The question, “What does the Old Testament say about hell?” is important. The scriptural support for literal everlasting destruction is so immense that I actually had to limit what I included in the main body of HELL KNOW. I felt I provided more than enough evidence and that, to include more, would be at the risk of boring readers.
This appendix contains additional Old Testament support for the reader who desires such.
“The Way of the Wicked Will Perish”
Let’s start with the first Psalm. The first three verses of this Psalm speak of how blessed a righteous person is and ends with the statement, “whatever he does prospers.” The final three verses contrast the ungodly:
Not so the Wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
(5) Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
(6) For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Verse 4 observes that ungodly people are like chaff that the wind ultimately blows away; the next verse states that they “will not stand in the judgment;” and verse 6 concludes that their way “will perish.”
Sounds pretty conclusive to me. No mention is made whatsoever of these people ending up existing forever in a state of conscious agonizing torture. No, they will be like chaff blown away, they will not stand on judgment day, and they will indeed perish.
There’s no reason not to assume that “the judgment” spoken of in verse 5 refers to God’s final judgment. This judgment is, after all, the one judgment that every evil person throughout history will have to face. People may “get away” with evil deeds and crimes on this earth, but they can’t elude God’s great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). The outcome of this judgment, according to this passage, is that the ungodly will perish.
“Do Homage to the Son, Lest… You Perish in the Way”
Here’s an insightful passage from the second Psalm:
Worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.
(12) Do homage to the Son, lest he become angry, and you perish in the way.
For his wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in him!
Psalm 2:11-12 (NASB)
Again we observe the godly contrasted with the ungodly. Those who reverently choose to worship and serve the LORD are said to be blessed (verse 11 and end of verse 12), while those who refuse to give homage to the Son will ultimately “perish in the way.”
There’s no reason we shouldn’t take this passage in an absolute sense — those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord will ultimately perish.
Eternal torturists would insist that the text only refers to this present life, and therefore it’s not applicable to the second death, but they have two problems to contend with: 1. There are multitudes of ungodly people who refuse to “do homage to the Son” and yet live to a ripe old age, just as many godly people who “do homage to the Son.” Insisting the passage only refers to this present life would make it out to be a lie. And 2. Those who insist that the text only refers to this present life are forced to translate verse 12 as such:
Do homage to the Son, lest he become angry, and you perish in the way [but then you’ll be resurrected to live forever and ever in fiery conscious agonizing torment].
This illustrates the sheer ludicrousness of this belief. Proponents of eternal torture would rarely spell it out like this, but — amazingly — this is what they really believe.
“Evil Will Slay the Wicked”
Let’s turn to another Psalm text:
Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
(22) The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.
We observe here a contrast between the righteous who take refuge in the LORD and the ungodly who forsake him and follow evil.
Verse 21 solemnly declares a biblical absolute: “Evil will slay the wicked.” The passage then goes on to say that such people will be condemned. Condemned to what? Condemned to death, of course. Isn’t that what the wages of sin is? So this passage is simply a reinforcement of the universal law: “The wages of sin is death.”
We see here that evil will slay the wicked. Evil will always ultimately bring about the death of a person if they stubbornly and unrepentantly choose to follow it. Please notice that there is no ludicrous mention of evil causing the wicked to suffer never-ending fiery conscious torment.
Opponents of everlasting destruction would content that this passage is referring to life in this present age and therefore to the first death only, not to the second death. Yet, as is the case with the text in the previous section, if we accept this interpretation then this biblical passage is a colossal lie. Think about it: people have been living quite long lives “getting away” with evil all throughout history. Death didn’t overtake them till they were well into their old age (which is the ultimate destiny of everyone — righteous or wicked).
There is no problem, however, when we regard the passage in an absolute sense. Even though many people seem to “get away” with evil and live long, prosperous lives, God will call them to account on judgment day. There’s no escape — those who choose evil will reap the wages of their ways on judgment day. Our just Creator will dispose of them in the lake of fire and eradicate them from existence and memory. “Evil will slay the wicked” is an absolute truth.
But let’s assume for a moment that the view of eternal torment is valid and that this passage is not meant in an absolute sense and only refers to this present earthly life. Here’s how we would have to read verse 21:
Evil will slay the wicked [but then they’ll be resurrected on judgment day and have to live forever in fiery conscious agony — with never a split second of relief];
Those who adhere to eternal torture would have us believe that this is what the Bible really teaches (even though they understandably try to keep quiet such sadistic details). Not only is this utterly ridiculous as plainly shown, it’s a clear case of adding to the Word of God.
