Imagine that you had never heard of “hell.” The eternal misery of the damned in dungeons of fire, Dante’s Inferno, Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” you hadn’t heard of any of it. And now imagine that you were about to open a book that tells us what the judgement of God on his enemies will be like. You read this:
The LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgement, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the LORD will be many. From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD. And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:15-16, 23-24)
It’s pretty fearsome stuff, granted, but beyond that, what would you make of it? Endless suffering? Torment forever in the fires of hell? Not likely. Such ideas would never even occur to you when reading a passage like this. Anyone able to read the above passage can see what it describes: Death. Any claim that Isaiah 66 contains anything that would lend support to the doctrine of the eternal torments of the damned in hell is indefensible, even laughable. You cannot find a doctrine like that in this text on the basis of any standard methods of responsible exegesis.
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