Will It Last Forever?




Dr. John Hoole – August 24, 2014




It is impossible to read the New Testament in general, and the words of Jesus in particular, without facing the fact that hell is not a figment of religious imagination.  It is a terrifying reality.  There are just too many specific references to hell as an actual place, with detailed descriptions of the suffering that will occur there.  Hell will not be a symbolic separation from God.  There will be actual agony and torment for all of its inhabitants.


The doctrine of hell is undoubtedly the most disturbing subject in the Bible.  And the most disturbing truth about hell is its duration.  The idea of people being punished for their sins and misdeeds doesn’t bother most people.  But the notion that hell will last forever is totally repugnant.  For this reason, many have tried to soften this truth by adopting a kinder, gentler view of hell.


Some put reason before revelation and dismiss the whole idea of hell because they reject the authority of the Bible.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a good example:  “Hell, I may say….has long dropped out of the thoughts of every reasonable man.”  Rather than try to demolish that theory, I will simply present the biblical position.


Unfortunately, there are those who claim to take the Bible as their starting point, but mix its teachings with their own religious or philosophical ideas.  This is the typical approach of various cults or the occult.


I mentioned the theologian Nels Ferre in an earlier lesson.  Here is another quote of his.  He claims that the doctrine of eternal punishment is “subjustice and sublove,” and that by believing it, “God’s name is libeled beyond belief.”


Another theologian, David Edwards, comes at it from another angle.


         “I would rather be an atheist than believe in a god who accepts it as inevitable that hell (however conceived) is the inescapable destiny of many, or of any of his children, even when they are prepared to accept ‘all the blame’.”


I can certainly understand people not wanting to believe in the severity of hell, but any approach to Scripture which picks and chooses which parts to believe is not only unbiblical and dishonest; it also leave us without any assurance that any other part of Scripture is God’s word.


If we reject the Bible’s teaching about hell, how can we trust what it says about the love of God, or the offer of forgiveness, or the hope of heaven?


One erroneous view about hell, taught by some, is what is called “Annihilationism.”  The view teaches that all souls are immortal, but the wicked lose their immortality on the day of final judgment.  God just extinguishes them.


Some Annihilationists make room for divine wrath, but don’t allow it to extend indefinitely.  In other words, they won’t allow God the full force of His judgment, which is eternal conscious torment.  For them, the lake of fire is used to completely consume and finally destroy the sinner.  They deny an endless hell.


Annihilationists say “eternal” refers to the effect of divine judgment.  That is to say, God’s judgment results in death – as in extinction, annihilation, which is a state of non-being that lasts eternally.


While this view may be more appealing to the human mind, the Bible clearly teaches that punishment in hell will last forever.  Augustine put it simply more than 1,500 years ago:  “To say that life eternal shall be endless, [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity.”


On numerous occasions Jesus underlined the fact that hell is eternal.  For example, in Matthew 18:8, He describes an “everlasting fire”.


There are four English words that are important here.


                   •  everlasting

                   •  eternal

                   •  forever

                   •  forevermore


All four of these words are used to describe hell.  The first two word – everlasting and eternal – are adjectives.  The other two words – forever and forevermore – are adverbs.


The importance of taking note of these words is that all four come from the same Greek root word.  That Greek word is AION (Used in the N.T. 102 times).  The adjectival form is aionios (Used in the N.T. 69 times)Jesus repeatedly stressed the idea that the souls of the wicked will have to endure “everlasting punishment.”


In probably the best known passage on hell, Jesus twice affirms the duration as being eternal.  First, in Matthew 25:41, Jesus expels evildoers to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”


Second, five verses later, Jesus places the fate of the wicked and the righteous side by side.


Matthew 25:46 NKJV


46     And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


Notice the words “everlasting punishment” and “eternal life.”  Now let’s read this passage in another translation.


In Matthew 25:46, (NASU) Jesus said,


         46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


In this translation, the word “eternal” was used twice in this verse?  That is quite appropriate because precisely the same Greek word – Aionios – is used in both places.  That means that the word that is applied to the punishment of the unbelievers is the same word that is applied to the life possessed by believers.  If the words “eternal” or “everlasting” do not mean everlasting when applied to the wicked in hell, then what security do we believers have that it means everlasting when speaking of our time in heaven?


The same word is used to describe God Himself.


1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV) is a verse many of you know because we used to sing it as a chorus.


17     Now to the King eternal [aion], immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.


If there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven, and there is no everlasting God.  It is clear that God is eternal, and therefore, that heaven is eternal and so is hell.  The same word “aionios” is applied to a number of other things.


         •  2 Cor. 4:17 speaks of the eternal glory to which believers look forward.


         •  2 Cor. 5:1 tells us about those eternal homes in which Christians will dwell.


         •  Hebrews 13:8 exalts Christ by saying He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Aion).


What uses of aionios and aion have we learned in our last 2 or 3 lessons:


•  Eternal fire

•  Eternal torment

•  Eternal anguish

•  Eternal shame

•  Eternal darkness

•  Eternal mansions

•  Eternal glory

•  Eternal destruction

•  Eternal God

•  No rest forever


One argument is sometimes put forth as a question:  “Why would God punish a person forever for 5 years, or 70, of disobedience?  They think the punishment is disproportional to the misdeed.  The question is based on the incorrect premise.  Eternity is not based on time – but a relationship.  If a person were to spend 70 years in hell, at the end he is still a sinner.  He still has no relationship with his Creator.


