When Christ returns, only God’s people will receive eternal life.

This is an article in the series on Death, Eternal Life, and Eternal Torment.


In the traditional view, all people have immortal souls and
the unrepentant will suffer eternal torment in hell. In contrast, this article shows that the unrepentant will not suffer eternally but die an eternal death. In other words, people do not have immortal souls and do not have eternal life inherently. This is justified as follows:

The Apostle Paul taught as follows:

(1) Only God’s people will receive eternal life (e.g., Rom 2:5-8).

God promises eternal life ONLY to those who persevere in doing good and they will receive that life ONLY when Jesus returns (Rom 2:7). This means that people are currently not inherently immortal, that the unrepentant will never become immortal, which means that they will die.

(2) Paul never wrote that sinners will suffer in hell for eternity.

He does not mention the word “hell” even once. Rather:

(3) Paul consistently warns the unrepentant that they will die.

For example:

“If you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (Rom 8:13), and

“The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).

(4) Paul contrasted this death with eternal life (e.g., Rom 6:23). 

In other words, the death that these people will die is not the temporary death that faces all people, but an eternal death; that awful and irreversible death which only the unrepentant will suffer, which Revelation refers to as “the second death.”

What did Jesus teach?

Jesus warned about “the fiery hell” – “the unquenchable fire,” “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” This is often understood to mean that the wicked will be tormented eternally. What people forget is that Jesus quoted these words from Isaiah 66:24, which explicitly refers to dead people: “corpses of the men.” In other words, the fire and the worm that do not die are symbols of irreversible death; not of eternal life in torment. 

To explain the context a bit further: In ancient times, people sometimes destroyed corpses by fire, but when wood was in short supply, the body might not be fully consumed. And due to the hot, dry conditions, the corpse sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed. 

So, when Jesus said that the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,” He meant complete extinction. As we read elsewhere, God will destroy the body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28).

The Book of Revelation teaches the same.

The best evidence for eternal torment is in this book. It says:

“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15) “where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10, 15) “and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev 14:9-11). 

This article shows that this is symbolic language:

    • Revelation is a book of symbols.
    • The beast is not a person that can be tormented.
    • They will be tormented in the presence of the Lamb (Rev 14:10). Literally interpreted, this means that Jesus Christ will remain forever in hell.
    • Babylon’s smoke will also go “up forever and ever,” but she is not a person.
    • The lake of fire is twice explained as “the second death.”

For a further discussion, see:





Immortality and eternal life, according to Romans 2:5-8, is not something that people already have but is something which God, on “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom 2:5), “will render to those who by perseverance in doing good” (Rom 2:7)

The following are further indications that people do not yet have immortality and that only believers will receive eternal life:

 “We believe in Him FOR eternal life“ (1 Tim 1:16).

“We are heirs according to the HOPE of eternal life“ (Titus 3:7).

“Take hold of the eternal life
to which you were CALLED“ (1 Tim 6:12).

“God … PROMISED eternal life long ages ago” (Titus 1:2).

Since eternal life is promised only to those who persevere in doing good (Rom 2:7), such verses imply that “those who obey unrighteousness” (Rom 2:8) will NOT live eternally.  In other words:


Paul never wrote that sinners will suffer in hell for eternity. He never uses the word “hell” but always warns sinners that they will die. For example:

“Unrighteousness, wickedness, greed …
those who practice such things
are WORTHY OF DEATH” (Rom 1:29-32).

 “If you are living according to the flesh,
but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body,
YOU WILL LIVE“ (Rom 8:13).

“You are slaves of the one whom you obey,
either of sin RESULTING IN DEATH, or of
obedience resulting in righteousness” (Rom 6:16).

“The WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH”  (Rom 6:23).


When traditionalists read such verses, their minds automatically switch “death” to “eternal torment.” However, in Paul’s writings, the OPPOSITE of death, which sinners will die, is explicitly and always eternal life:

even so GRACE WOULD REIGN … to eternal life” (Rom 5:21).

“You are slaves … either of SIN RESULTING IN death, …
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God …
THE OUTCOME, eternal life.” (Rom 6:16, 21-22)

“The wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23).

“Our Saviour Christ Jesus abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).

(“Life and immortality” mean the same as “eternal life.”)

“The one who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:8).