“All the Wicked He Will Destroy”
Let’s observe a couple of other Psalm texts:
He will repay them [evildoers] for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the LORD our God will destroy them.
The LORD preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.
Psalm 145:20 (NKJV)
The first verse states that God will always justly repay evildoers for their sins. And how exactly will God ultimately repay stubborn, unrepentant sinners? It clearly states that he will destroy them. The second verse also emphasizes this. And, again, there’s mysteriously no mention of God sadistically preserving these people so they can live forever in roasting agony. No, God mercifully ends their suffering — and the suffering they bring upon others — by mercifully wiping them out of existence. The wages of sin is death and God will justly, yet mercifully, execute this sentence on all stubborn, unrepentant evildoers.
Speaking of preserving, notice how Psalm 145:20 contrasts the destruction of the wicked with the fact that the LORD will preserve all those who love Him. Amazingly, in his Study Bible John MacArthur comments on this passage: “The wicked await an eternity of living forever away from the presence of God in the lake of fire.” With all due respect to Mr. MacArthur (he’s got some excellent teachings), this shows the utter lunacy of those who adhere to the eternal torture doctrine: God couldn’t be plainer in this passage that He shall preserve those who love Him while He will literally destroy the wicked, but eternal torturists are so blinded by their belief in the immortality of the soul apart from Christ that they blatantly deny what Scripture plainly declares; in fact, they say it means the exact opposite of what it says — unbelievable!
Another point I’d like to emphasize about these passages is that both of them plainly state that God Himself will ultimately destroy the unrighteous. As we observed in Chapter One: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, the One [God] who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12). You see, the LORD is either going to save people who accept his loving salvation or destroy those who foolishly reject it. Jehovah (YaHWeH) is the ultimate authority and giver of life, and he alone has the right to take life away — if he must. As Hebrews 10:31 solemnly declares: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Because I adhere to the view of everlasting destruction I have no problem declaring these plain scriptural facts — God is going to destroy the wicked, that’s all there is to it; it’s both a just and merciful sentence. People who adhere to the view of eternal torture, on the other hand, have a real problem with this. Why? Because they don’t believe “destroy” literally means destroy; their theology compels them to interpret ‘destroy’ to mean “eternal (life in) separation from God in perpetual conscious misery.” In light of this they understandably have quite a hard time with Scriptures that declare that God Himself is going to destroy the ungodly, like the two passages above. As a result, we regularly hear all kinds of weak clichéd statements like “God doesn’t condemn people to hell — people choose hell.” This simply isn’t accurate. As we’ve clearly seen throughout this study, people choose sin, and because the wages of sin is death, God will condemn such people to Gehenna (“hell”) and eradicate them from existence. Gehenna is the LORD’s trash dump and incinerator, as shown in Chapter Two.
As for those who would contend that these passages are referring to the first death and not to the second death, review the previous sections of this appendix.
“He Who Pursues Evil Goes to His Death”
Turning to the book of Proverbs, let’s examine a passage we briefly looked at in Chapter One. We’ll view it in both the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, the latter being a literal word-for-word translation while the NIV is more of a thought-for-thought translation:
The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death.
Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but whoever pursues evil will die.
Proverbs 11:19 (NRSV)
The verse is pretty unmistakable: the righteous person will attain life whereas the ungodly person will ultimately die. These are the two polar opposites as illustrated in Chapter One — life for the righteous, death for the unrighteous.
The only reason I bring this passage up again is because some theologians may scoff at my application of this verse in the absolute sense; they would argue that the text only applies to the Israelites who were subject to the blessings and curses of Old Testament law. One of the curses of this law was premature death for unrepentant sinfulness (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Thus eternal torturists would contend that the text technically refers to earthly death not eternal death, and only historically to the Israelites subject to the penalties of Old Testament Law.
If this is the case then the passage has absolutely no relevance to us today. In fact, from the standpoint of our earthly life today the passage is a lie because many righteous people die prematurely while many evil people live to a ripe old age. The verse therefore has validity to us today only if we regard it in the absolute sense: the righteous will attain everlasting life, whereas the ungodly will die.
