The Bible’s answer
The lake of fire is a symbol of eternal destruction. It is the same as Gehenna, but it is different from “hell”, which is the common grave of mankind.
Not a literal lake
The five Bible verses that mention “the lake of fire” show it to be a symbol rather than a literal lake. (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15;21:8) The following are cast into the lake of fire:
The Devil. (Revelation 20:10) As a spirit creature, the Devil cannot be harmed by literal fire.—Exodus 3:2; Judges 13:20.
Death. (Revelation 20:14) This is not a literal entity but represents a state of inactivity, the absence of life. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Death cannot literally be burned.
“The wild beast” and “the false prophet.” (Revelation 19:20) Since these are symbols, doesn’t it seem reasonable to conclude that the lake they are thrown into is also a symbol?—Revelation 13:11, 12;16:13.
A symbol of eternal destruction
The Bible says that the lake of fire “means the second death.” (Revelation 20:14; 21:8) The first kind of death mentioned in the Bible resulted from Adam’s sin. This death can be reversed by resurrection and will eventually be eliminated by God.—1 Corinthians 15:21, 22, 26.
There is no release from the symbolic lake of fire
The lake of fire represents a different, or second, kind of death. Although it too represents a state of total inactivity, it is different in that the Bible says nothing about a resurrection from the second death. For example, the Bible says that Jesus has “the keys of hell and of death,” showing that he has the authority to release people from the death brought by Adam’s sin. (Revelation 1:18; 20:13, King James Version) However, neither Jesus nor anyone else has a key to the lake of fire. That symbolic lake represents eternal punishment in the form of permanent destruction.—2 Thessalonians 1:9.
Identical to Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom
Gehenna (Greek ge′en·na) is mentioned 12 times in the Bible. Like the lake of fire, it is a symbol of eternal destruction. Although some translations render this word as “hell,” Gehenna is different from hell (Hebrew sheʼohl′, Greek hai′des).
The word “Gehenna” literally means “Valley of Hinnom,” referring to a valley just outside Jerusalem. In Bible times, the city residents used this valley as a garbage dump. They kept a fire constantly burning there to destroy refuse; maggots consumed anything that the fire did not reach.
Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of everlasting destruction. (Matthew 23:33) He said that in Gehenna “the maggot does not die and the fire is not put out.” (Mark 9:47, 48) He thus alluded to the conditions in the Valley of Hinnom and also to the prophecy at Isaiah 66:24, which says: “They will go out and look on the carcasses of the men who rebelled against me; for the worms on them will not die, and their fire will not be extinguished.” Jesus’ illustration describes, not torture, but complete annihilation. The worms and fire consume carcasses, or dead bodies, not living people.
The Bible gives no indication of any return from Gehenna. “The lake of fire” and “the fiery Gehenna” both represent permanent, everlasting destruction.—Revelation 20:14, 15; 21:8; Matthew 18:9.
How “tormented day and night forever and ever”?
If the lake of fire is a symbol of destruction, why does the Bible say that in it the Devil, the wild beast, and the false prophet “will be tormented day and night forever and ever”? (Revelation 20:10) Consider four reasons why this torment does not refer to literal torture:
For the Devil to be tortured eternally, he would have to be kept alive forever. However, the Bible says that he will be brought to nothing, or put out of existence.—Hebrews 2:14.
Everlasting life is a gift from God, not a punishment.—Romans 6:23.
The wild beast and the false prophet are symbols and cannot experience literal torture.
The context of the Bible indicates that the torment of the Devil is everlasting restraint or destruction.
The word used for “torment” in the Bible can also mean “a condition of restraint.” For example, the Greek word for “tormentors” used at Matthew 18:34 is rendered as “jailers” in many translations, showing the connection between the words “torment” and “restraint.” Likewise, the parallel accounts at Matthew 8:29 and Luke 8:30, 31 equate “torment” with “the abyss,” a figurative place of complete inactivity or death. (Romans 10:7; Revelation 20:1, 3) In fact, several times the book of Revelation uses the word “torment” in a symbolic sense.—Revelation 9:5; 11:10; 18:7, 10.