Eternal Conscious Torment (2024)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The study committee was formed at the 2022 BFC Conference in response to a petition from Whitehall BFC which asked for a more complete resource to support the current doctrine of eternal conscious torment. The report and appendices below were the result of the committee’s work. The report was received at the 2024 Conference and Whitehall felt this fulfilled their request. The committee was thanked and dissolved at the 2024 Conference.


        Historically, the Christian church has for centuries held the position that the teaching of the Bible regarding hell is that hell is real and that the torment experienced by the unrighteous and the impenitent is conscious and never-ending. We believe the historical position to be the correct one: one that is supported throughout the Scriptures and most forcefully—and frequently—by our Lord Jesus Christ.

            That said, the church’s traditional teachings on hell have come under fire in recent years as well-meaning followers of Jesus became embarrassed, and even outraged, at the thought of a good and loving God excluding anyone from finding eternal happiness with Him in heaven or sending people to eternal conscious punishment for what seem to be finite sins. “It is now routinely dismissed as an embarrassing artifact from an ancient age—a reminder of Christianity’s outdated worldview,” posits Albert Mohler Jr.[1]

            Alternate positions popularly known as Universalism and Annihilationism have gained increasing support throughout some circles in evangelical Christendom and may be held by some who worship regularly in our BFC communities. Annihilationism has especially found increasing support in evangelicals as an attempted “middle ground” position of keeping a more biblical doctrine of hell yet limiting its degree and scope so as to make judgment more palatable and “loving.” Yet before we can address annihilationism’s weakness and overall lack of biblical support, and subsequently lay out the reality and necessity of the orthodox position of “eternal conscious torment,” it is important that we start by briefly looking at the universalist position and its weaknesses, since, as we will see, its concerns are ultimately the same as those of the annihilationist position, even if rejected by those who hold to that position.

            The purpose of this presentation is a pastoral one; that is, we wish to provide biblical truth but lovingly so. How may we most effectively counsel, comfort, and challenge our brothers and sisters who hold to other positions or who struggle with the hard facts of eternal conscious torment? How do we help them to understand that God’s justice and love are both involved in passages where those who reject Christ as Savior are consigned to a hell where there will be, Jesus says, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12 et al)? Erik Raymond says, “The consideration of hell will make demands on our willingness to be faithful to God and His Word. But we must be faithful not only in matters of doctrine but also to the corresponding tone with which the Bible explains and communicates these truths.”[2]

Engaging the universalist position

            At a basic level, universalism has as its motivation a revolt against the endless punishment of the unsaved, which universalists see as an abandonment of the compassion of mankind and a negation of God’s love and goodness. Universalists claim that, for God to have victory over sin and death and for Jesus to “reconcile all things to himself” (Col. 1:20), all of mankind must be ultimately redeemed and brought into eternal fellowship with God in heaven. If sin, Christ’s headship in the incarnation, His atoning work on the cross, and the resurrection are all universal, then the task of redemption, they argue, must be universal in scope since “God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).[3] If “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and He does not wish anyone to be apart from Him, having created mankind to be in perfect relationship with Him for all eternity, and ifthe work of Jesus is sufficient and effective in making a way for mankind to once again be in that relationship, then God must be not only able but actively working toward that goal. Thus, since hell exists for those who do not have faith in Jesus in this life, it must instead be rehabilitative and restorative, not punitive, so as to finish the process of redemption and restoration that God desires for all people.[4]

            While it is neither our intention nor ability in this short introduction to address all the issues of this position, we need to make some general claims and insights showing the overall weakness of this position and how its desires are also seen in the annihilationist position (which we will deal with next).

First, universalism holds no weight when compared to what Scripture teaches, and even universalists claim that this position requires some creative exegesis. Although universalists admit that God does send people to hell, their position rests on the necessity of post-mortem evangelism, sanctification, and redemption – positions they admit are not clearly taught in Scripture.[5] Because of this lack of biblical support, second and similarly, this view is foundationally a moral and emotional claim for God’s goodness and love to override the traditional doctrine of hell. It is primarily grounded in a desire to reconcile the exclusivity of Christianity with other religions and their soteriology in order to reassure ourselves that those who have rejected God, or have never received the gospel, will yet be saved. It is sometimes used as an attempt to try to gain rapport with the inclusive, postmodern, and secular worldview of the West.[6] As such, the traditional view is seen as “morally revolting” and “morally intolerable” because of God’s love and must be reworked accordingly.[7]

For universalists, God’s love and goodness must be able to take into account human freedom which, experience shows, often leads to a rejection of God in this life. Therefore, as we said above, hell is more restorative and rehabilitative than punitive. As one author says, “The controlling image is of a kind of therapy in which God uses hell to restore to health those apart from Him.”[8]

            At a basic level, the fact that universalism is based on emotional and moral claims that God’s love in incompatible with the eternal conscious punishment seen in the traditional doctrine of hell, and not on strong biblical evidence, not only shows its ultimate failure as a serious position but also sheds light on the ways in which annihilationism fails these same tests. These two positions, even with annihilationism claiming more biblical support through the creative exegesis of several passages, ultimately lead to its adherents misunderstanding and sometimes abandoning other biblical doctrines.

First, as J. I. Packer says, “Its sunny optimism may be reassuring and comfortable, but it wholly misses the tragic quality of human sin, human unbelief, and human death set forth in the Bible.”[9] The belief that eternal punishment for temporal sins is unfair totally misunderstands the severity and nature of sin as rebellion against our Creator. The punishment of eternal separation does in fact “fit the crime” when sin is understood biblically as complete rebellion against and rejection of an infinitely holy God, and not as “the sum of small, temporal mistakes.” It also undermines man’s spiritual inability and the doctrine of salvation by claiming that man can choose God and believe, and yet may still be saved in the event he chooses not to believe.  

Second and similarly, in overstressing the attribute of God’s love, universalism abandons the necessity and, dare we say, the goodness of God’s wrath and judgment. Instead of justice being won as God comes to finally and fully eradicate sin in both the created order and those who reject Him, this position responds to the sin of man by providing him a seat in the kingdom. Yes, some rehab must be done, but ultimately “love wins.”[10] The idea that justice can be overridden might please our therapeutic culture but gives us no hope or assurance at the end of the day.[11] Ultimately what makes hell, hell is the fact that it is the perfect balance between God’s love and wrath.

Finally, the repercussions of this position result in the total abandonment of both evangelism as the church’s primary mission (cf. Matt. 28:18-20) and the need for believers to pursue righteous living. When pushed to its ultimate conclusion, the church’s task is functionally to get as many people as possible to respond to God’s love in the gospel now, even though God will take care of what we missed in the end, fixing our own sins and the sin of the world without requiring repentance, faith, or obedience. Why bother, then, especially since both evangelism and holy living are quite difficult in a broken and sin-filled world?

