The Bible says that the wicked will be tormented forever? Is this symbolic or literal?

Hello V,

Thank you for contacting BibleAsk.

The term forever is used 56 times in the Bible in connection with things that have already ended. It means simply a period of time. In Jonah 2:6, forever means “three days and nights” (Jonah 1:17.) In Deuteronomy 23:3, forever means “10 generations.” In the case of man, forever means “as long as he lives” or “until death” (1 Samuel 1:22, 28; Exodus 21:6; Psalms 48:14).

The wicked will be punished according to their deeds. This means some will receive greater punishment than others, based upon their works. “That servant, which knew his lord’s will, and … neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47, 48). Jesus said, “behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12).

The scriptures teach that hell fire will go out and that there will not be left “a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it” (Isaiah 47:14). In God’s new kingdom all “former things” will be passed away. Hell, being one of the former things, is included. The Lord promises that hell will be abolished. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4).

The teaching of eternal torment has done more to cause people to stay away from God than any other devilish doctrine (Ezekiel 33:11). It is an attack upon the loving and gracious heavenly Father that has offered His Son to save mankind (John 3:16). If God tortured His enemies in hell for eternity, He would be more cruel than the worst of men.

Hell will end and the wicked will turn into ashes “And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 4:1, 3). The fires of hell will literally “burn the wicked up” and end their existence (Jer. 17:27; Matt. 3:12; 25:41; 2 Peter 3:7–13; Jude 7).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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