(The Greek word translated as “corruption” in this verse is phthora. Strong’s concordance defines this word as “destruction, corruption.” )


Paul, therefore, taught that:

    1. People do not yet have immortality.
    2. Only believers will receive eternal life, namely when Christ returns.
    3. Sinners will die.

Since Paul also taught that the opposite of the “death” that sinners will die is “eternal life,” this is not the temporary death that faces all people. It is, rather, eternal death; that awful and irreversible death which only the unrepentant will suffer, to which Revelation refers as “the second death” (Rev 20:14).


It should, therefore, be abundantly clear that Paul taught that the unrepentant will die an eternal death. But traditionalists claim that Jesus taught the eternal torment of sinners.

Christ often mentioned “hell” (Matt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:5). He warned of “the fiery hell” (Matt 5:22; 18:9); “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48).

It is often assumed that Jesus, with these words, taught that the wicked will be tormented in hell for all eternity, but this is not what He said:

Firstly, He said that the worm and the fire are immortal. He did not say that people are immortal.

Secondly, these are symbols. In ancient times, when people attempt to destroy corpses by fire, wood may be in short supply and the fire goes out before the body is consumed.  And due to the dry conditions, corpses sometimes dry up and the worms die before the corpse was fully consumed. Therefore the expression, the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,” simply means that nothing will remain; “both soul and body” will be consumed (Matt 10:28).

Thirdly, Jesus, like Paul, also contrasted eternal life with death:

“He who … believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life,
and does not come into judgment,
but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

In John 5:28-29, Jesus said that all people who ever lived will be resurrected. Some will be resurrected to “life,” which is the eternal life of verse 24. But the others will be resurrected to “judgment,” which is the “death” of verse 24. Since life here is eternal, death here is also eternal.

Fourthly, Jesus said that God “is able to destroy BOTH BODY AND SOUL in hell” (Matt 10:28). In other words, God is able to annihilate human beings. This means that souls are not immortal. Some counter that God is “able” to annihilate body and soul but that does not mean that He will not do it. But why would Jesus say this unless God would also do this?

Fifthly, and perhaps most important, Jesus quoted “their worm will not die And their fire will not be quenched” from Isaiah 66:24, which explicitly refers to “the corpses of the men.” In other words, it is a symbol of death; not of eternal life in torment. 


Arguably, the strongest evidence for eternal torment comes from the book of Revelation. It says that any person who “worships the beast and his image:”

“… will 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 goes up FOREVER AND EVER;
they have no rest day and night” (Rev 14:9-11). 

This “fire and brimstone” refers to the “lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev 19:20) where “the devil … the beast and the false prophet … will (also) be tormented day and night FOREVER AND EVER” (Rev 20:10) and into which these people are thrown (Rev 20:15). How do we reconcile this with Paul’s consistent view that sinners will die, and with Christ’s statement that God will destroy body and soul in hell?

We respond that Revelation is a book of symbols and that the following shows that the eternal torment in Revelation is symbolic:


What is eternal in Revelation 14:9-11 is the smoke of their torment; not their torment. Babylon’s smoke will also go “up forever and ever” (Rev 17:18; 19:3), but she is not a literal person that can be tormented. Babylon is a symbol of the anti-God religious system that has ruled over the kings of the world of all ages. 

Furthermore, the “ten horns … will burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16), which means that Babylon will be fully and completely destroyed.  

The ever-rising smoke is, therefore, a symbol. It means that God and the saved will never forget the awful destruction of people who they loved. People will remember it for as long as they live, and they will live “forever and ever.”


As a further example of the figurative nature of this eternal torment, the beast will also be “tormented day and night forever and ever” in “the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev 20:10), but the beast is not a literal person. One of the articles on this website identifies the beast as the mainstream church of Christianity. The beast, therefore, cannot literally be tormented forever in an eternal hell. This must be understood as symbolic language.


The lake of fire is twice called “the second death” (Rev 20:14; 21:8). This means that this death is different from the first death. All people are resurrected from death (Rev 20:5; John 5:28-29). Therefore, all people live twice. But the worshipers of the beast also die twice (Rev 19:21; 20:9). After the judgment of the dead (Rev 20:11, 12), their death becomes final and irreversible when Hades is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15).