            We conclude, with Robert Peterson, that “universalism originated in the Garden of Eden when Satan brushed aside God’s warning and assured Eve, ‘You will not surely die.’”[12] Peterson adds, “Although we can sympathize with the desires of universalists that all will be saved, we must label universalism a false teaching…being aware of the dangers of this false hope… replacing false universalism with… a true, biblical universalism.”[13] Although universalism is not a position being discussed in the BFC, and most would agree with these conclusions, it is again important to see its weakness as to see how it lends similar weaknesses to the annihilationist position. It is to that task we now turn.

What about annihilationism?

            In an attempt to be succinct, annihilationism (sometimes known as terminal punishment or conditionalism) teaches that hell exists as a place of terminal and temporary punishment where unbelievers judged by God at the final judgment will be finally annihilated as completion of their punishment; they will simply cease to exist. Its supporters look to passages that talk about eternal death and the punishment of the wicked as implying the cessation of life/existence,[14] arguing that mankind’s immortality is not inherent to their creation but is a conditional gift of God given only to those who are saved.[15] They understand Scripture’s description of eternal punishment as being fulfilled in the everlasting destruction of the wicked (i.e., a punishment that does not last forever but is everlasting in the finality of destruction). Thus, unlike the universalist who sees hell as being rehabilitative, the annihilationist can still see hell as a place of God’s punitive justice without requiring eternal conscious punishment. One of the reasons why this is not just gracious, but necessary, is for God’s new creation to be free from all sin and wickedness. As John Stackhouse Jr. summarizes, “Hell is no worse than it has to be. Thus, the doctrine of terminal punishment exonerates our good God from the appalling image of a perpetual tormenter. There is no joy here in the suffering of the wicked, but only sad justice.”[16]

Since the next section of this paper is dedicated to engaging the scriptural evidence that supports eternal conscious punishment, we will not take the time here to unpack the meaning of eternal death or whether immortality is conditional for man.[17] Instead, we will look at the three distinct reasons why annihilationism is increasingly being held as a necessary truth. Specifically, they are as follows: 1) the apparent inconsistency of eternal conscious punishment with the love of God; 2) the apparent injustice involved in the disproportion between sins committed in time and punishment that is eternal; and 3) the fact that the continuing presence of evil creatures in God’s universe will eternally mar the perfection of a universe that God created to reflect His glory.[18]

The first issue, the seeming inconsistency of God’s love and wrath, has already been discussed and seen as a non-issue and, worse, is a misunderstanding of the simplicity of God and the unity of His attributes. God’s love is not lost in punishing sinners for eternity but is seen as being in perfect union with His justice in that same punishment. Simply put, God’s wrath and His love are not at odds with one another in the eternal conscious punishment position and are not in need of this “more gracious” revision. This again stems from a moral argument, not a biblical one, and as such loses the support of Scripture in order to make the doctrine of hell “more palatable.”[19]

Similarly, the second issue, on whether the punishment of eternal conscious punishment fits the crime of temporary, finite sins was also discussed above and does not bear weight. When sin is understood biblically as rebellion against an eternally and infinitely holy God, the punishment for that sin is suitably eternal in length.[20] We may actually argue that terminal punishment downplays what Scripture says about the severity of our sin rather than claiming that eternal conscious punishment is too great a punishment. In short, when understood correctly, the punishment for sin in the orthodox view of eternal conscious punishment is in line with how Scripture describes the depth of our sin and its rebellion against God.

The final issue laid out by annihilationists for the necessity of their position is that the presence of the wicked in hell for eternity is untenable with the restoration and redemption of all things in God’s new heaven and new earth. To this point, they would reason that it is necessary for God to completely destroy the wicked in order to not allow them to mar His intention of perfection in His renewed creation. But to answer this point in a succinct manner, Denny Burk is correct in claiming that “hellfire as annihilation introduces eschatological absurdity.” Burk says, “This does not comport with the biblical depiction of the final judgment, after which evil has been decisively dealt with and the cosmos has been restored to its rightful order (Rev. 21:5).”[21] In other words, it is “absurd” to claim that the just punishment of the wicked in hell for eternity would somehow mar God’s new creation, for Scripture repeatedly claims that God’s justice is magnified by his judgment of the wicked, not by their elimination (two examples of which may be seen in Revelation 19:1-6 and Revelation 22:14-15).

In the end, both of these positions lack the extensive scriptural support to be held as viable options. Wayne Grudem aptly summarizes by saying, “Though annihilationism can be countered by the theological arguments, it is ultimately the clarity and forcefulness of the passages themselves that convince us that annihilationism is incorrect and that Scripture does indeed teach the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked.”[22] Burk agrees, saying that both “the ‘palatability’ of terminal punishment does not make it true” and the “exposition of key biblical texts remain unconvincing.”[23] As such, it is imperative that we move on to examine the overall strength of the eternal conscious torment position in Scripture, seeing that the fears expressed in universalism and annihilationism are not actual problems for which the traditional position does not have good, biblical answers.

Biblical supports for hell as a place of eternal conscious torment

While the unbelieving world finds the idea of a God who would send people to hell where they would be tormented for all eternity absolutely abhorrent, we must hold to and support what the Bible teaches, over and above what our hearts or the surrounding culture may want to believe. We believe that the Bible persistently and consistently points to an eternity in hell as the ultimate destiny of the impenitent.

            The Bible Fellowship Church clearly holds to an eternal conscious torment, as repeatedly noted in our Articles of Faith (italics added):

Article 8-2 – “The guilt and consequences of Adam’s sin are imputed to the whole human race, so that all men are guilty, inherently corrupt, totally depraved, and subjects of the wrath of God.

Article 9-1 – “Sin separates man from God, incurring His wrath and judgment…”

Article 25-1 – “Following the millennium will be the resurrection and judgment of the unrighteous. The righteous will be eternally glorified with Him; the unrighteous will be eternally punished.”

Article 26-3 – “The unregenerate will be judged, condemned, and banished to eternal damnation in the lake of fire.”

Article 28-1 – “There are two final, eternal destinies for man: heaven for the righteous and penitent, and hell for the unrighteous and impenitent. At the great white throne judgment, all of the enemies of God will be consigned to the place of eternal conscious punishment, from which there is no escape.

            Where is the evidence for our conclusion that those who reject Christ will incur never-ending punishment in hell? We believe the supports for this position are clearly presented in Scripture: that the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath toward and punishment of the wicked, and the New Testament further defines what God’s wrath looks like: that it is meted out in judgment and punishment that lasts forever. Such torment is clearly presented as the outworking of God’s righteous judgment on the impenitent.

Old Testament passages on hell and the final destiny of the wicked

            Old Testament examples of the Flood in Genesis 6, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, and a number of other punishments for sin show that God’s disposition toward the wicked is not in question. In His justice He will always punish sin, and those who persist in obstinate opposition to God will experience His wrath. We further see in Isaiah 66 and Daniel 12 Old Testament presentations of never-ending punishment of the wicked that presage our Lord’s own teaching on the subject of hell.