Consider our justice system, flawed as it may be.  How does one determine the enormity of an act?  Is it based on the time it takes to perform the crime and by the act itself?  For example, it may take only a few moment to murder one or many people.  Should the murderer have his punishment based on the time it took.  No!  If he were to escape the death penalty, he could be in prison the rest of his life.  The heinousness of evil is seen in the act itself, rather than by the time involved in its perpetration.


Not only is the offense measured by the nature of the act itself, but it is also measured in relation to the person offended.  For example, if one man punches another man on a street corner, he may suffer some consequences – charges of disturbing the peace, assault or battery.  But to punch the President of the United States ups the ante.  When the Secret Service finishes with him, he will be doing some serious prison time.


It is like that with offenses committed against a holy God.  And since an offense against a finite lawgiver is finite, the punishment to satisfy the offense is also finite.  That is the principle behind Exodus 21, an eye for an eye (vss 3-25).


But an offense against the infinite, eternal Lawgiver is not finite. The revolt against God is more serious than we might think it is.  An insurrection against an infinitely worthy Creator is an infinitely heinous offense. It is infinite and eternal.  It is up to the Judge to determine the severity of the infraction itself.


Also important to keep in mind is that the sinner does not become morally neutral upon his sentence to hell.  The damned will not display gospel repentance or any longing for the presence of Christ.  They do not in hell love the Lord their Creator with heart, mind, soul, and strength.  In hell, the sinner is handed over to the full display of their unrighteous nature.  The condemnation continue because the sin continues in hell.  There is no Holy Spirit conviction  Consider what is written in Romans, chapter 1.


Romans 1:22-26 NKJV


22     Professing to be wise, they became fools,

23     and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

24     Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,

25     who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26     For this reason God gave them up to vile passions.


In hell there are none of the good things from God the sinner experienced while alive on earth.  In Luke 16, where Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man, being in torment, never repented.  Nor did he ask to leave the place where he was.


If aionios or aion in the verses we read are not speaking of that which never ends, then what encouragement do we gain from knowing these verses.  No, the only understanding of the word “aionios” that gives these and other verses real meaning is to accept it to mean “never ending.”


Regardless of what we might think of the theological errors in Dante’s Inferno, the most famous words Dante ever wrote are very accurate theologically.  In his writing, the words he placed over the gate of hell said:  “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”


Jesus said to those who are cast into hell: “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  (Mark 9:44)


In Revelation 14:11, Jesus says of the ungodly : And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.  There is no rest day or night.  If there is no rest day or night, it implies their ongoing existence.


One more passage should add to the weight of evidence in support of punishment that does not end is found in Revelation 20.


Revelation 20:10 NAS


10     And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.




                   The Antichrist and the False Prophet




Revelation 19:20  (NKJV)


20     Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.


                   These two evil people were sent to the Lake of Fire at the 2nd coming of Christ.




         More than 1000 years.  And yet, the Antichrist and False Prophet are still alive after 1,000 years.


I copied the words from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon many years ago. They powerfully express the terror and heart-wrenching despair of the eternalness of hell.


         “In hell there is no hope.  They have not even the hope of dying; the hope of being annihilated.  They are forever, forever, forever lost.  On every chain in hell is written ‘forever.’  Up above their heads they read ‘forever.’  Their eyes are galled and their hearts pained with the thought that it is ‘forever.’  Oh, if I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it.  But it cannot be.  It is forever.  They are cast into outer darkness.”


J. I. Packer


         “The insistence [of Scripture] that the fire, punishment and destruction are eternal….would be pointless and inappropriate if all that is envisaged is momentary extinction;……Either these words indicate the endlessness of torment, or they are superfluous and misleading.”


J. C. Ryle


         “It is clearly revealed in Scripture:  the eternity of God, and heaven and hell, all stand on the same foundation.  As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, an hell and endless night without day.”


A. H. Strong


         “If, when used to describe the future punishment of the wicked, they do not declare the endlessness of that punishment, there are no words in the Greek language which could express that meaning.”


Alec Motyer


         “The notion of eternity, in so far as it is revealed to us by the New Testament use of the words excluded the idea of termination.”


J. I. Packer (again)


         “An endless hell can no more be removed from the New Testament than an endless heaven can be.”


I believe it is obvious, from the Scriptures, that an unbeliever’s sentence to hell is not only irreversible, it is also one that lasts forever.  It is a death sentence that does not end with death.  Jesus, Paul, Jude and John confess in unison that the duration of hell is endless.




Several years ago a book was published entitled “Looking Out for Number One.”  On the dedication page, the author (Robert J. Ringer) wrote: “Dedicated to the hope that somewhere in our universe there exists a civilization where the inhabitants possess sole dominion over their own lives.


There is such a place.  It’s called hell.  Yes, according to the Bible, hell is real.  This thought should cause us to make sure of heaven and to help others escape hell’s terrors.