What the Bible says about Hell & the Punishment of the Wicked
What is Hell?
2 Samuel 22:5-6 When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid;
The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;
Psalm 18:5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
Psalm 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Proverbs 5:5 Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
Proverbs 7:27 Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.
Proverbs 9:18 But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.
The exact same Hebrew word is used in relation to “death” and translated in these texts as “hell” in some places
and “grave” in others.
Deuteronomy 32:22 For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume
the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
Matthew 18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into
life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Matthew 5:29-30 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Matthew 13:40-42 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the
whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
The word “hell” is also used to refer to the fire that destroys the earth and the wicked.
In other words, when the Bible refers to “hell” - context of the verse must be considered to determine if the text
is talking about just the grave or about the fires of judgment in the last day. Every human who dies, whether they are righteous or wicked, go to the “grave hell” - but only the wicked will go to the “hell-fire” in the end. Revelation 20 clearly defines that there are two different things that are referred to as “hell.”
Revelation 20:13-14 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [grave] delivered up the
dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and
hell [grave] were cast into the lake of fire [hell-fire]. This is the second death.
It would be impossible to cast “hell” into “hell,” if a person didn’t realize that there are two different things referred to by that term. But once the difference is known, Revelation 20 makes perfectly good sense - the grave hell will be destroyed in the final lake of fire hell that burns up and cleanses the earth from all traces of sin and death.
What is the purpose of Hell-fire?
Jude 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in
everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Matthew 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into
everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
Isaiah 14:12-15 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to
the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the
sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Psalm 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
So “hell-fire” is the fire that God has prepared for the punishment of the devil and his angels, and by default, all the wicked people who side with the devil in his rebellion will also be punished in “hell-fire.”
When and Where does the Fires of Hell occur?
2 Peter 2:4 For if 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;
2 Peter 2:9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve
the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
2 Peter 3:7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved
unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire
shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Notice the Bible refers to this hell-fire as something that is coming in the future on planet earth, that the wicked and the evil angels are being “reserved” for.
Some Christians fall for the misconception that “hell-fire” is some mysterious place of burning that the wicked go as soon as they die, and at death the righteous go immediately to heaven - but this is not Biblical doctrine. Whether one is righteous or wicked, the Bible clearly shows that the only place the dead go immediately upon their death, is into the “grave hell” to await, in an unconscious state (sleep), their resurrection.
(See also: What the Bible says about the State of the Dead)
Acts 2:34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself,
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life,
and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
John 5:28-29 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
Revelation 20:4-6 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Notice that there are two different resurrections, the Resurrection of Life and the Resurrection of Damnation. In other words, there is first a resurrection for the righteous and then a resurrection for the wicked, and these two resurrections are 1000 years apart.
So “hell-fire” is not burning now. At the time of their death, both the righteous and the wicked are simply “held in reserve” in an unconscious condition in their “grave hell” awaiting the time of their resurrection and final judgment.
At the first resurrection, the righteous are raised to receive their reward of eternal Life and go to heaven to live with Christ and help take part in the judgment of the wicked who are still dead.
At the end of the 1,000 years, Christ with all the righteous return to earth with the New Jerusalem.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
The second resurrection takes place, the wicked are raised to have their sentence pronounced against them and receive their punishment in “hell- fire.” This raising of the wicked from the dead releases Satan from his prison of circumstances, his seclusion and loneliness, and he once again sets to work to control all the wicked.
Revelation 20:7-8 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall
go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog,
to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
The wicked then surround the New Jerusalem in one last desperate struggle to conquer God and the righteous, then God rains hell-fire on them to completely destroy all traces of sin.
Revelation 20:9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about,
and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
This “hell-fire” falls from God out of heaven and burns up all traces of sin on planet earth.
How long does Hell-fire last?
This is one of the questions that has really confused many Christians. Many have fallen for the misconception that the fires of hell are burning throughout eternity. They read a parable or see verses that refer to “forever” and “eternal fire” and mistakenly believe this means the fire burns forever, but this is also not Biblical doctrine.
Jonah 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me;
out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
Jonah 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever:
yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
Notice that while in the belly of the great fish, Jonah describes it as the “belly of hell” and that he states that he was in there “for ever.” Yet we know from the rest of the Bible, that Jonah was only in the belly of the fish for three days. In other words, the term “forever” can mean different things, depending on what is being referred to.
Forever can mean “throughout eternity” or it can mean things like “lifetime” or in the case of some process or event “until it is finished” or completed.
Psalm 102:12 But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.
This is a “throughout eternity” application. Obviously, God has always existed and will always exist throughout eternity.
Exodus 21:6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
This is an “until it is finished” application. Obviously, he can only serve him for life. The service of the servant will cease when either he or his master dies.