The text is actually a double reference. We’ll look at the biblical law of double reference when we examine passages from the book of Isaiah (the section after the next). How exactly is this passage a double reference? Proverbs 11:19 was applicable in an earthly sense to the Israelites subject to Old Testament law, but it has also always been applicable to all people in an absolute sense. Today, in New Testament times, we can only regard the passage in the absolute sense: those who choose to pursue evil will ultimately die — they will be eradicated from existence, justly executed — for such is the ultimate wage of sin. Whether or not they live a long life on this earth is irrelevant.
“There will be No Future for the Evil Man”
Let’s look at another important passage from Proverbs:
For there will be no future for the evil man; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.
Proverbs 24:20 (NASB)
We observe here an absolute truth: there will be no future for those who choose to follow evil. As a flame is snuffed out in a lamp, so will the very life of an evil person ultimately be put out.
“No future” means just that — no future — no future whatsoever. This would include a miserable future separate from God experiencing fiery conscious torments forever and ever.
At the risk of being redundant, let’s imagine how this passage would read if this bizarre belief were true. It would read something like this:
For there will indeed be a future for the evil man; the lamp of the wicked will not be put out as they will live forever and ever in flaming conscious misery.
Not only is this utterly absurd, it’s not even close to what the original verse plainly states. Yet those who adhere to this perverse teaching would have us believe that this is what the Bible actually teaches. Fortunately, the Bible says what it means and means what it says. Let’s put confidence in the Word of God and not the word of human religion. Amen?
“Those Who Forsake the LORD Will Perish… Like a Garden Without Water”
Let’s now turn our attention to various support passages for everlasting destruction from the book of Isaiah and a few other prophetic books.
Allow me first to point out a notable quality of these prophetic books. The Old Testament prophets often seemed to speak as if there is no such thing as time. Perhaps this is because with God there is no time in a sense: He always has been and always will be. Consider, for example, the first two chapters of Isaiah: The prophet jumps from the restoration of Jerusalem to the millennium and the new earth. From a warning to the inhabitants of Jerusalem of impending judgment to a warning of God’s day of judgment upon the entire world (see 2:12-22). What was about to happen in Jerusalem was just a foreshadowing of what will happen to the whole earth. Just as Jerusalem was restored, so the earth will be restored after God’s day of reckoning. This prophetic tendency is theologically referred to as the law of double reference.
Let’s start with this passage from the first chapter of Isaiah which shows the LORD strictly warning those who would choose to rebel against him:
“But rebels and sinners will both be broken and those who forsake the LORD will perish.
(30) You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water.
(31) The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together with no one to quench the fire.”
Notice in verse 28 that rebels, sinners and those who forsake the LORD will perish. They will not suffer never-ending conscious torture; they will perish.
Verse 30 follows up this unmistakable declaration with two easy-to-understand illustrations, stating that they will be like an oak with fading leaves or like a garden without water. Why does an oak tree no longer produce leaves? Because it’s dead. What happens to a garden that no longer gets any water? It dies.
Lastly, in verse 31 the ungodly are likened to tinder which will be set ablaze by their own fruitless, wicked works. No one will be able to quench or put out the fire — the fire will destroy them completely. In Chapter Five we discovered that “unquenchable fire” in the Bible refers to the irrevocability of God’s judgment and wrath — for when the LORD’s judgment is pronounced and the fire is set to destroy, he will allow nothing to quench it until all is consumed.
What happens to tinder that is set ablaze? Does it burn up or does it burn forever without ever quite burning up? It burns up of course.
Some may wonder if this passage is applicable to our study. Is it a reference to the second death and, if so, how do we know?
To answer, chapter one of Isaiah is a prophecy against the people of Judah and Jerusalem who have rebelled against the LORD and have refused to repent (verse 4). God mercifully offered them forgiveness if they would consent and obey, but he promised that they would fall by the sword if they didn’t mend their ways (verses 18-20). We know from history that they didn’t heed Isaiah’s warning and consequently suffered a holocaust at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.
In verse 26, God promises that, after his judgment he would restore Jerusalem and it will be known as “the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” This promise does not have its fulfillment until at least the millennial reign of Christ, which is somewhat described in Isaiah 2:1-4. More likely it is a reference to the New Jerusalem, the eternal city, which will be established on the new earth after judgment day (Isaiah 66:22 & Revelation 21:1-4), which takes place right after the millennial reign of Christ.
