Why MUST hell be eternal? (Part 1)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Hebrews 5:11-6:3
  • Daniel 12:1-2
  • Isaiah 66:24
  • Isaiah 38:18
  • Proverbs 27:20
  • Psalms 9:5-7
  • Psalms 81:14-15
  • Psalm 92:5-8
  • Revelation 19:20
  • Revelation 20:10-15
  • Revelation 21:6-8
  • Isaiah 66:22-24
  • Revelation 14:9-11

Is this topic complicated?

When talking about whether or not hell is eternal, many people see this as a topic that has no clear answer. Over the years many different scholars have written different books to try and explain one side of this issue or another. I have often talked to people who have been in ministry for years who after reading several books, are afraid to even come close to touching this topic in any bible study. The question is, does it really take scholarly research and hours of studying commentaries to understand this topic?

The short answer is no, if you just plainly read the bible you will find it’s straight forward. In fact, this topic is actually a foundational topic in Christianity. A while ago I talked about several lists of things that the bible considers foundational. When you get to Hebrews chapter 6 you find it listed as foundational. But, the conversation on this foundational topic does not start in chapter 6. Instead, the tone of the list changes greatly when you go back to chapter 5 and read into chapter 6. 

5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 ESV

Once you step back and look at the context of this list, it makes a lot of the arguments and mountains of books on this topic seem rather silly. For many reading outside of the academic world, you might think why would people fuss around with something that is “elementary.” It turns out, it is not because the bible says that has a problem, it is what that means if it is true. 

There are 3 major views on this topic. Of course, like many things, there are many variations of these views and different degrees to which people believe them. 

  • Universality: everyone will eventually go to heaven
  • Annihilationism: After the great judgment, everyone who is in or goes to hell, will stop existing in the new creation
  •  Traditional view: This is can be considered what most people consider the normal idea of what hell is like.

Overall there are two major issues that are addressed by each of these views:

  1. Will hell last forever? 
  2. will everyone go to heaven?

Will you feel hell?

I previously talked about this topic. But in the context of these different views, there is a question of how long will you feel the “punishment” of hell. In the traditional view, hell is seen as a place of torment and torture forever. Once one comes across this idea, naturally the question is to then ask the ethics of this view, and because of that, some challenge the traditional view in different ways. 

The reason I bring this up is that, if you are in hell, will you feel it the whole time you are there? This might seem rather simple, but in the case of Annihilationism, you often have some type of answer to this long the lines of, you will not feel anything because you will cease to exist. From here there is the question of, will you feel anything the whole duration of being in hell? that is as long as hell exists do you feel something? 

24 And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

Isaiah 66:24 ESV

18 For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.

Isaiah 38:18 ESV

1 At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12:1-2 ESV

Of course, there are many other bible verses that talk about the torment of hell lasting forever. When you bring even more bible verse in it becomes clear that as long as hell exists, those in hell will feel something. But in these verses, there is something else. Notice that it talk about them feeling a lack of hope, feeling shame, contempt, and so on. People in hell do feel something; it is not just physical. In order to feel something, you have to exist and this does invoke some level of consciousness. The only question left is, how long does this last?

Will hell exist in the new creation?

Often we have a different perception of things simply because we have been trained to think a specific way for many years. Asking a question like this would be an easy way to get someone kick out of a church if you don’t approach it with a correct frame of reference. If hell lasts forever, then where is it if God recreates heaven and the earth? Couldn’t begin to answer that question, but we do find some strange details:

5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever. 6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.

Psalm 9:5-6 ESV

14 I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. 15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever.

Psalm 81:14-15 ESV

5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! 6 The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: 7 that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; 8 but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

Psalm 92:5-8 ESV

When looking at these passges, the word used for forever in each of these passages is עוֹלָם H5769 – `owlam: always, forever, continually. The the question then rises, if hell is tempruary, isn’t that a contradiction? How can something be continuase and last forever and then when the new creation starts it no long exist. Some might try to conjure arguments that time has a relationship with space and use some modern physics to say that, that time ends and there is a new time now. If that sounds complicated don’t worry we have more Bible verses to help us. 

One thing we can do is track different places we see hell when it comes close to the new creation. Once you do that this whole question instantly goes away. Of course, there is the question of what is hell really which I talk about before. We can make the assumption that the lake of fire is the final judgment and the “final hell.”

20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

Revelation 19:20 ESV

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

Revelation 20:10-11 ESV

From here we find this judgment of hell last until the great white throne judgment. Now a lot of people would just assume that is the end. But if you stop to think about it for a moment, there is a problem. If this is the end, how can then be tormented night and day forever if there is no more time? This is literally the last moment of this earth. After this is a “new time” and a new creation. If you keep reading you find something even more disturbing:

6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

Here we find the new heavens and the new earth are created and Jesus (who is the alpha and omega) even says it is over. Yet right after that, after the new creation, we find that the second death is still around. Of course, this is not the only place we find this. In the old testament we also find a graphic image as to why it is still around:

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD. 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Isaiah 66:22-24 ESV

Here we find that in the new heaven and new earth, again there is still this image of hell persisting and it serves as a reminder. 

Side note

Just to clarify something, the second death is supposed to be away from the presence of God. I talked about before how some bible verse talks about God’s presence being in “hell.” But when we get to the second death, there is a final removal of hell, all together. Context can be important as we find some verse that talks about those in hell being punished in the presence of God. the important thing to remember is when this happens. For instance, in revelation, this is happening before the final judgment and the new creation.

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 14:9-11 ESV

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 ESV

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