How is an eternal hell just?

Some view eternal suffering in the lake of fire to be as reasonable as shooting a puppy for wetting the carpet. A good, loving God would never be party to such an extreme injustice. Yet Christian teaching declares that eternal hell is just, good and necessary. How could eternal punishment in torment of flames and darkness be justice?

Justice is the legal response to wrong that brings punishment in proportion with the severity of the crime committed. Conrary to justice is revenge. Revenge is the personal, illegal act of making another endure the same pain that the injured person feels. Justice is not motivated by a desire to get even but by a recognition of the true damage done by a crime. The Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” was not a prescription for personal revenge but a description of legitimate justice which responded to wrong based upon the extent of harm done. Similar principles of justice are still seen in courts today. The accidental causing of another’s death is treated differently from negligently contributing to the death of a person which is treated differently from suddenly striking down a person which is treated differently from planning and executing the murder of another. Premeditated murder of an adult is treated differently from the intentional murder of an infant. The intent of the crime and the innocence of the victim legitimately affect the response to that crime. Along with murder treason usually brings the severest of punishments. Though treason does not always take another’s life, such a harsh response is generally recognized as just because treason offend the dignity of the ruling power and it threatens the safety of many others within the country. Treason is a repudiation of ones former allegiances that seeks the harm of ones own country, including friends and neigbors, and thus merits stern penalties.

What does treason have to do with the justice of hell? To understand the justice of hell one must understand the true horribleness of sin. Sin is no mere accident. Sin is unintentionally committed by someone unaware that his deed is wrong. Sin is first and foremost a willful act of rebellion against the God of heaven. God is Creator of all things and sole Ruler over all creation. Sin is therefore an act of treason far greater than any national treachery. Sin is mutiny against the perfect Creator. Sin is a repudiation of God, self and fellow man. Disobedience against God is an act of treason that wrongs God, injures self and wounds others. Disobedience against God is worse than mere treason. Disobedience against God is the attempt to overthrow God as ruler of your life and to inaugurate your own self as lord of your own destiny. This treachery is not only treason it is attempt to seize power from the Divine.

Since sin is the rejection of God as God and rebellion against His rule sin causes uncalculable harm to the individual and others around. Sin has wreaked havoc across the world. Sin is responsible for the death of billions and for the anguish felt in every part of creation. Every person born on the planet is complicit with sin. How can such evil against one’s Creator, Sovereign and God not require the greatest of punishments? Because sin is the rebellion of creature against the infinite, eternal Creator the scope of sin is limitless. A just response is measured to be appropriate to the scope of crime committed. A limitless crime requires a limitless payment. No finite creature is able to satisfy justice through any punishment of limited duration. The only appropriate judgment for a crime of infinite severity is an infinite punishment. Hell is just.

What will be Satan’s final end?

Satan is the mighty angel who rebelled against his Creator. In his pride, Satan desired to be equal with God. He was cast out of his position as an exalted angel. In his hatred for God, Satan led Eve and Adam to sin against God. Satan now holds great power in the world as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan is a liar and a murderer actively bent on the destruction of men. Satan is a mighty foe of God and man. He is responsible for much harm in this world. He is the first and greatest enemy against God. What will happen to Satan? What will be his final end?

Satan’s fate is discussed in the book of Revelation. Popular entertainment portrays Satan as the king of hell residing in the place of torment and overseeing the torture of wicked people. This is not at all true. Satan is not now in hell, does not have any access to hell and does not want to go to hell. The book of Revelation tells how in the last days Satan will ramp up his assault on humanity. He will deceive the nations of the world and will be the spiritual force driving humanity towards a great war. Revelation 19 tells Jesus will return just before the war reaches it final climactic battle. At Jesus’ command a mighty angel will capture Satan, bind him in chains and throw him into hell. (Revelation 20:1-3) Satan will be bound in hell for one thousand years. He will be released and will immediately lead a final rebellion against God. Satan’s last rebellion will immediately be crushed.

After the failure of his last rebellion, Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. In the Lake of Fire Satan will be constantly tormented for ever. Satan’s end will be one of horrible, eternal torture. Satan will not reign in hell. He will no longer have power over the earth or power to persecute men. He will no longer be able to practice his rebellion against God. Satan’s fate is already determined. He will be thrown into the lake of fire and eternally suffer the consequences of his sin.

