All unrepentant wicked people will be cast into hell, where the fire will burn for eternity. But what does "eternal" fire of hell mean? What does the Bible say?

Let us study what the Bible says below about the condition we know as "hell:"

1) Jesus said, "…fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28, American Standard Version)

Here, we see two things:
a) *Both* body and soul will go to hell, contrary to the popular belief that only the soul will go to hell
b) That the soul will be *destroyed* in hell, not being burned for eternity.

2) Another passage confirms that God will completely destroy--not torment--evildoers, both their bodies and souls, by throwing them into hell, the lake of fire: "'For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,' says Yahweh of Armies, 'that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.'" (Malachi 4:1, World English Bible)

Note that God will "burn up" the wicked, leaving them neither root nor branch. In other words, the evil will be destroyed forever, with no hope of life ever again.

3) The Bible describes hell, or "lake of fire," as the "second death" as indicated in this passage, which describes what the apostle John saw in the revelation given to him by the Christ: "The dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:12-15, ASV)

Take special notice of Revelation 20:14: "And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire."

Note that Hades, which is also a term used for hell in some Bible versions (but it really means the common grave), is said to be cast into the "lake of fire."

Here, we must ask ourselves a few questions:
• Are death and hell objects that can be cast away?
• How could death burn in a never-ending fire?
• How could hell be cast into hell, the lake of fire?

This verse shows us that the lake of fire is simply eternal destruction. Death and the common grave will be cast into hell to be destroyed forever--death is the last enemy God will destroy (I Corinthians 15:26).

4) "Eternal fire" refers to eternal destruction. Note this verse: "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, having, in the same way as these, given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7, WEB)

Are Sodom and Gomorrah still burning? No, they were destroyed for good thousands of years ago. Likewise, the wicked will be thrown into hell when they are judged on Judgment Day to suffer the punishment and torment of eternal fire.

5) What about the references to Gehenna? Is Gehenna hell?

Gehenna is Greek for the Valley of Hinnon, where evil false god worshippers sacrificed their children by passing them through fire, a practice Jehovah abhors. The great reformer, King Josiah, faithfully carried out God's laws and "defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech." (II Kings 23:10, ASV) And after the Jews returned from their captivity, they turned this valley into a garbage dump, where they burned all their junk, dead animals, and criminals.

Jesus mentioned Gehenna a handful of times, each time using it as a symbol of hell-like garbage, where evildoers will be destroyed for good. If there indeed were a literal burning hell, then why did Jesus use "Gehenna"? Could he have not used a specific term that solely meant "hell"?

As a matter of fact, the entire Bible does not have a single word for "hell." Any and all mentions of "hell" have been incorrectly translated from Gehenna (garbage dump), Hades (the common grave), Sheol (the grave as well), and Tartarus (a spiritual prison for the demons only). If there is a literal hell, then why is there no word for hell in the Bible?

As you can see, hell will be the final destruction of the wicked. Fire represents destruction. The first death is temporary death, the death all human beings face prior to Jesus Christ's second coming. The second death is hell, the death where the wicked will experience for all eternity.

What is death? What happens after we die? The following Bible quotations answer these questions.

Animals and humans experience the same death: "For that which happens to the sons of men happens to animals. Even one thing happens to them. As the one dies, so the other dies. Yes, they have all one breath; and man has no advantage over the animals: for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again." (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, WEB)

"For the living know that they will die, but the dead don't know anything..." (Ecclesiastes 9:5, WEB)

"The dead praise not Jehovah, Neither any that go down into silence." (Psalm 115:17, ASV)

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, where you are going." (Ecclesiastes 9:10, WEB)

"Don't put your trust in princes, each a son of man in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth. In that very day, his thoughts perish." (Psalm 146:3-4, WEB)

Yes, the Bible clearly indicates that when we die, we cease to exist. Death is simply a state of nonexistence. It is like the state before you were born. So when we die, we feel nothing, so death is often compared to sleep in the Bible. The second death, therefore, will be eternal sleep. The wicked will never wake up from it.

In conclusion, when we die, we seize to exist and "don't know anything." (Ecclesiastes 9:5) However, that is not the end of our future! Everyone will be resurrected (raised from the dead) by Jehovah on His appointed day in the future. Some will live with Him forever in His heavenly Kingdom of sheer bliss, love, and peace. Learn how you can be a part of His Kingdom:

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Shirley Cheng (b. 1983), a blind and physically disabled award-winning author with twenty-seven book awards, proclaimer of Jehovah God's good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, Summa Cum Laude (Highest Honor) graduate with Doctor of Divinity, motivational speaker, self-empowerment expert, poet; author of nine books (including "Do You Love Jehovah?"), contributor to twenty-two, and an editor of one; and a parental rights advocate, has had severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since infancy. Owing to years of hospitalization, she received no education until age eleven. Back then, she knew only her ABCs and very simple English; other than that, her book knowledge was non-existent. However, after only about 180 days of special education in elementary school, she mastered grade level and entered a regular sixth grade class in middle school. Unfortunately, Shirley lost her eyesight at the age of seventeen. After a successful eye surgery, she hopes to earn multiple science doctorates from Harvard University.

Do you have questions about the Bible? Something you don't understand? Do you need a bit of guidance in developing a relationship with Jehovah? Then Shirley would like to help you! Please contact her via her site at and she would be more than glad to do her best to answer your questions! Never hesitate to ask questions, for no question about the Bible is ever too small or stupid.