Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1161 MP3 Audio File Video File

Eternal Destruction Pt 1

2 Thessalonians 1:9

Delivered 04/02/23

We are continuing our study of 2 Thessalonians this morning. After his salutation, Paul's first sentence runs from verse 3 through verse 10 in the Greek. The theme is the second coming of Yeshua. Nearly half of 2 Thessalonians deals with problems and issues regarding the second coming of Christ. The Thessalonians were enduring persecution because of their faith. They were under pressure. And they had been faithful and persevering and steadfast. The persecution was intensifying. So, in order to encourage them to continue to endure, Paul reminds them of the coming of Yeshua, their great hope.

Today we are looking at verse 9 of chapter 1. For our study this morning I want to look at our text from a theological perspective and then next week we'll look at it exegetically.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV

What doctrine do you think that churchianity draws from this verse? It's the doctrine of Hell, which to most means eternal conscience torment. What comes to your mind when you hear the word, Hell? When we hear or read the word "Hell," all kinds of ideas probably come to mind. We may think of the abode of condemned souls and the devil or of a place of eternal, fiery punishment for the wicked after death, presided over by Satan. We may think of a place of fire and brimstone where the damned undergo physical torment eternally. The dictionary says that Hell is "a place regarded in various religions as a spiritual realm of evil and suffering, often traditionally depicted as a place of perpetual fire beneath the earth where the wicked are punished after death."

The 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri [Al-a-gary] wrote The Divine Comedy in which he promoted the idea that sinners are tortured in ways that represented ultimate justice for their sins. Have you ever heard the expression, "Cold as Hell"? That sounds like an oxymoron because we think of Hell as burning fire, but Dante taught that the lowest level of Hell, which was reserved for the worst of sinners, was freezing cold. Hence "cold as Hell."

In an article entitled, "What Is Hell?" Published on Jun 20, 2014, R.C. Sproul writes, "There is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking than the idea of hell. It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself."

I would like to challenge Sproul here and say that Christ never taught on Hell because there is NO biblical concept of Hell. But Sproul says that the teaching of Hell comes from Christ Himself. Others have said that Christ taught more on Hell than any other subject. We're going to look at Christ's teaching and see if this is in fact true. But before we look at the teaching of Christ, let's start in the Tanakh and see what we the Bible actually has to say about a place called Hell.

Believer, we must test everything we believe by the text. The beliefs you hold must come from the text. And we must be open to allowing the text to shatter our false ideas.

You may be surprised to learn that the word "Hell" or the concept of Hell is not in the original language of the Bible, and if you see the word Hell in your Bible, it is a bad translation. In the KJV, "Hell" is mentioned 54 times. As I have already stated, when we read the word "Hell," all kinds of ideas come to our minds. Most people, believers and non-believers think of a place of fire and brimstone—a place where the damned undergo physical torment eternally. "Hell" is found 31 times in the KJV translation of the Tanakh where it is translated from the Hebrew word "Sheol."

The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. Psalms 9:17 KJV

Here "hell" is mistranslated from the Hebrew, "Sheol." The ESV has:

The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God. Psalms 9:17 ESV

Do you get a different picture from these two translations? The word "return" is from the Hebrew word shub which means "to turn back, return." We could translate this as "The wicked will return to the grave."

Sheol is the Hebrew word for the place of the dead. Nowhere in Scripture do we see Sheol as a fiery place of torment. You will never get the traditional view of Hell from the Tanakh. It just isn't there. Look at what the Psalmist says about the end of the wicked.

But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. Psalms 37:20 ESV

The word "perish" here is the Hebrew word "abad." Brown-Driver-Brigg's Definition is "perish, vanish, go astray, be destroyed, die, be exterminated." And the word "vanish" is from kalah which, according to Brown-Driver-Brigg's Definition, means "to accomplish, cease, consume, determine, end, fail, finish." Do you see any hint of eternal conscious torment in this verse?

I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found. Psalms 37:35-36 ESV

Notice that the wicked man "passed away" and was "no more." The words "no more" are from the Hebrew word ayin, which is from a primitive root meaning "to be nothing or not exist." The Psalmist doesn't say that they pass away and are tormented, but rather that they "are no more."

