Bible Facts About the Final Death of the Wicked
It is not true that sinners will burn forever in hellfire. The Bible teaches that, yes, the wicked will be punished, but only for a relatively short time—and then they will perish and no longer exist. No one sins enough, in this life, to deserve eternal burnings on his body! Think long and hard about that fact, for it is true.
Our God is a good, merciful God and will blot out, from existence, those who, in the final day of judgment, have been shown to not want the purity and harmony of heaven.
"If eternal hell is real, love is eternally frustrated and heaven will be a place of mourning and concern for the lost. Such joy and such grief cannot go together."—Gerald Kennedy, Reader’s Notebook, 1953, Harper & Row.
Thank God that He is perfectly just and fair in all His dealings with His creatures! "The wages of sin is death," said Paul (Rom 6:23). Death for the wicked will come quickly and will mean the cessation of life—forever. This is the reward of the wicked.
What is the punishment of the wicked? Where will it take place? How long will it last? What will happen after it is ended? The Bible has answers. Here they are:
WHAT WILL BE THE END OF THE WICKED?
1. What will be the end of the wicked?
"For the wages of sin is death."
Ezekiel 18:4—"The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
The original Greek and Hebrew words for "death" and "die" mean to cease to exist, to perish.
That answers the question of Peter:
"What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God" (1 Peter 4:17)?—They will be blotted out of existence.
2. How complete will this death be?
"Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction."
The Greek word here is olethros, "destruction," and is the same as the English word which means "to ruin, demolish, abolish, annihilate."
3. In what other ways is the death of wicked described?
"Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
2 Peter 2:12—"But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption."
The word, "perish," means "to be destroyed, pass away, come to an end, be lost, to die." The Greek word is apollume, "be destroyed."
The word, "consume," means "to destroy the substance of, especially by fire" or by decomposition.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HELL?
4. What are the three meanings of "hell" in the Bible?
(1)"Hell" sometimes means "the grave."
This verse is a prediction of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He did not go into hellfire, but into the grave. In Acts 2:27, this Scripture is quoted by Peter. The Greek word used there is hades, which also means the grave. In 1 Corinthians 15:55, hades is translated "the grave."
(2) "Hell" can also mean a "place of burning." In the New Testament, this word is Gehenna, or the "Valley of Hinnom," and was a deep valley just south of Jerusalem, where the garbage was burned up. Gehenna is the burning hell.
(3) "Hell" represents "darkness." In 2 Peter 2:4, the Greek word is Tartarus, not Gehenna orhades.
"God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment."
This is the darkness that enshrouded Satan and his angels, when they were cast out of the presence of God. This is the darkness which has come to earth, because of the presence of the prince of darkness (see Isa 60:2).
WHERE DO ALL MEN GO AT DEATH?
According to the Bible, all men go to the grave (sheol, hades) at death. Four questions will explain it:
5. What is the house that all go to at death?
"For I know that Thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living."
6. What is this house of death?
"If I wait, the grave (sheol) is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness."
7.At death, what happens?
"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
This is the opposite of creation, when God breathed into the lifeless body of Adam and he became alive.
8. Does everyone go to the grave at death?
"What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave [sheol]?"
Ecclesiastes 9:2—"There is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked."
Everyone goes to the grave at death; no one goes to hellfire. The best and the worst people die and go to the grave.
Yes, death is an "enemy" (1 Cor 15:26), and we sorrow when our loved ones go into the grave; but we can thank God that "blessed are the dead which die in the Lord" (Rev 14:13). They have the hope of the resurrection. We may also be thankful that the wicked are slumbering in silence and not screaming in continuous torture and agony.
WHEN WILL THE RIGHTEOUS DEAD COME OUT OF THE GRAVE?
9. At the second coming of Christ, God’s faithful ones will have victory over what?
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
The righteous dead come out of the grave, or hades, at the sound of the "last trump."
10. Is that when the righteous gain immortality?
"Behold, I shew you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed . . So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
Jesus promised us that we would not go to heaven to be with Him until His second coming (John 14:1-3).
Christ’s promise will someday be fulfilled. At the sound of the "trump of God," His own who have slept in silence, unconscious of the passing of time, will suddenly be wakened. Some have been in the graves for thousands of years; others for only a few years. But, to all, it will be as a moment—and they will come forth to radiant, immortal life. Paul said that was when he—and all God’s people—will be given eternal life.