This is confirmed by the fact that, in Revelation, once a being is cast into the lake of fire, he is never again seen doing anything. For example, the beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire” when Christ returns (Rev 19:11). Thereafter they never again do anything in Revelation. One thousand years later, the devil and the people with the mark of the beast are cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10-11; 20:15) and are never again seen. 


Revelation 14:10 says that the worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”  Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous. God gave Christ “authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27), and this is what He will do. 

The pain of hell is not that God tormenting people as retribution for their sins. God does not work that way. Everything that God does, He does from love (1 John 4:7; 1:5). But He promised a universe with perfect peace and joy. Therefore, eventually, God must annihilate evil and the consequences of evil. In the process, He has to do certain things that will cause pain. To understand a bit about these larger issues, I recommend Why Satan thought he could win and The Seven Seals of Revelation.


The idea of immortal punishment results from the concept of the immortal soul. That man has an immortal soul came from the Greek philosophical view in the world in which Christianity arose. Although it is foreign to Judaism and Christianity, it soon became accepted in the church and is today defended in the Church as orthodox. However, it is actually the first lie recorded in the Bible, when the serpent said to Eve, “You surely will not die” (Gen 3:4).  

The concept of an immortal soul is rebellion against God. The promise of the Bible is a resurrection from death, which depends on God’s miraculous power, but the concept of the immortal soul says that we do not need God.

For further discussion, see the other articles in this series.


The evidence for eternal torment actually supports annihilation.

ABSTRACT: The evidence for eternal torment may sound convincing, but when one delves into the background and context, it becomes evidence for annihilation. For example, the phrase “their worm does not die” is a quote from the Old Testament referring to dead people.


Annihilationism stands in contrast to the traditional belief in eternal torture or torment and suffering in the lake of fire. Annihilationism asserts that God will eventually put the wicked out of existence, leaving only the righteous to live on in immortality.

A separate article discusses the case for annihilationism and has shown that the support for it is strong. Two other articles discuss two passages often used to argue against annihilationism (Rev 14:9-11; 20:10) and show that:

The purpose of the current article is not to prove annihilationism but to discuss other arguments for eternal torment and to show that such arguments are weak.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived joyously in splendor every day and a poor man named Lazarus who lay at his gate, covered with sores (Luke 16:19-20).

Both men died. The poor man was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man “was buried.” “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).

Despite being “far away,” the rich man was able to plead with Abraham that Lazarus would bring him some water “for I am in agony in this flame.” Abraham then gave two reasons to refuse this request:

Firstly, while the rich man, during his life, had “good things,” Lazarus had “bad things.” But Lazarus is “now … being comforted here,” while the rich man is “in agony.”

Secondly, between the places where Lazarus and the rich man are, there is a great chasm … so that … none may cross over.” (Luke 16:24-26)

The rich man then begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers. He said, “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:27-30). But Abraham responded:

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,
they will not be persuaded
even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

This parable is often used to support the doctrine of eternal torment but, for the following reasons, it does not support that doctrine:

Parables are not literal.

Firstly, the main point of this story is contained in verse 31, namely that only “Moses and the Prophets” are able to lead people to repentance. That is how parables work; Jesus told a parable to convey a single message. In this case, Jesus didn’t want to speak about the afterlife. He wasn’t telling His audience what would happen in the future when they had died. That was just the ‘backdrop’ to what he wanted to say. We should not interpret the details of the parable literally.

This is confirmed by the details of the parable. While they are dead and their bodies have decayed and they are supposed to exist as spirit beings, Lazarus and the rich man still have eyes, fingers, and tongues (Luke 16:23, 24) and there is a physical “chasm” between them. Since these things are not to be taken literally, the agony that the rich man suffers “in this flame” must also not be taken as literal suffering.

Virtually all commentators will acknowledge that this was a popular story told in Jesus’ time which He adapted to His own purposes. See Glenn Peoples for details.

It is about Hades; not about Hell.

Secondly, the rich man is “in hades” (Luke 16:23). This term refers variously to the grave, the state of death, or the intermediate state. In Greek mythology, it refers to the underworld. According to Revelation 20, at the end of the Millennium, after the lost have been put to death (Rev 20:9) and after the great final judgment (Rev 20:11-12), “Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). Hades, therefore, is the temporary holding place where the dead are kept until the final destruction. In other words, this parable says nothing about hell (Gehenna); the place of the ultimate destruction of the lost (Matt 10:28).