In either case, this proves that the remaining verses in Isaiah are definitely eschatological in nature, that is, they specifically deal with the final end of humankind and of the world. Thus verses 28-31 are indeed references to the second death — the ultimate, eternal fate of all “those who forsake the LORD.”
What will happen to them? They will perish like an unwatered garden; they will completely burn up like tinder with no one to stop it. Once again there’s no hint of eternal roasting torment in the passage whatsoever.
“The LORD Will Destroy Both Soul and Body”
In this study I’ve repeatedly cited Matthew 10:28 because it is the clearest, most descriptive and definitive text in the Bible regarding the everlasting fate of those who reject God’s love in Christ. If a person is going to teach on the subject of eternal punishment in the lake of fire — the second death — he or she must not neglect to cite this vital passage. Let’s review it:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).”
This proclamation by Jesus that the LORD will “destroy both soul and body” is not an isolated scriptural statement. The very same phrase is used in the book of Isaiah, which is likely where Jesus borrowed it since he studied and taught from the Hebraic texts:
The Light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame; and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day.
(18) The glory of his forest and his fruitful land, the LORD will destroy both soul and body, and it will be as when an invalid wastes away.
Isaiah 10:17-18 (NRSV)
Although this section of Isaiah is addressing God’s judgment on the Assyrians, it’s likely that verses 17 and 18 are a foreshadowing of God’s future judgment on all humanity who reject him, i.e. the second death. This is apparent for a number of reasons: First of all, there’s only one other scriptural text that proclaims the LORD will “destroy both soul and body,” and that’s Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:28 above. Jesus’ whole point in this passage is that we should not fear people because, when one person kills another, the resulting death is only temporary; God has the power to resurrect anyone, and will. By contrast, when God “destroys both soul and body” in the lake of fire, it is a death from which there is utterly no hope of resurrection or recovery. The second death is an “everlasting destruction” as Paul called it — an obliteration so complete that even the memory of the ungodly rebel is wiped out. Secondly, as already pointed out, Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets are wont to jump from a present happening to a completely different (usually futuristic) event. For example, in chapter 14 Isaiah clearly jumps from God’s judgment against the king of Babylon to the judgment of Satan himself. In Isaiah 10:17-18 he is evidently jumping from God’s judgment on the Assyrians to His judgment on all humanity, meaning the second death, because, once again, this judgment entails the LORD Himself “destroying both soul and body” in the lake of fire as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 10:28. Thirdly, the phrase in verse 17, “(God) will burn and devour (‘consume’ in the KJV) his thorns and briers in one day” perfectly coincides with Hebrews 6:8 which contextually refers to people who have stubbornly and unrepentantly fallen away from the LORD:
But land that produces thorns and thistles [“briers” in the KJV] is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
We of course know what happens to thorns and briers when burned — they go up in smoke. This is a solemn warning to sinful rebels of the reality of the second death where God will destroy both soul and body in the lake of fire.
The bottom line on Isaiah 10:17-18 is that Isaiah uses the easy-to-understand example of thorns and briers being utterly consumed by fire in direct connection with the phrase “the LORD will destroy both soul and body.” The Hebrew word translated as “destroy” here is kalah (kaw-LAW) which simply means “to end — to cease, be finished, perish” (Strong 55). The obvious conclusion we must draw is that when God destroys the ungodly in the lake of fire, they will be as utterly destroyed as thorns and briers consumed by fire. Isaiah then backs this up with the statement “and it will be as when an invalid (a sick man) wastes away.” What happens to sickly people who are wasting away? They ultimately perish; they don’t perpetually suffer conscious torture.
“The Ruthless Will Vanish, the Mockers Will Disappear”
In Isaiah chapter 29 we observe a reference to the time of “the new heavens and new earth:”
In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest?
(18) In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.
(19) Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
(20) The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down.
When God creates a new earth (which will be a renovation of our present earth since the earth was established forever according to Psalm 104:5) the desert lands will bloom and blossom, deaf people will be able to hear, the blind will see and the poor will no longer be needy. This obviously can’t be referring to this present evil age, so it must be referring to either the era of the millenium or, more probably, the era of “the new heavens and new earth.”
Notice what this passage declares will become of evil, ruthless mockers at this time: they will vanish, disappear and be cut down.
