In this article, we will consider what Jesus and the Gospel accounts have to say in regards to the final fate of the wicked. Jesus/the Gospel accounts pick up right where the Old Testament leaves off.
The wicked will be:
“cut down and thrown into the fire” and “burned up with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:10, 12; 7:19; Lk. 3:17).
This figure of unquenchable fire is seen throughout the Old Testament as language to describe a fire that can’t be put out or escaped from, it is a fire that consumes anything in its path.
‘Hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree and every dry tree in you; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it” (Ezek. 20:47-48).
But do not seek Bethel, Nor enter Gilgal, Nor pass over to Beersheba; For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, And Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the Lord and live, Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, And devour it, With no one to quench it in Bethel” (Amos 5:5-6).
The wicked are warned of hell fire (Mt. 5:22). It is better to have your hand or foot cut off than to go to hell to be destroyed forever (Mt. 5:29-30; 18:8. 9). It is better to live with missing limbs than to have no life at all.
The wicked will be destroyed.
Matthew 7:13-14 says:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Jesus and the Gospel accounts constantly teach that the wicked will be destroyed. Jesus, in no uncertain terms, said:
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell” (Mt. 10:28).
Jesus also said:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Me shouldn’t perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Life is contrasted with death and destruction. The righteous will have eternal life whereas the wicked will be destroyed and perish. The righteous will go into eternal life and the wicked into everlasting fire and everlasting punishment (Mt. 25:41, 46).
The Bible cannot be any clearer that the gift of eternal life for the righteous is just as long as the punishment is for the wicked. It is forever. The question is not how long is the punishment. The question is what is the punishment? The everlasting punishment is destruction (Mt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Jesus will destroy both body and soul in hell (Mt. 10:28; Lk. 12:4-5). Once destroyed, it will be forever, irreversible and irrevocable. While the righteous will live on with eternal life, the wicked will perish forever (Jn. 3:16). The duration of the wicked’s destruction is just as long as the life of the righteous: forever.
Mark 9:42-48: The worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
In Mark 9:42-48, Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24 and applies it to the final fate of the wicked. What is the context of Isaiah 66:24? To understand the context is to understand the application.
In short, the context is speaking of how God will execute judgment on His enemies with a fiery sword (Isa. 66:15-16). The wicked will be consumed altogether (Isa. 66:17). While the wicked are destroyed, the righteous will continue (Isa. 66:22). In this passage that Jesus quoted, the righteous are looking at unconscious corpses of the wicked that have been destroyed, not living bodies being tormented. The wicked under consideration are dead, not conscious. They have been destroyed, they are not living. Jesus consistently teaches that destruction in hell is going to be the final fate of the wicked (Mt. 7:13-14).
Different degrees of punishment.
The Bible teaches, or at least implies, that there will be different “degrees” of suffering for the wicked before they are destroyed (Mt. 11:22-24; Lk. 10:13-15; Mt. 12:41; Lk. 11:29-32; etc.). This can further be demonstrated in Jesus’ own death. Jesus came to take the penalty we deserve. The penalty we deserve is death as a final fate (Rom. 6:23). Since Jesus took upon the penalty we deserve, then those who accept God’s gift will receive eternal life (Rom. 6:23).
Before Jesus’ actual death, He was tormented for the sins of the world and then He died (1 Pet. 2:23-24; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:20-21; Isa. 53; etc.). Those who do not receive the gift of eternal life will be responsible for their sins since they choose not to allow Jesus to carry their sins. They too will be tormented based upon the life they lived and then ultimately destroyed. The difference is that Jesus overcame death whereas the wicked will be destroyed forever and will not overcome death.
The Bible is not clear as to the duration of the wicked’s suffering before being destroyed. I do believe the Bible teaches there will be different degrees of suffering depending upon the level of wickedness of each individual who rejected Jesus. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the final destination of the wicked is destruction, not eternal conscious torment.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The torment the wicked will receive before being destroyed is also implied in passages that speak of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that takes place in hell (Mt. 8:11, 12; 13:30, 40-43; 13:48-50; See also: Psa. 112:10). You can only imagine the weeping and yelling that takes place by those who are burned to death. This is the picture Jesus so explicitly gives us.
Some argue that there are no degrees of suffering and that these passages are figurative, and perhaps, even in regards to the destruction of Jerusalem (At least in part). Whichever view you choose to take on the suffering of the wicked, the final fate of the wicked is always seen as destruction, regardless of how much suffering may take place before. Based upon the aforementioned passages, I personally believe that different degrees of suffering for the wicked will take place depending upon each individual before they are destroyed forever in hell.
Jesus emphatically taught that hell is a real place. Jesus taught much more on hell than He did heaven. Furthermore, Jesus taught that the punishment of the wicked is just as long as the gift of the righteous. The punishment is eternal and the gift is eternal. The gift is life and the punishment is death.
To teach that the wicked will live forever while being consciously tormented is to teach something Jesus never did. In fact, it is in direct opposition to what Jesus taught. For if the wicked live forever, then they too have eternal life. Yet, Jesus taught that eternal life is only reserved for the righteous (Mt. 7:13-14).
To rewrite the Scriptures in such a way as to teach eternal conscious torment is to teach the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. The Bible says that the wicked will perish, not continue. The Bible teaches that the wicked will die, not live. The totality of the wicked person (both body and soul) will be destroyed in hell. This is what Jesus taught is the final fate of the wicked.
– Kevin Pendergrass
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