As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. Job 4:8-9 ESV

Speaking of the wicked, Job says that

he will perish forever like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, 'Where is he?' Job 20:7 ESV

The word "dung" here is from the Hebrew gelel, which means "dung, a ball of dung." He perishes forever like his dung.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. Psalms 73:27 ESV

The Tanakh says the wicked are like "grass that quickly withers; the green herb that fades; like refuse; like chaff":

Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun. Psalms 58:8 ESV

There are at least 70 metaphors or similes of what the end of the wicked will be like in the Tanakh. What do these pictures tell us? Will reality resemble the picture? If the wicked are to be eternally tortured in flames, shouldn't the pictures somehow reflect that? Shouldn't some of the pictures reflect that "the wicked will be like meat on a skewer roasting over the fire, or like those boiling in a cauldron of oil?" Do you see eternal conscious torment even hinted at in any of these pictures?

So, why did the KJV translators translate Sheol as Hell? It is because the wording of the KJV is more "interpretation" than "translation." You won't find the word "Hell" in the Tanakh of the NASB or ESV. The idea of eternal conscience torment is not found in the Tanakh. So, let me ask you what New Covenant truth is not found in the Tanakh? The only one that I know of is the mystery of Jew and Gentile's being one body in Christ. So, if the doctrine of eternal conscience torment is true, why do we never see it in the Tanakh?

It is clear that there is no hint of eternal conscience torment in the Tanakh, but the concept does show up in Second Temple Judaism or Intertestamental Literature. All references in the Apocrypha to the end of the wicked is that of perishing except for one in Judith 16:17, which talks about eternal torment. This is our first picture of eternal torment in literature associated with the Bible. The literature of the Pseudepigrapha is equally split between the teaching that the wicked perish and that they are eternally tormented. The Dead Sea Scrolls give a consistent picture of the total destruction of the wicked, they perish. No idea of eternal conscious torment is found in these documents.

The Rabbinical Literature—Babylonian Talmud, Jerusalem Talmud and Mishna—support both views (perishing and eternal torment). In other words, there was not just one Jewish view.

What, then, does the New Testament tell us about "Hell"? In the KJV New Testament, the word "Hell" is found 23 times. It is translated from the word "Hades," (10 times) which is the Greek equivalent of Sheol (the place of the dead). It is translated from the Greek word "Tartaroo" once, and 12 times from "Gehenna." Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament (11 times in the Gospels and once in the Book of James where James wrote that the tongue is set "on fire by Gehenna").

As Sproul said, "The idea of Hell… comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself." So, let's look at Christ's teaching and see if this is true.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30 ESV

This is the first use of "Hell" in the ESV translation. And it is a bad translation. What is Yeshua saying here? Is He teaching that if we don't deal with our sin, we are going to go to Hell? The word translated "Hell" in these verses is from the Greek word Gehenna. As previously noted, this word "Gehenna" is used 11 in the Gospels and always by Yeshua.

Whom is Yeshua speaking these words to? In 5:1 and 2 it tells us that He was speaking to His disciples and in 7:28 and 29 it states that "the crowd was astonished at His teaching." As Yeshua taught His disciples, the crowd listened in. But to whom was Christ speaking? He was speaking to Israelites, to Jewish people. What did they know about Gehenna? Does it matter how they understood this word? You're familiar with audience relevance, aren't you? As we read the Bible, we must keep in mind the hermeneutical principle of audience relevance, which seeks to discover what the original audience understood a passage to mean. The concern of the evangelical interpreter is to understand the grammar of a passage in light of the historical circumstances and context of the original audience.

So, what did Yeshua's audience think of when they heard the word Gehenna? The common view today is that Gehenna was the garbage dump of Jerusalem. All of the trash, refuse, and dung from the city was dumped out there. This was a place where the fires were kept burning all the time—night and day.

The problem with this view is that there is no evidence that the valley of Gehenna was, in fact, a perpetually burning garbage dump. There are no literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods to suggest that Gehenna was Jerusalem's burning garbage dumb. There is no mention of Gehenna's being a garbage dump in the writings we have from Church Fathers, Christian and Jewish writers, or even secular writers.

W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, in their excellent commentary on Matthew, note the lack of ancient evidence, but do not entirely reject the notion of a garbage dump. I think that the fact that 2 Kings 23:10 says that Josiah defiled Topheth gives us the idea that he turned it into a garbage dump. But maybe we think that because it is already planted in our heads.

If in fact Gehenna was not Jerusalem's garbage dump, where did this idea come from? It seems that the earliest mention of this theory comes from a Rabbi named David Kimhi who wrote a commentary on Psalm 27 in the 13th Century. He remarked, "Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called 'Gehenna.'"

