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Everlasting Fire, Eternal Fire Matt. 25:41. The meaning of "everlasting fire" is graphically illustrated and explained by the following Bible passages:

"Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" Jude 7. Sodom "was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her" [i.e., no man could stop the city's destruction] Lam. 4:6. "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that afterward should live ungodly" 2 Pet. 2:6. "As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, saith the Lord; so shall no man abide there. neither shall any son of man dwell therein" Jer. 50:40, cf. 49:18. God burned Sodom and Gomorrah with eternal fire, as an example of the fate of all who would live wickedly. The result of the fire was that (a) Sodom and Gomorrah were quickly turned into ashes; (b) they ceased to burn; and (c) were never again inhabited. This shows that the "eternal fire" which destroys the wicked is everlasting in its result, and not in its duration.*

Forever. "The smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever" Rev. 14:11. This text does not say the shrieks of their torment ascend up forever and ever. Smoke and ashes are the end products of fire. Pointing to the Lord's vengeance by fire on the wicked, Isaiah says, "It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it" Isa. 34:10,11, (see vv.1, 2). David declared that the wicked will consume away into smoke; and Malachi says they will be reduced to ashes. See Ps. 37:20: Mal. 4:3. Further. there are relative degrees of punishment for the lost; some will suffer longer than others, according to their deeds, but all the wicked shall ultimately cease to exist. See Rev. 22:12; Ps. 37:10; 21:8-10. While the fire burns there will be no relief from its torment. See Rev. 20:10. Notice also from Matt. 25:41 that the fire is prepared for the devil and his angels, who will perish in it, and never return to life. See Ezek. 28:18, 19. Only those who stubbornly identify with Satan's rebellion will join him in this fiery extinction. Thus we see that the words "forever," and "everlasting" can express an unbroken period of time.

Instances of the use of the Hebrew word "forever" (olam) which simply indicate an uninterrupted finite period:

  • Jonah 1:17; 2:6. Here, forever means three days.
  • Ex. 21:6; 1 Sam. 1:22, 11, 28. Here it means the lifetime of a man.
  • Ps. 37:20; Rev. 20:9, 10. Here it means until the wicked are devoured or consumed.

When "eternal" truly means forever throughout eternity:

  • Ps. 90:2: Ps. l19:142; Is. 9:6; 51:11; Dan. 7:27; 9:24; Matt. 19:29; Rev. 22:5. Here everlasting means to all eternity, because it is in reference to God and His eternal purposes.

Everlasting punishment. Matt. 25:46. God's final, everlasting punishment of the wicked is their complete and irrevocable destruction. Death and the grave are destroyed in the lake of fire. See Rev. 20:14. The results of the fire are eternal, not the process. The fire of divine punishment devours the wicked, it does not immortalize them in misery. See Rev. 20:9. They shall "be as though they had not been" Obad. 16. Christ taught (Matt. 10:28) that soul and body are destroyed (eradicated) in the fires of gehenna (burning hell, lake of fire).

Unquenchable Fire. Matt. 3:12. The Greek words for "unquenchable fire" primarily mean "unextinguished," that is, not caused to cease by external means. But the idea of unending fire is not implied by the words themselves or the teachings of Scripture. God's fire of judgment burns without abatement or interruption until it consumes all that He has appointed for destruction. Then it ceases to burn. See Ezek. 20:45-48, cf. Jer. 21:14; Isa. 1:31.

God decreed that if Jerusalem refused to obey His laws, especially the Sabbath, He would kindle an unquenchable fire in their gates. See Jer. 17:27, cf. 7:16-20. Jerusalem was burned in A.D. 70, when Rome invaded it, leaving it a charred ruin. Ancient and modern Jerusalem are in the same location. No fire is burning there now. When the fire of God's wrath completes its work, there is not so much as "a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it." (Isa. 47:14) so absolute is the eradication of evil. See Matt, 3:11, 12; Mal. 4:1-3.

Worm dieth not. Mk. 9:43-48, cf. Isa. 66:22-24. Outside ancient Jerusalem, was a disposal ground called "gehenna." A constant fire destroyed most of the refuse, and maggots consumed the rest. The process of destruction was perpetual. but no corpse in this gehenna experienced pain. The phrase "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" simply refers to the destruction of the wicked. All additional references to worms in Scripture do not bear the least suggestion that these creatures will be immortalized to feast on the lost. See Job 19:26; 21:26; Isa. 14:11; 51:7, 8. Notice that Isaiah 66:24 speaks of worms eating carcasses (dead bodies) and not the bodies or souls of the lost, miraculously sustained to suffer eternal torture.

*Note: the word everlasting in Matt. 25:4l, and eternal in Jude 7 are the same Greek word —aionios.

[For a discussion of the Bible understandings in this article in comparison with those of the Evangelical community, click here.]

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Created: 8/1/01 Updated: 07/16/07