From the book "Life and Immortality" by the late Basil Atkinson,
Compiled by Keith Hunt
SILENCE AND DARKNESS
Before we go to study the fire which is the agency of the
destruction of the lost, we will glance at a few revealing
passages which place doubt the meaning and nature of that
destruction. We turn first to Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2: 9;
"the wicked shall be silent in darkness." This truth leaves no
room whatever for the shrieks and groans of the damned not for
the lurid light of the torturing flames nor the red hot floor of
hell, on which we have read of infants crawling. And if ever it
could be conceivably true that they so crawl, would they do it in
The following passages replay study:
(1) Isaiah 1: 28; "And the destruction of the transgressors
and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the
Lord shall be consumed."
What impression would be given by these words to a reader
who came for the first time to the Bible with a knowledge of the
meaning of the words "destruction and "consume" either in English
or Hebrew or in both? Can we honestly say that he would regard
this destruction and consumption as an introduction to an eternal
life of misery and suffering?
(2) Isaiah 26: 11; "the fire of thine enemies shall devour
This is plain, clear language and we shall find a
considerable number of further statements to the same effect. To
be devoured by fire is a normal thing. It is not the same thing
as a quite abnormal preservation in fire to be tormented by it.
The fire of the Lord's enemies may mean (a) fire prepared for
them by Him, or (b) fire which their own wickedness will have
kindled and made inevitable.
(3) Hosea 13: 3. The final end of sinners is compared in
this verse to FOUR things:
(a) "the morning cloud." This dissipated and vanishes into the
air: (b) "The early dew that passes away." This disappears off
the grass, leaving nothing behind: (c) "the chaff that is driven
with the whirlwind out of the floor." The chaff disappears in the
wing: (d) "the smoke out of the chimney." Smoke disappears into
What impression do these four comparisons make upon you? Do
the morning cloud, the early dew, the chaff and the smoke
continue forever? If they do not - and we know well they do not -
then sinners finally disappear from God's creation as these four
things disappear from the face of the sky, the grass, the
threshing-floor and the chimney.
(4) Psalm 68: 2; "As smoke is driven away, so drive them
away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at
the presence of God." Here again we find the smoke and the added
vivid picture of wax melting before the fire. Exactly the same
picture is given us.
(5) Psalm 73: 18-20. Here we find the fate of the wicked
described as destruction, desolation, being utterly consumed with
terrors. This shows the condition and feelings of the wicked, as
they stand before the throne of judgment. Verse 20 goes on to
say, "As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when you awakest,
you shall despise their image." We learn here that the wicked
will have no more existence in that day than a dream of the
(6, 7 and 8) Proverbs 13: 9; 24: 20; Job 18: 5, 6. In these
three passages we find written respectively: "The lamp of the
wicked shall be put out," "the candle of the wicked shall be put
out," "the light of the wicked shall be put out.....and his
candle shall be put out with him." What!" says an indignant
believer in natural immortality, "do you mean to tell me that a
man's life will be snuffed out like a candle?" Yes. This is the
very things the Bible says in these three passages. What can this
mean but the extinction of life?
(9) Job 20: 7. Among many temporal judgments and terrors
which pursue the wicked described in this chapter as well as in
chapter 18 we find his final end in this verse. It is that he
shall perish forever like his own dung. This corresponds with the
eternal destruction of 2 Thessalonians 1: 9. It again gives us
surely the strong impression that destruction and perishing in
these passages bear their natural meaning.
(10) 1 Chronicles 4: 41. This passage does not speak of the
final destruction of the wicked, but it has a time note -
"destroyed them utterly UNTO THIS DAY" - which well illustrates
the meaning of "eternal destruction."
There are FIVE passages which directly teach annihilation of
the wicked.....They are:
(1) Isaiah 41: 11, 12. These verses speak of the final
condition of the enemies of the people of the Lord. The
impression given is that of annihilation.
(2) Ezekiel 28: 19.
Here I (Keith Hunt) will interject the writing of Atkinson.
He understands certain parts of this 28th chapter of Ezekiel, but
does not understand how type and antitype (from the human man to
the devil) move somewhat back and forth. Many, like Atkinson,
have used these verses "and never shall you be any more" to refer
to the devil and his final fate of being totally destroyed or
shall we say "uncreated" and existing no more. Some will say he
the devil will be brought to "ashes upon the earth" in the sight
of humans who will see this annihilation of him. Then, they go on
(as Atkinson does) to add Rev.20: 10 as supporting proof that the
devil will be fully destroyed by fire.
