The concept of an eternal hell of fiery torment has been used by the Church for centuries to strike fear into the hearts of sinners in an effort to reform their behavior. In more recent years many Christian teachers have taught that hell is eternal separation from God, and that the torment described in the Bible is a metaphor for the agony that eternal souls will suffer from being excluded from the presence of God.
The book of Revelation definitely teaches a fiery hell of torment. For example, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark… he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever” (Revelation 14:10,11). “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
These verses make one thing clear: Hell is not separation from God, because the wicked “shall be tormented with fire… in the presence of the Lamb ” (the Lamb is God the Son). We also see that it is their smoke that “ascends forever and ever”– it does not say that their torment continues forever and ever.
Most of the confusion concerning hell results from the misconception that man has an immortal soul. This phrase or concept is not found anywhere in the Bible, but rather was an idea that is found in many pagan religions and came into the Church through the influence of Greek philosophy.
The Biblical concept of the soul is of the whole person; there is no such thing as a soul separated from a body. When the body ceases to exist, the soul also ceases to exist. This is confirmed by the apostle James who said, “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death” (James 5:20, see section 20: What is a Soul in The Book).
“The Lord preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy” (Ps. 145:20). This is what happens in the lake of fire. Some Bible readers have been puzzled by the texts that mention “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). But in the book of Jude there is actually an example which shows what everlasting fire is. “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). Obviously Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning; the fire that burned them up had “everlasting” consequences: total, irrevocable destruction.
This is the same fate of people who are destroyed by the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil”. In fact, we see in Ezekiel that the fire that burns the devil does not leave him suffering forever: God says, “I turned you (Satan) to ashes upon the earth… you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever” (Ezekiel 28:18,19).
Destruction of the wicked is necessary in order to bring sin to a final end. God certainly will not perpetuate sin by banishing sinners to some dark corner of the universe called hell. There are many issues involved in this subject, and probably the most serious is the warped picture of God that results from a belief in eternal torment or even eternal separation from God.
There has been so much false teaching about hell that many find it very difficult to even consider another viewpoint. But rather than dismiss the idea, please take the time to read the detailed analysis and scriptural support found in The Book, section 20:11-15 The White Throne Judgment and the sections on the soul and hell that follow.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> This agrees with the Old Testament, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there” (Psalms 139:8).