The promise of the resurrection is very definite and very important.
WHEN WILL THE WICKED DEAD COME OUT OF THE GRAVE?
11. When are the wicked raised from their graves?
"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished."
That is what the Bible teaches. The wicked will be raised from their graves a thousand years later. It is not until that time that "hell" (hades, or the grave) gives up its dead (Rev 20:13).
At the beginning of the millennium, Jesus raises His own from their graves and takes them to heaven. After a thousand years pass, they descend upon the earth with the Holy City, and then enter it. At this time, the wicked dead are raised and Satan is thus able to again tempt and control the wicked (Rev 20:1-7).
At the end of the millennium, untold millions of dead are raised from the grave, or sheol. Satan goes out to deceive them and lead them in an attack on the City of God (Rev 20:5-9). But then they receive their final sentence from God.
WHERE ARE THE WICKED AND THE GRAVE CAST?
12. After they have been raised at the close of the millennium, where are the wicked and "hell" (the grave) cast?
"And death and hell [hades, the grave] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
The wicked are cast into a literal lake of fire. Nine times Christ warns us about this "hell" of fire, this burning hell. This is the "place of burning," the final Gehenna. It is mentioned 12 times in the New Testament.
IS EVERY PART OF MAN CAST INTO THIS FIRE?
13. Is the whole man—all of him—cast into this fire?
"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
It is sin and yielding to Satan which we need to fear. The wicked will be completely destroyed in hellfire. Nothing will remain undestroyed.
There is no fire in the grave. It is the place of quiet and unconsciousness. That is what the Bible teaches about what happens to man when he dies.
HOW LONG WILL THE WICKED BURN?
14. How long do the wicked burn in hellfire?
(1)Until body and soul are destroyed:
(2)Until neither root nor branch is left:
(3)Until they are devoured—and die the second death:
(4)The wicked burn "forever"—as long as life lasts.
15. How long is "forever"?
"Forever" may mean only as long as a man lives.
"Forever" could also mean a shorter period of time. Jonah afterward said that, while he was in the great fish, he was shut up in "the earth with her bars about me forever" (Jonah 2:6).
Jesus said about the wicked, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment" (Matt 25:46). He did not say, "punishing," but "punishment." The punishment was death, and it would have everlasting results.
16. What is the meaning of "everlasting" fire?
Everlasting or eternal fire—is fire which God uses to destroy everlastingly.
This fire is called "everlasting" (Greek: aionion, "age lasting") because of its lasting effects.
17. Is there, in the Bible, an example of this kind of fire?
The fire which burned Sodom and Gomorrah was everlasting fire.
Those cities were burned to ashes about 2000 B.C.
That is the kind of "everlasting punishment" the wicked receive. The death of those wicked will forever be a memorial to God’s hatred of sin. It is death with eternal results.
This fire is called "unquenchable fire."
18. Why is it called unquenchable fire?
This fire is called unquenchable (Greek: asbestos) because it cannot be put out, but not because it will not go out. The word simply means that no power will be able to quench this fire until it has consumed everything in the fire.
19. Is there an example, in the Bible, of unquenchable fire?
"But if ye will not hearken unto Me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched" (fulfilled in Jer 52:12-13; and for this reason: 2 Chron 36:14-21).
Jerusalem is not burning today. Yet God said it would be destroyed by a fire, "and it shall not be quenched." It was not quenched, but burned everything up and burned out. So shall the wicked be completely destroyed.
The "worm" is a symbol of complete and final destruction. In the Valley of Hinnom, the worms consumed what the fire did not destroy.
20. What is the "second death?"
"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
It is quite clear that the wicked are going to be completely destroyed. It is called "death," the "second death." It is death, not life. At the first death the wicked went into the grave. The second death marks the final end of the sinner, the end of death, and the end of the grave. At that moment in time, God will be completely finished with sin, sinners, death, and the grave.
21. When will the wicked burn in hellfire?
The wicked are not suffering now. Peter tells us they are "reserved" unto the day of judgment, to be punished.
This happens at the end of the millennium, after the wicked dead are raised.
They are not burning now, but are "reserved" till a later time. But when that time comes, the fire will do its work thoroughly and completely; they will be "devoured."
The wicked are reserved unto the day of destruction (2 Peter 3:7 with Job 21:30), and "they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath" (Job 21:30).
