Many churches and preachers reject the teaching that the wicked will be tormented/tortured in Hell and then the Lake of Fire for all eternity with fire, brimstone, burning coals, burning wind, unquenchable thirst and many other horrors. Many claim all of the descriptions of Hell and the Lake of Fire are symbolic and none are literal. Some even believe the wicked are annihilated when they are cast into the Lake of Fire.
Are the descriptions of Hell and the Lake of Fire literal or symbolic?
The concept of hell was first written down by Job (11:8; 26:6). Job was the youngest son of Joktan, the brother of Pehleg and son of Eber from which the word "Hebrew" is derived (Genesis 10:25-29). In describing YAHWEH (God the Father) he said, "Can you find out the deep things of Elohim? Can you attain unto the purpose of the Almighty? It is high as heaven; what can you do? Deeper than hell; what can you know?" (11:7,8). Again in describing YAHWEH he said, "Hell is naked before Him... (26:6a). Job lived in the 21st Century before YAHSHUA (Jesus).
Moses also spoke of hell (Deut. 32:22). YAHWEH spoke through him and said, "For a fire is kindled in My nostril, and burneth unto the depths of Hell."
David mentioned hell several times. Concerning the wicked he said, "Upon the wicked He will raincoals of fire; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup." And he added, "May burning coals fall upon them, may they be cast into the fire, into deep pitsfrom which they cannot rise" (Psalm 140.10).
Solomon also wrote of hell warning that those who followed after whores would make their home in hell (Proverbs 5:5; 7:27; 9:18). He showed us that YAHWEH knows who is in hell. "Hell and destruction are before YAHWEH" (Proverbs 15:11). He agreed with his father that burning coals will rain down on the wicked in Hell, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and YAHWEH will reward you" (Proverbs 25.21-22). Paul quoted this passage confirming the fact that the wicked will be tormented with burning coals (Romans 12.20).
Isaiah made it clear that Satan's final home would be there. He prophesied "O day star, the son of the morning...shalt be brought down to hell" (14:12-15). Morning star is translated "Lucifer" in the Vulgate. We know this prophecy is not concerning the physical king of Babylon, but the spiritual king (14:4), because he shall fall "from heaven" (14:12). He also sought to "ascend into heaven, above the stars of Elohim" and "be like the Most High" (14:13,14). A mere man could never hope to be like the "Most High" and he certainly could not "fall from heaven."
Ezekiel made a similar prophecy in chapter 28. He prophesied about the king of Tyre, but clearly is spoke of Satan. He described him as being perfect in beauty, and being in Eden the garden of Elohim. He was covered with precious stones and was a covering cherub (the highest ranking angel in heaven). He also resided on the holy mountain of Elohim and he was perfect from the day he was created (28:12-15). All men are born in sin (Psalm 51:5). Satan then sinned and was cast out of heaven to the ground (28:17; 31:16-18). It is clear Ezekiel was speaking of Satan.
The foremost teacher of hell was, of course, YAHSHUA. He spoke on hell often and warned people of its torments. He warned that those who, in anger, call their brother a "fool" "will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Matthew 5:22). He also warned that if a part of your body causes you to sin to cut it out or off because "it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown in hell" (Matthew 5:29). This was a severe warning used to impress the importance of avoiding hell. He repeated this warning in Matthew 18:9.
YAHSHUA did not hide the fact that YAHWEH casts people into hell. While encouraging his disciples to not fear men who might persecute them he warned, "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 (Matthew 10:28).
We discover from YAHSHUA'S teachings that everyone will weep and gnash their teeth in hell (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). We also see from these passages that it will be dark in hell. The darkness will be so great that not even the flames will provide light. He also explained that when mankind is judged those on the left, "who are cursed," will be cast "into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). He made it clear "they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). Remember this, if the righteous have eternal life then the wicked must be punished for all eternity. If the wicked are destroyed when they are cast into the Lake of Fire, then the righteous will also die soon after going to Heaven. Either both groups live forever in their respective places or both groups die. To argue that "eternal punishment" means final or terminal punishment is absurd. Eternal must mean the same for both groups. If the "life" of the righteous is "eternal" so must the "punishment" of the wicked be "eternal."
YAHSHUA did not hesitate to warn the Pharisees (religious leaders) that they were going to Hell (Matthew 23:15, 33). He even called them the children of Satan (John 8:44).