Again, there is mysteriously no mention of the ungodly perpetually writhing in pain in fiery conscious roasting. Once again, all we observe is language of complete destruction and obliteration.
“The Breath of the LORD, Like a Stream of Burning Sulfur, Sets It Ablaze”
We see another double reference in this passage from Isaiah:
Topheth [i.e. Gehenna] has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of burning sulfur sets it ablaze.
“Topheth” (TOE-pheth), if you remember from Chapter Two, is another name for Gehenna, the Hinnom Valley located outside the Southwest walls of Jerusalem, which Jesus used as an example of the lake of fire (see Jeremiah 7:30-34 and 19:2-13). As you can see from this verse, Jesus got this great example for the second death right out of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Topheth literally means “a place to be spat on or abhorred.” The ravine earned its infamy because it was the site of infant sacrifices to the pagan god Molech during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, the worst of Judah’s kings (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6).
The Text states that “Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king.” Verses 31 and 32 make it clear that this prophecy of doom refers to God’s judgment on the Assyrians and their king, Sennacherib.
Seven chapters later Isaiah records the historical account of what happened to the Assyrian army when God’s judgment fell:
Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning — there were all the dead bodies!
185,000 carcasses — that’s a lot of dead bodies! Instead of letting these corpses lie in the desert as vulture bait, many believe that righteous King Hezekiah of Judah used Topheth — Gehenna — as a gigantic funeral pyre to dispose of the bodies. Isaiah 30:33 above appears to support this position. Interestingly, this passage plainly states that Topheth/Gehenna was specifically prepared for the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. Yet, King Sennacherib was not executed when the angel of the LORD put to death the 185,000 Assyrians. According to Isaiah 37:37-38 Sennacherib escaped and returned to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, where his own sons slew him.
But we do know that when Sennacherib is resurrected to face the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) that he will then be condemned to the destruction in the lake of fire, of which Topheth/Gehenna is a Biblical type.
My point is that Isaiah prophesied God’s word in 30:33 declaring that Gehenna was prepared specifically for King Sennnacherib. Yet, the Scriptures inform us that Sennacherib successfully escaped to Nineveh. If we understand Isaiah 30:33 only as a reference to the earthly Gehenna then it would appear that Isaiah’s prophecy was inaccurate — that God’s word failed to come to pass. However, when we understand Isaiah 30:33 as a double reference — a reference to both the earthly Gehenna and the lake of fire — then we see that Isaiah’s prophecy is quite accurate and will come to pass on judgment day.
Indeed, in light of all these factors, Isaiah 30:33 is primarily a reference to the lake of fire since it plainly states, once again, that Gehenna was prepared and made ready for King Sennacherib specifically; and Sennacherib we know will not experience the fires of Gehenna until his resurrection, judgment and subsequent disposal there.
With the understanding that Isaiah 30:33 is primarily a reference to the lake of fire, notice what is said about it:
the breath of the LORD, like a stream of burning sulfur sets it ablaze.
This is no doubt figurative speech, but we read here that the lake of fire is set ablaze by the very breath of the LORD, which is likened to “a stream of burning sulfur.”
“Burning sulfur” (or “brimstone” in many other English translations), as we have seen in the main body of this study, is another name for the lake of fire. Observe for yourself:
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
Proud, unrepentantly sinful people who reject reconciliation and eternal life will wind up in God’s disposal dump and eradicating incinerator, the lake of fire. It is described in this passage as “the second death” because it is where God will “destroy both soul and body.”
When God’s judgment fell on Sodom and Gomorrah — a biblical type of the second death — the Scriptures state that “the LORD rained down burning sulfur” on them (Genesis 19:24). When God’s judgment fell on Edom the Scriptures state that “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur: her land will become blazing pitch!” (Isaiah 34:9). The end result of these “burning sulfur” judgments was complete eradication from existence. Both Sodom & Gomorrah and Edom became desolate desert landscapes.
These are historical examples of what happens to foolish people when they rebel against the Almighty. Anyone with common sense will draw the conclusion that when people experience God’s wrath on judgment day and are condemned to “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” they will suffer the same fate. God’s nature never changes (see James 1:17 and Malachi 3:6).
As for the breath of the LORD figuratively described as “a stream of burning sulfur” that sets Gehenna ablaze, this is just further evidence that it is God Himself who’s going to destroy the ungodly in Gehenna.