Go away into Eternal Punishment.

Possibly the major argument for eternal torment is the fact that the Bible describes the state of the lost with phrases such as “eternal punishment” and “the eternal fire.” For example, Jesus said:

“Then He will also say to those on His left,
‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire
These will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:41, 46).

Traditionalists interpret such phrases as referring to eternal torment in hell.

The Eternal Punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah

However, Jude uses “Sodom and Gomorrah” as “an example” of “the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7) of those who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:5). That fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but has gone out long since.

Those events are recorded in Genesis 19:24-28. The LORD rained brimstone and fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of heaven. The smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace. But, today, the fire is no longer burning. If that is what “eternal fire” did to Sodom and Gomorrah, then we should not assume that the “eternal fire,” which Jesus mentioned, will torment people forever.

The Eternal Punishment of destruction

We should also not assume that the “eternal punishment,” which Jesus mentioned in Matthew 25, suggests eternal torment. Torment is one kind of punishment, but it is hardly the only thing that could be called punishment. The Bible never expressly refers to “eternal torment” or “eternal suffering.” Another possible form of punishment is destruction. Paul wrote that “those who do not know God … will pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:8-9). This is similar to “eternal punishment,” but it’s more specific in that it actually specifies what type of punishment is in view, namely destruction.

Eternal destruction (2 Thess 1:8-9)

Consider 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9:

when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven
with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God …
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction,
away from the presence of the Lord
and from the glory of His power,

10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day,

Destruction is not an eternal process.

Traditionalists argue that, since destruction cannot be an “eternal” process, the destruction cannot be literal. But this is a weak argument. If “eternal” describes the consequence of the action of destruction, then that destruction is literally “eternal destruction.” If the person has been destructed (annihilated), he no longer exists. If the person ever came back into existence, then it would not be annihilation; the consequence wouldn’t be eternal.

Shut out from the presence of the Lord

Traditionalists also attempt to show that the destruction is not literal by noting that “those who do not know God … will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” This quote is from the NASB. Other translations are more sympathetic toward the traditional view. The NIV, for example, reads, “and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (Biblehub). 

Traditionalists then interpret this verse as saying that “eternal destruction” and “shut out from the presence of the Lord” are two different things that the lost suffer. Then “shut out from the presence of the Lord” implies their continued existence, which means that such people have not been destroyed in the literal sense.

However, the NIV is here perhaps influenced by the view of the translators, for the Greek of this verse does not contain words that can be translated as “and shut out.” The only preposition found here is apo, which is translated as “from.” Young’s Literal Translations, for example, simply reads; “destruction age-during — from the face of the Lord” (Biblehub).

This verse, therefore, does not say that they shall suffer eternal destruction AND ALSO be shut out from the presence of the Lord, as the NIV misleadingly suggests. Rather, they will be removed from the presence of the Lord BY being destroyed with everlasting destruction. It is exclusion by means of destruction, which is how the verse reads in the AV, the NASB, the ESV, and others, following the Greek much more literally than the NIV at this point.

Everlasting Contempt (Daniel 12:2)

Traditionalists also use Daniel 12:2 to justify their view that the lost will be tormented eternally. That verse reads as follows:

“Many of those who sleep
in the dust of the ground will awake,
these to everlasting life,
but the others to disgrace
and everlasting contempt” (NASB).

The terms “everlasting” and “eternal” are translated from identical Greek and Hebrew words.

Traditionalists argue that, for the lost to experience “disgrace and everlasting contempt,” requires that they will always exist and be aware of their condition; parallel to the “everlasting life” of the righteous.

However, Isaiah 66 shows that the person’s shame and contempt will continue to exist after the person has been annihilated because it is those who will receive “everlasting life” that will think of the lost with contempt. In Isaiah 66:

First, “the LORD will come in fire … to render His anger with fury … and those slain by the LORD shall be many” (Isa 66:15-16). This may be compared to Revelation 19:21, which says that the lost will be put to death when Christ returns.

Next, Isaiah 66 mentions “the new heavens and the new earth” (Isa 66:22), which is also mentioned in Revelation (Rev 21:1). This shows that what Isaiah is going to describe in the next verses are the conditions in eternity; similar to Daniel 12:2.

Then, in “the new heavens and the new earth,” THE SAVED:

“will … look on the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind” (Isa 66:24).

