Is the Lake of Fire Forever and Ever?
Matthew Lesson #165
May 28, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful that we have this time to be refreshed by Your Word, to come to understand what Your Word teaches. To be reminded of Your grace and Your love, but also to be reminded of Your righteous standard and Your justice.
“To come to understand what is for many a harsh truth in Scripture, but one that we must understand because it is taught throughout the Scripture from beginning to end, and one that brings into even greater relief and greater focus: Your magnificent love and Your grace toward us.
“We pray that You would help us to understand the significance and the reason for what we are studying today, and we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 25, and we will wrap up the Olivet Discourse this morning coming to the last several verses in the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 25:41–46. The last part of the Olivet Discourse is where Jesus Christ is teaching about one of the last judgments that occurs at the end of the Tribulation.
As I pointed out when we got into this section, which is focusing on the separation of the sheep and the goats, I pointed out that there are tremendous distinctions between this judgment and the Great White Throne Judgment that occurs at the end of the 1,000-year reign of Christ.
Known as the Millennium or the Messianic Kingdom, this is a judgment that occurs at about the same time as the judgment spoken of in the three parables that precede this section.
Those are indeed parables. This is not a parable, but is describing a judgment that will occur when the Son of Man comes in Matthew 25:31—that He comes at the end of the Tribulation in all of His glory. He is accompanied by the angels. He is accompanied by all Church Age believers, for we are raptured and resurrected at the end of the Church Age before the seven-year Tribulation.
When He comes to the earth, He will defeat the enemies of God: the Antichrist and the false prophet. And He will rescue the surviving Jews in Israel. Then He will begin to cleanse the earth, which means judgment in order to remove those human beings who have never trusted in Him for salvation.
All of this is to establish His Kingdom upon the earth—that 1,000-year rule—that will be sort of the antechamber to eternity.
There are these judgments: the judgments on the surviving Jews and the judgments on the surviving Gentiles. The surviving Gentiles are gathered before Him, and He will separate them into two groups identified as the sheep, who will be separated on His right, and the goats on His left.
If you look at the flocks of sheep and goats in Israel, you will see that the sheep there don’t look like the sheep you may be familiar with in Scotland or in America. They look very similar to goats, and it is the shepherd who can distinguish the sheep from the goats.
The sheep are believers: those who have trusted in Jesus as the Messianic King, the Jewish Messiah, who died on the Cross for the sins of the world, who came at His first coming offering the Kingdom which is in the Jewish Kingdom, where the Son of Man—as He is introduced in Matthew 25:31—comes.
This is a title first revealed in Daniel 7, speaking of the King who will come, who will be given the Kingdom by the Father, and that this title, Son of Man, specifically focuses on His Jewishness, His Messianic nature.
To accept the gospel—the gospel at the time that Jesus came the first time at the beginning of that ministry—was identified as the gospel of the Kingdom because it was specifically related to not just believing that sins would be paid for, but that the Kingdom was about to come.
That gospel of the Kingdom comes back into force during the Tribulation because that seven years is immediately preceding the coming of the King. So it’s an integral part of the gospel that anyone who believes in the Tribulation period is not just in some sort of nice little Savior, as depicted so often by different branches of Christianity.
But it is a Jewish Savior who is a conquering king who will come to establish His Kingdom, so that someone accepting the gospel of the Kingdom is not going to be ignorant of the fact that it’s Jewish and that they are supporting a Jewish king and a Jewish kingdom. When we read about the ultimate determining factor in Matthew 25:45, to the goats: “Assuredly I say, you did not do it to one of the least of these …”
When that is stated a few verses earlier, Matthew 25:40, He is talking about “the least of these My brethren,” the term, “My brethren,” indicates Jewish disciples. He is talking about those who are believers. “Least of these” indicates the smallest. It’s a term that’s used to refer to disciples earlier in Matthew. “My brethren,” of course, refers to those who were of the same Jewish background.
