Please tell me whether the concept of the “second death” means a complete disappearance or eternal torment in a lake of fire?


I believe that the biblical “second death” is neither merely a complete disappearance, nor is it eternal torment in a literal lake of fire.

First, I must address what Bible says about the “second death.”  Revelation 20:14-15 “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 he had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

In this context, it certainly appears that experiencing the “second death” is equivalent to being sent to hell.  I believe, and nearly all scholars will agree, that both the description of the new heaven/earth and of hell in the Bible are symbolic.  I doubt very much that there is a literal lake of fire in hell and I doubt that there is literally a gate made out of a single giant pearl in the heavenly city.  However, what I am very sure of is that I want to be in the heavenly city with God and I do not want to be in hell/the lake of fire.  I want the same for all of humanity.

You ask if being sent to hell/the “second death” is a “complete disappearance” or an eternal torment.  The honest truth is that I am not sure exactly what the nature of hell will be.  I believe that there is no doubt that there is suffering and punishment in hell.  The second death is not a mere disappearance.  Whether this suffering lasts for an infinite amount of time, or whether it endures for a limited amount of time, but with eternal consequences, I am not certain.  Serious, conservative, Bible-believing scholars debate this question.  There are plenty of passages, especially in the Old Testament, which can be used to suggest that punishment in hell results in the eventual destruction of souls–that the suffering is of a limited duration.  On the other hand, there are passages, especially in the New Testament, which seem to imply eternal punishment.  In Revelation 20:9 we are told that the devil, the beast and false prophet are “tormented day and night, forever and ever.” Revelation 14:11 says the same about those who worship the beast.  Jesus said about those who cause the little ones to stumble, that they will be thrown into hell, where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”  

For myself, personally, I believe that the punishment in hell is eternal.  Exactly what this means, I am not sure.  Does this mean an infinite amount of time?  I do not know.  I believe that humans may not be capable of understanding the meaning of eternity.  Might I be wrong?  Might the punishment in hell be a limited one, followed by ceasing to exist?  Perhaps.  Look, here is what I know.  I do not want anyone I know to go to hell.  It is not merely disappearance.  I wish it was, but wishful thinking does not determine truth.

Some groups, such as the Jehovah Witnesses as well as some “liberal” Christian groups have taught that, for all practical purposes, there is no such thing as hell.  They teach that after judgment, those who are not in heaven simply disappear.  Rob Bell is a very popular evangelical author and speaker who has taught this recently.  I do not believe that this view is biblical.  I do not see any passages in the Bible which can support this view and there are many passages which make it clear that there will be suffering in hell.

Simply completely disappearing?  No, I do not believe so.  An actual lake of fire? I really doubt it.  But I do know that Jesus told us the great majority are on the broad road to destruction and that only a few manage to live on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.  Rather than becoming too caught up into the exact meaning of passages about hell, I believe we would do best to spend more energy helping those we know to avoid going there.  This is the mission God has given to believers.

John Oakes

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