What they fail to see is two things. First, the devil is a
"spirit creature" and physical fire can hardly have any physical
effect upon that which is spirit. God does not have to put the
devil into a fire to destroy him and uncreate him. God only has
to say the word and it is done, if He was ever going to
annihilate the devil and his demonic co-workers. The fire the
devil goes into at the end of the millennium age is the fire the
whole earth is put under to destroy the end time wicked of the
previous verses. Satan will see his last evil stand against God
and those he used to bring it about, all destroyed in fire. They,
the end time wicked will come against Jerusalem where the lake of
fire was burning from the beginning of the millennium age (see
Rev. 19: 19, 20 with Rev. 16), and shall be consumed by fire.
Secondly, Satan will see his efforts through humans burnt
up. But Rev.20: 10 also goes on to say the devil will be
"tormented day and night for ever and ever." The Greek
words "forever and ever" is literally "ages of the ages." It
carries the meaning of "eternity." The same phrase is used of God
the Father in Rev.5: 14.
What we have in Ezekiel 28 is type and anti-type (the
physical king/ruler of Tyre and Satan the devil behind him,
leading and even possessing him), moving back and forth in type.
Starts of with the physical ruler of Tyre in verses 1 to 10,
moves to Satan in verses 11 to 16. Note verse 16, Satan the
covering Cherub, will be "destroyed" but the words following
given the qualifying meaning to the kind of destruction he will
face...."from the midst of the stones of fire" or from the very
throne of God. The book of Job shows us that Satan is allowed
for the present to come into the very presence of God, within the
stones of fire of His throne room in heaven.
The scene then changes in verse 17 to 19, back to the
literal physical king ruler of Tyre. He was to find his end by
being consumed by fire and brought to ashes upon the earth in the
sight of other around, who would behold his destruction.
Tyre here in Ezekiel stands for the Babylon of the book of
Revelation, especially chapters 17 through to 19. You can also
note the first verses of Ezekiel 28 with the first verses of 2
Thessalonians. Old Tyre and its ruler is the NT Babylon and its
king, who finally will be brought and cast into the fire around
Jerusalem, at the second coming of Christ, to be annihilated and
brought to ashes in the sight of many who will behold the event.
Back to the words of Basil Atkinson:
(3) Obadiah 15: 16, "the day of the Lord is near upon all
the heathen....they shall be as though they had not been." No
words could express annihilation so clearly, so strongly, or so
(4) Psalm 37: 20, "But the wicked shall perish, and the
enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall
consume; into smoke they shall consume away." These words again
can express nothing but extinction. They tell us distinctly that,
unlike Moses' burning bush which burnt with fire but was NOT
consumed, the eternal flames will do to the wicked exactly what
we observe and expect fire to do today.
(5) Proverbs 10: 25, "As the whirlwind passes, so is the
wicked no more." Again what can these words mean but the
extinction? We should note that such passages as Psalm 37: 10 do
not necessarily carry the idea of annihilation, as may be seen
for example from Genesis 5: 14 and 1 Kings 20: 4 (text and
WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH
Four times in the gospel of Matthew we are told that on the
day of judgment there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth"
(Mat.8: 12; 22: 13; 24: 51; 25: 30). The first, second and fourth
of these passages speak of "the outer darkness" and continue
immediately, "there (Greek ekei) will be weeping and gnashing of
teeth." Those who believe in the eternal conscious existence of
the lost believe that this weeping will be heard for ever in the
outer darkness, which they rightly identify as hell. If however
we look at the third passage (Mat.24: 51) we shall see that no
place is mentioned. "There" means "on that occasion." It is at
the throne of judgment, as the real nature of the wicked is
revealed to them in all its hideousness, in despair and misery
because of what they have lost and missed, as they hear the
sentence, perhaps through the temporary suffering, which, as we
shall see, precedes their destruction, that the weeping and
gnashing of teeth are heard.
Both as based on the OT. We find the weeping in Zephaniah 1:
14 and the gnashing of teeth in Psalm 112: 10. The prophet like
the evangelist uses the word "there" and confirms its reference
to the day of judgment, "The great day of the Lord is near, it
is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the
Lord: the mighty man shall cry THERE bitterly." The psalmist
confirms that the judgment upon the wicked is extinction, "The
wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash his teeth,
and melt away; the desire of the wicked shall perish."
Four times in the NT the final state of the wicked is
referred to as punishment. First comes the famous phrase at the
conclusion of the great judgment scene of the sheep and the goats
in Mat.25: 46, "And these shall go away into everlasting
punishment, but the righteous into life eternal."
Many have relied on this phrase to support the idea of the
everlasting conscious suffering of the wicked, reading it as if
it said, "everlasting punishING." This is not the meaning of the
word. When the adjective ATONIOS meaning "everlasting" is used in
Greek with nouns of ACTION it has reference to the RESULT of the
action, not the process. Thus the phrase "everlasting punishment"
is compared to "everlasting redemption" and "everlasting
salvation," both Scriptural phrases.