Here the emphasis is on something they did, but the reason they did it is because they had accepted the gospel of the Kingdom. In the last couple weeks, I’ve talked about the relationship of faith and works, and that this is not the idea that’s here—the Lordship view that if the person is truly saved, they will produce certain kinds of works.
That’s not what is taught in this passage. It is because they understand the gospel of the Kingdom that they are supportive of Jewish Christians who are coming under intense persecution during the Tribulation period.
As our Lord wraps this up, He moved from Matthew 25:40 where He says, “Inasmuch as you did this”—talking there to the sheep—“to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Matthew 25:41, “Then He will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ ”
I think this is the central verse on the eternal condemnation of unbelievers. So the question we need to address this morning is one that is of current significance. It is the question, is the Lake of Fire forever and ever, or is it just for a very long time?
Many people have difficulty understanding and accepting the fact that God could send people to an eternal punishment. So we must understand this—and understand it within the framework of what is stated here—that it is similar to, or consequent to, the punishment for the devil and his angels and it is applied to the wicked and the unsaved.
We looked at our key verse, but it is restated in Matthew 25:46, “These”—that is, these goats, the unbelievers who survived the Tribulation—“will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The way that is translated: two different English words, everlasting and eternal, yet they both translate the same Greek word. That is just an aberration in English. We think that we can’t repeat the same word again and again within the same paragraph. It’s bad English style, but when the Holy Spirit does it in the Scripture, we need to pay attention to it, and it should be translated that way so people can understand these comparisons.
I thought that just for information purposes, I would put this up in terms of other translations. Matthew 25:41 at the top is from the New King James which I just read.
In the New American Standard version of 1995, Matthew 25:41 translates, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which is been prepared for the devil and his angels.” So there’s a better translation there in the New American Standard.
Then just for fun, I put up the version I love to hate, The Message, which is really a paraphrase, it’s not a translation. I wanted to show you how poorly these things are done, and yet, because they are so popular, people don’t learn much truth from them, and they actually obscure truth. It says, “Then he will turn to the goats, the ones on his left and say ‘Get out worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell ...’ ” No mention of the devil and his angels, which is a critical part of understanding the verse.
Also, the English term “hell” there is a very ambiguous and confusing term, and one we should probably avoid. Not because it is some sort of profanity, but because it is used to translate a lot of different words from the Greek and Hebrew, and it’s just confusing because it’s not technically accurate.
1. What are the issues in understanding the passage?
2. When, why, and for whom was the Lake of Fire created?
3. We need to address the issue of punishment for the unsaved through the Old Testament and New Testament.
To see how these fit together, we will start in the Old Testament: what does the Old Testament teach? Then, what does the New Testament teach?
4. Defining the key terms such as everlasting: is that everlasting meaning forever and ever and ever without end or is it just a term for a long time? What does Sheol describe, what does Hades describe, what does Torments describe, what does Gehenna describe, and what does the Lake of Fire describe?
These are all distinct terms and not necessarily synonymous, although many people take them as synonyms.
5. Why is this a problem for the love of God and the grace and the goodness of God?
So first of all, what are the issues here?
Well the issue is basically, how do we come to understand the relationship between the grace of God, His, love and His goodness, and His kindness, and His righteousness, and justice? It’s usually phrased this way, how can a good, gracious, and loving God consigned His creatures to unending fiery punishment?
To understand that we have to go back to the essence of God and our understanding that God is sovereign and He is righteous. Righteous means that He is the ultimate standard of what is right, what is correct, what is good in the universe.
It’s not my idea of what’s right or what’s good. It’s not your idea of what’s right or what’s good. It is God’s idea of what’s right and what’s good.
He is just. That is the application of His righteous standard to His creatures. There’s no one else in the universe other than His creatures, so God must apply His righteous absolute standard to His creatures.
That is not in contrast to His love, for God’s love is perfectly compatible with His righteousness and justice. This is difficult for a lot of people; they segment these. For teaching and understanding purposes, we break down His attributes into these ten categories.