Jesus Himself said, "The tares are the children of the wicked one." And "as therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world" (Matt 13:38, 40). There is not a single, solitary sinner burning in hell today. Thank God for that! He is totally fair and just. When the punishment is finally meted out, it will be relatively brief.
And it will be thorough. So complete will be the destruction, that the wicked will be as though they had not been. (More on this later in this study.)
22. Where will hellfire burn?
The Bible is quite clear that it will burn on the surface of the earth.
The present heavens and earth and sinners await the fire of the last day. The Greek for "perdition" is apolela, "destruction."
While hellfire is burning, the earth will temporarily become a fiery hell. Yet the repeated promise is that God’s people will inherit the earth.
God’s children could not inherit the earth if hellfire were forever burning on it. Instead, when the fire goes out, God will remake the world more beautiful than before.
Revelation 21:1—"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away."
23. Will this death be so complete that sin and sinners will never again exist?
It will be so complete that, as soon as the fire is ended, there will not be another sinner anywhere. Sin and sinners will be no more—forever. In Matthew 13:41-42, it is called a "furnace of fire." What can be more destructive than a fiery furnace?
If the wicked were forever alive in hellfire, they would be continually sinning, hating, cursing. But sin and sinners will be no more. After a relatively short time, the lake of fire will stop burning and there will be no more fire, because the sinners will all be forever perished.
As soon as the fire is out, God will make a new earth,—and only God’s faithful ones will dwell in it. The wicked will be gone forever.
24. Why will sin finally be ended?
It is a great mercy of God to finally bring this misery to an end. But when it finally occurs, all will see that God was just and right at each step in the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
God does not want to hurt or slay anyone; but it is His responsibility, as the Creator, to finally eliminate the hateful, rebellious, and wicked. That is why the destruction of the wicked is called "His strange act."
"For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act."
Through sin the wicked have forfeited the right to life and an immortal existence with God and the holy angels. Their destruction will be an act of love and mercy on the part of God. To perpetuate their lives would only be to perpetuate sin, sorrow, suffering, and misery.
Even death itself will then be at an end—cast into the lake of fire and destroyed (Rev 20:14).
The experience of sin will be over, and God’s original plan of peopling the earth with a race of holy, happy beings will be carried out (2 Peter 3:13).
HOW CAN WE AVOID HELLFIRE AND THE SECOND DEATH?
The unquenched flames of hell, Gehenna, which do not preserve but consume whatever they feed on, aptly pictures what other Bible texts describe as the utter destruction of the wicked at the time of the final judgment.
25. How can we escape that final "everlasting destruction,"—and, instead, have eternal life with Christ?
"Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye Iook for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless."
It is now that we must prepare for heaven. It is now that we must return to God, repent of our sins, and surrender our lives to Him. It is now that we must resist sin, through the enabling grace of Jesus Christ, and, through that grace, obey the Ten Commandments.
No one found written in the Book of Life will be destroyed in the lake of fire(Rev 21:8; 27; 22:15).
"And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
God never intended that any human being suffer in hellfire. Christ tells us it was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41). Christ died that we can have eternal life in and through Him.
ANSWERS TO SPECIAL PASSAGES ON THE DEATH OF THE WICKED
There are five passages of Scripture which we need to carefully consider, in order to fully understand the Bible truth about hellfire.
 The story of the rich man and Lazarus proves the immortality of the soul (Luke 16:19-31)?
There are several points here that should be considered:
1. This story does not teach that immortal souls leave the body at death—yet that is what some people say it teaches.
If the story is to be taken literally, after death the rich man is said to have had eyes and a tongue,—real body parts. He asked that Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in water. That would mean the whole body was in heaven or in hellfire. Yet, at death the body goes to the grave.
2. If this story is literal, then heaven and hell are within talking distance of each other. What misery this would bring to the people in heaven!
3. When the rich man pleaded that Lazarus be sent back to earth to warn others against hell, Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." And "if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:29, 31).
Notice here what Christ is actually teaching: (1) If living humans want guidance, they should study the Bible. (2) If they reject the Bible, it would do no good if one rose from the dead and tried to instruct them.
The wording here is exquisite: "Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Christ does not say, "though one came back from the spirit world," but "though one rose from the dead."—For that is where people are after they die: dead.
This parable teaches that some people are alive, others are dead; and the live people had better read and obey the Word of God before they are dead!
4. If the story is to be taken literally, Abraham is the great center of heaven, not God, and those in heaven are leaning on "Abraham’s bosom."