            Isaiah 66:22-24 reads, “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before Me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares the LORD. ‘And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.’” And Daniel 12:1-2 provides a declarative statement of the future destiny of both the righteous and the wicked. “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Both these passages align with New Testament texts about the punishment afforded the wicked and those who reject Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation. Jesus speaks of the worm that does not die and the fire that remains unquenched in describing the fate of the wicked and unbelieving. Daniel parallels the eternal destiny of the righteous and the unrighteous using the same terminology (the Hebrew word olam) in language reminiscent of Christ’s words in Matthew 25’s comparison of the sheep and the goats.

In Isaiah 66, the presence of the terminology of “the new heavens and the new earth” points to an eschatological future state where there is abundant blessing in God’s presence. Alas, not everyone will enjoy this experience. Those who have rebelled against God will be consigned to a place where torment is described as being never-ending: where “their worm shall not die” and “their fire shall not be quenched.” The description is of an ongoing punishment; the idea of a non-dying worm is that punishment continues without end. Denny Burk says, “The worm pictures the disgrace of decaying bodies left exposed after their defeat.”[24] But this terminology describes a worm that, despite this description, does not die. Similarly, a fire that is not quenched points to severe suffering that does not end.

That the punishment God has designed for those who rebel against Him is eternal and follows the length of human life is pictured in Daniel 12 as awaking from the sleep of death to judgment. Those whose names “shall be found written in the book” will awake to “everlasting life.” This passage lines up nicely with the Lamb’s book of life that is described in Revelation 21:27. But not everyone will enjoy “everlasting life” filled with joy and blessing. Others will awake to “shame and everlasting contempt.” Once more the biblical writer presents a parallel: “everlasting life” vs. “everlasting contempt,” again using the Hebrew olam. In Daniel 12:2, the term translated as “contempt” (Hebrew deraon] only appears in one other place in Scripture—curiously, in Isaiah 66:24, where it is translated in the ESV as “abhorrence” as a reference to “unburied corpses who have fallen under the judgment of God.”[25]

Robert Peterson writes, “God is not only loving and kind, but also holy and just. After warning sinners of the consequences of despising His love, He punishes them if they continue to rebel against Him. God punishes sinners! How strange this sounds to modern ears! Yet, regardless of how strange it sounds, it is God’s truth.”[26]

            These pictures of unending torment have for many centuries been settled positions held by the church. Only recently has it become increasingly popular to view many of the terms used in Scripture to describe the punishment of the wicked and unredeemed in symbolic terms: that there is no literal place where the fires always burn and yet the worm never dies. The critics argue, “These are symbols; they are not meant to be understood literally.” We should not be so quick to undersell such language, however; even if some biblical passages are to be understood symbolically they are meant to point to an even more horrible reality.

We seemingly have little difficulty embracing the concept that the glories of heaven will far exceed our imaginations. We readily accept that what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:9 – “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” We believe with all our hearts that the glories of heaven will be far more glorious than we can grasp with our current human limitations.

            In the same way, we should understand that just as heaven will be more wonderful than we can imagine, hell will be worse. Biblical language, even if it may be symbolic, points to a more terrible punishment than our worst conceptualizations. R. C. Sproul says, “A symbol is always exceeded in intensity by the reality to which it points…if it is symbolic, the reality must be worse than the symbol.”[27]

Descriptions of the reality and torments of hell in the Gospels

            Throughout the New Testament, what God’s punishment looks like is further defined and amplified, first by our Lord Jesus and later by the apostles. Jesus spoke frequently about hell. He taught that hell is a reality, is a result of God’s righteous judgment, and that God’s judgment involves both separation from God and eternal suffering. “When we read the Bible,” Erik Raymond says, “We find that most of the teaching about hell comes from the mouth of Jesus—the most loving and compassionate and wisest man who ever lived. As Christians, our primary authoritative source for answers to questions like these must be the Bible in general, and the teaching of Jesus in particular.”[28]

            That Jesus declared hell as a real place is without question as far as we are concerned. Matthew on several occasions highlights our Lord’s conclusion that hell exists as the final destination of the impenitent and unbelieving. In Matthew 5:21-22, for instance, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Just a few verses later, as part of the same section in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught (Matthew 5:29-30), “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

            The “hell of fire” in Matthew 5:22 is the Greek phrase ten geenan tou puros. Geenan comes from Gehenna, a place west and south of Jerusalem as well as a symbolic name for the final place of punishment of the ungodly. Jesus’ words here make no sense if there is no punishment reserved for those who are “liable.” Just as the reality of the other judgments (being liable to the council, for example) are real, we must assume that the “hell of fire” is also a reality.

            Further, the threat – twice stated in Matthew 5:27-30 – of the body going into hell strongly implies hell as a place where the body suffers. This does not work as a threat of punishment if what Jesus is speaking about is only to be understood symbolically. It is clear to us that Jesus is teaching that lust is among the sins that result in God’s judgment, which is punitive but just, and that ultimately there are two eternal destinations, and one is to “go into hell” – to “be thrown into hell.”

            In Matthew 23:15 Jesus excoriates the religious leaders with these words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Yes, it is possible for this statement to be understood symbolically: that Jesus is simply pointing out the hypocritical nature of twisted zeal. But He is also speaking in language that His audience would clearly understand: that by acting, living, and teaching in this way, the scribes and Pharisees were converting their proselytes in such a way that they are just as lost and worthy of eternal condemnation as the scribes and Pharisees themselves. So Jesus seems to be indicating that hell is a place of just reward for those who pervert God’s will.

            In addition to His persistent teaching about the reality of hell, Jesus also taught that hell represents God’s judgment on sin and sinners. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” He said in Matthew 10:28. “Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus is of course referring to God the Father, for it is He who consigns the wicked and impenitent to hell. The word “destroy” is apolesai, from apollumi, meaning “to destroy” or even “to destroy utterly.” While on the surface this word seems to allow for an annihilationist understanding, the addition of “in hell” seems to indicate an ongoing punishment in a place to which the wicked person has been assigned. If the condemned simply ceases to exist, what ensues – “in hell” – is unnecessary.

            Another support for the existence of hell as a place of unending punishment is found in Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. The conclusion, when all is said and done – or not done – is found in v. 46. “And they [the goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] to eternal life.” There Jesus grounds the emphasis on the certainty of man’s unending existence in the word “eternal,” represented by the Greek adjective aionion. Aionion carries the idea of something being “age-long” or unending, and the two destinies are paralleled for both those who receive eternal life and those who are condemned to eternal punishment. Erik Raymond says, “God made humans to be eternal beings. As God is eternal so He has made His image bearers to exist forever. Jesus shows that all of us will exist in one of two places, but both will be an eternal, conscious existence.”[29]

            It is important to note that the Bible considers eternal punishment as a fitting sentence not just because of the nature of our existence but also because of the seriousness of the debt that our sin incurs before a righteous God. Sin is no small thing but is an offense against God’s holiness and glory, and the eternal nature of punishment in hell conveys God’s ongoing opposition to sin. Says Raymond: “If God is serious about His glory, then we can expect hell to be severe.”[30]

            In addition to teaching the reality of hell and the nature of hell as a place of judgment, Jesus also stressed that the punishment afforded by hell is one of rejection and eternal separation from God. This is supported by what our Lord said in Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

            If those verses stood alone as the only time in the Gospels where Jesus spoke of hell as a place of separation from God, it would be sufficient. But that is not the case; the Lord frequently taught that hell is a place not only of punishment but of separation from God. Indeed, the two are connected; separation from God is to be seen as the greatest possible punishment.