No one supposed that we are being redeemed or being saved
for ever. We were redeemed and saved once and for all by Christ
with eternal results. In the same way the lost will not be
passing through the process of punishment for ever but will be
punished once and for all with eternal results. On the other hand
the noun "life" is not a noun of action, but a noun expressing a
state. Thus the life itself is eternal.
It is this phrase "eternal life" that is here set in
contrast to "everlasting punishment." This should warm us that
everlasting punishment is likely to mean everlasting death. This
is exactly what we find in 2 Thessalonians 1: 9, as we shall see.
We cannot object that death is not punishment, having been
accustomed to use the phrase "capital punishment" all our lives.
The word here translated "punishment" is KOLASIS. A glance
at the word in Moulton and Milligan's VOCABULARY will show how it
was used at the time for pruning and cutting out of dead wood. If
that is its meaning here, it reflects Moses' frequent phrase,
"shall be cut off from his people." Thus the wicked will be
finally cut off from mankind.
The same root occurs again in our second occurrence in 2
Peter 2: 9, "the Lord knoweth how.....to reserve the unjust unto
the day of judgment to be punished," or possibly, as we have
seen, "to be cut off." The word here is the participle
KOLAZOMENOUS. Though the participle is in a present form, our
translators were clearly right to render it as a future.
Our third passage is 2 Thessalonians 1: 9, "who shall be
punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the
Lord and from the glory of his might, when He shall come." This
makes it clear that the everlasting punishment of Mat.25: 46 is
everlasting destruction, and this destruction must be
annihilation or personal extinction, since it is destruction from
the presence of the Lord.
All will agree that the presence of the Lord is everywhere.
To be destroyed from the presence of the Lord can therefore only
mean to be nowhere. This seems the more probable meaning of the
passage, but let us not press it, as it is possible, though we
feel less likely, to interpret the presence of the Lord here as
the time of His second coming when everlasting destruction, as we
all undoubtedly agree, will take place. The words used here for
"shall be punished" are DIKEEN TISOUSIN. They carry the idea of
Our fourth and last passage is Hebrews 10: 29. The word for
"punishment" is TIMORIA. It also carries the idea of retribution.
The apostle is contrasting the law with the gospel. He says in
verse 28 that anyone who despised Moses' law died without mercy
and goes on, "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he
be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God?"
This passage makes clear that death APART from suffering is
a punishment. Eternal destruction is a "sorer" punishment.
Therefore death (usually by judicial stoning) was a sore one. Now
eternal destruction, preceded, as we shall find, by retributive
suffering, is indeed much sorer than temporal death.
Those put to death under the law will rise again at the end
of the world, to judgment it is true, but who knows whether some
may not have been, or become at the approach of death, believers
at heart, who will therefore rise to eternal life? The terror and
despair of the lost at the throne of judgment, as we find them
portrayed in the Bible, cannot be exaggerated.
THE LOST IN PRISON
This seems to be the proper place to introduce the saying of
the Lord in the sermon on the mount to be found in Mat.5: 25, 26,
"agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou are in the way
with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the
judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be
cast into prison. Very I say unto you, thou shalt by no means
come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."
The parallel passage in Luke 12: 58, 59 says the same thing in
rather different language. It may well have been this passage on
which the late Sir Robert Anderson based his description of hell
in his book "Human Destiny" as a large prison in which the
lost lives for ever under restraint, though he rather curiously
conceived of them as accepting their destiny. As he was an
efficient and important official of police, we can easily
understand this idea as appealing to him. He evidently shrank
from the conception of actual fire and literal torments.
Many have felt that this passage justifies the view of the
everlasting conscious existence of the lost. But is not the
passage a little picture or parable of the wickedness and
consequences of lack of forgiveness? Is not the adversary God
himself? The who is the judge and who is the officer? They simply
represent figures in the parable. And if so, the prison does the
In any case can we pit these two isolated passages against
what we have seen to be the consistent testimony of the rest of
What we indeed learn from these sayings is that once
condemned the sinner can never hope for restoration. Not only can
he never pay the last farthing, but he cannot even pay the first.
SUFFERING OF THE LOST
Though Scripture teaches, as we have sort to show, the
extinction of the unrepentant sinners in eternal destruction, it
does not lead us to think of an instantaneous snuffing out of
their lives without exaction of full and complete retribution for
the wrong done to others by hateful and wicked lives and years of
unbroken sin against God. We will select three passages which
foresee this suffering.
(a) Obadiah 15, "the day of the Lord is near upon the
heathen; as you have done, it shall be done unto you: thy reward
shall return upon your own head." Here we find the law of
retaliation in force and on reflection we may feel that this is
what we should expect.
(b) Romans 2: 9, "tribulation and anguish, upon every soul
of man that does evil."
(c) Luke 12: 47, 48. Here we find that the future suffering
will vary in degree according to responsibility. Some have been
led to believe from the use of the word "servant" that this
passage concerns believers. Apart from the impossibility of such
an overthrow of the doctrine of grace the previous verse (46)
tells us that it concerns "unbelievers."