“Like Cut Thornbushes They Will be Set Ablaze”
Chapter 33 of Isaiah details the future coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his kingdom. For instance, the king in verse 17 whom we will see “in his beauty” is an obvious reference to Jesus.
Isaiah also foretold in verse 21 that, at some point in the future, Jerusalem will be a place of “broad rivers and streams” unlike that historically or presently in Jerusalem; it is stated that no boats or ships shall sail these waters. What exactly Isaiah was talking about is debatable, but we do know that the new Jerusalem, which will come down from heaven to earth after the millennium, is described in Revelation 22:1 as having a “river of the water of Life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God.” This is likely one of the rivers Isaiah was talking about and it explains why there will be no boats on it.
In verse 24, Isaiah also prophesies that there would be no more ill people in Jerusalem (“Zion”) and that everyone living there would be forgiven of sin. Biblically, we definitely know that this will not come to pass until the new Jerusalem is established on the new earth when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
It is within this eschatological context that our next passage is contained:
“Now will I arise,” says the LORD. “Now will I be exalted; now will I be lifted up.
(11) “You conceive chaff, you give birth to straw; your breath is a fire that consumes you.
(12) “The people will be burned as if to lime; like cut thorn bushes they will be set ablaze.
(13) “You who are far away, hear what I have done; you who are near, acknowledge my power!”
(14) The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
When God arrives on the scene to deal with the ungodly, his mercy will end and his wrathful judgment will begin. In verse 11 we see that ungodly people’s attempts to protect themselves will be as useless as conceiving chaff or giving birth to straw. Their own breath — which is no doubt a reference to their fruitless works or sins (see the previously examined Isaiah 1:31) — is likened to a fire that will consume them.
Once again, we see a perfectly clear biblical statement that those who reject God will be consumed by fire, not perpetually tormented by fire. God is going to justly but mercifully put them to death; this is, after all, the biblical wage of sin.
To help us completely understand this plain statement, the very next verse gives an easy-to-understand natural example which likens the ungodly to thorn bushes: The ungodly will be consumed by fire just like thorn bushes set ablaze. I don’t like raising the same obvious question again and again, but what happens to thorn bushes when set ablaze? The fire engulfs them and they burn up — they’re consumed and wiped out of existence.
The LORD Himself is the One speaking in this passage; is he giving us misleading examples or did he mean what he said? The obvious answer is that God meant exactly what he said — the ungodly will be totally consumed by fire just like thorn bushes set ablaze.
‘What About “Who of Us Can Dwell With the Consuming Fire/Everlasting Burning?” ‘
Despite the overwhelming clarity of the above passage, there are some who contend that verse 14 is a reference to eternal torment. Let’s view the text again along with its following verses:
The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with the everlasting burning?”
(15) He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil – (16) This is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Seriously, unless a person lacks reading comprehension I can’t see how anyone could possibly interpret verse 14 as a reference to eternal roasting. Anyone who does so is desperately grasping for straws.
“Consuming fire” and “everlasting burning” in verse 14 are references to God Himself. God is regularly described in the Bible as a consuming fire (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29, etc.). Isaiah himself describes God twice in this manner previously in his book (see Isaiah 30:27,30).
Why does the Bible describe the Almighty this way? No doubt it is a reference to the fire of God’s eternal holiness — a fire that destroys whatever is not pure. For instance, the very same fire that sanctified the alter destroyed Nadab and Abihu for their irreverence (Leviticus 9:23-10:3).
With this understanding, let’s examine the passage: In verse 14 Isaiah asks who can dwell eternally with God, the consuming fire? Verses 15 and 16 answer the question, plainly stating that only the righteous — those who are in right-standing with God — can dwell with Him eternally.
The ungodly can’t dwell with God forever because the purifying fire of His eternal holiness would utterly consume them like thornbushes set ablaze.
“All Men Are Grass”
Let’s turn our attention to an enlightening passage regarding human nature:
A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I say?” “All men are grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
(7) The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.
(8) The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever.
People are likened to grass and flowers here, which ultimately wither and die; this is spoken of in direct contrast to the word of God which stands forever. This is just further evidence of how the Bible describes human nature as decidedly mortal apart from Christ, meaning subject to death and extinction.
Notice that nothing is said anywhere about some part of human beings being immortal and undying. That’s because, apart from God’s gift of eternal life, there is no “immortal soul.” The idea is nothing more that a human-invented religious myth that corresponds to the first lie recorded in the Bible (Genesis 3:4).