            This is the message contained in repeated mentions of “outer darkness,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (see Matthew 8:11-12; Matthew 22:12-13; Matthew 25:30). Being consigned to a place of separation is cause for profound weeping. Gnashing of teeth, a picture our Lord carries over from several Old Testament usages, most frequently connotes anguish and despair but also represents a refusal even at the end to submit to Christ. In Acts 7:54, the response to Stephen’s witness to Christ is as follows: “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]” directly prior to executing him by stoning. So “weeping and gnashing of teeth” represents more than regret for the wrongness of actions and decisions but indicates persistent anger, rejection, and opposition – even in hell. It is as C.S. Lewis at one point in his life noted, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”[31]

J. I. Packer added, “Nobody stands under the wrath of God save those who have chosen to do so. The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications; nothing more, and equally nothing less.”[32]

            As the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 clearly illustrates, sin separates man from God. There can be no fellowship between a holy God and unholy people. Where Adam and Eve had previously enjoyed sweet fellowship with God, to the point where the first couple’s hiding themselves from God suggests that they had previously “walked” with their Maker in the Garden, now they were driven from His presence, to the point where the Lord stationed cherubim with a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden as a means of preventing man and woman from direct fellowship with God. Where there had been no suggestion of death prior to the Fall, now man began to die both physically and spiritually. This is the picture Jesus presents: of hell as a place of judgment and separation.

            But our Lord further consistently teaches that hell is also a place of suffering and that the gravity of hell as a real place of unending torment should never be downplayed or underestimated. In Mark 9:42-48 Jesus taught about the consequences of sin and causing others to stumble. His conclusion: it would “be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” for causing “one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin.” In the same context, Jesus said it is preferable to cut off the foot that causes you to sin, or to tear out the eye that causes you to sin, than to have all your appendages and perfect sight but to be thrown into hell. He then described hell in v. 48 as that place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” What awaits the person who causes others to stumble is a fate almost beyond description: what could be worse than wearing a millstone around one’s neck and being tossed into the depths of the ocean?

            Hell is described by Jesus in Matthew 13:30 as that place where the tares are separated forever from the wheat. “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into My barn.” Here the Lord presents a contrast between the wheat—who will be gathered into “My barn,” presumably a place of reward and rest and peace—and the weeds or tares, who have grown up alongside the wheat and will not be separated until the harvest time. But when harvesting comes, they will be gathered into bundles to be burned. This does not rule out an annihilationist perspective but at the very least draws a contrast between reward and suffering or punishment.

            One of Jesus’ most strident teachings about the nature of hell most likely came in the form of a parable: the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31. While a parable is a fictional story, it is designed to illustrate true principles. Parables never contradict teachings found elsewhere in Scripture. And in this instance, what Jesus taught fully supports His other teachings on hell. Hell is to be seen as a place of eternal separation, as illustrated by Father Abraham’s reply when the rich man asks him to send Lazarus to provide comfort. Abraham says, among other things, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26). There are no second chances, no Universalism-supporting concept of everyone eventually coming into a place of eternal joy and comfort.

            More striking in the parable, however, is the nature of hell as a place of pain and suffering. The rich man asks Abraham to have Lazarus dip the end of his finger in water and send him to the rich man, “for I am in anguish in this flame” (Luke 16:24). “Anguish” is a form of the Greek verb odunao, meaning “to cause or suffer pain.” Later in the story, the rich man asks that Lazarus be sent to urge his brothers to repent, “lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:28). The Greek word for torment, basanos, originally represented a dark stone used for testing the purity of metals but was understood as “examination by torture.” Clearly the picture that is presented, while understandably symbolic, aligns with the full picture of Jesus’ teachings on hell: that it is a place of ongoing suffering and pain. The purpose of the parable, then, is to present the reality of hell as an incentive to repentance and believing in Christ’s person and work. Its details do not support either a universalist or annihilationist position but suggest that hell is both permanent and painful.

Clearly and consistently Jesus taught that hell is a place of suffering, as represented by a variety of pictures or symbols: the burning of chaff in eternal fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth, outer darkness. In our estimation, elements of symbolism are highly likely; it is hard to reconcile darkness with literal fire, which gives off light. That said, that Jesus is stressing that hell is a place where unredeemed sinners suffer for eternity is hard to dispute when the weight of Gospel evidence is presented.

The apostles’ teachings concerning hell

            While the teaching of our Lord is sufficient to establish support of an eternal conscious torment position,[33] the apostles, while not writing as often or as pointedly about the nature of hell, do provide additional supports for belief in eternal conscious torment.

            In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, the apostle Paul addressed Christian believers who were experiencing suffering by contrasting their temporary torments with the nature of the judgment that awaits those who oppress them. “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

Paul notes that those who are counted worthy of “the punishment of eternal destruction” are (1) those who do not know God; and (2) those who do not obey the gospel. They will experience “eternal destruction.” Those words would seem to be antonyms or oxymorons but obviously are not. “Eternal” is aionion – “into the ages.” Destruction is olethron/olethros, which often conveys the idea of “ruination with its full, destructive results.” It only appears four times in Scripture—here and 1 Corinthians 5:5 (“for the destruction of his flesh”), 1 Thess. 5:3 (“then destruction will come”), and 1 Timothy 6:9 (“plunge men into ruin…”). Thus destruction is seen, not as annihilation, but as punishment. The modifier “eternal” declares its duration.

The author of Hebrews uses similar terminology in Hebrews 6:2 as he instructs his readers to go beyond what is elementary to instead have a mature understanding of “eternal judgment” (krimatos aioniou). Krimatos comes from krima, a judgment. The emphasis seems to be not on the fact that judgment is final but that it actually lasts forever.

In Jude 7, 13 Jude uses the example of God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, not to emphasize the suddenness of their destruction, but to emphasize the severity of it as He pronounces condemnation for several reasons beyond homosexual activity:  pride (Ezekiel 16:49), adultery and lying (Jeremiah 23:14). “(7) …just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire….(13) …wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” In v. 7 God’s judgment on those cities is “a punishment of eternal fire,” which is then paralleled with the “forever” [skotous eis aiona – “Darkness into (the) age”] of v. 13. There isn’t even a hint of the possibility of annihilation but a connotation of ongoing punishment. Fire and darkness – could they both be present as part of this torment? Does the presence of one preclude the other, or can they coexist at the same time?

