“Repent and turn to God, or you will burn forever in hell.” This line of thinking has been used for a very long time by Christian preachers. The idea is that because all sin equally separates people from God, and because all people have an immortal, indestructible soul that will live on and on forever, those who do not repent of their sins and receive forgiveness are doomed to burn in a place called Hell forever after their final judgment. However, this is a mistaken, unbiblical idea that does not match up to a close examination of the Biblical text. Sinners will not burn forever in a place called hell, but rather will be destroyed at the final judgment and receive the biblical penalty for sin, which is death. God will not torture anyone forever.
Firstly, we have already explored how the human spirit is not inherently immortal in other videos. Genesis 2:7 says: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Hebrew word is “Nephesh (נֶ֫פֶשׁ),” which means soul, and refers to the whole person, including the breath of life from God and the physical body. This is very different from modern western concepts of mind-body duality, but it must be understood in order to grasp what the Bible is actually saying. Throughout the Bible, it is consistently clear that the main hope of believers is not in a non-physical life in heaven after death, but rather in the resurrection of the physical body, and eventually life on the New Earth.
There are a number of scriptural passages that strongly reinforce this idea. When studying this topic in the Bible - the overarching message is quite clear.
The only being who is inherently immortal is God (1 Timothy 6:13-16), so human souls are not naturally immortal or indestructible. In fact, Jesus warned: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28, NASB)
Secondly, the word “hell” in English does not exactly match any of the many words used in Hebrew and Greek to describe different concepts of death. In Hebrew, the word Sheol (שְׁאוֹל) refers to the grave, or the realm of the dead - which is a shadowy and unconscious reality of near non-existence. It is not the picture of flames and fire that many people have of hell.
In the Greek New Testament, the words translated as “hell” are Gehenna (Γέεννα) - a burning garbage dump outside of Jerusalem used to signify final judgment, Hades (ᾍδης) - the realm of the dead in Greek mythology and also a Greek god, and Tartarus (Τάρταρος), meaning a place of darkness. None of these fully match the theology of hell that Christians have, but instead are culturally specific concepts with a limited meaning.
Revelation 20 speaks about something called the Lake of Fire, which is the main confusing verse. Reading it in context is important. This chapter clearly says that all the dead who sided with the devil will be physically resurrected on earth, and that fire will rain down on them, creating a lake of fire (20:5-9). The devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be thrown into this lake of fire, which is on earth. The Lake of Fire is not hell itself, because Revelation 20:14 says that hell (or hades, ᾍδης) and death will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is called the second death. Any concept of hell, hades, sheol, death, or the grave, will itself be ended in the second death in the Lake of Fire on earth in the final judgment. Immediately after this, Revelation 21 says that God will make a new earthly paradise with no more death, sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21:1-4). There will be no place in the universe where people are being tormented. There will be peace in all of Creation, and there will not be any hell or hades, since both are destroyed in the Lake of Fire.
Christians have misunderstood the final judgment and preached a mistaken version of it for many years. Still, many people who have studied this topic carefully have come to understand the correct Biblical teaching: that the final judgment for evil people is death. It is a destruction that remains and lasts forever, an eternal punishment rather than an eternal punishing. The context of Revelation makes it clear: while the smoke of that torment may rise forever and ever (Revelation 14:11), the fire itself cannot last forever in a world that God makes into a new paradise.
The gift of God is eternal life. The wages of sin has always been death, not eternal life in a fire. The Biblical teaching about the final judgment is that God will not torture people forever, but will have a universe with no sin, no suffering, and no evil remaining anywhere in it. That is good news.
- There is no mistaking that Revelation uses phrases like "forever and ever" in describing some of the final judgment events that will take place. Reading through them carefully will help in discerning what they really mean:
- Read Revelation 14:9-13. What lasts "forever and ever?" Also, where is this event said to take place?
- Compare Revelation 14 with Revelation 20:7-15. Where does these events take place? What happens to Hell/Hades, and where does it end up? Are Hell and the Lake of Fire identical or different? How does the use of "forever and ever" in this passage compare with that in Revelation 14?
- Read Revelation 20:1-6 and answer the following questions:
- When are the unrighteous and those who worshipped the beast resurrected from the dead? (Hint: see Rev 20:5-6).
- According to 20:4, when do the righteous and the martyrs get to enjoy reigning with Christ - right after their deaths, or at the second coming when they are resurrected?
- If the wicked are to be resurreced at the end of the 1000 years, to be judged and then thrown into the lake of fire, where are they in the meantime? Would it make sense for them to be burning in hell, only to be physically resurrected and then thrown into a lake of fire?
- Watch this video from The Bible Project. What does it tell you about the concept of Soul?