In other words, the various usages of the term “forever” must be determined by what the rest of the Bible describes on that subject.
Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to
fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Notice that Sodom and Gomorrha were destroyed by “eternal fire.” Yet they are not still burning today - they are ashes.
2 Peter 2:6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow,
making them an ensample unto those that after
should live ungodly;
These ashen remains of those burned cities have been discovered by archaeologists at the south end of what is now called the Dead Sea. The structures of the city are almost unrecognizable and have chunks of sulfur (brimstone) embedded in the ashen ruins.
In other words, the “eternal fire” is eternal in the “results” - not in the “actions.” Sodom and Gomorrha were destroyed by “eternal fire,” meaning they are “eternally destroyed” - they will never exist again.
Matthew 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the
garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Luke 3:17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his
garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
Mark 9:43, 45 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having
two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: ...And if thy foot offend thee, cut
it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire
that never shall be quenched:
This is another term that seems to confuse people. Some falsely believe that the term “unquenchable fire” means the hell-fire burns forever, but this is not what the Bible teaches. The term “unquenchable” simply means that the fire cannot be “quenched” (put out). This can be for a couple reasons, either there is nothing capable of putting out the fire, or there is nobody there to put out the fire. Either way, the fire cannot be “put out.”
However, nowhere does the Bible claim that hell-fire continues to burn for all eternity. As anyone who has ever dealt with a fire can testify, even fires that defy man’s ability to extinguish, will go out on their own accord - ONCE ALL THE FUEL IS CONSUMED! A forest fire that rages out of control and cannot be “quenched” by man’s efforts, will go out on its own accord, once the trees and brush that is available for it to burn are burned up. Then the fire is “OUT” - yet it was never “QUENCHED.”
An “unquenchable” fire simply means that nobody can put it out before it has done
its work of destruction - but once its “fuel” is spent, then it will go out on its own.
We know that this is the case with hell-fire, because the Bible specifically states that the wicked are totally destroyed, turned to ashes, and cease to exist.
Philippians 3:18-19 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they
are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose
glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
Malachi 4:1, 3 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that
do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it
shall leave them neither root nor branch. ...And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be
ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.
Hebrews 10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Psalm 37:10, 20 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place,
and it shall not be...But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs:
they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
Notice the words used, “destruction,” “burn them up,” “devour,” “perish,” “consume away,” “ashes.” These are all words showing the finality and complete end of the wicked. So when the Bible uses phrases like:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from
heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that
obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from
the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
it is revealing that it is the “end results” of the fire and destruction that are “everlasting” and “eternal” - not the burning process itself!
If one stops to think about it, if the common misconception of an ever burning hell were true, then in order for the wicked to burn forever, the wicked would have to have “eternal life” - because without “eternal life,” the wicked would cease to exist at some point.
However, the idea that the wicked could have eternal life is simply the same lie and deception that the devil used on Eve in the Garden of Eden - “ye shall not surely die...ye shall be as gods...”
The Bible makes it very clear, that God is the only One who has “eternal life” and that He gives “eternal life” as a free gift, ONLY to the righteous people through Jesus Christ!
Romans 2:6-8 Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in
well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are
contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice that the Bible contrasts the “eternal life” reward of the righteous against the “punishment” and “death” of the wicked. Nowhere does it ever claim that the wicked receive “eternal life” in the fires of hell. Notice also, that the gift of “eternal life” only comes, at the time of the first resurrection, to the righteous THROUGH Jesus Christ.
This is an important point take note of. Many who ascribe to the false misconception of hell, firmly believe that Jesus Christ is the sinner’s only hope; yet none of them would be so foolish as to presume to claim that the wicked have Jesus Christ or have accepted Him as their Saviour. But the Bible specifies that the only way to have eternal life is through Jesus Christ.
In other words, the false belief in an eternally burning hell-fire completely contradicts Biblical Christian doctrine and by default, makes any “Christian” that ascribes to that false doctrine to contradict their own beliefs!
It is much more simple and understandable to realize that the Bible clearly defines that there are two things that are referred to as “hell” (the grave and the final hell-fire) and that there are also two "deaths" (first death, experienced by both righteous and wicked, and second death, experienced by only the wicked).
This is why the Bible reveals that Jesus Christ, by His sinless life and death, conquered the devil, the author of death and the grave and that Jesus has the power to not only unlock the prison-house of the grave and release His righteous people from Satan’s dominion, but Jesus also has the power to destroy both death and the grave in hell-fire and make an end to evil and sin permanently.
Revelation 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen;
and have the keys of hell and of death.
The Bible also shows how the resurrected righteous will respond to death and the grave.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption,
and this mortal must put on immortality. 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?