One of the strongest supports for eternal conscious torment is presented by the apostle John in Revelation 14:9-11, with the word “tormented” occupying a primary position. “And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.’” “Tormented” is basanisthesetai, the third person singular future present indicative form of basanizo, which means “to torture.” Torture carries the idea of punishment of both length and severity. While some torture (think: 39 lashes) has a set duration, the presence in v. 11 of  “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” causes us to conclude that torment isn’t of limited duration and lines up with the idea – mentioned elsewhere in the NT – of eternal judgment being connected to a fire of some sort. In v. 11, “torment” is basanismos, the noun version of what was a verb in v. 10.

            Question: Is this torment reserved only for Satan, the beast, or the false prophet? Or is this something that all who reject Christ can expect to experience? While symbolic language is employed, the use of the word “anyone” indicates a widespread judgment of those who will “drink the wine of God’s wrath.” Just as Jesus has to drink that cup “to the dregs,” those who reject Christ will face a severe, everlasting judgment that involves “torment” – a word that is repeated throughout Revelation (9:5; 14:11; 18:7; 18:10; 18:15). This is the message of Revelation 20:10, 14-15. “(10) …and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” “(14) Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. (15) And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

            The presence of the “lake of fire” (limnen tou puros) as a punishment reserved for the devil, the beast, the false prophet and even “Death and Hades” is then conveyed, in the great white throne judgment, to anyone whose name does not appear in the Lamb’s book of life. Can there be any lingering doubt about the severity of God’s condemnation when those who reject Jesus – whose names are not written in the book of life – find themselves in the same place as the devil himself? And if God’s chief enemies are to be kept there, “tormented day and night forever and ever,” is there any reason to think that all others who are consigned to the lake of fire won’t endure the same everlasting fate? The language of torture is the same (basanizo – to torture) as other passages in Revelation that seem to indicate a never-ending punishment.

            Finally, Revelation 21:8 describes an ongoing suffering – an eternal “second death.” “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” The fact that it is presented in the present tense (“burns” is a present participle in Greek, kaiomene) indicates that the torment that is experienced is ongoing and continuous. Who is this for? We may be tempted to imagine that this “second death” is reserved only for the extremely wicked, and John provides several descriptions that fit that picture: “the detestable…murderers…sorcerers,” etc. But he hits closer to home by including “the faithless” and “all liars.” Who of us does not fit those descriptions? Clearly, it seems to us, this is the eternal destiny reserved for all unbelievers, not just a special class. Inherent in what John says here is the seriousness of sin: that sin results in dire consequences. “The second death” is a harsh but deserved punishment for unrepentant sinners because although He is love, God does not compromise on His justice and holiness.

Our conclusions

            In this light, passages throughout Scripture indicate that an annihilationist position doesn’t, in a sense, fit the crime. To simply fail to exist, while costing the unbeliever the joys of eternal life, doesn’t qualify in a clear way as satisfactory punishment for sin. Indeed, if presented with the knowledge that one can sin all he wants and the cost is simply to cease to be after this life comes to an end, some would be tempted to say, “I’m OK with that.” But no, we see the seriousness of sin in the consequences, and the greatest picture of how seriously God takes sin—in terms of doling out punishment—is the cross, for there Jesus suffered both horrific physical torment and the even greater punishment of temporary separation from His Father as He bore the wrath of God—a wrath we as sinners deserve. The expending of God’s wrath, as seen at Calvary where Jesus serves as our substitute, is not accurately depicted by His simply causing sinners to cease to be.

            We recognize that this is not a popular or easy teaching. It is truth that we ought to declare with tears, and with compassionate urging as we share the gospel with unbelievers and as we work through the teachings of Scripture. But we cannot allow popular culture to dictate what we teach or how we counsel our people. Our goal is to lovingly convey truth, for man’s eternal destiny is at stake. As W. Robert Godfrey stresses, “If no one in the world believed in a hell, there would still be a hell.”[34] Erik Raymond adds, “The consideration of hell will make demands on our willingness to be faithful to God and His Word. But we must be faithful not only in matters of doctrine but also to the corresponding tone with which the Bible explains and communicates these truths.”[35]

What should be our ultimate or final response to the Scripture’s teaching on hell? It needs to be a humble one. We are not more loving or gracious than God is. The Scriptures reveal to us the mind and will of God. Many have their own ideas on what is the loving and gracious thing for a holy God to do. If we think that we have a more loving, gracious, or just response to sin than God does, we are self-deceived.

While there are those who would question the goodness and love of God at the thought of an eternal conscious torment, we cannot be numbered among them. Ours is not to be embarrassed by such a teaching but to worship a God who reveals such things to us. We are in no place to pass judgment on the ways of God. In Isaiah we are reminded that God’s thoughts are far superior to our own. In Isaiah 55:8-9 God declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Our response must consistently be to ask the question, “What do the Scriptures teach?” Having taken a close look at the Scriptures, we believe that the Bible teaches that those whose names are not written in the book of life will experience an eternal conscious torment. We affirm that truth without deprecating God in the least. While we may not understand it all, we must acknowledge that our God is good, loving, and just. We marvel anew and afresh at John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

No one is deserving of eternal life. There is no moral imperative that requires God to save anyone. That is seen in the fact that God does not make any provision for the salvation of fallen angels. We believe that is one reason why the angels are so amazed at the salvation that is

offered to mankind, as we read in 1 Peter 1:10-12—“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

As we reflect upon an eternal conscious torment may we give God the glory for such a great salvation. May we be among the throng of the worshipers who proclaim His worthiness to receive honor and glory and praise! We read in Revelation 5:11-14, “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb

who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and

the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Our intent all along has been to provide the Scriptural supports to the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, and to offer practical pastoral counsel when questions arise from our congregants. We believe that the biblical teaching is clear and overwhelmingly supports what has been largely understood throughout the history of the church.

            That said, we also feel that the Articles of Faith consistently support the eternal conscious torment position and as such require no revision. Articles 8-2, 9-1, 25-1, 26-3, and 28-1 all speak to the final, eternal destines of the unrighteous and impenitent.

            That said, we would like to suggest one addition to the footnotes in Article 28-1. Currently Revelation 20:11-15 is used to support the following sentence: “At the great white throne judgment, all of the enemies of God will be consigned to the place of eternal conscious torment, from which there is no escape.” We would like to propose the following:

            Resolved, that Article 28-1 footnote 2 be expanded to include Matthew 25:46—“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


            See below for a number of sources that members of this committee found helpful and informative:

Chan, Francis and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2011.

Clark, Mark and Larry Osborne, The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

Fudge, Edward William, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011. This is a classic work on annihilationism.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. This book offers helpful contributions from Tim Keller, Albert R. Mohler, Jr., J. I, Packer, and Robert Yarbrough.

Peterson, Robert A., Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1995.

Raymond, Erik, Is Hell For Real? Southwest London: The Good Book Company, 2017.