But the reality is that, just as you may be someone who is honest and hard-working, someone who may be as a parent, a harsh disciplinarian or a light disciplinarian—all of those make up who you are. They work and integrate together; you don’t separate them out.
All of these attributes of God work together and are integrally related, so He has a righteous love; He has a just love; He has a loving righteousness, and He’s eternal.
Then when we look at His “O” characteristics: He’s omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. We realize that His love functions on the basis of all knowledge. He knows everything, and His righteousness is related to His omniscience, and He is able to execute His justice because He is omnipotent, He’s all-powerful, He’s able to do everything He intends to do.
He’s absolute truth, and He’s immutable—He doesn’t change. All of these interrelate, so we have to come to understand that, and that’s where people have problems. It is usually when they say, “How can a loving, gracious God do this?”
They have imported certain preconceived notions of their own about what love is and what grace is, rather than letting God speak to us and define those characteristics within the framework of His revelation.
Another question that comes up is, “what about those who never heard?” That doesn’t seem fair to some people that there are many people on the planet who may have never heard the name Jesus Christ, never heard of the Bible, and never heard the gospel at all. How can God hold them accountable?
I don’t want to get off on to that too much, but we’ve studied this a lot in our studies on Romans 1:18–23—that in nonverbal revelation, God has given a witness to everyone of His existence in what He has created. Every atom every molecule, every part of His creation gives a nonverbal testimony of His invisible attributes, His power, and His majesty. Paul says there in Romans 1:20, “so that they are without excuse.”
When man faces the nonverbal testimony of God, he becomes aware that God exists. We call that God consciousness. At the time of God consciousness, it could be as early as two or three years of age, maybe much later depending on the culture and the context, then he has to decide whether he wants to know this God or not.
That is called positive volition, if he wants to know God. And if he does want to know God, if he chooses to know more about God, then God in His righteousness and justice must make that knowledge available to him and will in some way, and they will come to know the truth.
There are remarkable stories through the history of missions, of missionaries who have shown up somewhere and someone there said after hearing the gospel, “I knew there was something like this. I’ve been praying that God would send me someone who would tell me about this, tell us. We had these ancient stories among our people of something like this.”
These things have shown up in cultures all over the world down through the centuries. So that is evidence that God fulfills His obligation to give people the truth, to give them the gospel. So no one is sent to the Lake of Fire without excuse.
Those are the basic questions that people ask, that people are concerned about.
When we look at the question, what are the issues? We have to remember that as we investigate anything in life, we as Christians must start with the Bible. What does the Bible say? Not what does our experience say, not what has other people’s experience said? We always start with the Bible.
We have to develop our understanding about God, which is called theology, from the Scripture, from what is called exegesis. Exegesis is doing the work of observing what the Scripture says, doing the necessary word studies in grammatical analysis in the original languages to make sure that we properly understand what God has said.
Often there are mistranslations, ambiguous translations that have to be corrected. We have to remember that we must begin with the Bible, with those specific statements and words, and that exegesis precedes theology.
We don’t start with an abstract concept of what God’s love or grace should mean—notice I use the word “should mean”—and then interpret the Bible in terms of our previous or prior understanding or our bias towards a certain understanding of love or grace.
Another question that comes up in relation to this is defining terms such as “eternal,” what does eternal mean? What is the meaning of fire? When it describes it, is this a physical fire or is this something that is analogous to physical fire? And we have to, of course, define the other terms such as Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, Torments, and Lake of Fire.
We ask also questions like:
- Is the idea of a Lake of Fire a metaphor or is it literal? And if it is literal, are there any metaphors within it or analogies within it?
Another view that people have put forth, some Christians have put forth over the years in primarily the Roman Catholic Church is:
- What about the idea of Purgatory?
Purgatory comes from the root word meaning “to purge”. To purge means to remove something.
In the early church as the church shifted away from a true grace understanding of the Scripture where you are saved by grace through faith alone, trusting in Christ for Savior because He did all the work— He paid the penalty.
The last thing Jesus said on the Cross in Greek was TETELESTAI. It meant paid in full; it has already been completed. In the verbal form it’s a perfect tense indicating completed action. Before He died physically, He had done everything.
