Does the Old Testament Teach Eternal Punishment in Hell Fire

It is obvious that Jesus in His incarnation directly taught about the eternal lake of fire for transgressors against God more than any of the Old Testament Prophets did.  But does the Old Testament even speak directly of such a concept at all?  Many now and throughout history, including many Jewish people, say that it does not.  However, that is only proof that they do not really take heed to and regard the things taught in the Old Testament (that is, the Hebrew Bible).  It is no wonder then that they reject Jesus Christ.

Jesus told His opponents in John 5:37-40: “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.  And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.  Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

The Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures were the only Scriptures at the time Jesus spoke this.  Do they actually teach eternal punishment in hell fire?  They surely do.

Isaiah 66:22-24: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain (God is directly speaking to Jews whom He judges to be righteous here).  And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.  And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” 

By the way: See Mark 9:43-48 for the clear lessons which Jesus taught that are directly derived from this passage.

It is obvious that the judgment of the wicked is not simply temporary destruction nor merely shame in terms of their remembrance.  

Daniel 12:2-3: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

They shall awake to shame and everlasting contempt- not face such while they continue to sleep in the dust of the earth.  Taken with the passage in Isaiah, this shame and everlasting contempt of the wicked involves everlasting fire and worms upon themselves.

If someone scoffs at this, they might as well not appeal to the Bible at all, Old or New Testament.

Isaiah 66:1-2: “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me?  and where is the place of my rest?  For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

Jesus said Matthew 5:17: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

Jesus incarnate clearly taught that the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell fire is a reality.  This was not something new He was bringingIt was not even something which had been incredibly vague before.  Just because Jesus in His incarnation spoke more about it directly doesn’t mean that the truth wasn’t clear before.  

It was also clear before the days of the Messiah that the covetous who serve money and choose pleasure above helping the poor and needy will go to the everlasting torment of the lake of fire.  Jesus thus said what He said in Luke chapter 16.  

Luke 16:19-31: “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  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; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  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.  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.  And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence (from here) to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence (from there).  Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.  Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.  And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

The fact that there is a taste of hell for the wicked while their bodies are in the grave makes it evident that such is a foretaste of the eternal lake of fire which their bodies and their souls will be sent to once their bodies are raised.  

Remember also along these lines what Jesus said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

It is evident also that God’s judgments of the wicked in this life which involve Him killing them are an advance preview of the eternal punishment which they will face- especially when He kills them by fire as He chose to do with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Nadab and Abihu, with the wicked men whom Elijah called fire from heaven down upon, etc.  There was even a time in Numbers chapter 16 when Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 other men rebelled against Moses and Aaron (whom God had evidently chosen to lead Israel).  We see there different angles of the judgment of the wicked being sent alive down into a lake of fire on Judgment Day- in how the earth swallowed up Dathan, Abiram, and their households, along with Korah’s household, alive into pit which closed upon them- while fire simultaneously came down from the Lord which consumed Korah himself and the 250 other men.  

We see in the New Testament how its writers understood such judgments to be a preview of the wicked in God’s sight being sent into eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

Jude 7: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

Is it reasonable then to believe also that God intended the vast multitude of threats of His judgment right in the Law of Moses, and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, such as the following, as solid implications of eternal judgment on the wicked who turn against Him?  Yes, absolutely.

Deuteronomy 32:35: “To me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.”

God even reminded Israel in the last prophetic utterance to them before the days of the Messiah that He is a consuming fire who takes note of everything and judges by fire.  He had already said enough, even by then, that all should have already been totally certain that there are eternal consequences for us at stake due to this.  

Malachi 4:1-2: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.  But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.”

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]