous tornado funnels. How much more unquenchable would a fire be that covered all the earth’s surface? Yet, when the fuel has been consumed, the fire will burn out. Hence, as Malachi 4:3 shows, the wicked shall be ashes under the soles of the feet of the righteous.
Such a fire that was not quenched did occur in Jerusalem, as noted in Jeremiah 17:27. Yet that fire is not burning today. It consumed its fuel and burned out. This also applies to the eternal fire which devoured the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24). Yet this fire is not still raging today. Shortly after it was sent from God, it consumed its fuel and then went out.
In God’s Plan of Salvation, He intends for mankind to fulfill the great purpose for being by seeking to grow in righteous character. A comparative few will be in the first resurrection, and be honored with great responsibility as kings and priest. Next will be billions who live in the time of the millennium without the deception of Satan, except for a little season after the end of the thousand years. Then comes the opportunity for the many billions who lived since the time of the creation of man down through the course of history without the true knowledge of God. They too will be given their chance for salvation—this time without Satan’s deception.
Yet, in all the stages of opportunities for salvation, there will be those who willfully reject God’s Way (Heb. 10:26-27).
In order to develop His character in mankind, God had to create them as free moral agents, who could potentially choose or reject His way. This possibility has always existed. Those who reject His Way would be forever miserable as spirit beings, remaining unteachable and unhappy with God’s Way. God would not allow additional rebellious beings to live forever, as will Satan and his demons.
Therefore, out of mercy and justice, God will eliminate such people quickly, rather than have them exist forever in a miserable state. These people will not be tormented and tortured for all eternity—they will quickly perish in the fire, which will erase their existence.
To understand, in much greater detail, the concepts presented in this lesson, read our booklets Who Is the Devil? and The Truth About Hell, which explains the important parable of Lazarus and the rich man and other valuable details that space does not permit in this lesson.