It was a term that archaeologists discovered was written on bills that had been paid in the Greek culture, “Paid in full”. That meant we cannot do anything to add to it: He paid for all the sins.
Well, the idea that developed late in the early church around the third, fourth century is that if we commit sins that we haven’t confessed, then we still have to pay for them. They forgot that Jesus paid it all. If people died with unconfessed sin or if they died before they were baptized, then they would have to do something to pay for those unconfessed sins through some sort of torments or punishment before they could get released from Purgatory and then go to Heaven.
That would involve virtually every Christian; they’d all have to spend some time in Purgatory. That became greatly abused by the late Middle Ages, so that in order to raise money—primarily to build St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican—the popes would send out people who would raise money by selling indulgences.
One of these men in Germany was called Johann Tetzel, and he would sing a little chorus “Whenever the penny in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory sings.” That was the idea: you could purchase people’s salvation through your financial gifts to the Roman Catholic Church. That is not what the Bible teaches. That was something that was developed much later and contradicts the whole biblical teaching on grace and the sufficiency of Christ’s death on the Cross.
- What is the purpose of the Lake of Fire?
Two verses we need to keep in mind whenever we think about this are found close together in Hebrews. Hebrews 9:7, “… it is appointed for men to die once ...” You don’t get recycled, you don’t get to go through reincarnation, and you don’t get a second chance. “It’s appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment.”
There’s a finality that happens at physical death. It’s over. Game over. We accomplish what we accomplish when we’re alive. There are no do-overs. There’s no second chance. This is serious. It’s significant.
The writer says in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This is sobering truth for every believer.
Second: when, why, and for whom was the Lake of Fire created? The Lake of Fire was not created for human beings. The Lake of Fire, according to this passage, was created for the devil and his angels. So let’s look at what the verse says.
Jesus addresses those on His left hand, the goats, the unbelievers who survived the Tribulation, He says, “Depart from Me”—POREUOMAI, meaning to go away—“you cursed …” The word “curse” there goes back to Genesis 3. They are spiritually dead, they are still under the curse of Adam. They have not been regenerated, they have not believed in Jesus, they do not have new life.
They are not justified by faith as Abraham in the Old Testament was justified by believing God. “He believed God,” Genesis 15:6, “and it was counted—or imputed—to him as righteousness.”
Then Jesus says, “Depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
This Greek word for “prepared”, HETOIMAZO, is in the perfect tense—indicating it is completed action. It’s not something that is going to be prepared in the future. It’s not something that was created at that time. It is something that at some indeterminate time in the past had already been created. It wasn’t created for human beings; it was created for the devil and his angels.
We need to review just a little bit about why the devil and the angels were sentenced to the Lake of Fire. This indicates, because of the seriousness of this punishment, that they had committed some incredibly significant crime against God.
For that crime they had been judged and a penalty had been announced. That penalty was that they would spend eternity in this Lake of Fire, this eternal fire. They were not at that time in the Lake of Fire, and that implies that for some reason the execution of that penalty had been postponed.
Now there’s a certain amount of speculation about this because the Bible doesn’t specifically say what the reason was for that, but there are hints throughout Scripture, suggestions from Job and other places, that there was an appeal.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was a great Presbyterian preacher and dispensationalist, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, wrote a classic book on spiritual warfare called The Invisible War, which is a classic—great book (until, of course, it was replaced by another one by a similar name).
He is the first (well probably not the first, because very few people are the first, unless you’re in the early church) but he articulated the concept that there was some sort of trial in Heaven and that Satan appealed that verdict, and that human history is a demonstration of God’s love, justice, and righteousness.
I think part of it is that Satan said how in the world can a loving God send His creatures to a Lake of Fire for all eternity? It doesn’t seem that the penalty fits the crime. So what God is demonstrating in history is that the penalty does fit the crime.
Because if you look at human history now and you think about all the wars, all the famines, all the diseases, all of the horrible, horrible suffering, all of the poverty, all that has gone on that is so terrible in human history.