We thus learn that included in future punishment is a period
of suffering which varies in degree and precedes the fulfilment
of the punishment in everlasting destruction.
The length of this period of suffering, light or heavy as it may
be, is not stated or mentioned in Scripture. Some with the idea
of eternal suffering at the back of their minds put it at
centuries or millennia. There are no grounds for doing so.
THE SUFFERING AND THE DEATH OF CHRIST
It has sometimes been forgotten that we have in history at
the centre of our faith an open example and illustration of the
punishment of sin. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our sins in His own
body on the tree (1 Peter 2: 24). The use of the phrase "bear his
(their) iniquity" several times in the books of Moses proves that
to bear our sins means to bear the PUNISHMENT of them and all
Bible-believers will agree that this was actually the case.
Now at the time of His passion the Lord Jesus underwent a
period of increasing excruciating agony culminating in death. The
suffering lasted some hours. There is no reason why we should not
take this as the model and example of the final punishment
of sin.....When the Lord Jesus at last died, full satisfaction
was made for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2: 2), God's
holy law was vindicated and all sins potentially and actually
If He bore the punishment of our sins, that punishment
cannot under any circumstances be eternal conscious suffering or
misery, for He never suffered this and it is impossible that He
Thus the facts of the suffering and death of Christ Jesus
prove conclusively that the punishment of sin is DEATH in its
NATURAL SENSE of the deprivation of life......The Lord could not
be held by death. He was in the grave only so long....and as we
know and believe, rose to live for ever. The UNrepentant and
UNBELIEVING SINNER on the other hand has no escape from DEATH but
remains beneath its power eternally.
THE CONSUMMATION OF THE WICKED
We will now consider the usage as it bears on our subject of
a few Hebrew words with the general meaning of "consume" before
bringing our study to an end by an examination of the words used
in passages which speak of the destruction of the wicked by the
agency of fire.
(1) ACHAL is the ordinary word meaning "to eat." Its
significance for our purpose is that it was often used to express
the ACTION of fire. Fire, as we know, CONSUMES, and there is
nothing in the Bible to tell us that the eternal fire does not do
the same. One of the earliest occurrences of ACHAL with fire is
in Numbers 21: 28.
(2) KALAH means "to finish." We find it in Isaiah 1: 28,
"And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners
shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be
consumed." Again we find it in Psalm 59: 13, "Consume them in
wrath, consume them, that they may not be; and let them know
(i.e. let men know) that God rules in Jacob unto the ends of the
(3) SUPH means "to bring to an end." It is used of the
wicked on the day of judgment in Isaiah 66: 17. It appears again
in Zephaniah 1: 2,3 and Psalm 79: 13.
(4) The verb DAACH means to be extinct. It is used of the
end of the wicked probably in Isaiah 43: 17; Psalm 118: 12 and
Job 6: 17; and certainly in Proverbs 13: 9; 20: 20; 24: 20; Job
18: 5,6 and Job 21: 17.
Before leaving these words with the underlying notion of
"consume" it will be interesting to remind ourselves that the
common word ACHAL occurs in Exodus 3: 2 in the account of Moses
at the bush, where we are told that the bush burned with fire but
was not consumed.
This is exactly what many people think will be the case of
the lost in hell.
We have however never heard of any argument for this
doctrine based upon this incident, and with good reason, for not
only does the Bible speak consistently again and again of those
cast into hell being destroyed and consumed there, but the
emphasis that it places upon the supernatural strangeness of the
incident of the burning bush suggests that if the Holy Spirit
desired us to believe that the same thing is to happen in hell He
would have been at pains to make it perfectly clear to us instead
of using expressions which would lead us to think that the action
of hell fire is identical with the action of fire as we
ordinarily know it.
We now reach our final study, which is an examination of the
agency by which the destruction of the wicked will be
effected. This is said consistently throughout Scripture to
be FIRE. We shall concentrate on the NT, but some preliminary
remarks on the OT background must be made.
The ordinary Hebrew word meaning fire is ESH. It occurs
about 350 times. A glance through a concordance will satisfy us
that it bears the same elementary meaning as our own word "fire."
It is occasionally used in a figurative sense for something very
hot or to describe the wrath of God, as in Lev.13: 24; Haba.2:
13; Psalm 39: 3 or Job 31: 12. It is used of God himself (Deut.
5: 23), and in this connection it is important to turn to Isaiah
33: 14, where the prophet asks the question, "Who among us shall
dwell with everlasting burning?" Some would reply, "The lost will
do so forever." But that is a wrong answer. The next verse
answers the question, "He that walks righteously, and speaks
The sinners and hypocrites (v.14) are afraid that they
cannot do so, and rightly. When they touch the devouring fire,
they will be devoured by it. Only the righteous can dwell for
ever unscathed in the burning fire of God's presence.