This very popular idea seems to have originated in Jewish circles in the Middle Ages. So, it is not likely that Gehenna was a trash dump for Jerusalem. What then did Yeshua mean by the "fires of Gehenna?" Let's go back to the Tanakh and see if we can figure it out.

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. Jeremiah 7:31-32 ESV

Isaiah had already spoken of Topheth as the fiery destiny of an enemy of God.

For Topheth has long been ready, indeed, it has been prepared for the king. He has made it deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood; The breath of the LORD, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire. Isaiah 30:33 NASB

The ESV here says, "For a burning place has long been prepared." But most translations have Topheth. In the Tanakh, then, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked. It was a place of fiery judgment.

Edward Robinson, who was a preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838, wrote:

"In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practiced the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and 'burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.' It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed" (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 [1841], 404-5).

Therefore, the valley of Hinnom was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch and Baal (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual fiery judgment. Gehenna was a reference to the Valley of Hinnom and the fiery judgment of God. Gehenna was a place that had become identified in people's minds as the symbol of national judgment. Gehenna is, therefore, not a reference to eternal conscience torment but is rather a reference to national judgment, a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Gehenna has nothing to do with eternal conscience torment, but most Christians think there is a place of eternal fire and torment called "Hell" which will be the ultimate fate of the wicked. Gehenna refers to a national judgment. That is the background of Gehenna.

In Matthew 5, when Yeshua talks about "your whole body be thrown into Hell,"

He used the word, Gehenna—a word which every Jew knew referred to national judgment. Those Jews who did not trust in Christ as their Messiah were going to end up with their bodies "thrown into Gehenna" at the fiery destruction of Jerusalem.

"Hell" is not a proper translation of Gehenna but is rather a theologically loaded substitution. Gehenna was a literal judgment and the only people ever threatened with Gehenna were the Judean Jews of Yeshua's generation.

In a parallel text Yeshua says:

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. Mark 9:43 ESV

The word "unquenchable" is from the Greek word asbestos. This word is only used three time in the ESV (once here and in Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17). In Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist said that Yeshua would baptize with "unquenchable fire." Unquenchable fire is unstoppable fire! It is fiery destruction brought about by God. God promised such a national judgment on Judah.

Say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree. The blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it; it shall not be quenched." Ezekiel 20:47-48 ESV

Babylon fulfilled these words in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The fire was not quenched—the destruction was unstoppable, but Jerusalem didn't burn unendingly from 586 B.C. on.

So, when Yeshua spoke of "unquenchable fire" in our text, He used language that His Jewish listeners would associate with the national judgments God had brought on nations in the Old Covenant. In fact, unlike us, they had never heard such language used any other way!

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' Mark 9:47-48 ESV

Here Yeshua says that Gehenna is a place "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." What is this language referring to? Where would we go to find out? The Tanakh!

"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

This verse is talking about God's destruction of Jerusalem in the generation when Yeshua was crucified. When Yeshua spoke about "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched," the disciples would have been familiar with these words as referring to a national judgment.

Fire that is not quenched, therefore, is not talking about an eternal fire but rather about a fire that can't be quenched or put out. It is used of judgment on Israel in Amos 5.

but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing." Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, Amos 5:5-6 ESV

It is also used of Babylon's burning of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 21.

For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.' "And to the house of the king of Judah say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O house of David! Thus says the LORD: "'Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.'" "Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley, O rock of the plain, declares the LORD; you who say, 'Who shall come down against us, or who shall enter our habitations?' I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds, declares the LORD; I will kindle a fire in her forest, and it shall devour all that is around her." Jeremiah 21:10-14 ESV

Israel did not heed the warning, and as a result, Jerusalem and the Temple of God were burned to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar (See 2 Kings 25:8,9). Is Jerusalem burning today? Obviously not. An unquenchable fire clearly does not burn forever. So, what does the phrase mean? A fire that cannot be quenched burns until its divine purpose has been accomplished and then it goes out. Man cannot extinguish or quench the fire, but it does indeed go out when there is nothing left to burn.

We conclude, then, that Gehenna was a place that had become identified in people's minds as a symbol of national judgment. It is clearly not talking about eternal damnation.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV

Notice that Matthew did not use the words "punishment," "torment," or "eternal." He used "destroy," which means "to annihilate." Yeshua was speaking here to "Jews" that were living under the Law of Moses. Throughout His ministry, He made many references to the judgment (wrath) of God that was soon to come upon them. The unfaithful "Jews" (those who rejected Him as the Anointed of God) would be destroyed, while those of the faithful remnant would be spared.

