What the Bible says about Eternal Torment
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Luke 16:19-31

In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the latter, a heartless person, speaks to Lazarus while being "tormented in this flame." This alludes to the wicked being cremated when God burns up the earth, turning it into the final Gehenna, called elsewhere "the Lake of Fire." The rich man is raised out of his grave at the end of God's plan for humanity on earth. Because the dead know nothing, he does not realize the passage of time, but he certainly realizes that he has failed to receive salvation. He sees "a great gulf fixed" between him and those who are with Abraham in the Kingdom of God. At this point, it is impossible for anyone to change his fate.

Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: The Third Resurrection

Luke 16:19-31

In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus illustrates death—total unconsciousness—as being followed by a resurrection from the dead and a restoration to consciousness. Secondly, Jesus describes the second death, eternal death, in the Lake of Fire that will totally destroy the wicked. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), not endless torment.

Jesus shows that the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear the voice of God and come forth—those who have lived righteously to the resurrection of life, and those who have lived wickedly (including the rich man) to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29). We need to understand how vital it is to hear and submit to God's voice now.

Martin G. Collins
Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Part Two)

Romans 6:23

God says that the "wages" of sin—that is, what you "earn" for transgressing God's law—is death. He does not say that the unrepentant sinner will live eternally in some sort of torment but that he will die.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: The Fate of the Wicked

Romans 6:23

A wage is payment for work. Death, then, is what we "earn" as a result of committing sin. This is not eternal life in hell fire but death, the complete annihilation of one's life.

God offers eternal life to those who are willing to meet His conditions. Therefore, salvation—being delivered from the consequences of sin—is receiving the gift of eternal life. Though some think that we already have an immortal soul, the Bible makes it plain that the only way we can receive eternal life is to receive it as God's gift.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation

Revelation 20:10

This verse seems to describe the Lake of Fire as a place where God torments people forever. This raises a few questions: 1) If the Beast and False Prophet are mortal men, why are they still alive after the Millennium when Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire? 2) If they are mortals, how can they "be tormented day and night forever and ever" in an inferno that would soon consume them? 3) What kind of God would devise such a "cruel and unusual" punishment?

Before we answer these questions, we must briefly consider whether man has an immortal soul. Our understanding of the Scriptures compels us to maintain that he does not for several reasons:

» Job recognized that man has a spirit (Job 32:8), which Paul shows in I Corinthians 2:11 endows humanity with intellect. This spirit in man comes from God (Zechariah 12:1) and returns to Him when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59). It records our experiences, character, and personality, which God stores until the resurrection of the dead. However, the Bible never describes this spirit as immortal or eternal; in fact, I Corinthians 2:6-16 explains that man needs yet another Spirit, God's, to be complete and discern godly things.

» The Bible flatly asserts that all people die: "It is appointed for men to die once" (Hebrews 9:27). Ezekiel says clearly that souls die: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; see Romans 6:23). Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28 that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

» In death, life and consciousness are gone. "The dead know nothing," says Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:5, and he later adds, "There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (verse 10). In Psalm 146:4, the psalmist writes about a man's death, "His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish" (see Genesis 3:19).

» Scripture also confutes the idea that people go to heaven or hell after death. Peter says to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:29, 34). Our Savior confirms this in John 3:13: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." The biblical usage of Sheol and Hades simply means "the grave."

» Men cannot have immortality unless God gives it to them. Paul writes, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In I Corinthians 15:53 he tells the saints, "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." At the first resurrection God will give "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality" (Romans 2:7). If we already had immortality, why should we put it on or seek it?

» Only God has immortality. He is, Paul writes to Timothy, ". . . the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality" (I Timothy 6:15-16). John says of the Word, "In Him was life" (John 1:4), meaning as Creator of all things (verse 3), He had life inherent. Jesus affirms this in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Men must go through Him to receive eternal life.

With such overwhelming proof, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul proves false. Man is not immortal, nor does he possess any "spark of God" unless God has given it to him through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). A Christian's hope of life after death rests in the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians 15:12-23). Conversely, the wicked only await eternal death as recompense for their evil lives, not eternal life in torment.

To understand Revelation 20:10 correctly, we must put it into its proper chronological context. Once we know when it occurs, much of the confusion about this verse clears up.

Though only twelve verses separate Revelation 19:20 from 20:10, one thousand years pass between their respective events. The Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire when Christ returns (Revelation 19:11-21). Soon thereafter, an angel imprisons Satan in the bottomless pit for the thousand years of the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-3). When the thousand years pass, Satan is released, and he gathers Gog and Magog to fight against the saints (verses 7-9). After God defeats this futile attempt, He casts Satan into the Lake of Fire (verse 10).

Obviously, the flames of the Lake of Fire totally consume the Beast and False Prophet. In no way could they survive a thousand years of burning! The laws of nature simply will not allow it.