Is Hell really eternal?

One of the most difficult doctrine in Christianity is the Biblical teaching about hell. The classic teachings on hell describe a place of intense pain and suffering, a place of fiery torment and a place of unending judgment. The hell described in the Bible is a horrific place. Any right thinking person recoils at the thought of anyone undergoing such horrible torture. For many, the worst part of hell is the unending nature of it’s torments. The doctrine of an eternal hell has prompted people throughout history to search for other ways of explaining hell that won’t be so terrible. Some have taught that God will not really send anyone to hell. Many teach that God will only send the worst of the worst to hell. A number of groups teach that most of those who suffer in hell will only do so for a limited amount of time. Still others deny any thing like hell even exists. Unfortunately, for those who claim to believe the Bible, hell is described in such a way that its realities cannot be denied. Consider a few passages.

Revelation 14:9-11
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelation 20:10
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.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power

Matthew 25:41
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

Matthew 25:46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

For those who believe in an eternal heaven of bliss, the doctrine of eternal hell is a necessity. The Bible could not be more plain. Hell is eternal. The same words are used to describe the length of heaven’s joy as are used to describe the length of hell’s suffering. Both are said to be “everlasting”, “eternal” and “forever”. One cannot change the meaning of these words as descriptors of hell without also changing their meaning in relation as descriptors of heaven. The righteous will enjoy heavenly bliss for the same eternity that the lost endure hell’s torment. Scriptures offer no hint that the souls of the condemned cease to exist at some point in the future. All the Bible says about hell declares that it is a place of unending, eternal torment in which the condemned will consciously endure physical and spiritual agony.

Despite the horrors of hell, God is not cruel and pitiless. In His mercy God has provided a means of salvation. He has promised those who trust Jesus alone for salvation from sin will be forgiven of all guilt and made righteous. Hell is a place of judgment, first built for Satan and the demons that follow him, and into which all those who refuse to obey the gospel will be cast. Those who do not believe are already condemned, but if any turn to Jesus for salvation he will escape condemnation and be given eternal life.

What is the resurrection?

Some time in the future there will be a restoration to life and judgment of every person who has ever lived. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” All men will one day be resurrected to be judged by God.

First there will be a resurrection for the saved. That resurrection takes place during the rapture, an event made popular recently in the Left Behind series of books and movies. The Bible reveals to us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that the dead bodies of the saved will be restored to life and taken up to meet Jesus. The saved who are still alive at the time of the rapture will then be taken up to meet Jesus.

Those who have been raptured will be taken into heaven and judged by Christ for how they have served Him. As His servants, they will answer to Him for how they have used what He has given them and how they have worked for His kingdom. This judgment is not a judgment of sin, for the believers sin has been taken away. This judgment is a judgment of stewardship, in which the believer is rewarded or rebuked depending on the faithfulness of his service for Christ.

Eventually, the believer will enter into a perfect eternity in the New Heaven and New Earth. This perfect eternity has nothing to do with floating around on clouds and playing harps. The Bible tells us almost nothing about this eternity. What we do know comes from Revelation 21 and 22. For the believer, eternity will be completely free from all sin, sorrow and suffering. All who are saved will live on this earth in faithful service to God, glorifying and enjoying Him forever.

Long after the believer’s resurrection will be the resurrection of the unsaved. Just before God wipes out this universe He will bring before His throne for judgment all who have died without trusting Jesus. Revelation 20:11-15 gives a terrifying picture of this event. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

All the unsaved will stand before God and be judged for their disobedience to His Word. Because they have not believed in Jesus, God finalizes their condemnation. This judgment is not a second chance at salvation, but is the final official declaration of their guilt before God. All those who have not believed Jesus for salvation, Satan and all the demons will be condemned and sent into the Lake of Fire forever. In the lake of fire they will suffer for eternity, paying the penalty of their rebellion against God.

The resurrection of the saved is a resurrection to life and eternal joy. The resurrection of the unsaved is a resurrection to death and eternal suffering. None have to endure the eternal suffering of the Lake of Fire. When He died on the cross, Jesus paid the consequences and suffering of sin. He extends salvation to all who will turn to Him and trust only Him for forgiveness of guilt and cleansing from sin. God promises eternal life to all who believe Jesus to salvation.