5. Doctrines should not be built upon parables or allegories. To base a doctrine on this one leads to spirits with bodies and heaven and hell next to each other.
6. If this parable is to be taken literally, then Christ is contradicting His own statements made elsewhere, where He definitely states the time when the faithful will receive their reward and the wicked are cast into consuming fire:
"When the Son of man shall come in His glory . . and before Him shall be gathered all nations . . then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom . . Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." Matthew 25:31-32, 34, 41.
7. The message is for us today: We, the living, "have Moses and the prophets"; let us "hear them." Yes, let us study God’s Word to know the truth of this matter. And, doing so, we learn that everyone is unconscious at death; that the righteous are not immediately taken, after death, to heaven; and the wicked are not judged until a future time.
8. A parable or allegory may be used to teach a lesson, but that does not make every part of the story true. In Judges 9:7-15 is the story of the trees going "forth on a time to anoint a king over them." The story was meant to teach a lesson, but we do not accept that the story is itself true. (Another example would be 2 Kings 14:9, where the thistle sent the cedar the message, "Give thy daughter to my son to wife.") We do not attempt to prove that trees talk and they have kings or that thistles get married. To do so would be trying to make the story prove more than was intended by the speaker. The same would apply to this parable by Christ.
 In the Bible, we find such phrases as "everlasting punishment" (Matt 25:46), "everlasting fire" (Matt 25:41), and "tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev 20:10).
This proves an eternally burning hell and an immortal soul?
The truth is quite different. The Greek and Hebrew words, sometimes translated "everlasting" or "forever," only mean a period of time until a certain thing is ended. Consider these points:
1. The New Testament words, translated "everlasting" and "forever," come from the Greek noun, aion (or from the adjective, aionios, derived from the noun). Learning how these words are used elsewhere in the Bible, we find their real meaning. Here are several examples:
H.C.G. Moule, the well-known Greek scholar, makes this comment about Philemon 15-16:
"The adjective tends to mark duration as long as the nature of the subject allows."—The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them . . suffering the vengeance of eternal [aionios] fire." But those cities are not still burning. They are today under the south part of the Dead Sea. God turned "the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes" (also 2 Peter 2:6).
If the aionios fire of Sodom and Gomorrah, sent as a judgment from God to destroy the wicked living there, burned itself out in ashes and is no longer burning, we can conclude that the aionios fire of the final judgment on the wicked will do likewise.
2. Olam is the Old Testament equivalent to aion in the New Testament. Here are some examples:
3.The Old Testament word, olam, and the New Testament word, aion, are equivalent terms. We know this to be true for two reasons: (1) The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, always translates olam by aion. (2) Whenever an Old Testament passage containing olam is quoted in the New Testament, aion is used (Heb 1:8; 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21; 13:20; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:11).
Both words clearly have a very limited time value and do not mean an eternal time length.
 Do the Bible passages, in which the word "hell" is used, show that the wicked go there as soon as they die and then remain there?
1. In the Old Testament, the word, "hell," is always translated from one word. That word is sheol. Sheol means "the grave," and never "a place of burning" or "hellfire." Sheol simply means "the unseen state." Study any analytical concordance, and you will nowhere find the idea of fire or punishment in the usage of sheol.
This is a good example of how sheol is used: "Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly . . out of the belly of hell [sheol] cried I." There is no hellfire in a whale’s stomach. The marginal reading of this text is "the grave."
At death, everyone, both good and bad, goes tosheol.
Psalm 89:48—"What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave [sheol]?"
Job 17:13—Regarding godly Job: "If I wait, the grave [sheol] is mine house."
Psalm 9:17—Regarding the wicked: "The wicked shall be turned into hell [sheol]."
2.In the New Testament, the word, "hell," is translated from three different words:
(1) Tartaros, which means "a dark abyss." This occurs only in 2 Peter 2:4. Satan and his angels have been cast out of heaven and down into the darkness of this world; and they are being "reserved" unto the day of judgment, a future time when they will receive their punishment.
(2) Hades, which means only "the grave," is translated, "hell," ten times in the New Testament.
The Septuagint (which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) almost always translates sheol (the Old Testament Hebrew word for grave) by the word, hades. Therefore they have the same meaning.
(3)Gehenna is the third word which, in the New Testament, is translated "hell." This time "hell" is the correct translation!