The translators of the King James and New King James versions render the final clause of the first sentence as "where the beast and the false prophet are." The present-tense verb "are" is not in the Greek; it is an understood verb. In English grammar, such silent verbs take the same tense as the verb in the main clause of the sentence. The translators ignored this rule, however. The primary verb of the sentence, "was cast" (an aorist verb usually translated as simple past tense), demands that the silent verb should be "were cast" (past tense) to agree with the plural subject, "the beast and the false prophet."

Deceived by the false doctrine of the immortal soul, the translators had to deny nature and break the rules to make this verse fit their understanding! On the other hand, we can confidently assert that our teaching agrees with Scripture, nature, and grammar!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?

Revelation 20:10

This verse ostensibly describes the Lake of Fire as a place where God torments people forever. This assumption raises three questions:

1. If the Beast and False Prophet are mortal men, why are they still alive after the Millennium when Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire?

2. If they are mortals, how can they “be tormented day and night forever and ever” in an inferno that would soon consume them?

3. What kind of God would devise such a “cruel and unusual” punishment?

Before answering these questions, we must briefly consider whether human beings have an immortal soul. For several biblical reasons, our understanding of the Scriptures compels us to maintain that they do not:

1. Job recognizes that man has a spirit (Job 32:8), which the apostle Paul shows in I Corinthians 2:11 endows humanity with intellect. This spirit in man comes from God (Zechariah 12:1) and returns to Him upon death (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59). It records an individual's life, character, and personality, which God stores until the resurrection of the dead. However, the Bible never describes this spirit as immortal or eternal; in fact, I Corinthians 2:6-16 explains that man needs yet another Spirit, God's, to be complete and to discern godly things. According to Ecclesiastes 3:21, animals also have a spirit, “which goes down to the earth,” suggesting that it ceases to exist at the animal's death.

2. The Bible flatly asserts that all people die: “[I]t is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). Ezekiel says distinctly that souls die: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; see Romans 6:23). Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28 that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, a type of the Lake of Fire.

3. In death, life and consciousness are gone. “The dead know nothing,” says Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:5, and he later adds, “[T]here is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (verse 10). In Psalm 146:4, the psalmist writes about men's death, “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish” (see Genesis 3:19).

4. Scripture also confutes the idea that people go to heaven or hell after death. Peter says to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:29, 34). Our Savior confirms this in John 3:13: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” The biblical usage of Sheol and Hades simply means “the pit” or “the grave.”

5. Men cannot have immortality unless God gives it to them. Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23; emphasis ours throughout). In I Corinthians 15:53 he tells the saints, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”; that is, immortality is not inherent in us. At the first resurrection, God will give “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). If we already had immortality, why should we seek it?

6. Only God has immortality. He is, Paul writes to Timothy, “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality” (I Timothy 6:15-16). John says of the Word, “In Him was life” (John 1:4), meaning as Creator of all things (verse 3), He had life inherent. Jesus affirms this in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In other words, humans must go through Him to receive eternal life.

With such overwhelming proof, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, believed by so many, proves false. Man is not immortal, nor does he possess any “spark of God” unless God has given it to him through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). A Christian's hope of life after death rests in the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians 15:12-23). Conversely, the wicked only await eternal death as recompense for their evil lives.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?

Revelation 20:10

To understand Revelation 20:10 correctly, we must put it into its proper chronological context. Once we know when it occurs, much of the confusion about this verse clears up.

Though only twelve verses separate Revelation 19:20 from 20:10, one thousand years elapse between their respective events. The Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire when Christ returns (Revelation 19:11-21). Soon afterward, a strong angel imprisons Satan in the bottomless pit for the thousand years of the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-3). When the thousand years are about to pass, Satan is released, and he gathers Gog and Magog to fight against the saints (verses 7-9). After God defeats this futile attempt, He casts the Devil, a spirit being, into the Lake of Fire to “be tormented forever and ever” (verse 10).

Obviously, the flames of the Lake of Fire will utterly consume mortal men like the Beast and False Prophet. The apostle Peter describes the end-time fire as an all-devouring holocaust: “[T]he elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (II Peter 3:10). In no way could the Beast and False Prophet survive a thousand years of such high-temperature burning! The laws of nature simply will not allow it.

The translators of the King James and New King James versions render the final clause of the first sentence of Revelation 20:10 as “where the beast and the false prophet are.” The present-tense verb “are” is not in the Greek text; it is an understood verb. In English grammar, such silent verbs take the same tense as the verb in the main clause of the sentence. The translators ignored this rule, however. The primary verb of the sentence, “was cast” (an aorist verb usually translated as simple past tense), demands that the understood verb should be “were [cast]” (past tense) to agree with the plural subject “the beast and the false prophet.”

Deceived by the unbiblical doctrine of the immortal soul, the translators had to deny nature and break the rules to make this verse fit their understanding! On the other hand, we can confidently assert that our teaching agrees with Scripture, nature, and grammar.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?

