The subject of eternal punishment of the wicked is treated at length and with great solemnity in the Scriptures. First, it is made clear that hell, which is synonymous with the lake of fire, and the second death was never prepared for man, but for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
The wicked dead have evidently been detained at death in a place which is called in the Hebrew "Sheol" and in the Greek "Hades." And while this was a place of temporary torment until the final judgment, it was nevertheless impossible to escape after death, not even by the prayers of those remaining alive on the earth, and offered no opportunity for repentance (Luke 16:19-31).
In the New Testament certain words are translated "hell" or the "abyss." This has reference to the permanent place of punishment for the wicked (II Pet. 2:4).
No one is yet in hell. No one will be confined in hell until following the Tribulation period when we read that the Beast and the False Prophet are cast therein (Rev. 19:20), and later that Satan was cast there (Rev. 20:10) and, lastly, whosoever was not found written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 20:15).
The Great White Throne Judgment is evidently not a judgment to determine guilt, but rather to sentence the wicked. No one who appears there goes into life, all into eternal death (Rev. 20:11-15).
There are some Scriptures which seem to indicate that the wicked are to be punished to the extent of their evil deeds. Certainly, we know that the righteous are to be rewarded on the basis of their works.
Generally speaking, the sons of men fail to realize that they are now already under condemnation. Most have the impression that their case will be decided at the end of time, rather than that they stand presently in full danger of hell (John 3:18). And while sins are always terribly reprehensible, still there is but one sin possible today which will sentence anyone to an eternal hell...the persistent rejection of Christ as Saviour (John 3:18; 36).
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Believer's First Bible Course by William W. Orr. Wheaton, Ill.: Scripture Press, 1956.