It’s all the result not of some terrible sin, it’s not the result of somebody who was a racist or somebody who would own slaves or somebody who was a drug addict or somebody who was a gang member. (Those are all the “bad” sins of our generation.)
It’s not the result of somebody who committed mass murder or genocide. It’s the result of somebody who ate a piece of fruit, an innocuous act. An act that in and of itself doesn’t seem bad, but because it was in disobedience to God, it had eternal consequences. That’s the significance of sin.
Sin isn’t something that’s just some little peccadillo, some little negative act. It is something that changed the very structure of God’s creation, so that all of His creation came under judgment and under a curse.
The reason people have problems understanding and accepting the seriousness of this punishment is because they don’t understand the seriousness of sin. They don’t understand the evil of sin and the corruption of sin. They have a low view of sin and often they don’t have a very high view of God in relation to that.
So that’s part of the background here.
Now the devil became the devil through his sin, which is described in Isaiah 14:12–14 and also Ezekiel 28:12–16. He’s given this title of the devil—the Greek DIABOLOS—which simply means an enemy, an adversary. It is the counterpart or translation of the Hebrew word, satan, which also means adversary. His original name identified as such is in the Hebrew Helel ben Shachar, which has to do with the bright and shining star, the son of the morning.
It is not Lucifer. Lucifer is from a Latin word meaning light bearer, and that was a mistranslation of that word Helel. It is referring to a bright star. Again, this was one of the many times in Scripture where we see some sort of a relationship between stars and the angels.
He is also called a dragon in Revelation 12:9, “So the great dragon was cast out,” this happens halfway through the Tribulation. He’s the serpent of old; that’s Genesis 3. He’s called the devil and Satan. That is also restated in Revelation 20:2 when he is cast into the abyss for a thousand years; he is identified as the devil and Satan.
If we think about this, this eternal fire is not a physical fire. Remember, this was created before the physical material earth as we know it came to be with the fire as we know it. This was created for the angels who are immaterial creatures. They’re not physical.
So this fire is analogous to what we think of fire. It is a fire that would produce pain, but a fire that would not consume the immaterial bodies of the angels. It is something that goes on forever and ever.
So the implication of these statements is that at some time in eternity past, Satan and his fallen angels—the demons—rebelled against God. God judged them, they were sentenced to the Lake of Fire, and that punishment was postponed. During the interim period, God is demonstrating that He truly is righteous, just, and love.
In light of the unique penalty that was given to these immaterial creatures, we can conclude that if human beings are sent there, in the process they must be given a similar kind of immaterial body that will not be consumed, and yet will still experience all of the horrors, all the pain, all of the torment; and it is unending.
The idea that it is unending is not just a New Testament teaching. It is also found in the Old Testament; for example, Isaiah 66:24 says, “And they shall go forth”—talking about those who have survived going into the Millennial Kingdom. They will be able to witness those who have been sent to this Lake of Fire—“they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall see an abhorrence to all flesh.”
What does it mean that their worm does not die? The Hebrew word for worm is tola’at, which is the root tola’ (with a final guttural there). It refers to a worm. If you crush the worms, this kind of worm would produce a purple dye. So it’s also translated scarlet or crimson. But all three forms of the word mean worm, maggot, or larva.
What this is saying—isn’t this a lovely image? It says the maggot won’t die. Now a maggot will die, and the maggots go away after they consume the flesh in the breakdown of the body after death. But if the body is never consumed, then the maggot never dies. It’s a very graphic way of expressing the eternality of the punishment. The worm, the maggot, does not die and the fire is not quenched.
We looked at the issues in Point 1.
In Point 2, we’ve answered the question: when, why, and for whom the Lake of Fire was created.
Points 3 and 4 we will weave together: talking about how the punishment of the unsaved is taught in the Old Testament and then the New [Testament]. In doing so we’ll look at these key terms: Everlasting, Sheol, Hades, Torments, Gehenna, and the Lake of Fire.
