The Terminology of Eternal Punishment

 Is eternity real? Scripture reveals to us that the opportunity for eternal life is available by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. "Though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:8-9). We are created with free will, and choose whether to obey and find life, or disobey and find punishment.

 That there is an eternal destination, which involves punishment, is seen in the terminology Scripture uses to describe it. One term used is translated Hades. It corresponds to the Old Testament term Sheol, which refers to the grave, the place where the dead abide. Jacob told his sons that if anything happened to Benjamin, this would be his outcome (Genesis 37:35) In the New Testament, Jesus revealed that experiences there are based on how one lived life. Those who lived contrary to the will of the Father can expect punishment. The rich man, who lived life based on selfish desires, found this out. "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, Father Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame" (Luke 16:22-24).

 Another term used in the New Testament is the term Hell, from the Greek "gehenna." The term recalls the valley of the son of Hinnom in ancient Israel, where human sacrifice was offered to deities such as Molech (Jeremiah 7:31). To stop its use for such abominable idolatrous practices, King Josiah of Judah defiled it (2 Kings 23:10). It became a garbage heap with fires continually burning the refuse dumped in it. It was a powerful visual representation of what awaits those after the judgment who reject God and submission to His will. It is described as a place "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). It is described elsewhere as an eternal fire (Matthew 25:41), a place of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). It is the second death, where the wicked will spend their eternity (Revelation 21:8).

 Yet another term found in Scripture is described as Tartarus, but typically translated Hell. "For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment"  (2 Peter 2:4). The term was used to Greek mythology as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked, and Plato described it where souls were judged after death and the wicked received punishment. He expressed it specifically in verse 9, reminding us, "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment."

 The testimony of Scripture is clear by the terminology it uses, that eternal punishment is real. The issue, then, is not if it is a reality, but how we should live in view of its reality. As Hell is real, we should heed the words of Scripture, how Jesus will bring "vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess. 1:7-9).

 Robert Johnson, Longview, TX