Hebrew ESH is used in connection with the destruction of the
wicked, as in Psalm 21: 9, "You shall make them as a fiery oven
in the time of your anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in His
wrath, and the fire shall devour them."
There are two significant occurrences of the verb LAHAT,
which means "to set on fire," "to burn up."
The first of these is of great importance. It is found in
Malachi 4: 1, "For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an
oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be
stubble : and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the
Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch."
Is this not perfectly plain? How can we read into these
words "burn up," "leave neither root nor branch," the conception
of everlasting life in conscious misery? Verse 3 confirms the
meaning by telling us of the result; "You shall tread down the
wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in
the day that I shall do this, says the Lord of hosts."
The verb LAHAT is used figuratively in Psalm 57: 4, though it has
nothing in that passage to do with our subject. In Psalm 97: 3 it
speaks again of the destruction of the wicked, "A fire goes
before Him, and burns up His enemies round about."
GREEK PYR IN THE NT
The original Greek word for "fire" is PYR, corresponding in
meaning to Hebrew ESH, Latin IGNIS and our own FIRE. the Greek
and the English both stem from the root PUR, which must have been
in use four thousand years ago with the same elemental
The word occurs 20 times without reference to the second
death. The references are as follows: Mat.17: 15; Mark 9: 22,
49; Luke 9: 54; 12: 49; Acts 7: 30; 28: 5; James 3: 5; 2 Peter 3:
7; Romans 12: 20; 1 Cor. 3: 13, 15; Heb. 12: 29; Rev. 8: 7; 9:
18; 17: 16; 18: 8; 20: 9.
More than half of these refer to fire as we know and
recognize it, but there are some passages among them at which we
In Mark 9: 49 we have fire used as the symbol of fiery
trials and persecution with which every disciple must be salted
or made acceptable as a living sacrifice to God.
In Luke 12: 49 fire is used as the symbol of separation
between the members of families (verse.51-53) which was to result
by the Gospel from the Lord's first coming.
In Luke 17: 29 we are told of the rain of fire and brimstone
which destroyed all the people of Sodom, described in Jude 7, as
we shall see, as everlasting fire and symbolic of the eternal
fire which will destroy the wicked.
The martyr Stephen in his inspired speech refers to the
Angel who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Acts 7: 30). The
fire here is the supernatural fire with which the bush burnt
without being consumed, possibly the fire of the presence of God.
In 2 Peter 3: 7 the apostle speaks of the fire which will
destroy the heavens and the earth on the day of judgment. We may
possibly identify this with the fire of hell or the lake of fire.
In Romans 12: 20 the apostle quoting Proverbs 25: 21, 22
uses fire as a symbol of feelings of shame, conviction and
In 1 Cor. 3: 13, 15 the fire is symbolic either of the
testing fire of judgment at the last day or of earthly tests and
Hebrews 12: 29 quoted from Deut. 4: 24 speaks of God Himself
It remains to examine carefully the occurrences of the word
PYR which relate to the destruction of the wicked. We will divide
these into three: (1) those which speak of fire, or unquenchable
fire, (2) those which of the fire of hell, to which we will add
references to hell (Greek GEENNA) without mentioning fire, eleven
in number, and (3) those which speak of the lake of fire.
(a) Mat. 3: !0, "every tree which brings not forth good
fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire." What do we
naturally expect to happen to a tree that is thrown into the
And why should we not expect it in this case also?
(b) Mat.3: 12, "he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable
fire." The meaning of "burn up" is surely unmistakable. Can it by
any trick of imagination be made to mean "preserve alive in
everlasting misery"? But how many have felt that UNQUENCHABLE
fire expresses a special sort of fire which must go on burning
for ever. Now even if it actually did so, it would not follow
that the person or things cast into it would exist for ever
without being burnt up. But there is no reason to suppose that it
does. The idea of unquenchable fire is taken like so much else in
the NT from the Scriptures of the Old.
In Jeremiah 17: 27 we read that the Lord will kindle a fire
in the gates of Jerusalem which will devour her palaces and SHALL
NOT BE QUENCHED. The king of Babylon was the instrument through
whom God fulfilled this threat and the palaces were devoured.
But is the FIRE BURNING NOW? Of course not! No one in the world
could quench it TILL IT HAD FULFILLED THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH IT
WAS KINDLED, and then in the course of nature it WENT OUT.
In Jeremiah 7: 20 the Lord says the same thing about His
wrath against Jerusalem. Unquenchable fire in Scripture is thus
fire that cannot be put out UNTIL it has totally devoured what it
was kindled to burn up. Such will be the fire that will burn up
(c) Mat. 7: 19, "Every tree that brings not forth good fruit
is hewn down and cast into the fire." The Lord Jesus here repeats
the solemn words of John the Baptist. See (a) above.