In the Old Testament we have a verse: I’ve quoted it here in both the New King James version and the New American Standard Bible, 1995.
Deuteronomy 32:22 which reads, “For a fire is kindled”—God is speaking here—“in My anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell”—that’s the New King James (also, King James)—“it shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.”
I want you to note that fire is an integral part of this concept related to Sheol: fire and burning mentioned several times; kindled.
In the same verse in the New American Standard you have a more accurate translation. You have the word “Sheol” put there instead of lowest hell. This is not talking about the Lake of Fire. This is talking about a different place identified as Sheol.
Part of the problem that we have in English translations and the English language is this word “hell.” Hell is really an ambiguous term. It is technically not a biblical word at all. It has its origins from Norse or Germanic words that indicated the place, the underworld, the place where the dead went.
It is used 54 times in the King James Version and 32 times in the New King James Version. It’s been a very popular term to use down through history.
I looked at the etymology today and learned that the phrase “going to hell in a hand basket” is actually a very biblical concept. Going to hell in a hand basket actually followed a phrase, it first was documented about mid-1850s, followed a phrase that never really gained popularity in the 1830s called, “going to Heaven in a hand basket.”
Now what does it mean to go somewhere in a hand basket? It means that you don’t have to put forth any effort, someone is carrying you there. It is to emphasize the ease with which you will get there.
Going to Heaven in a hand basket is a gracious idea. We do nothing to get there. God carries us there on the basis of His love, our trust in Christ as Savior.
Most people are going to go to hell in a hand basket. They don’t have to put forth any effort either, because they are born spiritually dead and they’re already headed there. So I just thought that was a little extra insight.
Chambers Dictionary of Etymology endorses this idea. “Hell” was a pagan concept that was transferred and absorbed into Christianity. It gets confusing because the King James Version used it 54 times. The New King James got rid of 22 of those and only used it 32 times.
It’s used consistently in the Old Testament to translate sheol. That’s something you know if you read the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, it translates both the Greek word, HADES, as well as GEHENNA in the King James Version. In the New King James Version it only translates GEHENNA, and also in both versions it translates TARTARUS in 2 Peter 2:4.
TARTARUS is not the same as GEHENNA, and neither are the same as HADES. So it gets really confusing when that word “hell” is used to translate all three different ideas, so people naturally get confused theology.
When you look at the Old Testament, the word “sheol” has three basic meanings. One is the grave. The other is a figure related to the grave. What are you if you’re in the grave? You’re dead. So HADES also can be a figure for being dead, and it also refers to the abode of the righteous and the future abode of the wicked.
In Genesis 42:38 Jacob says, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.” That’s sheol; that’s what it refers to. In many passages it’s just talking about the grave.
In other passages, it is talking about something more than the grave. In a few places it identifies death, Isaiah 38:18 “For Sheol cannot thank You, death cannot praise You.” See the parallelism there between sheol and death is just another way of speaking of death.
Sheol talks about the abode for the Old Testament believer after death in Genesis 37:35, “Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him.”
This is talking about Jacob; he says I will go down to Sheol. It’s a place for the destiny of the believer; that’s a clear reference.
In some other places where it’s the future abode of the believer—that is, the one who is justified or the righteous—would be: Psalm 88:3 and Psalm 89:48.
Isaiah 38:10 says, “In the middle of my life, I am to enter the gates of Sheol. I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.” That’s a believer talking there.
It is also identified as the future abode for the Old Testament unbeliever.
In Psalm 9:17, “The wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God.” That is, “all the Gentiles” would be a better translation.
Psalm 31:17, “Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You; Let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol.”
So you have this idea —it’s not well developed—but that both the righteous and the wicked go to Sheol. There seems to be two different compartments in Sheol.
Then you also have the idea expressed in the Old Testament that that penalty is forever, and we have to ask the question, how long is forever in the Old Testament?
In some passages, it refers to simply a very, very long time. It can simply refer to something that’s just a long time ago, maybe within somebody’s lifetime or their grandfather’s lifetime.