Yeshua did not teach His disciples that they were to fear those who could kill the body and the "conscious soul forever."  Jesus clearly stated that those who can kill the body cannot kill the soul. The Greek word used here for soul is psuche, which means "life." As the disciples went out, they were not to fear death at the hands of their unbelieving brethren because they could only rob the body of life. They were to fear God, who could permanently extinguish their life force (psuche) by denying them the resurrection unto everlasting life.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15 ESV

Here the judgment of Gehenna, the national judgment of Israel, is given a time frame.

Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:36 ESV

The judgment of Gehenna was to happen to the generation to which Christ preached.

This is a good place to make a correction. In my message, Relief at the Revelation, dealing with 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 on March 12, 2023, I greatly misrepresented Hank Hanegraaff's position on "this generation." I used some quotes that I incorrectly assumed were from his book, The Apocalypse Code. The quotes were actually \from an article in the "Critical Issues Commentary," (Issue 100 - May / June 2007) entitled Cracking the "Code" of Preterism, A Review of Hank Hanegraaff's "The Apocalypse Code" and a Refutation of Preterism by Ryan Habbena. What I thought was a quote from Hanegraaff, was , in truth, a quote from Ryan Habbena. I apologize for the gross misrepresentation of what Hank teaches. Here is what Hank actually says in his book "The Apocalypse Code" about "this generation" (page 77).

Allow me to state the obvious. Our Lord is not grammatically challenged in the least! Had he wanted to draw the attention of his disciples to a generation nineteen hundred years hence, he would not have confused them with the adjective "this." As Dr. Kenneth Gentry has aptly noted, "this generation," in the context of the Olivet Discourse, is "a non apocalyptic, non poetic, unambiguous, didactic assertion." Thus, there is no mysterious esoteric meaning locked up in the grammar. When Jesus said, "When you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation' spoken of through the prophet Daniel" (Matthew 24:15), his disciples did not for a moment think he was referencing a far future generation.

As noted, "this generation" appears with surprising regularity in the Gospels, and it always applies to Jesus' contemporaries. In Matthew 11, Jesus asks, "To what can I compare this generation" (v 16). Here as in every other usage of this phrase the generation in view is the very generation that rejected the Incarnate Christ who performed miracles in their midst.

So, it turns out that I completely agree with Hanegraaff's position on "this generation." I'd like to thank Matt for being a Berean and pointing this out to me.

OK. Back to our study. What we have seen is that Yeshua threatened the Jews in Jerusalem that if they rejected Him they were headed for Gehenna. They would suffer a national judgment against Jerusalem.

None of the KJV's uses of "Hell" have anything to do with an eternal fiery place of torment. As I said earlier, the word "Hell" should not be in your Bible. The NASB has the word "Hell" 13 times and the ESV has it 14 times.  Notably, Young's Literal Translation does not have the word "Hell" in it—not once. So, what does the Bible have to say about Hell? " Nothing! The word "Hell" is not in the original translations of the Bible.

We have established that the word Hell is a very bad translation of the Greek word Gehenna, a word which in no way speaks of eternal conscience torment in the afterlife but speaks of national judgment. But what does the New Testament say about the end of the wicked? Where did the New Testament writers get their information? The teaching of the apostles was based on Moses and the Prophets, therefore, their writings reflect the truths found in the Tanakh.

"I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Matthew 3:11-12 ESV

What is John talking about here? Is this a reference to Hell? No. He is referencing the fiery destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. John is warning the religious leaders of Israel. The fact that the axe was already laid at the root of the tree (God's covenant people) indicates the nearness of the judgment.

John the Baptist comes on the scene as a Prophet of Yahweh after 400 years of silence. The Tanakh closes with the book of Malachi. The book of Malachi is one long and terrible impeachment of the nation Israel. Malachi is the Prophet of doom. Coming judgment is the burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.

"Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:5 ESV
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. Malachi 4:1 ESV

This verse sure sounds like Hell, doesn't it? No. Malachi says that the evildoer will be chaff. The reference to "burning like an oven" is speaking of judgment on Jerusalem. This verse points to an approaching crisis in the history of the nation when Yahweh would inflict judgment upon His rebellious people. "The day" was coming—the day that shall "burn like an oven." This period is more precisely defined as "the great and terrible day of the Lord" in Malachi:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. Malachi 4:5 ESV

That this "day" refers to a certain period and a specific event, is clear. Yeshua tells us that the predicted Elijah that was to come before "the great and terrible day of the Lord" was, in fact, John the Baptist:

and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Matthew 11:14 ESV

This enables us to determine the time of the event referred to as "the great and terrible day of the Lord." It must be in the time period of John the Baptist. It seems clear that this is an allusion to the judgment of the Jewish nation in AD 70 when their city and Temple were destroyed and the entire fabric of Judaism was dissolved. So, Matthew 3:11-12 is not talking about Hell.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV

The clear contrast here is "perish" and "eternal life." Those who trust in Christ don't perish. The Greek word "perish" is used literally of death. In Romans 6, Paul taught the same thing as John.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Yeshua our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV

Note that the wages for sin is death and not eternal punishing and torment in some place called "Hell." In the context of Paul's dissertation in his letter to Rome, "the death" refers to the sentence given to Adam who was guilty of "the sin." Paul's message was that a life in Adam would result in "the death" while a life of faith in Christ brings everlasting life. Again, the contrast is between death and eternal life and not between eternal torture or eternal life.

The Greek scholar and New Testament translator, R. F. Weymouth, wrote, "My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying 'destroy,' or 'destruction,' are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this."

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:46 ESV

Here we have a comparison between eternal punishment and eternal life. The word "eternal" is the same in both cases. "Eternal" is from the Greek aionios from aion, which means "existing at all times, perpetual, pertaining to an unlimited duration of time."  People argue that if the righteous get eternal life then the wicked must get eternal punishment. This is true, but what does "eternal punishment" mean? As we have seen from other Scriptures, the punishment is death. So, what the wicked get is eternal death. It is talking about the result of the action and not the action itself. The punishment is death and that is eternal. The destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire is permanent. It is a punishment that cannot be reversed. The act of punishing will come to an end, but the consequences will last for eternity.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV

Here, those perishing are the non-elect.

but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:24 ESV

So, the contrast is between those who are "perishing" and those who are "being saved."

The Bible teaches that the reward of believers is everlasting life while the punishment of the wicked is just as the Scriptures state—death, which is the opposite of life. As the wicked will have no escape from death, it is indeed an eternal punishment.

just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Jude 1:7 ESV

Notice that the punishment is "eternal fire." Is this a reference to eternal conscience torment? Who or what is it that "serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire"? Isn't this a reference to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? It is the cities that are an example of the punishment of eternal fire. Are the cities still burning? No. But the fire is said to be eternal because its destruction is eternal, permanent, never ending.

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. 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 14:10-11 ESV

At first glance, this passage may seem to confirm the traditional idea of a seething, sulfurous hellfire, mercilessly and eternally tormenting helpless immortal souls. But notice the setting for this passage. From the context we see that the events it describes occur in Jerusalem amid earth-shaking events and disasters occurring immediately before or at Christ's return and not in Hell or the afterlife at all. This warning describes the punishment that will befall all of Jerusalem's inhabitants "who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." This is another passage that is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem.

What about the Lake of fire?

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:14-15 ESV

Notice that the lake of fire is the second death. The first death is to die physically; to die a second death is to die to the life to come—to spend eternity separated from God's presence.

I believe that the "lake of fire" is a sign or a symbol of the fiery judgment that was about to take place on Jerusalem. It is a sign or symbol of Gehenna. It symbolizes the total and complete destruction of God's enemies. In the Targum Isaiah we see Gehenna and the second death connected as we see the lake of fire and second death connected in Revelation.

Targum Isaiah, Isaiah 65.5-6: Their punishment shall be in Gehenna, where the fire burns all the day. Behold, it is written before me, "I will not give them respite during life, but will render them the punishment of their transgressions and will deliver their body to the second death." I would say the lake of fire is Gehenna (i.e., national judgment).

Translating the terms "Sheol," "Hades," "Gehenna," or "Tartarus" in a manner that denotes a place of "eternal punishment" is a perversion of God's Word. The insertion of the word "Hell" into any Bible verse only serves to mislead the reader. As with all other pagan concepts, "Hell" must be pre-determined prior to coming to the Scriptures because the original language does not use the term nor does it present any evidence to support the existence of a place of eternal torment.

As always, I ask that you neither accept what I say nor reject what I say but that you be a Berean and search the Scriptures and see if these things are so. Please study this out for yourself from the Scriptures and come to an informed decision.

Continue the Series

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