|But the subjects of the kingdom will
be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 8:12They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:42This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:49-50Then the king told the attendants, "Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 22:13The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24:50-51And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
For a long time, the traditional teaching and view of Christianity has been that wicked and unsaved persons will spend eternity in suffering and torment, not only because of their sins, but also because of their unbelief in Jesus. This essay will not discuss the question of how or why a just and loving God could condemn and punish someone because of their unbelief when they had no opportunity to hear the gospel. Instead, this discussion will limit itself to what the Bible itself teaches about where the unsaved person can expect to find themselves, not after death, but after the Judgment, and what their situation will be and for how long.
Alternative to the traditional view, there are at least two other major viewpoints, both based on a view of God that emphasizes His love and mercy while losing focus on or redefining the demands of justice. The first view--held by Jehovah's Witnesses and others--maintains that the souls of the unsaved will be "annihilated". A number of problems arise with this view which will be discussed below. The second view--held by Universalists--maintains that there won't be any unsaved so the question of where they will spend Eternity after the Judgment doesn't present any particular difficulty with respect to suffering or torment. A rather basic problem should be obvious with this view and it will also be discussed below.
The traditional view of most of Christianity about the condition of
the unsaved after death--but before the Judgment--is fairly uniform,
excepting the "soul-sleeper" viewpoint. That view is that the unsaved
soul is in a place of suffering and torment, usually conceived as being
of a level with the amount or degree of wickedness in their lives.
(cf Luke 16:19-28) This view was even espoused by Plato. The
Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory teaches the same idea, except--like
Plato--it includes everyone, saved & unsaved alike, except for those
who have received "absolution" from a Roman Catholic priest prior to their
death. Even the Chinese have a similar teaching, except that the
dead in Hell are watched over by rather stupid demons who can be bribed
to release the soul out of Hell. The price? It varies, but
it is paid by a living relative or friend who burns "Bank of Hell" money,
each note of which is typically of a $100,000,000 denomination! The
actual cost to the friend or relative? A stack of about 50 can be
purchased for round US$1.00! Of course, burning the "money" is how
it gets to Hell to pay off the guards.
|And the devil that deceived them was cast
into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false
prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Revelation 20:10And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:14-15But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
The view of such groups as Jehovah's Witnesses, that at death, all souls, especially unsaved souls, enter into a condition of unconscious awareness, is commonly termed "soul sleep". This term plays on Paul's euphemistical reference to death as sleep and avoids the less blunt and unpleasant "death". For Paul, physical death viewed as a short sleep merely highlights the New Testament teaching that the "first death" is not permanent, but will itself be ended by the resurrection "of the just and the unjust" (Acts 24:15 i.e. Everyone will be resurrected!). It is the view of Jehovah's Witnesses and some few other groups, that the unsaved souls shall be condemned after the Judgment to be cast into the "lake of fire", there to be burnt up or annihilated. They do not believe a loving God would cause even one person to be tormented forever, nor leave suffering souls where the saved in Heaven could observe them. Therefore, they believe, "forever" refers to the effectiveness of the fire in putting an end to the existence of those souls. "Forever" is the result of the fire--annihilation. This is counter to the traditional view that "forever" refers to the duration of the burning and suffering. One minor point that is seldom, if ever, noticed is that the scriptures explicitly mention only "the devil...the beast and the false prophet" as suffering torment forever (Rev 20:10); it nowhere clearly so describes human or other souls in such terms. Of course the Matthew passages quoted above seem strongly to imply that everyone in the lake of fire will be suffering (see esp. Mat 13:49-50).
Indeed, the words Jesus used in Matthew and the words used in the Revelation speak of darkness and weepng and gnashing of teeth by those thrown into the burning lake. It seems illogical to speak of someone whose existence has been annihilated as still having sensory input and responding as if in pain. Certainly, if their bodies have been burned up, they wouldn't have any eyes with which to weep nor teeth to gnash!
The Universalist view is also based on the notion that a loving God would not condemn anyone to suffer, let alone for an eternity. They believe that somehow--someway--God will just forgive everyone and everyone will be saved and go to Heaven. Some even believe that Satan and the "fallen angels" will also come to surrender and be saved. The basic problem with this view is clear-- it directly refutes what the New Testament says. No one can really accept this view as being true and also accept that Jesus spoke the "narrow way" & "broad way" parable or that he said the words concerning "many are called, but few are chosen" or many other such statements, including the ones cited from Matthew above. Nor can they consistently accept the statements in the Revelation as true.
One final observation needs mentioning. The word "forever" as used in the above passages does seem to mean in other passages merely a very long time period--notably where God makes a promise whose results are to continue "forever" but where history has shown that it was really for only a very long time--not eternity. That is not to say that in a given passage "forever" does not mean exactly what we would normally think: a time without end, eternity. This fact makes it possible to tentatively and cautiously offer the interpretation that the tormented suffering of the souls in the burning lake may not last for eternity, but only for a very (very very?) long time, at the end of which it will be declared: Enough! Quite possibly this declaration would still be contingent on the souls therein having undergone a change of heart and attitude towards God's sovereignty. This interpretation is only speculation however, and is based on nothing other than different acceptable ways to interpret "forever" and on God's immense love of and capacity for mercy. On the other hand, the tone of the statements in Matthew and the Revelation does not offer much hope that such a possibility will ever actually happen.
The curious thing to me is that all the passages in the New Testament concerning a tormenting final destination of the unsaved and rebellious beings seem to be found only in Matthew and the Revelation, as cited above.
Regardless of the significance--if any--of this observation, it seems
pretty clear from the passages cited and the ensuing discussion that the
destination of the rebellious spirits and the unsaved humans will be some
exceptionally unpleasant location, depicted as an extremely fiery hot--burning
brimstone hot (considered by some as over 700oC)--repository
without light. (Perhaps it will be so cold it will seem as if burning
hot?) How long will they exist there? It cannot be stated exactly,
but certainly for far longer than anyone there will wish!
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This page last updated 27-Nov-2002.