Undying Worms and Quenchless Fires
“And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” — Isaiah 66:24, King James Version
“It is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell [Gehenna]; where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched.” — Mark 9:48, King James Version.
(164) The figure here used by the prophet and by our Master, represents the utter destruction of the second death. We say figure, because it must be evident to the surface reader even, that there are no immortal worms and that a fire that would burn ceaseless is not conceivable.
(165) The basis of fact upon which the figure rests is alluded to in our Master’s reference to Gehenna (translated hell or hell-fire in the King James Version). As explained earlier, Gehenna is the Greek name for a valley outside Jerusalem called in Hebrew, “The valley of Hinnom.” In Jesus’ day it was the place of depositing the offal, garbage, carcasses and filth in general. In it fires of sulphur were kept burning to destroy the carcasses and thus prevent infection and pestilence. Sometimes a carcass would lodge upon a ledge of rock and not fall into the fires and then the maggots or worms would surely consume it. None were permitted to quench or extinguish those fires and hence they burned until the substance was annihilated.
(166) It became customary to cast the “carcasses” [dead bodies] of criminals of certain classes into that Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna, instead of giving them a decent burial. Nothing was ever cast alive into Gehenna; the Jews were not permitted to torture any creature. Thus Gehenna came to be noted and detested and dreaded as an extreme of punishment. To be “cast into Gehenna” thus became a synonym for utter and hopeless destruction, the opinion prevailing that those decently buried would be resurrected, but those destroyed in Gehenna were blotted out of existence forever.
(167) With this idea already in the minds of his hearers, how appropriate that our Lord should use Gehenna as a symbol or figure for the second death, the utter and final destruction of all the incorrigible; a destruction sure and detestable among the filth and offscourings of the new order of things. Jerusalem itself was a figure or symbol of the kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. Gehenna or the valley of destruction was an appropriate figure of the second death, the utter extermination of all things abominable and filthy in the close of the Millennial Age. — Revelation 22:14,15.
(168) Isaiah’s remarks point us down into the future to a time when the new heavens and the new earth are fully established (verse 22) under the Prince of Glory, when full knowledge and ability having come, all transgressors will be consigned to the second death, the anti-type of Gehenna, and when only the righteous will live to serve and obey and enjoy God’s blessings. The all such will see the justice as well as the wisdom of the utter destruction of the incorrigible, willful enemies of righteousness. As it is written: “They will be an abhorrence to all flesh.” — Isaiah 66:24.