Incredibly, the worst aspect of hell is not its terrifying description… It is the fact that hell will continue forever. Jesus and his apostles plainly teach the endlessness of hell. Jesus pronounces woes on thos who take no precautions to avoid being “thrown into eternal fire . . . the fire of hell” (Matt. 18:8-9).

Although the word translated “eternal” (aionios) sometimes means “age-long,” it should be rendered “eternal” when speaking of final destinies, because those destinies pertain “to the final age, an age that partakes in God’s eternality.”

In Mark 9 Jesus confirms that hell never ends. His hearers are in danger of going to hell “where the fire never goes out. . . . where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'” (vv. 44. 48). In this life, a fire goes out when its fuel is used up, and a maggot dies when it consumes its prey. Not so in the life to come; there fire and worm never cease. This is figurative language for the endlessness of hell.

In the best-known passage on hell, Jesus twice affirms hell’s eternal duration. First, he expels evildoers to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). What our Lord here calls “eternal,” his apostle says involves being tormented day and night “for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). The language could not be clearer; hell is endless.

Second, Jesus places the fates of the wicked and the righteous side by side: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). The parallelism makes the meaning unmistakable: the punishment of the ungodly and the bliss of the godly both last forever.

Paul concurs with his Lord when he says that unbelievers will experience “everlasting destruction,” which involves being “shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9). “Everlasting destruction is not annihilation, for the wicked must continue to exist to be excluded from the Lord’s presence. Rather, “everlasting destruction” is a condition of complete ruin.

Jude follows Jesus’ example when he paints pictures of fire and darkness to describe the destiny of the godless. He teaches that hell is endless via both images. The wicked will “suffer the punishment of eternal fire” and are “wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (vv. 7, 13, emphasis added).

The book of Revelation tells of the fate of the just and the unjust. The latter will suffer eternal torment. “And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night” (Rev. 14:10-11). The fact that the smoke rises forever indicates that the fire still has fuel… We should interpret [the fire] as portraying endless punishment, not extinction.

Notice that John says that the damned have “no rest day and night” (Rev. 14:11), he implies their ongoing existence. It makes no sense to say that they have no rest if they have ceased to exist. In fact, annihilation, if true, would provide rest for the wicked. The wicked, however, enjoy no relief from the unrelenting wrath of God; their punishment is eternal.[1]

Robert Peterson 


End notes:

[1] Robert A. Peterson, Hell On Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995] 195, 196, 197.

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