Shedd, W. G. T., The Doctrine of Endless Punishment. Evangelion Press, 2021 ed.

Sprinkle, Preston, Denny Burk, John Stackhouse, Jr., Robin Perry and Jerry Walls, Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, 2nd ed.

Study Committee on Eternal Conscious Torment: Calvin T. Reed, Convener; Ronald L. Kohl, Secretary; Stephen A. Diaz, Daniel J. Hoffstetter.

[1] Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, ed., Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Going to Heaven (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), p. 11.

[2] Ibid, p. 10.

[3] For more interaction on this passage, see the Appendix which is available online.

[4] For more information on this, see Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, ed., Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Going to Heaven (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), specifically ch. 5 by J.I. Packer, “Does Everyone Go to Heaven?” See also Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1995); Preston Sprinkle, Denny Burk, John Stackhouse Jr., Robin Perry and Jerry Walls, Four Views on Hell, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016, 2nd ed.),specifically the universalist position by Robin A. Parry and the responses in that chapter; and Mark Clark and Larry Osborne, The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), especially ch. 6, “The Problem of Hell.”

[5] Four Views on Hell, pp. 131-133; Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2011),p. 35; Hell on Trial, p. 152; Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem, p. 461; Is Hell For Real, pp. 67-68; Christian Theology, Millard Erickson, pp. 1243-1244. Even John Stackhouse, who holds to a terminal punishment position, says, “Universalism has always impressed me as the triumph of hope over exegesis, the pressing of theological conclusions from lovely presuppositions to conclusions that simply cannot stand in the light of Scripture’s frequent and stark contrast” (Four Views on Hell, p. 134).

[6] Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone go to Heaven, pp. 60-61.

[7] Hell on Trial, p. 146.

[8] Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone go to Heaven, p. 71. See also 4 Views on Hell, p. 115.

[9] Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone go to Heaven, p. 72.

[10] As Rob Bell reminded us in Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011).

[11] Miroslav Wolf says, “It takes the quiet of the suburban home for the birth of the thesis… of God’s refusal to judge.” As quoted in The Problem of God, p. 132.

[12] Hell on Trial, p. 139.

[13] Hell on Trial, pp. 156-157. “A true biblical universalism” relates to the sufficiency of Christ’s shed blood on the cross to provide salvation for all mankind, made effective only through man’s belief and trust in His saving work.

[14] Passages often cited include Psalm 1:4-6, 37:20, 69:28, 73:19-20; Isaiah 66:24; Malachi 4:1-3; Matthew 3:12, 10:28; Philippians 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:6, 3:6-7.

[15] Passages they cite here include Genesis 3:22-23; Luke 20:35-36; 1 Corinthians 15:50, 53; and Revelation 22:2.

[16] Four Views on Hell, p. 81. For Stackhouse’s entire explanation of this position, see Ibid, pp. 61-81. For a larger exposition of the annihilationist position, we suggest the writings of Clark Pinnock or Edwards Fudge, including Fudge’s Hell: A Final Word (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012).

[17] Millard Erickson speaks to the eternality of the punishment, and not just the death, as described in Scripture as well as the created intent for man to dwell with God forever—a reality not destroyed or conditionally held after the fall. See Christian Theology (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), pp. 1246-47. Denny Burk also bucks against the conditional immortality argument as not being reconcilable with our view of bodily resurrection in Four Views on Hell, p. 87.

[18] These are the positions for annihilationism as laid out by Wayne Grudem in his Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022 ed.), p. 460.

[19] This will be discussed further at the end of the paper, but for more detail, see Denny Burk’s response to annihilationism in Four Views on Hell, pp. 82-83.

[20] Again, Erickson says, “When we sin, an infinite factor is invariably involved.” See Christian Theology, p. 1247. See also Burk’s reply to this in Four Views on Hell, pp. 87-88.

[21] Four Views on Hell, pp. 84-85.

[22] Bible Doctrine, p. 461. Erickson agrees, saying, “The problem with all the forms of annihilationism is that they contradict the teaching of the Bible.” See Christian Theology, p. 1245. Packer likewise notes, “The theory of annihilationism…must be read into the Bible.” See Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven, p. 67.

[23] Four Views on Hell, pp. 85-87.

[24] Denny Burk, “Eternal Conscious Torment,” in Four Views on Hell, Preston Sprinkle, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), p. 22.

[25] Ibid, p. 25.

[26] Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1995), pp. 25-26.

[27] R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries daily broadcast Nov. 18, 2023.

[28] Erik Raymond, Is Hell for Real? (Epsom, Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2017), p. 9.

[29] Raymond, pp. 53-54.

[30] Ibid, p. 55.

[31] C.S. Lewis quote accessed from John Blanchard article, “Is Hell for Real?” Tabletalk, February, 2014. It must be stated that Lewis eventually adopted a universalist interpretation of salvation.

[32]  J. I. Packer quote, ibid.

[33] Peterson says, “Jesus Christ says more about the fate of the wicked than anyone else in the Bible” (Ibid, p. 54).

[34] W. Robert Godfrey, Ligonier broadcast, June 8, 2023. From a 24-part Ligonier teaching series, Blessed Hope.

[35] Raymond, Is Hell for Real? p. 10.


Report of the Study Committee on the Doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment – Appendices

Appendix A: Some pastoral considerations

It is quite understandable that people wrestle with the idea of a loving God who would
condemn a people to an eternal hell. After all, we read verses like Ezekiel 33:11, in which we hear God declare, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil says, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Perhaps there is an even a greater struggle in thinking of God pouring out his wrath on
His Son. In fact, the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement has been characterized by some as “cosmic” or “divine child abuse.” And indeed, the polemic against penal substitution has recently turned ugly in that a movement has arisen that categorically rejects penal substitution based on the conviction that penal substitution is violent and conveys the image of “divine child abuse”—a Father punishing his Son. Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, in her work Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective, writes, “Particularly appalling is the traditional view that God is responsible for Jesus’ suffering and abuse on the cross. This depiction of ‘divine’ or ‘cosmic child abuse,’ as some have named it, wrongly exalts suffering and paves the way for parental mistreatment.”[1]

It is rather startling then to read Isaiah 53, which states that God was pleased to crush
Jesus. “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.” (NASB, 1995) In fact, this verse is so startling that it has been translated in softer tones by the English Standard Version – “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” The ESV removes the perceived pleasure of God in crushing His Son while at least retaining the idea that it was the will of God to crush Him.

John Piper makes this cogent argument for the translation as found in the NASB: “First, consider Isaiah 1:11. ‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in [or ‘I have no pleasure in’] the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.’ The word for ‘delighting in’ or ‘having pleasure in’ is the same Hebrew word used in the first line of Isaiah 53:10—‘The LORD was pleased to bruise him’ or ‘The LORD had pleasure in bruising him’ or ‘The LORD delighted to bruise him.’”[2]

Piper adds, “Then consider Isaiah 6:24. ‘The Lord says to his people, You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married.’ When God says, ‘My delight is in her,’ the noun used for ‘delight’ is the same Hebrew word used in the last line of Isaiah 53:10, ‘The delight (or pleasure) of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.’ The same Hebrew word is used in the first line of Isaiah 53:10 and in the last line, only the verb form is used.”[3] So there is a consistency in the Hebrew that needs to be seen in our English translations.