The ungodly are like grass that withers. The LORD God will blow on them and they will perish — forever.
“Those Who War with You Will Be As Nothing, and Non-Existent”
In the next chapter of Isaiah we find a powerful blow to the teachings of the immortal soul and eternal torture:
“Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored;
Those who contend with you will be as nothing, and will perish.
(12) You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them.
Those who war with you will be as nothing, and non-existent.”
Isaiah 41:11-12 (NASB)
God Himself is speaking in this passage and plainly declares what will happen to the enemies of his people: they “will perish,” “be as nothing” and become “non-existent.” The New King James Version says they will “be as a non-existent thing.”
Notice plainly that God does not say, “Those who war with you will physically die and then suffer eternal conscious torture forever and ever.” No, they will perish and become non-existent. There is absolutely no mention of spending eternity writhing in roasting torment.
“The Sovereign LORD Will Put You to Death”
Let’s look at another passage from Isaiah:
But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.
The passage refers to those people who have stubbornly decided that they want nothing to do with God. So the LORD says to them: “This is what you shall receive from me: You will lie down in torment.”
It’s easy to see how adherents of eternal torture might be tempted to claim this passage supports their belief. Yet all this verse states is that God’s enemies will lie down in torment; it doesn’t specify how long this torment will last or to what intensity it will be experienced. Complying with the hermeneutical law that Scripture must always interpret Scripture, let’s skip ahead to another passage from Isaiah that helps us properly understand the passage:
“But as for you who forsake the LORD…
(12) I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”
(13) Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “My servants will eat, but you will go hungry; my servants will drink, but you will go thirsty; My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame;
(14) My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts, but you will cry out from anguish of heart and wail in brokenness of spirit.
(15) You will leave your name to my chosen ones as a curse; the Sovereign LORD will put you to death.
Verses 13 & 14 state that, when God judges his enemies, they will go hungry & thirsty and be put to shame; they will cry out and wail in anguish. If this was all we were to read we might assume these people will suffer this torment forever, perpetually wailing and crying out, but these verses are sandwiched between two crystal clear texts showing that they will be put to death. Verse 12 plainly states that they are destined for the sword and will all bend down for the slaughter; and verse 15 wraps the entire passage up clearly stating that the LORD will put these ungodly fools to death.
So we conclude that there is indeed an amount of anguish to be experienced when suffering God’s judgment, but it will justly and mercifully end in death. God, once again, is the ultimate authority and giver of life, He therefore has the right to take life away, if he must. Those who forsake the LORD and follow evil are destined for destruction — literal, utter and absolute.
“The Moth Will Eat Them Up Like a Garment”
Isaiah 51:3-11 is another eschatological passage giving a good example of the everlasting destruction of the ungodly. Let’s examine the key verses within this passage:
(3) The LORD will surely comfort Zion [Jerusalem] and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
(6) “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.
(7) “Hear me, you who know what is right, my people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults.
(8) “For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations.”
(11) The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion [Jerusalem] with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
This passage speaks of a time when “the heavens will vanish like smoke” and “the earth will wear out like a garment” (verse 6). This will make way for the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1-3) when God will make Israel’s “deserts like Eden” and “her wastelands like the garden of the LORD” (verse 3). Thus “the ransomed of the LORD” will enter their eternal city, the new Jerusalem on the new earthly paradise, with singing and “everlasting joy” (verse 11). “Sorrow and sighing will flee away” as God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Within this eschatological context, verse 8 reveals the eternal fate of the ungodly:
“For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations.”
We already examined this passage in Chapter Five, but it bears repeating: Just as moths eat up or destroy garments, so the ungodly will be destroyed in the lake of fire. This is a figurative example of everlasting destruction; it is meant to be taken seriously, but not literally. After all, I seriously doubt there will be literal moths in the lake of fire devouring those thrown in. We’ve already deduced from Scripture that, literally, the ungodly will be totally consumed by raging fire — both soul and body — when thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice how the everlasting destruction of the ungodly is contrasted with the LORD’s righteousness and salvation which will last forever. Those who accept God’s gracious gift of eternal life will experience this salvation forever. Those who reject it have no “forever” to look forward to; they will be destroyed like garments devoured by moths.