It’s translated that way in Isaiah 58:12, “Those from among you shall build the old”—this is the Hebrew word ‘owlam—“shall build the ‘owlam waste places.” That is, the waste places that have been from the ages, from a long time.
But there are clearly many, many other passages where it refers to eternity. For example, in Micah 5:2, predicting the Messiah coming, that He is “The one … whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” There it indicates eternity.
Also in passages like Daniel 12:2 it talks about judgment that will come, and that “some will be raised to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” It’s the same word in both places: it’s the word ‘owlam, and it clearly indicates eternity. Whatever the length of everlasting life is, it must be the same as the length of everlasting contempt. This is the parallel that we find there.
There’s another word that we have in the Bible, the word “all” that doesn’t always mean everyone without exception. You have places in the New Testament where it says, “All who lived in Judea went out to hear John the Baptist.” Does that mean every single person who lived in Judea went to hear John the Baptist? Or just that most of them did or a lot of them did? Often the word “all” doesn’t mean all; it just means a big number.
The same is true for ‘owlam in the Old Testament. Forever many times just means till the end of the age. Many, many other times it refers to eternity, but that’s because the Hebrew is not always as technical as the Greek. The Greek is a little different.
Slides 28, 29
The other word that is used in the Old Testament is the introduction of the concept of the Valley of the Hinnom or Gehinnom, which becomes in Greek GEHENNA. We’ve studied this in the past.
This was where Judah sinned by committing infant sacrifice—human sacrifice. They burned their sons and daughters in the fires of Molech. They built these metal or stone idols that had a furnace under the arms, and they would literally lay their infants in the fires in the arms of Molech and burn them alive.
This was an abomination to God, and they were judged for it. In 586 BC when the Babylonians invaded, they slaughtered so many Jews that they buried them in the Valley of Gehenna. So that this became a picture, a symbol, in the Old Testament for divine judgment in time—not eternal judgment.
Many, many people—most of the people you read—will say the fires of Gehenna refer to the eternal fires of the Lake of Fire. But if you study it historically, the judgment of Gehenna was punishing Israel in time, not an eternal punishment. And it makes much more sense in the New Testament if when we read Gehenna, we interpret those passages to refer to God’s divine discipline on people in time, not in eternity.
That was our conclusion. You can look at various lessons where I taught this earlier in Matthew Lessons #29 and #147 go into this in much more detail. The conclusion was that the Valley Hinnom was not used in the Old Testament as a reference to eternal condemnation in the Lake of Fire, but as a place of divine discipline on the nation of Israel for their spiritual failure. Gehenna, thus, became a symbol for spiritual failure, condemnation, and shame, and divine discipline in time, not in eternity.
Where Matthew says if you call your brother a fool you’re going to be guilty of hell, makes people think well, if I hate my brother I can lose my salvation, which is how Arminians take that. If it is an idiom meaning you’re guilty of divine discipline in time, that makes a lot more sense. Same with all the other uses.
In Luke 16—the passage that John read before class this morning, we learn in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was the Greek form of his Hebrew name, Eliezer. Lazarus is the Greek form of that word.
This is Lazarus who’s a homeless man begging outside this rich man’s house. Lazarus dies and he goes to place identified in the story as Abraham’s Bosom. It is where Old Testament believers went when they died. It was a compartment in Sheol or Hades.
Then the rich man died and he goes to Torments. This is the place of unbelievers from all dispensations. It is a place of fiery torment. Remember what the rich man said, “I am burning up from the fire. Please touch your finger in the water and touch it to my tongue because I’m in such great pain.” So it also has that sense of constant burning, but his body is not consumed.
After Christ died on the Cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven, Paradise was taken with Him after the resurrection to Heaven. It is stated in 2 Corinthians 12:1–4, where paradise is identified as being in Heaven and no longer in Sheol.
