by Shawn Brasseaux
Do lost souls literally spend eternity in torments, or is this simply something Christians like to say to scare people into getting saved? Are people really going to suffer in hellfire forever and ever?
Many people today—even a large number of “evangelicals”—adhere to the idea of “annihilationism,” the belief that God completely destroys the bodies and souls of the lost people in hell, that these lost people cease to exist forever, that they do not suffer forever and ever. “Annihilationism” is unscriptural—in fact, it is heresy. The Bible is adamant that the bodies and souls of lost people will spend a literal eternity in the literal lake of fire and brimstone (sulfur). Their souls and bodies will never be consumed in hell. We turn to the Holy Scriptures because God’s Word—not a theological system—is the final authority.
Matthew 10:28 KJV says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Proponents of “annihilationism” twist (deliberately distort and misquote) this verse in a desperate attempt to prove that God annihilates both body and soul in hell. Before we jump to this conclusion, let us consider other Bible verses. In order to understand one verse, we need to look for others! What does it mean that bodies and souls are “destroyed” in hell?
The Lord Jesus Christ said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 KJV). Mark 8:36 KJV says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Luke 9:25 KJV says, “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” Losing your eternal soul is the greatest of all losses, so take this topic seriously!
In the context of these verses, Jesus Christ told His Jewish disciples to “take up [their] cross, and follow [him]” (Matthew 16:24). “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (verse 25). They should not fear losing their earthly lives for His sake. What is most important is that they not lose their souls!
When Matthew 10:28 speaks of the soul and body being destroyed in hell, it is referring to the body and soul of a person becoming useless and worthless, degenerating, the very identity of the person being lost. In other words, the lost person in hell becomes a nobody. The “rich man” in Luke 16:19,22, was just that, just another rich man—unlike Lazarus, he did not have a name. That is what Jesus meant when He said the person in hell “loses his soul” and “loses himself.” Luke 9:25 KJV says, “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” To lose yourself means to lose your identity. In hell, one becomes a nameless, worthless creature.
Jesus Christ declared there is more to life than this physical world and its temporal possessions. There is a spiritual world—an afterlife—to consider. Jesus asked, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Does it make sense to emphasize this temporary world and its corruptible goods, to the point of ignoring your eternal soul, and wind up losing it in hellfire forever and ever?
There is more to a person than just the physical body. Your inner man—your soul, your spiritual body—is everlasting. To ignore Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork as sufficient payment for your sins, is to remain dead in those sins, resulting in you spending eternity suffering God’s wrath in the lake of fire literally as a nameless, hopeless, disfigured creature. Your soul is not worth losing! Trust Christ as your personal Saviour today!
Now, let us look at verses that demonstrate how those in hellfire will exist forever and ever in torments. Revelation 20:10 KJV says, “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 for ever and ever.” The beast (antichrist) and the false prophet have already been there in the lake of fire for 1,000 years and they have not been annihilated! The Bible says “they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Can the Bible be any plainer? People in hellfire are tormented forever and ever—there is no annihilation, no passing into nonexistence.
Mark 9:43-48 KJV repeats five times that hell is “the fire that never shall be quenched.” By the way, modern Bibles either partially or completely remove verses 44 and 46:
“43 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:
44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
45 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:
46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
48 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
This phrase “where the worm dieth not,” quoting Isaiah 66:24, refers to the unsaved person’s soul lasting for all eternity. Just like worms (maggots) eat decaying flesh in the natural world (see Acts 12:23), the soul of a lost person will burn in hellfire forever. Their “worm” will never die. Their soul degenerates into what the Bible calls a “worm,” something that will never die. They will last forever. Jesus Christ’s soul was said to have become a “worm” when God’s wrath was poured out on Him at Calvary (Psalm 22:6). Lost people will experience a similar situation in hellfire forever and ever.
Matthew 18:8 and Matthew 25:41 both speak of hell as an “everlasting fire:” if those in hellfire cease to exist, then why does the fire last forever? In 2 Thessalonians 1:9 KJV, the lost world will be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” They will be punished from His presence; that is, eternally separated from God forever. If they were annihilated, would that be everlasting punishment? No, that would be ended punishment! Therefore, there is no annihilation. Their punishment in hellfire lasts forever and ever. Daniel 12:2 speaks of them that “sleep in the dust of the earth” (physically dead), and when they are resurrected bodily, some of them will awake “to shame and everlasting contempt”—shame and everlasting worthlessness!
We find even more Scripture in the little book of Jude that refutes the heretical idea of annihilationism. Jude 1:7 KJV explains: “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.”
Now, we know from Genesis chapter 19 that fire rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, but this verse says “eternal fire.” Obviously, this is a reference to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah facing hell and the lake of fire, because the fire that rained down from heaven in Genesis chapter 19 stopped. Once the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah died physically, their souls continued burning and they woke up in hell!
Jude 1:13 KJV, “[false teachers are] raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” This verse says “darkness for ever,” leading us to conclude that the lake of fire is everlasting. Some modern Bibles omit this phrase too!
The Bible says in Revelation 14:10-11 KJV: “ 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 ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” How long will the torment of the lake of fire last? “For ever and ever.” The Bible says “they have no rest day nor night”—this is only true if there is no annihilation. God’s wrath against their sin will never be satisfied, so their torment will last forever!
Currently, when a lost person dies, his or her soul goes into “hell,” a spiritual place of torments (according to Luke 16:22-28). Every lost person from the ages past is here and they are waiting for their bodily resurrection. “Hell” is like the holding cell, and the lake of fire is their destination. At the Great White Throne Judgment, these lost people will be resurrected bodily, brought before the Lord Jesus Christ to be judged and given their punishment, the everlasting lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
Now, do not be confused when Revelation 20:15 says “second death.” “Death” means “separation”—“death” does not mean annihilation or complete destruction (cessation of existence). These people have already experienced a physical death (when they died on earth, their body separated from the soul and spirit). But, this “second death” is being eternally separated from the presence of the Lord.
That lake of fire in Revelation chapter 20 is literally forever. Just like the believers’ bodies will be made to last all eternity in heaven, the lost unbelievers’ bodies will be fashioned to last all eternity in the lake of fire. The flames of hell will preserve the souls of the lost (see Mark 9:48-50), just as the flames did not consume the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3. When the Bible says “the second death,” it does not refer to lost people literally dying forever and becoming nonexistent, it means they are separated from God forever. They still exist, even in hell!
People in hellfire will never receive eternal life, they will receive eternal death, eternal separation from God. God has given them a chance to escape through faith in the Gospel of Grace, so He can be totally righteous and just for letting them suffer forever (after all, they rejected the fact that Jesus Christ suffered all that He did on their behalf). God’s justice demands that if a person refuses His Son and His offer of salvation, He has every right to damn them to a lost eternity. The Lord Jesus Christ has done everything to give everyone a chance to avoid the awful lake of fire. Yes, it is sad when people go to hell, so that should encourage us to tell our loved ones the Gospel of God’s Grace… before they go to hell too!
Are you saved today? Have you trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour? If you have not done so, you are on your way to hell! But, you do not have to go to hell. Jesus Christ did everything on Calvary so that you would not have to suffer in the lake of fire for your sins. “Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and was raised again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Trust in Christ alone, and God will save you forever!
If you reject Jesus Christ, refusing to trust in Him, you will remain dead in your trespasses and sins, so your eternal destiny will be to fry in the everlasting lake of fire.