This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, Hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom), the name of a valley on the south side of Jerusalem used as the city dump. Garbage was there burned up.
Of the twelve times Gehenna is used, two facts stand out:
a. The "body" as well as the soul is said to be "cast into hell." Twice the phrase, "the whole body," is used (Matt 5:29-30; 10:28).
b. In not one of those twelve instances does the text tell when the wicked will be "cast into hell." The fiery judgment is simply described as a future event. Thus it is clear that the Bible never says that anyone who goes into hellfire—goes there at death. Not once does it say that anyone is now suffering in the fire of hell.
Therefore, the fiery hell does not come right after death, but at some later time. The whole body is not cast into hellfire at death, but is placed in the grave.
The Gehenna passages indicate that the wicked are "cast into" the fire. The phrase, "cast into hell [Gehenna]," is used in six of the twelve times Gehenna is found in the New Testament. This is matching the parallel where refuse is cast into the fires of Gehenna Valley.
Is there no place where we are told when this hellfire occurs? Yes, there is: Revelation 20 explains that, after the millennium, the wicked are raised to life; and, after the final judgment before the great white throne, they are cast into "the lake of fire" (Rev 20:12-15). It is at that same time that "death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Rev 20:14).
Does that lake of fire experience occur eternally? Obviously not; for at the same time that the wicked perish in the flames, "death and hell" are destroyed also! Lastly, we are told what that lake of fire experience actually is: "the second death." It is not eternal life in misery, but the final obliteration of the wicked. There will be no endless misery to cause concern to God’s redeemed ones. The fire will burn out in a very short time.
Then, the righteous will come out of the City and the wicked will be ashes under their feet.
 The Bible says that hellfire will not be quenched and that their worm dieth not (Mark 9:44; Isa 66:24). This proves the immortality of the soul?
It is clear, from all we have so far studied, that hellfire is a future event and the final death of the wicked. Prior to that time, the lost ones are resting quietly in the grave.
Christ declared we should "fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]" (Matt 10:28). "Destroy" means "consume" or "annihilate." It does not mean "not destroy."
The Mark 9:43-48 passage refers back to the Isaiah 66:24 statement: "They [the redeemed] shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched" (Isa 66:24).
This passage is clearly speaking of bodies, not spirits, which the fire and worms work on.
The word, "hell," in Mark 9:43-48 is from the Greek word, Gehenna—which is the equivalent of the Hebrew, Hinnom, that garbage dump near Jerusalem, where the carcasses of animals were cast.
Jesus uses that town dump as an illustration of the fate that awaits the wicked. In the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, the animals are burned up as they are cast there. One animal is burned up, and then another is brought and thrown in the fire, as needed.
But, in the final destruction of the wicked,—they are all placed in the hellfire at the same time and all burn up together, and then are gone forever.
This final fire which will destroy the wicked is, in the Bible, called "unquenchable." Why?
About a hundred years ago, a fire fanned by strong winds roared across the city of Chicago. It was a terrible conflagration. If I told you it was unquenchable, what would that mean to you? Would it mean that this fire is still burning? Or would it mean that the fire could not be put out while it was burning? The Chicago fire was unquenchable, yet it only lasted a few days. It was "unquenchable," because no one could extinguish it; yet it went out by itself when there was nothing more to burn.
Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that hellfire will be a devouring fire (Rev 20:9) and a destroying fire (Matt 10:28). As soon as the fuel is gone, the fire will stop.
That is what happened in the fire God predicted would burn down Jerusalem.
That prophecy was literally fulfilled later, when the Babylonians came and burned down the city (2 Chron 36:19-21). But the city is not still burning, even though the fire which destroyed it "shall not be quenched."
 Revelation 14:11 says, "The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever." How do you explain that?
The passage says this: "The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Rev 14:11).
This passage is taken with little change from an Old Testament prophecy about Idumaea (ancient Edom):
Notice the points mentioned here: First, about the fire: (1) Shall not be quenched; (2) night nor day; (3) smoke goes up forever. Second, about the wasteland which shall afterward result: (1) From generation to generation it shall lie waste; (2) none shall pass through it forever and ever.
Using the correct meanings of "forever," which we have discovered, we find that fire predicted by Isaiah to occur in Edom—did just that. It was a thorough fire which could not be quenched while it was burning. It burned night and day as long as it burned. The smoke from the fire went up as long as it burned. When the fire stopped, it would lie waste from generation to generation thereafter and no one would pass through it. (If the fire did not cease, it could not afterward, as predicted, "lie waste.")