There’s another place mentioned: in 2 Peter 2:4, TARTARUS—that’s a compartment of Hades. That is where specific groups of fallen angels have been imprisoned until their judgment. This is what we see in that verse, “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned”—that refers to the Genesis 6 “sons of God”—“but cast them down to hell …”
Literally, the Greek word there is TARTAROO, which indicates “cast to TARTARUS”—“and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.” They are in a holding cell. That’s what we have here with Torments. It’s a holding cell. It’s not the Lake of Fire. It’s a holding cell. So the same thing goes on with these angels.
They are mentioned again in Jude 6, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”
One person said, “How can it be dark if there’s fire there?” That’s a smart theologian. That’s what I argued earlier, it’s a different kind of fire. It is not the kind of fire that we experience in this life, and we’re not going to have bodies like we have in this life.
There’s fire that you don’t see. If you have a gas stove like I do, and you turn it on, it’s a blue flame. If you get it really hot, it will go invisible, and you won’t see the fire. So fire does not necessarily produce light. It does if it burns yellow or orange. That’s because it’s got a lot more—or is it a lot less—oxygen? I don’t remember.
Matthew 25:41, Jesus says, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
This is the word AIONIOS. It is not the word AION—a word that means eternal, but it also can mean age, and it can indicate a long time, but not eternal. But this word AIONIOS always, always without end means infinite and definite, no ending, eternal, for ever and ever. That is applied to the fire: it is everlasting.
In Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” It’s the same word. You can’t split the meaning. AIONIOS always means eternal, forever and ever.
It’s the same word that is used again and again to describe our salvation.
“Whoever believes in Jesus should not perish, but have AIONIOS life, everlasting life.” John 3:15.
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.”
Again and again and again, that which is promised to the believer is everlasting life. The same word is used to describe the punishment of the unbeliever as everlasting. If we look forward to life unending, then the punishment must also be life unending.
The last question is, why is this a problem for the love of God and the grace and the goodness of God?
Michael Greene, who is a British theologian, has written in his book on evangelism, “What sort of God would He be who could rejoice eternally in heaven with the saved while downstairs the cries of the lost make an agonizing cacophony?”
What he’s doing is he’s reading his own ideas of love and joy and righteousness and justice into his understanding of God. He is not starting with the Scripture and working in to his theology, he is starting with his theology and reading it back into Scripture.
Slides 40, 41
We see that all of God’s characteristics work together. For His love to be real love, it has to be consistent with righteousness and justice. For His righteousness to be true, it has to be consistent with His love.
This is serious. We need to take it seriously. We live in an age when very few people preach the eternal condemnation in the Lake of Fire. But it is dire; it is real, and it affects many people whom we love.
John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Seminary, now with the Lord, wrote,
“Eternal punishment is an unrelenting doctrine that faces every human being as the alternative to grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. As such, it is a spur (that means it’s a motivation) to preaching the gospel, to witnessing for Christ, to praying for the unsaved, and to showing compassion on those who need to be snatched as brands from the burning.”
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, thank You for the opportunity to be reminded of the seriousness of our mission to take the truth to those who do not know it, to proclaim the truth of the gospel, to offer people the only hope for life eternal that they have, and that is Jesus Christ.
“That the alternative is unthinkable. It is horrible, but it reflects the horribleness of sin. Father, we know that it is just because it is compatible with Your righteousness, and we know that it is loving because it is compatible with Your integrity and Your love.
“But it is hard for us to understand and hard for our emotions to accept in relation to those whom we love. But Father, we pray that this might challenge us to a greater understanding of our need to go to the lost, to explain the gospel, and to not be silent witnesses, but vocal testimonies to who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us.
“We pray that anyone listening today who has never trusted Christ, may realize that there are consequences. It’s not a game. It’s not something that is frivolous and silly, thinking that they’ll just be an eternal party with a lot of people who were just as reprobate as they.
“It is an eternity, probably an isolation in the darkness experiencing fiery pain that will never end because we have treated so lightly Your grace and Your love. And by rejecting Christ, we have committed the ultimate blasphemy.
“Father, we pray that You would challenge each of us with the truths of this message. In Christ’s name, amen.”