Most people think of hell as a place of eternal torment for the souls of wicked people. Could a compassionate God really torture people forever? We do not believe this is what the Bible teaches.
What does happen to the wicked? The Bible says they die. In one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Paul also makes a clear contrast between death and "the gift of God...eternal life" (Romans 6:23). Ezekiel 18:4 says, "the soul who sins shall die." The serpent in the Garden of Eden first spread the lie that man would not die—that man had an immortal soul (Genesis 3:4). But the Bible shows that "the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and "sleep in the dust of the earth" (Daniel 12:2) to awake in the resurrection.
So what is hell? The Bible uses four words that have been translated hell. "Sheol" (Hebrew) and "hades" (Greek) both refer to the grave where righteous people like Job, David, Hezekiah and even Christ knew they would go at death (Job 14:13; Psalm 88:3; Isaiah 38:10; Acts 2:27, 31). "Tartaroo" (Greek) is only used once in the Bible, about where fallen angels are restrained (2 Peter 2:4). "Gehenna" was a word based on a vile garbage dump outside Jerusalem where trash and the bodies of criminals were burned up. Christ used the word to refer to what Revelation 20:10, 14-15 calls "the lake of fire," which brings "the second death"—permanent, eternal death.
God does not want anyone to end up in the lake of fire and will make sure everyone has a full chance for repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We pray that few will make the choice to reject that wonderful future God has to offer.
For More Information and for explanations of some often misunderstood scriptures, see our free booklets, What Happens After Death? and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? (www.ucg.org/booklets).