Ancient Idumaea is a desolate wasteland, today, and its cities are in ruins. The prophecy was exactly fulfilled—yet that fire went out thousands of years ago. The smoke of that burning stopped when the fire went out.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to the equivalent prediction in Revelation 14:11; and, using the correct translation of aionios ("forever"), we find that this verse agrees with all the others: The fire will burn only until the wicked burn up and are consumed. When the fire goes out, the smoke will cease also—otherwise the redeemed could not live on the earth amid smoke going up forever!
We must let the Bible agree with itself! The meek will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5; Ps 37:11), not the wicked! How could the redeemed enjoy the new earth if the wicked were endlessly burning and suffering on its surface?
To conclude this brief study, let me tell you of a man I met about thirty years ago, in Oregon. He was a lay evangelist, and I asked him how he got started. He told me he once had a friend with whom he shared our historic beliefs. But his friend simply could not grasp the great truth that God does not burn people in hellfire without end. Yet this man was certain his friend was sincere and would accept the truth if it was presented to him clearly enough.
I asked him what happened. He said he studied with his friend for two years; and, during that time, he became a thorough Bible student. Then, one evening, he presented to his friend passages he found which described how hellfire will burn on the surface of the earth. His friend was convinced; for he saw that (1) the fire could not be now burning, and (2) it would have to be brief or the saints could not inherit the earth and live thereon through all eternity.
How thankful we can be that the Bible is so consistent with itself. The apparent problems are caused by the misunderstandings of those who translated the book. The King James translators did not understand that aion did not mean forever and that the grave was not hellfire.
The Bible does not say that the judgment fire will burn endlessly; for this blazing fire on the surface of the earth must go out, so God can create "a new earth" (2 Peter 3:12-13 and Rev 20-21). There must therefore be an end to the fire, else this earth could not be recreated—so the meek could inherit it and dwell on it through all eternity.
How wonderful it is to know that our God is a God of deepest love. Yes, it is true that the wicked must die; for they could never be happy in heaven. But how kind it is of Him to quickly end their miserable lives!
They will be raised after the millennium only long enough to learn the issues in the great controversy between good and evil and to understand how their lost condition was their own responsibility.
Then they will quickly cease to exist. There will be a few, like Hitler (and, of course, Satan and his angels!), who will suffer on for a time; but, for most, death will come very quickly.
The Bible nowhere says that souls are immortal; instead it declares that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze 18:4).
God’s earthly children, whom He deeply loves, keep doing things they should not do. So, throughout their lifetime, He tries in every way possible to draw them to Himself. He wants to forgive their sins and enable them to live cleaner, happier, obedient lives. He offers to enable them, by His grace, to obey His moral Ten Commandment law.
But there are those who ultimately reject all of God’s efforts to save them. They finally die, still holding on to those sins.
Should they be taken to heaven? No, for they would be miserable there and would only bring grief to its inhabitants.
Should they be put on a planet by themselves and left to argue and fight among themselves? No, for that would only perpetuate their unhappy lives.
Should they be given a second chance, after this life is over? No, this present life is their only probationary period. There is none afterward.
Should they be put into an eternal sleep of death, so they can no longer be miserable? Yes, but first justice should be meted out. For years, the wicked injured and hurt one another and sinned against their Maker. A final punishment must take place.
How long should that punishment last? Although it is fair and right in the final Judgment to punish the wicked for the sins of a lifetime,—that punishment must exactly match the offense. Otherwise it would not be fair and right.
In the final Judgment, if God punished even one person more than he should receive, it would reflect on God’s character and the inhabitants of the universe would fear Him throughout all eternity. Deep down in their hearts they would know He was not really good.
So settle this one point in your mind, and everything else will fall into place: God never does wrong. He always does right. Always.
Therefore there will be a final punishment. There will be retribution for those who spent years hurting others. But the punishment will be fair, only the right amount, and will end very soon.
Those who will suffer longest will be the evil monsters of history, such as Adolf Hitler. Those who will suffer even longer will be the evil angels and Satan himself. But, for all, the punishment will last only as long as absolutely necessary and then will come the silence of eternal non-existence.
And is not that the greatest punishment of all—to miss out on the glories of heaven? Yet, as with everything else, the wicked will have missed it by their own determined choice.