Revelation 20:10

Before the explosion of modern translations, the final sentence of Revelation 20:10 roused no one's skepticism. However, the newer versions bring out the fact that the verb here (basanisth─ôsontai) is plural and is correctly rendered “they will be tormented.” Who are “they”? Does this include the Beast and False Prophet? Does God torment wicked human beings eternally? There are two ways to explain these questions:

1) The Bible denies any idea of men having innate immortality (I Corinthians 15:53; Romans 2:7; I Timothy 6:15-16). These wicked leaders of men in the last days will die and burn to ashes soon after being thrust into the Lake of Fire, their souls and bodies destroyed by Him who can do this in Gehenna fire (Matthew 10:28). This fact would preclude any human from being described as “tormented day and night forever and ever.”

The only group left is the fallen angels—Satan and his demons. But, one may counter, “the devil” in Revelation 20:10 is singular, and “they will be tormented” is plural. How can we reconcile this plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent?

In this case, “the devil” is used in a figure of speech called metonymy. Technically, it is “the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated.” More simply, one part of a thing represents the whole. Thus, “the devil” represents in himself all of the group we call demons, devils, fallen angels, or angels who sinned.

A parallel verse, Matthew 25:41, says that sinners will be cast into “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Jesus intimates that the Lake of Fire's primary purpose is for the punishment of demons, but it will also be used as the means of execution for the wicked among humans, those people who unrepentantly live as demons do.

2) If we understand “they will be tormented” to include the Beast and the False Prophet, we must explain the phrase “forever and ever” (eis tous aiônas tôn aiônôn). Literally, this means “to the ages of the ages” and would seem to imply perpetuity. However, we must be careful with the word aiôn and its various forms. Its range of meaning runs from “a space or period of time” to “a lifetime” to “an age” to “eternity.” As in all such cases, the context must give the sense.

Having rejected the immortality of the soul, we have no recourse but to understand aiôn here in the sense of “as long as conditions exist” or “as long as they live.” Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words concurs:

AION . . . signifies a period of indefinite duration, or time viewed in relation to what takes place in the period. . . . The phrases containing this word should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. (p. 43)

Moreover, aiôn can also be rendered as “unto the ages of ages,” “until the eternal age,” or even “up to the vanishing point”! As should be plain, a precise definition of this Greek word proves extremely difficult. Dogmatism on it is not advisable.

Thus, the Beast and False Prophet will be tormented “day and night”—unceasingly—for an indeterminate period until they die, probably within a few minutes or a few hours, which is about as long as a human being can live in a fire. As long as they remain breathing, they will suffer excruciating pain as their just reward, and in an indefinite time, they will pay for their sins with death.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?

Revelation 20:10

Can demons die? The evidence of Scripture does not disallow it. Indeed, Ezekiel 28:11-19—a well-known passage describing Satan's origins, character, rebellion, and fate—prophesies in verses 18-19:

Therefore [because of your iniquities] I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever. (Emphasis ours.)

Many people believe this applies to a physical “king of Tyre” referenced in verse 11, but the context describing the one who became Satan—“the anointed cherub who covers” (verse 14), who was “the seal of perfection” (verse 12) and “in Eden, the garden of God” (verse 13)—continues without interruption through verse 19. Taken at face value, this passage tells us that God, who created the angels who chose to sin, can extinguish their lives through an annihilating fire. Trying to explain verses 18-19 as a metaphor for Satan and his demons being imprisoned in darkness forever makes a mockery of their plain sense. In fact, the words of Ezekiel 28 sound amazingly like death in the Lake of Fire.

Thus, if those suffering torment in Revelation 20:10 are Satan and the demons, they, too, will experience the torture and excruciating pain of the fervent heat of the Lake of Fire. Perhaps with them, being composed of spirit, it will last for a longer, though still indeterminate, time before they expire. The Bible's use of aiôn makes the length of their torment vague. Perhaps they will suffer some form of torment while imprisoned in the abyss (see Isaiah 24:21-23). In any case, we can understand their torment “day and night forever and ever” to indicate unstinting thoroughness—that God will not shirk in giving them the most painful and complete punishment, as they rightfully deserve.

Our Savior is the great Judge of all (II Timothy 4:1). His judgments are flawless; He demonstrates perfect justice and mercy at all times. Though the punishments that the wicked and the demons will receive may seem ghastly, they fit their crimes. There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14).

As Christ's disciples, resurrected to eternal life in God's Kingdom, we will be able to look forward to an eternity of peace and security, of never-ending joy and growth, because He will have removed all evil from the universe. Peter tells us that once God purifies all things, only righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and new earth (II Peter 3:13). There will be no taint of sin anywhere in creation, which can be true only if God has completely erased the existence of all sin and all sinners, including the Adversary and his demons.

As Peter writes in the same passage, we must soberly consider God's perfect judgment for sin and His wrath against it. We are living through our time of judgment right now, and falling away and falling under God's wrath are still possibilities if we fail “to make [our] call and election sure” (II Peter 1:10). Knowing God's perfect judgment should spur us to live holy and godly lives, “hastening the coming of the day of God” (II Peter 3:11-12, 14).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eternal Torment?


 

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