By Bob Dickey
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. . .”
“I thought I’d die before we got out of there; professor Winchell went on for an eternity!” Such loose talk is common today as many seek to express their feelings in noticeably extreme fashion, but true consideration of the biblical teaching of eternal death would sober us all in mind and in speech.
Eternal death is perhaps one of the most apt of all biblical descriptions of Hell (Gehenna), the final state of the wicked. while other descriptions and terms must be considered (fire, torment, darkness, etc.), the very nature of this punishment and its duration can best be viewed by understanding the meaning of the Scripture’s use of the words eternal death as applied to Hell.
Hell Is Death – The Second Death
When we consider the state of the unbeliever’s eternal destiny, it is best understood in terms of death. Paul spoke of this death as the consequence of sin (Rom. 6:23), indicating that it would result when one lived according to the flesh (Rom. 8:13). This death of which we now speak is not physical death. Physical death ends life as we know it upon the earth, but spiritual death is the consequence of sin. It is a death that, unless one is born again, will be experienced eternally. Sowing to the flesh will cause one to reap “corruption” (relating to death); sowing to the Spirit will bring eternal life (Gal. 6:7-8).
That death which is descriptive of the destiny of the wicked is graphically pictured in the Revelation: “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Rev. 2:11); “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power” (Rev. 20:6); “And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14; see also, Rev. 21:8). Notice that in these passages Hell (the destiny of the wicked) is termed “the second death.” Indeed, the believer may die physically, but he has a spiritual life and fellowship with the Father that will continue. When the unbeliever comes to physical death, he will find beyond that mortal separation a far greater one: a separation from the presence, blessings, and fellowship of God. This tragic separation is described as the second death. Writing of this second death, Alford explains: “As there is a second higher life, so there is also a second and deeper death. And as after that life there is no more death, so after that death, there is no more life” (Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, p. 735). This second death is in clear contrast to the heavenly inheritance of the saints of God. The wicked that suffer this second death shall do so in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:14-15).
Once we understand this concept of Hell as death, viewing it as separation from God, we will find deeper significance in the warning pronouncements of our Lord to the unrighteous: “Then shall he say also unto them of the left hand, Departfirom me” (Matt. 25:41); “And these shall go away into eternal punishment” (verse 46; emphasis mine, bd). The terms “depart” and “go away” show clearly a separation from the blessed fellowship of the Father and the Son. When the wicked suffer everlasting destruction it will be “away from the face of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9). The eternal place of dwelling will be outside the wedding feast, for the door to the banquet-hall will be shut (Matt. 8:11f; 22:13; 25:10-13). They will knock on the door, but their efforts at entry will be in vain (Lk. 13:28). They will find themselves outside with the dogs (Rev. 22:15). Their place shall be in the bottomless pit of darkness (Rev. 9:1-2,11; 20:1-3). Thus shall they ever remain – separated eternally from the presence of the Father and the glorious Lamb.
Hell Is Eternal – Everlasting
Men struggle with the concept of eternal. Perhaps understanding the nature of Hell as death – separation from God -would do much to ease the grasp of the idea of eternal punishment. It should be viewed as the constant, continual, and unending separation from the Father.
Eternal means “without end, never to cease, everlasting” (Thayer). It is interesting to note that Liddell and Scott, in their Greek-English Lexicon, refer to the classical Greek with the word “perpetual” and indicate its similarity to the Greek adjective aidios, defined by them as “everlasting” or “eternal.” It is clear that in classical usage, the word meant perpetual, eternal, or ever-lasting. The Scriptures speak of God as eternal; so also, things not seen, glory, salvation, redemption, covenant, kingdom, gospel, etc. , as well as eternal punishment, judgment, fire, destruction, etc. The term may signify “age-lasting, ” or as long as an age may endure (regarding dispensation or time). But when it is found in reference to man’s judgment and the end of all earthly things, it carries the idea of eternal or never ending.
Perhaps an unfortunate distinction is sometimes made when considering the statement of Matthew 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (KJV). Somehow, as a result of this unfortunate translation, many have stumbled, concluding falsely that there is some distinction between these terms. But the Greek text has but one and the same adjective. It describes the destiny of both the righteous and the wicked. A consistent rendering (as is found in the ASV, NASB, etc.) does much to avoid this unwarranted distinction. The eternal punishment of the wicked is just as long as the eternal bliss and reward of the righteous.
In fact, it is often helpful when considering the idea of eternal punishment in Gehenna to contrast the life of the righteous with the torment of the wicked:
1. The righteous (before the throne of God) “serve him day and night” (Rev. 7:14-15).
The wicked (who worship the beast) have no rest day and night” (Rev. 14:11).
2. Of heaven (the abode of the righteous) it is said, “there shall be no night there” (Rev. 21:25).
Of hell (the prison-house of the wicked) we must read, , ‘outer darkness” (Matt. 22:13; 25:30).
The duration for both groups is the same. To remain with God will bring eternal life; to be separated from God will result in eternal death. The punishment of Gehenna is unending, just as its fire is unquenchable (Matt. 3:12; 18:8; Mk. 9:43; Lk. 3:17). In that horrible place, the worm does not die (Mk. 9:48). The bonds that hold the wicked there are never loosed (Jude 6-7). The smoke of that torment ascends forever (Rev. 14:9-11). The shame and contempt of that place, and those who go there, is everlasting (Dan. 12:2). The torment will go on unabated, “day and nightfor ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
Certainly it is difficult for finite minds to understand the concept of eternity. We show that difficulty when we say such things as “spend eternity” (We may spend money, but not eternity.), or we use the expression “throughout eternity ” (which suggests it has an end). Our human familiarity with time as we know it makes it almost impossible to grasp the sense of eternity. Sadly, most have little fear of the thought of eternal punishment in Hell.
But make no mistake about it! It will not be death for just a few years, decades, or centuries. God will not be away for just a while. The pain and agony will never go away. There will never be the relief of rest. If Hell were only to last 1,000 years perhaps it could be endured with some hope. After one day there, you could say, “I only have 999 years and 364 days, and I’ll get out of this place!” But there is no getting out of Hell. There is no measurement of days or years -just the never ending torment of a Devil’s punishment. As someone has said, “Hell is not a place where one goes to be purged, purified, salvaged, or made fit to go to heaven. Hell is not a reform school, resort, or playground. Hell is a place of eternal punishment.”
So, we urge men to stay out! There is only one Way to stay out (Jn. 14:6), but there is no way to get out! Willy Sutton, the famous criminal, used to boast that there was no prison that could hold him. Men may escape from manmade prisons, but they will never climb out of the bottomless pit of Hell! No one will be able to swim across the lake of fire and brimstone! Don’t make the mistake of living so that you will go there – it is a place of eternal death!
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 19, pp. 588-589
October 3, 1991