Fire in the domestic realm is beneficial. By it we cook our meals and warm ourselves. Fire also destroys our possessions and our lives. Fire can inflict intense pain upon the human body, disfigure it and destroy it. One has only to go to the burn center in Galveston, Texas, to witness the horrible results of fire on flesh.
God frequently used fire to punish the disobedient. He rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen. 19:24. He brought hail mingled with fire upon the Egyptians, Ex. 9:23. By fire, God destroyed 250 men who were in rebellion, Num. 16:35. God sent fire upon Nadab and Abihu to devour them because they acted without His authority, Lev. 10:2. Someday the heavens will be dissolved by fire and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, 2 Pet. 3:12.
I have observed flaming fire consuming industrial buildings and felt the scorching heat two blocks away. I have seen huge furnaces in which fire generated incredibly high temperatures. In both instances I thought, This must be, in a small measure, what hell is like.
People fear fire, and respect it. Yell fire! in a crowded room and people panic and rush madly for the exits. In their hysteria some have crushed others to death fleeing from the searching and searing flames bent on engulfing them. Here we have a paradox: while people will flee from fire, millions are racing toward the fire of hell actually inviting it.
Hell is a place of fire. The Scriptures describe hell as a lake of fire (Rev. 20:14); furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42); and hell fire (Matt. 18:9). It is into this fire that the ungodly will be cast. How terribly frightening to contemplate being thrown into a lake consumed by fire, or into a suffocating, searing furnace of fire. This is just a hint of what the fire of hell will be like.
Whatever the nature of that fire, God used the word that would best describe hell. If it is a metaphor it is a likeness or similarity set forth as reality. The punishment of fire is far worse than anything we have seen, heard, or imagined.
Fire produces pain. Those who go to hell will be tormented by fire. Jesus said, There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42). The rich man died and was buried, and being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried out 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 (Luke 16:23-24).
The nature of this fire is everlasting. Jesus will ultimately say to those on His left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Jude describes it as eternal (Jude 7).
Jesus warns us that if we place our members at the disposal of sinful desires we shall be cast into hell fire, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone shall be salted by fire (Mark 9:48-49). There are two destructive forces: the worm and fire. Both suggest to us the permanence of retribution. The word dieth not, therefore the gnawing anguish never ceases. Those in hell are salted with fire (preserved); therefore, the results remain constant. The smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night (Rev. 14:11). Just think, to be in constant agony forever, with no hope of escaping the horrors of hell. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).