Why did the Father take pleasure in crushing His Son? We will utilize the answer to that
question in order to better understand why God does not take pleasure in the death of the
wicked. The Father was not taking sadistic delight in afflicting pain upon His Son. To again quote Piper, “God was delighting in what the crucifixion of Christ would accomplish. So the question we may be better able to answer now is, How could the Father delight in the sacrifice of his own Son? One part of the answer is stressed at the end of [Isaiah 53:10], namely, that God’s pleasure is in what the Son accomplishes in dying. It says, ‘The pleasure of the LORD will prosper in his hand.’ God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son, considered in and of itself, but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his suffering.”[4]
            We see this emphasis on what Christ would accomplish in His suffering and death in both the ESV and the NASB-95 translations, as noted by the bold print:

Isaiah 53:10 (ESV) Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Isaiah 53:10 (NASB95) But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

            We further see that the will of God in saving a people will be accomplished, as noted in Isaiah 53:11, which in the ESV reads, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

It is important that we consider the nature of God’s pleasure in this atoning for sin. Scripture repeatedly declares that God took no pleasure in burnt offerings or sin offerings. This is a special emphasis the writer of Hebrews makes: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Hebrews 10:5-7, emphasis in bold).

Simply put, there were not enough sacrifices that could ever be made to bring pleasure to God in the satisfaction of His justice. God makes the same point in Isaiah 1:11 – “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” No matter how many sacrifices were made or for how long a duration they were offered, such sacrifices simply could not take away sin. The writer of Hebrews reinforces this point in Hebrews 10:1. “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”

If animal sacrifices could have brought an end to sin, then they would have ceased to be offered. Hebrews 10:2 says, “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?” But of course we are well aware that offerings continued, as Hebrews 10:3 notes. “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.”

Indeed, it was because animal sacrifices could not take away sin that Christ came into the world as the only sacrifice that could do deal with sin once and for all. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure’” (Hebrews 10:4-6).

So, as Hebrews 10:7-8 notes, Christ came to fulfill the will of God. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law)…’”

Christ fulfilled the will of God in making an acceptable sacrifice for sins, and thus God the Father is delighted. “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days. And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10, NASB 1995). In contrast to the multitude of sacrifices that were offered year after year after year, Jesus’ singular sacrifice of Himself takes away sin for all time.” “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” Hebrews 10:10 tells us.
            The work of the Old Testament priests was never completed because animal sacrifices could not take away sin. As such, according to Hebrews 10:11, priests stood daily at their service, offering the same sacrifices on a repeated basis, for those sacrifices “can never take away sins.” However, Christ’s sacrificial work was completed because His sacrifice did take away sin. Follow the logical flow in Hebrews 10:12-18:

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

God takes no pleasure or satisfaction for sin other than a perfect a sacrifice. As the multitude of sacrifices could not take away sin, though they were offered in great quantity over an extended period of time, the sins were still remembered; so too the number of days, years, or millennia that a person spends in hell cannot satisfy the justice and holiness of God. It is Christ’s sacrifice alone that ends the judgment of God upon sin. The sinner who dies without having placed faith in Christ is eternally separated from God. His sins abide on the sinner forever.

This leads us to a consideration of the fact that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Scripture repeatedly states that God does not take “pleasure” in the death of the wicked.

Ezekiel 18:23 – “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

Ezekiel 18:32 – “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Ezekiel 33:11 – “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

What does it mean God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked? Often it is portrayed as a mere sentiment upon the part of God: an emotional lament over the death of the wicked. While it is not less than that, it is far greater than just an emotional lament. It is more than just the idea that God is not a sadistic ogre who takes a perverted joy in inflicting pain and suffering on people.

It also includes the idea that God takes no delight, joy, or satisfaction in the death of the wicked and therefore, God’s wrath is not appeased. The death of the wicked does not satisfy the justice of God. Their deaths cannot atone for the evil that has been done. The death of the wicked does not bring about a forgiveness of sin any more than the sacrifices of the Old Testament brought about the forgiveness of sin. Just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament did not come to an end because God was not “pleased” with them, so too the punishment of the wicked does not
come to an end because He is not “pleased” by their death.

No matter how long or severe the punishment for the sin, the only way for sin to be
removed is through the salvific work of Christ. If there was any other way for sin to be removed than Christ died needlessly, Paul tells us in Galatians 2:21. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

The only way for the wicked to escape the judgment of God is to repent in this life. That is the persistent teaching of Scripture. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” God states in Ezekiel 18:23. Later in the same chapter He adds, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32).

The wicked will indeed die. Ezekiel 33:11 – “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and
live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Thus, mankind’s forgiveness cannot be the result of a prolonged time in hell that
satisfies the justice of God. The punishment of the unrighteous in hell never ends, for the sins of the unrighteous are never removed. The sinner abides under God’s judgment. Neither does annihilation does not satisfy the justice of God.

Hebrews 9:27 – “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…”

Revelation 20:12 – “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

Revelation 20:15 – “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book
of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So what should our response be to the doctrine of an eternal conscious torment? Our understanding of the teaching of Scripture should increase in our hearts a desire and an urgency to call all people everywhere to repentance—just as God does in the book of Ezekiel. We need to call people to accept the offer of salvation that God extends to all. Our urgency is a necessary response. Salvation is offered to all, but not all will be saved. Some will die in their sins. God takes “no pleasure” in such a death. God does not take a depraved joy in their death. Nor is God’s wrath appeased by their death. Because God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, neither should we. As Jesus wept over the coming destruction upon Jerusalem, we too should weep over a people who will be eternally damned. But the loving thing to do is not to reject the teaching of hell. We do no one any favors by denying that which is true. Rather, the loving thing to do is to warn of a coming judgment. The only means of escaping an eternal conscious torment in the future is through placing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in this life.

Appendix B: A consideration of 2 Peter 3:9

Many have postulated that 2 Peter 3:9, which states that “God is not wishing that any should perish,” is inconsistent with the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. Is that a correct understanding? What does it mean that God is not wishing that any should perish? After all, Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The King James Version even translates Peter’s statement as such: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

In order to understand this verse we must understand the context. This verse appears in the Scripture in answer to the question, “Why hasn’t Christ returned by now?” The believer is to be looking forward to the Lord’s return, but Scripture warns us that there will be people who are going to reject the notion of Jesus coming back: the Lord’s return. Indeed, we are aware that false teachers often mock, ridicule, find fault with, or make fun of those who live in expectation of the Lord’s return. This is nothing new; Peter warned us that such things would take place in 2 Peter 3:3-4 – “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’”

Where is the promise of His coming, they ask? Why hasn’t the Lord kept His promise in returning by now? What has gone wrong? Even Christians may have these same questions. The answer is that nothing has gone wrong. Jesus has good reason for having not yet returned.

