Are the flames of fire in Hell literal?

ARE THE FLAMES OF FIRE IN HELL LITERAL?

by Shawn Brasseaux

Scripture describes Hell as “everlasting fire.” For instance, “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 25:41). Celebrated “Christian” preachers and teachers have wondered—and even publicly questioned—whether these are literal descriptions or merely figures of speech. They say that, contrary to popular belief, Hell may not necessarily be actual flames (as we would think of, say, a furnace or campfire). Perhaps, they suggest, the word “fire” really describes the burning remorse and searing emotional pain of being separated from God forever. Is that so? “For what saith the Scriptures?”

No doubt, the Bible does employ figures of speech. “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Surely “Lamb” is a figure of speech. Was Jesus an actual wool-bearing creature? No (obviously). “Lamb” describes His character as opposed to bodily appearance. Christ said in Luke 13:32, “Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” King Herod was certainly not a bushy-tailed animal in outward form; he was a sly, foxlike person in personality. However, when we come to the issue of Hell and its “fire” in Scripture, a figure of speech does not appear to be the case.

Friends, we should be careful never to allegorize or spiritualize the Bible (“it says this, but it really means that”). Such examples would be, “The word ‘Israel’ is actually ‘the Body of Christ,’” “‘Jerusalem’ really means your hometown,” and so on. This is nothing but employing (limited) human reasoning to make sense of (profound) Divine thoughts. It will never work and it will never get us to Bible truth; we must let the Holy Spirit teach us, and not human philosophers (1 Corinthians 2:1-16)!

In Luke chapter 16, we read (Christ speaking): “[19] There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: [20] And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, [21] And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. [22] And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; [23] And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. [24] And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

The rich man’s physical body was buried in the ground on Earth’s surface (verse 22). While Lazarus (poor) was not buried, he nevertheless is physically dead as well. Yet, in spirit form, both are still very much alive and conscious of their surroundings. The rich man’s soul is thirsty, as he is “tormented in this flame” (verse 24). He desires Lazarus to dip his finger in water and give him some relief. If this thirst were a “thirst for God” (as the feel-good preachers claim), what then are we to make of Lazarus dipping his finger in “water?” That would not make sense! Lazarus was to get some of God’s presence and bring it to the rich man’s soul? How exactly was Lazarus to ease burning remorse and searing emotional pain? No, there is an actual soul involved, there is an actual flame involved, and there is actual water involved—except they are in the spirit world. There is more than searing emotional pain going on here. An external source troubles a soul in Hell.

In the material world, physical fire inflicts injury on physical skin, and physical water quenches physical fire. Likewise, in the spiritual world, there is spiritual fire that inflicts injury on man’s spiritual makeup, and spiritual water quenches that spiritual fire. We can understand that only to some degree, as we have not experienced it ourselves. Nevertheless, the Bible says it and we should believe it. The soul has fingers, and they can be dipped into spiritual water just as we can dip our physical fingers in physical water. As our physical eyes see, so our souls can see. Otherwise, “eyes” in the passage is nonsense as well. Our souls have tongues as well. They have memory. (Scary to say the least!)

“[25] But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. [26] And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. [27] Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: [28] For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. [29] Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. [30] And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. [31] And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

People are not sorry when they die and go to Hell. They do not want anything to do with God then just as they do not want anything to do with Him now. The rich man did not ask for forgiveness, he did not confess his sins or apologize for anything he did. All he wanted was his way, even if it meant arguing with God’s man Abraham! In Hell, lost souls are completely given over to sin. There is no limit to their hatred for God; it is endless. They are not remorseful for what they have done but they are sorry for getting caught (sorry for now suffering severely and endlessly). There is unfathomable emotional trauma in Hell, no doubt, painful memories of rejecting the Gospel, but there is much more pain than that.

Let us turn to Mark chapter 9 for amplification (Christ speaking again): “[43] And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: [44] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [45] And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: [46] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [47] And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: [48] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [49] For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. [50] Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”

In the spirit world, fire does not consume—it preserves (verses 49-50)! This is where it is unlike the physical world, wherein fire eradicates. Like physical salt preserves meat, spiritual fire conserves souls. Remember Exodus chapter 3? “The bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed” (verse 2). The LORD God in His wisdom has invented a fire that does not annihilate; it can burn continually and whatever it burns can thus burn forever as well. Souls are endlessly tormented in Hell. The suffering never ends, and the fire is never quenched (verses 44,46,48). Their “worm”—or weakening soul—never passes out of existence. Sin continually distorts them, disfiguring them further and further, but they are just as aware of their surroundings as ever before. Indeed, it is horrible, but sin has a penalty—and it is eternal!

Thankfully, the God of the Bible loved us, and sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, to be our sacrifice, our fully-satisfying payment, that we not be sacrificed in Hell. We do not have to go to Hell unless we want to do so! Friend, come by faith in Christ alone to Almighty God, and be forgiven and saved for Hell today… before it is too late!

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). You may also read all of Romans chapter 3.

Also see:
» How can a loving God send people to Hell forever?
» Is Luke 16:19-31 a parable?
» Why is Hell forever if life on Earth is but decades?

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