A place called the “lake of fire” is the eternal destination of all unbelievers of all ages. Scripture indicates that, first of all, when unbelievers die, they will go to a place of torments (Lu. 16:19-31), to be held there until the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11). At this judgment, they will stand as dead people before the throne. Then, because their names will not be found written in the “book of life,” and because they will be found guilty according to what is recorded in the “books,” they will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12-15).
Scripture does not give us any explanation of the dead people standing (v. 12), but we can assume that they all have been resurrected; and I also think that they, at the time of this resurrection are given bodies fit for hell, bodies that will be able to endure all the torments of hell forever. And I think it is interesting here that they are seen by John as “dead” but “standing.” To me, this language indicates that they, though physically alive (because they are able to stand) are yet spiritually dead; and in these super bodies, created for hell, they will remain spiritually dead forever.
The bible indicates that hell is an actual place, which was originally prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but is now also the place for all the unredeemed. This place is completely separate from heaven so that no unbeliever will be able to escape hell and come into heaven to corrupt it (Rev. 21:27; 22:15).
Now we come to the big question: what is hell? How can we describe it? I have come up with six points.
1. Hell is a place of eternal punishment by God for sin. It can be simply described as the wrath of God against sin—a wrath of punishment that will never end (Rev. 14:10; 20:10).
2. It is a place of fire. It is described in scripture in the following ways: “a lake of fire”; “a lake of fire and brimstone”; “a lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10, 15; 21:8); “a furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42); and as “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43-48; Lu. 3:17).
Much has been said about this aspect of hell. Certainly, if we are saying that the fires of hell are literal, hell is quite unimaginable and very hard to think about. It is probably the reason why so many have dismissed the belief altogether. They may question how a loving God could send people to this kind of a place forever. But let us not forget that all the unredeemed will be given bodies that are able to endure the fires of hell. This should give us some comfort. Moreover, I think we should think of the fires of hell as not only to inflict pain. I do think the fire is literal, but I think it also has a symbolic meaning. I think the fire represents the pure holiness and power of God coming against the corruptness of sin.
3. It is a place of eternal torment (Matt. 8:12; 13:42). Though we know that people in hell will be able to endure their punishment for eternity, nonetheless, it will be a place of eternal and constant torment, a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
4. It is a place of eternal destruction without annihilation (2 Thess. 1:9). Destruction may suggest annihilation; however, since hell is an eternal destruction, that can’t be the case. Thus we must take it to mean that the fires of hell will continually tear down without coming to an end. Thus it may mean that their sin will continually be exposed and punished by fire, without a remedy.
5. It is a place of eternal disgrace and contempt (Dan. 12:2). These two words I think reveal a lot about hell. The word disgrace means dishonor or shame. This is what the unredeemed will feel when their sins are revealed from the judgment of the books. And I imagine that this feeling of disgrace will be with them forever.
They will also feel a contempt, which is an abhorrence, disgust, repugnance, revulsion and a loathing. Thus for all eternity the unredeemed will loath themselves (and all others around them). They will feel the guilt of their sin and be disgusted with themselves and with everything and everybody around them.
6. It is a place of outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Jn. 3:19-21). When the books are opened the deeds of the unregenerate will be exposed to God’s glorious light. And of course they will hate this and feel great shame and disgrace. I think the outer darkness of hell, which is a place that is completely void of light, is a great kindness of God, for the unbeliever loves darkness rather that light, so that his evil deeds are not exposed by light (though God will see his sin and continually punish it; so there has to be an exposer in the Spirit apart from the light). Thus he will greatly prefer this dark place over the light of heaven.