First, we need to understand that the Lord is not procrastinating in fulfilling His promise to return. The promise that is being referenced in v. 9 is the promise of the Lord’s return. This is clearly seen within the context of Peter’s argument, which is prefaced in v. 4 with, “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’”

What we need to see is that the word “slow” in v. 9 has a negative connotation that is unwarranted. We think: to be slow is to dilly-dally. But the Lord is not stalling. He is not dragging His feet. He is not negligent or forgetful of His promise. He is not procrastinating. Rather than procrastinating, the Lord is being patient, which is a good thing. As Peter notes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.”

To be patient is to wait unhurriedly. It is to exercise restraint so that an action will take place at the appropriate or proper time—when all is completed. By contrast, to be impatient is to be hasty, to jump the gun or take action without the proper care or time required to adequately complete a task.

So we must ask, Who is the Lord’s patience benefitting? When Peter writes that the Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance,” who is the “you” in that sentence?

Peter is addressing people of faith. That is clear in the introduction to 2 Peter. In 2 Peter 1:1 we read, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Peter utilizes the pronoun “you” in the same way in 2 Peter 3:1-2. So the “you” in 2 Peter 3:9 is those who are loved in the faith: Christian believers. Those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus. Correspondingly, then, unbelievers and false teachers are not part of the “you.” Rather, in 2 Peter 3:4 they are part of the “they,” as in “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” They are the scoffers who “will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.”

            So the next question is, “What is the Lord waiting for?” Answer: He is waiting for all of the elect to repent and thus be saved from God’s wrath and judgment. Again, refer to 2 Peter 3:9. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

            We are told in 2 Peter 3:15 that God’s patience results in salvation—“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation…” But the time is coming when the Lord will return, and judgment will accompany His return, as 2 Peter 3:7 states. “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” The ungodly will be lost.
            Putting these statements together, we see that God is patient in not being willing that any of the elect would experience His judgment.

            We thus need to understand that the Lord is waiting for the last elect person to be saved, whereupon He will return. We need to understand a very important principle of God’s judgment: that He waits in bringing judgment until the last one He is going to spare from it is delivered.

            We find that 2 Peter 3:9 is sometimes taken out of context and is only quoted in part. People will say, “God is not willing that any should perish” as something of a proof text that God wants every single human being to be saved. But such an interpretation actually turns this verse on its head; the verse then comes to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means. However, 2 Peter 3:9 is not referring to every human being but is rather referring to the elect—the Lord is waiting for the last elect person to be saved and then He will return.

            How do we know that is the case? First, we know it logically. If the reason the Lord has not yet returned is because He is not willing that any single person will perish, then He will never return. His promise will never be kept, for the ungodly are going to be lost. Furthermore, every day that the Lord does not return only makes matters worse. The longer Jesus waits to return, the more people are being lost. More and more people are being born into this world who do not place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Second, we also draw this conclusion from the context of Scripture itself. God’s unwillingness for any to perish must refer to the elect and not to the whole human race. In the context of 2 Peter, God waits in bringing judgment against the ungodly until the elect are delivered. Peter uses the example of judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah as a clarifying point. In 2 Peter 2:6 he notes that by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, He condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.

            We then need to consider the examples of judgment provided for us in Scripture. Take the flood, for instance. Second Peter 2:5 says, “If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…”

            Peter has already written, in 1 Peter 3:20, that “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” That word “patience” is the exact same word in Greek (a form of makrothumia) that Peter uses in 2 Peter 3:9. God was patient in waiting for the ark to be built. He did not jump the gun in sending the flood too early. Instead of immediately sending the flood, He waited patiently for the ark to be completed. He was patient even though he was waiting for just a few to be saved from the waters: just eight people. He waited patiently for the ark to be completed so just eight people could be delivered. He waited patiently because He did not want even one of the eight to be lost.

            God was not waiting for everyone. He was waiting for the sake of the eight. When the flood came, the eight were delivered and all the rest perished. This example of God’s judgment is consistent with 2 Peter 3:9. Not a single elect person will be lost.

            Peter uses a second example of God’s judgment in 2 Peter 2: that of His judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. God exercised patience in bring judgment against those cities while he waited for Lot and his family to flee the city. We read in 2 Peter 2:6-7, “If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked…”

            In rescuing Lot from the judgment that was to come upon Sodom, God manifested great patience—something we see clearly in Genesis 19. The angels, we see there, were patient in warning Lot to leave the city. Genesis 19:15 says, “As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’” And God was patient with Lot while he dilly-dallied in leaving the city. Genesis 19:16, referring to Lot, succinctly says, “But he lingered.”

            So God, in His patience, actually had the angels grab the hands of Lot, his wife, and his daughters, and take them out of the city of Gomorrah before it was destroyed. Genesis 19:16 reports that this action was “the LORD being merciful to him” in bringing him out of the city in this manner. God was being exceedingly gracious and patient, and in the end Lot was in fact delivered. It appears that the angels at some point actually picked Lot up and carried him and his family out of the city; talk about God’s patience! Genesis 19:16 reads, “But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”

            There are 65 Hebrew words that may be translated as “set.” This word [Hebrew: yanach] means “to set or lay a thing down.” It was not until Lot was out of and safely away from the city that God brought judgment upon Sodom. At that point, according to Genesis 19:24, “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” This example of God’s judgment, like that of the flood, is consistent with 2 Peter 3:9—“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

            In the larger context, as God was unwilling that the elect would be destroyed, God in fact did bring judgment against a great many. He destroyed all the people of the earth in the time of the flood, save for just eight people. And God destroyed all the people of Sodom except for Lot and his family. Peter references this in 2 Peter 3:6—“If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”

            Furthermore, these judgments were meant to serve as an example of the judgment that will accompany the Lord’s return. What is the example? That God is not willing for a single elect person to be lost. That God will wait to bring judgment until the very last elect person is delivered. And once the very last elect individual is delivered, judgment will come upon all the rest. In 2 Peter 2:9 Peter writes, “Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment…”

            This teaching is consistent with all the Scriptures and with the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Jesus came to save a people. Our Lord declares, in John 6:37-39, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Christ will not lose one single person that the Father has entrusted to Him.

            We conclude, therefore, that the reason the Lord has not yet returned is because He is waiting for the last elect person to be saved. Once that happens, He will return, bringing judgment upon the rest. We are to rejoice and give thanks to God for His great patience in dealing with His people. We should not take a false solace in believing that all people will escape God’s judgment. May we not be among the scoffers who ridicule the teaching regarding the Lord’s return!

[1] Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective, The Families and Faith series (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019), p. 38.

[2] Packer quote from John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Crown Publishing Group, Kindle Edition), Loc. 2968.

[3] Ibid, Loc. 2975.

[4] Ibid, Loc. 3295.

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