(d) Mat.13: 40, "As therefore the tares are gathered and
burned in the fire; so shall it be at the end of this world."
Again can we force "burned" into meaning "exist for ever"?
(e) Mat. 13: 41, 42, "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 is nothing to lead us to
expect that those cast into the furnace will be preserved in it
as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were.
(f) Mat. 13: 49, 50, "the angels shall....sever the wicked
from among the just; and shall cast them into the furnace of
(g) Mat.18: 8, "It is better for you to enter into life halt
or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast
into everlasting fire." This is the first time in the NT that we
meet with the expression "everlasting fire," which we have
discussed above. The expression has been thought to infer the
everlasting life of the wicked in misery, just as has the
expression "unquenchable fire." But the Bible itself explains its
meaning. The apostle Jude tells us (Jude 7) that the fire which
destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was eternal fire (Greek AIONIOS,
"everlasting," "eternal"). It soon burnt itself out, but it was
everlasting in its accomplishing of destruction from which the
cities have never recovered nor ever will. It was everlasting in
its RESULTS. Such will be the fire that destroys the wicked. The
fire by the way, of Jude 7, cannot be a fire in which the
INHABITANTS of the guilty cities are burning today in another
world, because they would not in such a case be "set forth for an
example." It must have been the historical fire.
(h) Mat. 25: 41, "Then shall he say unto them on the left
hand, depart from me you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared
for the devil and his angels." Here we have the same everlasting
fire and we learn it is prepared for the devil and his
(We see in Revelation 20 that the devil will be cast into
the lake of fire that will as we have seen, burn up this earth,
after the 1,000 year reign of Christ, and at last all the
wicked, in order to bring God's salvation plan to its final
conclusion and usher in the new heavens and the new earth, as
Revelation 21 and 22 go on to expound for us. Physical
fire can not effect any spiritual creation of God. Physical fire
cannot of itself destroy Satan the devil nor his angels. But
Satan will be in the fire to behold the evil work he has helped
do through physical human beings, all come to a final end, all be
burnt up and cease to exist. The mental anguish in the mind of
Satan, when he realizes that he will never again have any human
flesh and blood beings to influence with iniquity and rebellious
ways against God, must be one of the worst punishments for
eternity, for the one who was the author of sin and
rebelliousness against the holy ways of the Lord God - Keith
(i) Mark 9: 44, "where their worm does not die and the fire
is not quenched." This is the description of hell (Greek GEENA),
which is mentioned at the conclusion of the preceding verse. We
shall leave the whole clause till we deal shortly with the word
GEENA and note meanwhile the statement that the fire is not
quenched. For this see (b) above.
(j) Mark 9: 46. This is identical with (i).
(k) Mark 9: 48. This is identical with (i) and (j).
(l) Luke 3: 9, see (a) above.
(m) Luke 3: 17, see (b) above.
(n) John 15: 6. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth
as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them
into the fire, and they are burned." We notice that such branched
are BURNED. The text does not say, "into the fire, where they
are preserved forever in suffering."
(o) James 5: 3, "and the rust of them shall be a witness
against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire." This
passage is clearly expressing in figurative language, but
is best thought of as speaking of the fire of hell.
(p) Jude 7, "Sodom and Gomorrah.....are set forth for an
example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." This is the
fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but we include it here
because it explains and illustrates the meaning of eternal
(everlasting AIONIOS) fire. See (g) above.
(q) Jude 23, "others save with fear, pulling them out of the
fire." When we save sinners by the agency of the Gospel, we save
them from the fire of hell.
(r) 2 Thes. 1: 7, 8, "When the Lord shall be revealed from
heaven with His mighty angels, in flames of fire." This seems
certainly to be the fire that accompanies the presence of God. It
may be identical with the fire of hell.
(s) Hebrews 10: 27, "a certain fearful looking for of
judgment and fiery indignation (Greek PYROS ZEELOS, "indignation
of fire"), which shall devour the adversaries." Here again the
apostle tells us that the adversaries of God will be DESTROYED by
fire. But the scheme of natural immortality says that they never
(t) Revelation 14: 9-11, "If any man worship the beast and
his image, and receive the mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is
poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and
he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of
the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke
of their torment ascended up for ever and ever: and they have no
rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and
whosoever receives the mark of his name."
We notice here......that it is addressed to a certain class
of persons......those who have refused to receive the love of the
truth that they might be saved and to whom God sends strong
delusion that they should believe the lie (2 Thes. 2: 10,
11)....their torment in fire and brimstone takes place in the
presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. This
is a powerful reason - the first of two - why this cannot be
everlasting suffering in hell. Hell is in "outer darkness" (Mat.
