Hell is NOT the Final Stop for Unbelievers

Posted on May 21, 2020


By David Ettinger

Further Reference
The topic of the afterlife for the unsaved is confusing for many, and I have written about it in two previous posts: “Examining Sheol” and “Jesus’ Teaching on Hell.” I refer you to these two articles for further reference.

The Next Stop
Where do human beings who leave this world without accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior go? They go to Hell, or Hades, or Sheol, or “the grave” (all the same place). This is a HOLDING PLACE for the unsaved dead who will LATER be judged and given a permanent sentence.

This temporary nature of Hell is indicated in Psalm 9:17: “The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.” And the apostle Peter writes: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment …” (2 Peter 2:4, emphasis added).

Though speaking of rebellious angels, notice that Peter speaks of Hell as a holding place. And notice, too, that David speaks of the “realm of the dead” but with no explanation of what that means. Peter’s statement strengthens the Old Testament ambivalence toward Hell, indicating its “temporary” nature.

But Jesus Taught …
However, on several occasions Jesus speaks of the fiery and ETERNAL reality of Hell. He says in Mark 9:43: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire NEVER goes out.”

Likewise, Jesus told the “goats” – unbelieving human beings: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:42). The phrase “eternal fire” is impossible to ignore. (Also, note that though created for “the devil and his angels,” unsaved human beings will also be cast into this eternal fiery place.)  

Obviously, this “hell” referred to by Jesus is permanent and NOT the same “hell” referred to by Peter and the Old Testament writers. What, then, is this permanent place?

Go to the End!
To answer this question we must go to the end of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, specifically Chapter 19. Verse 20 reads:

“But the beast [the Antichrist] was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”

This gets us closer, but we’re not there yet. Let’s look at Revelation 20:10: “And the devil … was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

Here we have the tormenting eternal judgment of burning sulfur, so we’re real close to having our final answer. Let’s now look at verses 11-12, which speak of the “Great White Throne Judgment”:

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

Who are these “dead”? Verse 13 tells us: “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” Notice that “Hades,” or Hell, gave up their dead. These are the unsaved dead that had been in Hell. And notice, too, that Hades, or Hell, must surrender its dead. Hell, therefore, is not a permanent place, but a holding place.

Verse 14 tells us: “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” Notice that even Hades (Hell) itself is subjected to the “second death.” Another reading of “second death” can be “final death.”

Add to this verse 15: “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Summing It Up
So, the “current” unbelieving dead are in temporary confinement in Hell, or Hades, a place which must eventually give them up. Most likely, the current dead in Hell are there as spirits only, just as believers who have left this world are spirits and await the resurrection of their perfect bodies (1 Corinthians chapter 15).

Following the Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom over which Christ will rule on a refurbished Earth (Revelation 20:1-7), unbelievers will likely be resurrected in eternal bodies, as they will be “standing before the throne” (v. 12). They will then be sentenced to an eternity of torment in “the lake of fire” (vv. 14-15). Their eternal bodies will be able to endure the flames and sulfur, but they will nonetheless suffer greatly.

So, Hell is NOT the final stop for unbelievers; the Lake of Fire is the final stop. When we think of “Hell,” in our minds we are thinking of the Lake of Fire. Therefore, when we talk about Hell with unbelievers, it’s okay to refer to it as “Hell,” that place of eternal torment in fire, though we now know it is actually the Lake of Fire. (Calling it “Hell” will avoid confusion.)

Or, perhaps, the Lake of Fire is not an actual name, but an apt way to describe what true “Hell” – as referred to by Jesus – truly is.

A Final Word
The above is a clinical study of the “abode of the unsaved dead.” It is a fascinating study, but it is also tragic, depressing, sorrowful, and somber. This is not a place we wish upon anyone!

May the hearts of all believers be moved to pray earnestly for those who have not yet bowed the knee to our glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!