Some argue that in the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22.1-14) that since in the abode of the wicked there is outer darkness there cannot be fire. Why? Because fire gives off light, but it says the abode of the wicked is outer darkness. The problem is these men do not know how to read. It says, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Notice the wording, "into the outer darkness" and then "in that place." The Lake of Fire will be located in a place of "outer darkness." The location of the Lake of Fire is in "outer darkness." The "outer darkness" is NOT a condition of the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is located in a place of "outer darkness." This means the Lake of Fire will be located in outer space. Just as stars are located in outer space (outer darkness) so will the Lake of Fire. It most likely will be on the moon. Just because the Lake of Fire is located in outer darkness does not mean the fires in it will not give off light. The light from the Lake of Fire will be seen for billions of miles away. The righteous living on the new Earth and in the New Jerusalem will easily see that light: "and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (Revelation 14.10). The Lake of Fire must be within visual range of Earth.
Luke recorded the most detailed description of hell in the gospels. YAHSHUA told what happened to a certain "rich man" and Lazaros, a beggar who ate the crumbs from the rich man's table (16:19-31). Both men died. Lazaros went to paradise to be with Abraham and the righteous. The rich man went to hell and was in "torment." He could see Lazaros with Abraham and begged Abraham to send Lazaros to bring him water to cool his tongue. Why? "Because I am in agony in this fire" he said. Abraham explained that no one could cross over the chasm and that he would continue to suffer. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazaros to warn his five brothers of the terrors of hell. Abraham explained that "they have Mosheh and the Prophets, let them listen to them." The rich man knew that meant nothing for he had ignored them. He argued that if someone from the dead would warn them they would listen, but Abraham answered, "If they do not listen to Mosheh and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." We know this is true for YAHSHUA rose from the dead and great numbers refused to believe.
There are certain so-called "believers" who say this is just a parable and that there really is not a hell where people burn forever. They are deceiving themselves. This is not a parable because the beggar is mentioned by name. YAHSHUA never called it a parable and Abraham was quoted. Nothing about it resembles a parable. It is absurd to deny the existence of hell when it is mentioned so often by the One who created it!
Luke also quotes David prophesying about YAHSHUA not rotting in hell (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35). He quotes from Psalm 16:9-11. It is a reference showing that YAHSHUA would rise from the grave.
James said the tongue "is set on fire by hell" (3:6). Peter spoke of hell briefly, but gave us great insight into it. He said, "For if YAHWEH did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment..." (2Peter 2:4). Certain angels did something so bad they were cast into hell to await judgment. This sin could not have been rebelling in heaven because Heylel is still running wild and so are most of his "fallen" angels (Revelation 12:4-9; Daniel 10:12-14; Mark 5:1-13; etc.). These angels sinned by taking human wives (Genesis 6:1-4). They crossed the line and had to be confined in hell until the day of judgment. People are also held there in confinement until they are judged (Revelation 20:11-15).
Jude mentioned the fallen angels who were "kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day" (v.6). He went on to explain that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed and "they serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." The "godless men" about which Jude was speaking of, not only will suffer the fires of hell, they will reside in "the blackest darkness" which "has been reserved (for them) forever" (v.13).
John gives the final details concerning hell in the Revelation (20:11-15). At the Great White Throne Judgment everyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life is judged and then they are cast into the Lake of Fire. "Hell gave up the dead that were in" it. The Lake of Fire or the lake burning with sulfur (brimstone) is the final destination of Satan, the fallen angels and all humans who received the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 14:9-11) and those whose names were not found written in the Book of Life. The unfortunate beings who make their home there will be tormented day and night (Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10). They will be tormented with burning sulfur (Revelation 14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8). The Beast and False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire when YAHSHUA returns at the battle of Har-Meggidon (Revelation 19:20).
The only conclusion that an honest student of the Bible must come to is that the wicked will be punished throughout all eternity in the Lake of Fire. The punishment will consist of fire, brimstone (burning sulfur), burning coals, burning wind, unquenchable thirst, and listening to the billions of others gnashing their teeth and weeping. The wicked will also have to contend with each other, the fallen angels, the devil and the demonic creatures of Revelation (9.1-11; 15-19). Imagine enduring these punishments and also fighting with fallen angels, demonic creatures, billions of hateful, bitter, angry people and the devil for ALL ETERNITY! OUCH!
The Lake of Fire is not a pleasant place to spend eternity--it is a horrible eternal home! It will be the worst nightmare that no one could ever imagine. It is real -- everyone will feel unimaginable pain and it will never end! NEVER! For those who deny its existence it will not matter -- they will burn the same as everyone else. Disbelief will not save anyone -- it will only doom a person to eternal torment.
The next time you accidentally burn yourself stop and think--if you die without trusting YAHSHUA to save you from your sins you will suffer far greater torment and it will NEVER STOP! There will be no coffee breaks in hell or the Lake of Fire. You will not be able to sleep through it or block out the pain and you will scream in agony forever (Luke 13:28)!
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