8: 12). It is everlasting destruction FROM THE PRESENCE of the
Lord, not torment in His presence (2 Thes. 1: 9). .....we may
well suppose it to be part of the "tribulation and anguish"
(Rom.2: 9) which sinners will suffer on the day of judgment.
We notice that the smoke of their torment goes up for ever
and ever. This is the second good reason why the torment here
cannot be eternal suffering in hell. The ascent of the smoke
shows that the STROKE of judgment is over (Gen.19: 24, 25, 28;
Isa. 34: 9, 10). The torment is the suffering that like that of
the Lord Jesus had its climax in death. The ascent of the smoke
for EVER AND EVER proves the judgment to be eternal destruction.
In Revelation 19: 3 we find the smoke of the Babylonish
whore going up for ever and ever, for the same reason and with
the same meaning. There can scarcely be anyone who believes that
a great city and ecclesiastical system will exist in conscious
torment for ever and ever. This is not the meaning of the ascent
of the smoke, but something quite different.
The torment is eternal torment in the sense of everlasting
punishment (we covered earlier).
We notice that these sinners have no rest day nor night
while their suffering last nor any restoration from the blackness
of darkness for ever. This punitive destruction holds no rest for
them such as the godly are pictured as having in their graves
while they await glorious resurrection (Rev.14: 13; Job 3: 17).
We saw....how the Hebrew word SH'OL and its corresponding
Greek HAIDEES were often inappropriately translated "hell," when
each should have been consistently translated "the grave." In the
NT alone we find the word GEENNA, which if it ought to be
translated at all is rightly and consistently translated "hell."
It occurs 11 times and is identical with the everlasting and
unquenchable fire which we have just examined.
The word is taken from the name of the valley of Hinnom
outside Jerusalem where the fires were continually kept burning
to dispose of the rubbish of the city including unburied corpses.
Hinnom was an abominable place. The idolatrous kings of
Judah set up in a high place called Tophet a shrine to the
heathen god Moloch at which they burned their children alive in
honor of the god, while drums beat loud to drown the screams of
the children. The prophet Jeremiah denounced this abominable
practice and foretold that Tophet would be destroyed and defiled
(see 2 Kings 23: 10; Jer.31: 32; 19: 2, 6; 32: 35; 2 Chron. 28:
3; 33: 6).
All references to GEENNA except the last come from the lips
of the Lord Jesus Himself. They are:
(1) Matthew 5: 22, "whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be
in danger of hell fire." Exact interpretation of this verse is
difficult, but it is clear that the Lord is saying that a
murderous, angry or unforgiving spirit makes a man liable to
final destruction in hell.
(2) Matthew 5: 29. Here the Lord tells men to separate
themselves at all costs from the sins of lust so as to avoid
being cast into hell.
(3) Matthew 5: 30. This is identical in meaning with the
(4) Matthew 10: 28, "but rather fear Him which is able to
destroy both soul and body in hell." Hell means final
destruction, not everlasting life in misery. We discussed this
verse in our first section when studying the meaning in the NT of
the Greek word PSYCHEE which corresponds to Hebrew NEPHESH.
(5) Matthew 18: 9. Here we have the expression "hell fire"
(Greek TEENB GEENAN TOU PYROS). This verse says the same things
as Matthew 5: 29 (2 above).
(6) Matthew 23: 15, "when he is made, ye make him twofold
more the child of hell than yourselves." The reference is to a
proselyte made by the Pharisees. A child of hell means one that
is destined to go there.
(7) Matthew 23: 33, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers!
How can you escape the damnation of hell?" The Lord is addressing
the scribes and Pharisees. To escape the damnation of hell means
to escape being condemned to hell. The obstinate self-
righteousness of the Pharisees kept them from repenting and
believing in Jesus.
(8) Mark 9: 43, 44. Here we find hell identified with the
unquenchable fire with the added description, "where their worm
dieth not and the fire is not quenched." Verse 43 is identical in
meaning with Matthew 5: 30........
It has often been supposed that the words in verse 44, 46
and 48 describe an everlasting life of suffering and misery in
hell. Even if they described a life of conscious suffering there,
which we deny, nothing is said about its eternity. But it is
often forgotten that the words are a quotation from Isaiah 66:
24. There in the last verse of the great prophet's book in a
context where he is describing the world to come, we read, " And
they (that is, the redeemed) shall go forth, and look upon the
carcases of the men that have transgressed against me; for their
worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched;
and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." ......
Surely the whole verse (Isa. 66: 24) is expressed in terms
describing the valley of Hinnom, of which it is a perfect
picture. Fires were continually burning there to consume
the rubbish of the city and all defilement. Carcases were
consumed by the flames, or, till they were reached by the flames,
lay there devoured by worms. (the worms did not die
but became flies - Keith Hunt)......