What has happened to the lost? Simple: They are dead. The word “abhorrence” is the same word translated as “contempt” in Daniel 12:2; dara’ōn. Isaiah shows that it is the SAVED who will think of the lost with “disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). 

Please let me add immediately that this is symbolic language. Both God and God’s people will be extremely sad over the lost. It will not be contempt for the lost, but horror when they think of what sin has done to the people they loved.

The Fire is not Quenched.

Jesus said:

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life crippled,
than, having your two hands, to go into hell,
into the unquenchable fire,

(Mark 9:43-44; cf. Matt 18:8-9).

The next four verses repeat the same principle using different words (Mark 9:45-48). In these verses. Jesus contrasted two possible outcomes, namely “life” and “hell … the unquenchable fire.” Then He added the words in capital letters, which is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24:

“Then they will go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”

Since the “life” that Jesus mentioned is the opposite of “hell … the unquenchable fire,” one might suggest that Jesus implied that “hell … the unquenchable fire” is death. Nevertheless, these verses from Mark 9 are often used to support the doctrine of eternal torment.

Jesus did not teach eternal torment.

As stated, Jesus here quoted the key phrase, “THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED” directly from Isaiah 66:24, which, as discussed above, refers to dead bodies, and not to conscious eternal torment. In that passage, God’s enemies have been killed off (Isa 66:15-16). All that remains is a pile of “the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me.” Then Isaiah wrote of these corpses:

“Their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched” (Isa 66:24).

There is no suggestion in Isaiah 66 that these evil persons will suffer eternally. Isaiah’s words imply that their corpses will remain indefinitely as a reminder.

Unfortunately, people that teach the traditional view of eternal torment, often quote these verses from Mark 9 without discussing the context of Isaiah 66. That is misleading. Since Jesus quoted directly from the Old Testament, we must assign to His words the same meaning that they had in the Old Testament.

Of course, their corpses will not literally remain indefinitely. Literal worms cannot literally live eternally in fire. This is symbolic language to stress permanence and irreversibility.

The word “hell” is Gehenna.

The Greek word which Jesus used in Mark 9, which is translated as “hell,” is Gehenna. (The Hebrew for this word is Geh-Hinnom.) This word is perhaps better left untranslated because it is a proper noun, referring to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem where fire was always smoldering, consuming rubbish in the flames; the perfect picture of final destruction.

Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of the final state of those who have rebelled against God. He warns us that we may find ourselves amongst them unless we enter God’s kingdom (Mark 9:47), which He equated with “life” (Mark 9:43, 45).

Unquenchable Fire

In Mark 9, in addition to the quote from Isaiah 66, Jesus referred to “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). That is a rephrase of the phrase from Isaiah 66:24: “their fire will not be quenched.” This is interpreted by traditionalists as, “the fire that never goes out.” But that changes the meaning of the verse. In Ezekiel 20:47-48, God used the same phrase when He said:

“I am about to kindle a fire in you,
and it will consume every green tree in you,
as well as every dry tree;
the blazing flame will not be quenched

(Ezek 20:47).

This fire that “will not be quenched,” will destroy the forest, and nobody is going to save the forest, because the fire will not be quenched by anyone. An unquenched fire is simply one that is not quenched until it has consumed the object being burnt. It does not mean that the fire will never go out. It will go out when everything is consumed. Nothing is said here about eternal torment: On the contrary, the image is one of annihilation. Therefore, “the unquenchable fire” is correctly understood as death, for Jesus contrasted it with “life” (Mark 9:43).


To a layperson, the evidence for eternal torment may sound convincing, but once one is informed of the meanings of the symbols, then the same evidence becomes evidence against eternal torment and in favor of annihilation. For example, the phrase “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” may sound convincing until you learn that it is a direct quote from the Old Testament referring to dead people. Then the same phrase becomes evidence of the irreversibility of their destruction. The same applies to concepts such as eternal fire, everlasting contempt, and unquenchable fire.

This article discusses the Biblical support for the doctrine of eternal torment. The two other passages used to argue for eternal torment are Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 20:10. Those two articles also show that, once one has a proper understanding of the symbols, such as that the beast is a symbol for the world systems that oppose God and that the ever-rising smoke symbolizes total annihilation, then these passages become support for annihilationism rather than for eternal torment.

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