Sometimes it’s just as important to point out what the Bible does not say as it is to point out what it does say. In this case notice that the verse does not say that worms will chew on the damned forever as they exist perpetually in conscious torment. I bring this up because some supporters of eternal torment ludicrously teach this.
Let’s also focus on verse 6, albeit from a different translation:
“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall be dissolved and vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old (i.e. wear out) like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner [like gnats]. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness and justice [and faithfully fulfilled promise] shall not be abolished.”
Isaiah 51:6 (Amplified)
We see here that, at the end of this present evil age, the heavens (i.e. the atmosphere) shall be dissolved and vanish like smoke and that this present earth shall wear out (in preparation for the new earth, naturally). The text then points out that the earth’s inhabitants shall “die in like manner.” Obviously the ultimate fate of the unrighteous is the same as that of the present elements — complete destruction by fire. Their fate, once again, is contrasted with God’s salvation and righteousness which are said to be “forever” and shall never “be abolished.”
Some may contend that this text is solely referring to the death of earth’s living inhabitants at the end of the age and therefore is not relevant to the second death. The passage is referrring to the time right after the Millennium when God will create a new heaven and new earth, which is when the great white throne judgment will take place and the ungodly will be cast into the lake of fire to suffer the second death (Revelation 20-21). So the second death is applicable to this time frame. Let me stress that these ungodly people will be wiped out of existence just as the present heavens are utterly dissolved. Absolutely no mention is made that these people will be resurrected for the purpose of suffering never-ending roasting torture. Like I said, it’s sometimes important to point out what the Bible does not say.
NOTE: This image courtesy of Lamb & Lion Ministries.
“He Will Bring Judgment on All Mankind and Put the Wicked to the Sword”
Let’s briefly turn our attention to a passage in Jeremiah:
(31) “The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgment on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword,” declares the LORD.
(33) At that time those slain by the LORD will be everywhere — from one end of the earth to the other.
In chapter 25 of Jeremiah the prophet jumps from a promise of imminent judgment upon the known world of Jeremiah’s day to the coming judgment on the entire world of our day. God’s judgment of the known world through Nebuchadnezzar was just a foreshadowing of the final judgment of the entire world through Jesus Christ.
The text refers to Jesus’ second coming at the end of the tribulation period. In the battle of Armageddon the antichrist and his followers will assemble to fight Jesus and his army. Jesus will make short work of the kings of the earth and their armies — killing them with “a sword that comes out of his mouth” (see Revelation 19:15,21). This is no doubt symbolic of the fact that Jesus will kill them with just a word. Those slain will become a feast for the fowls of the air (see Revelation 19:17-18,21 and Matthew 24:27-28).
The pre-millennial judgment of Christ, which entails the second death, will occur right after these events (Matthew 25:31-46). This judgment is also known as the “sheep and goat judgment” or “judgment of living nations.”
Regardless of whether or not the above passage includes the second death, we can conclude this: God’s judgment will fall on “all mankind,” he will “put the wicked to the sword,” and those “slain by the LORD will be everywhere — from one end of the earth to the other.”
This is just further evidence that God’s judgment results in death — the just wages of sin.
“The LORD Has Given Full Vent to His Wrath”
The last passage we’ll examine is from the book of Lamentations.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah tearfully wrote Lamentations as he viewed “God’s city” — Jerusalem — after its destruction by the Babylonians in 587 BC. The temple of the LORD was burned down along with every important building (see Jeremiah 52:13).
This destruction was actually the result of God’s judgment. He used the Babylonians as instruments of his wrath upon his stubbornly disobedient people.
It is with this understanding that we read this verse:
The LORD has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion [Jerusalem] that consumed her foundations.
This is a specific case of God giving “full vent to his wrath” and pouring out “his fierce anger” upon the city of Jerusalem. The result: a city consumed by fire.
My point is that God’s character is unchanging (see, for example, Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8). If the full vent of God’s wrath in 587 BC is a fire that consumes, we can confidently conclude that ungodly people will experience the same on judgment day when they suffer the full vent of his wrath then. This is, in fact, exactly what the Bible declares:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, (27) but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Could God possibly make it any clearer than this passage? God is patient and merciful; he doesn’t want anyone to perish. But those who choose to make themselves enemies of the Living LORD will suffer His wrath on judgment day — raging fire will consume them. They will be utterly obliterated from existence and memory, as this study has repeatedly shown.