Thus the quotation by the evangelist of the prophet's
description of Hinnom and the taking over in the NT of the name
of Hinnom to express and describe hell gives us a clear picture
of hell as the bonfire and rubbish heap of creation, where
everything that defiles (Rev. 21: 27), including of course wicked
men, is burnt up and utterly destroyed out of the existence in
Can we extract any other meaning from the prophet's words
after finding that they are a direct quotation from the prophet
without breaking the unity of the Old and New Testament?
(9) Mark 9: 45, 46. See No.8.
(10) Mark 9: 47, 48. See No.8.
(11) James 3: 6, "the tongue is a fire.....and it is set on
fire of hell." This is the only reference to hell outside the
Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Like much else in the epistle
of james it is difficult.....Obviously the fire is in no sense
literal. If we are inclined to think that the fire of hell is
burning in another world, and that somehow the tongue is in touch
with it, we abandon at once the actuality of the fire of hell. It
could only be symbolic. But fire as the agent of destruction of
sinners is spoken of so often in Scripture that we do not get the
impression that it is a symbol, and a vague symbol at that.
Perhaps the most proper way of regarding the apostle's statement
in this verse is to think of it as including a very fierce and
dangerous fire, so fierce that it can only be compared to the
fire of hell.
(Also, the unruled tongue has all the wickedness in it,
coming from the unruled wicked mind, that such attitude of heart
and mind displayed in the outward form of the tongue, will lead
that person so evidencing that mindset, to destruction in the
fire of hell - Keith Hunt).
THE LAKE OF FIRE
There remains 5 passages in the closing chapters of the
Apocalypse in which the unquenchable and everlasting fire of hell
is described as the LAKE OF FIRE. These are:
(a) Revelation 19:20 Here we read that at the great battle
of the last day the beast and the false prophet were taken and
cast alive both of them into the lake of fire that burns with
brimstone. Now the beast is the great Roman Empire and the Papacy
as its last manifestation and the false prophet is the
ecclesiastical Roman hierarchy. It will be seen at once that the
great political and ecclesiastical systems can neither suffer
torment nor remain alive and conscious in the lake of fire. It is
quite clear that only their utter extermination can
result......We have a clear proof that the lake of fire is the
agency of utter destruction. The statement here agrees with that
in Daniel 7: 11.
(b) Revelation 20: 10, " And the devil that deceived them
was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and
the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night
(The phrase "where the beast and false prophet are" is
parenthetical. The first clause about the devil is connected to
the last clause, were he will be tormented for ever and ever. The
Greek for "forever and ever" is "ages to the ages" - Keith Hunt)
.....The dependent sentence speaks of the beast and the
false prophet (Rev.19: 20). Some have concluded from the word
"are" that the beast and the false prophet will still be existing
in the lake of fire when the devil is cast into it, which is
after an interval of a thousand years (Rev. 20: 2, 3, 7), but
careful readers will note that the word "are" is in ITALICS,
which shows that ir does not occur in the original Greek. The
preceding main clause demands that the words "had been cast" (not
"are") should be supplied.
The beast and the false prophet has ceased to exist a
thousand years previously. Our A.V. text continues "and shall be
tormented." This conceals the fact that the Greek verb
BASANISTHEESONTAI is plural.....
(Plural because day and night or "ages to the ages" is
mentioned as not singular, but from one age to another age - many
ages - Keith Hunt).
Many have used this verse and Revelation 14: 10 to sustain
the view of eternal conscious misery for the wicked in hell. This
verse is clearly connected with Revelation 14: 10, which gives us
the clue to its interpretation. There we read of the SMOKE of the
torment going up for ever and ever and we saw from OT passages on
which the words are based that the torment ends in everlasting
destruction. The meaning here must clearly be the same, or we
would have an intolerable inconsistency. Here it is expressed by
the verb instead of the noun......
(But here it speaks of the devil being tormented to the ages
of the ages, not the people or the beast and the false prophet -
(c) Revelation 20: 14. Here we find death and the grave cast
into the lake of fire. This can mean nothing but their utter
annihilation and proves to us the function of the lake of fire.
(d) Revelation 20: 15. Here we find all the wicked cast into
the lake of fire. The previous verse has shown us conclusively
that this means their complete extinction.
(e) Revelation 21: 8. Sinners have their part in the lake of
fire, which is here and in verse 14 (c above) defined and
explained as the second death......we saw that the word "death"
has in Scripture its natural meaning of the extinction of life
and we have seen that there is every reason to conclude that when
used in this verse the word has its natural meaning.
Thus we have see that....the wicked oppressive system, death
and the grave and all wicked men will on the great day be totally
destroyed out of God's creation. Indeed ALL EVIL will be
Compiled by Keith Hunt, June 2002. With this last study in the
series on Death and Hell, we end the quotes from Basil Atkinson's
book called "Life and Immortality."
It has been a great privilege to have been able to preserve and
proclaim to the world the writings of Atkinson on this important