WARNING: GRAPHIC MATERIAL!
Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die And their fire will not be quenched; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.
A glorious Day is coming. We are each called to participate in a rendezvous which no man can avoid; it is an appointment that cannot be postponed, negotiated or rescheduled. The time of this meeting was predetermined by the Lord Almighty Himself, rendering certain that it will come to pass. On this extraordinary moment He will send forth His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to judge the living and the dead. Jesus, once Rejected King – now the Magnificent Conqueror, will call out both the righteous and the wicked from their tombs. He will reward those whose names are found in the Book Of Life. We are His people, children of the King, who are rescued from the penalty of sin and Satan’s power. We will be elevated to eternal life and forever live in the presence of our Lord Jesus.
All others, unredeemed, will be summoned from their graves and subsequently sentenced to utter shame and perpetual horror [i]. They have rejected God’s plan of salvation. On that terrible day they will cry for mercy, but it will be too late. They are forever abandoned by God; henceforth separated from His love. Every opportunity for redemption is gone. Thoroughly and completely damned are they, marked to suffer unbearable torments for time without end. Hell is their home.
Hell is the final abode of the unredeemed world. It is the timeless place. There is no end of it. All who enter the afterlife without the forgiveness and mercy of the Sin-bearer, Jesus Christ, live here. Those names not found in the book of life are judged according to their deeds [ii], and are consequently sentenced to misery upon misery. This is the ideal home for those who do not desire Christ’s authority.
What is this place like? The Bible puts forward many descriptions. One occurrence, in the ninth chapter of Mark, beginning with verse forty-seven, we read:
If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.
Nearly everyone who has ever contemplated the existence of hell has associated the place with fire and brimstone; rightly so, for it is a biblical description [iii]. But in His sermon Jesus places adjacent to the well-known flames this unusual phrase: “…where their worm does not die…”
Observe first of all that the fire is never quenched, nor does their worm ever die. Some commentators (as well as some cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses) believe that the final punishment of the unredeemed is complete destruction. It can be argued and proven in many different ways, however, that the Lord teaches us that the wicked are not annihilated, but rather they are tormented for eternity. The purpose of this article will investigate the undying worm illustration the Lord has provided us in Holy Scripture.
Following death our body undergoes decay. This decay is helped along by worms that devour our decomposing flesh. These worms, commonly known as maggots, prey on rotting bodies. Flies are attracted to the smell of putrefying flesh and then lay eggs which hatch into larvae. The hatched larvae (maggots) then burrow into the skin using their piercing-sucking mouth parts. Maggots belong to the diptera[iv] family of insects which are quite prolific: female flies deposit nearly 200 eggs each time they lay. A single pair of flies could produce over 2 trillion offspring within 3 months [v]!
Two of the Plagues on Egypt involved dipterans insects. First came the gnats (the Hebrew word translated “lice” literally means “gnats”) found in Exodus 8:16-19 and then came the plague of the flies in Exodus 8:20-32.
When Saint Mark penned the Gospel, he selected the Greek word we commonly identify in English as maggot (GK: σκώληξ, skō’-lāks, henceforth “maggot”), borrowing it from a quotation also presented in Isaiah 66:24. He did not choose any other type of worm; he purposely selected a kind of worm we know as maggot. The New Testament translators should have followed through, translating σκώληξ as “maggot” in order to convey the meaning of the Greek. Perhaps maggot is too cruel for sophisticated western readers. What is recorded in the original language in which the Gospel is received is much more violent than what we see in our progressive English Bibles. The intent of Jesus’s warning is to get across the seriousness of the situation. What is being said is that the unremitting corruption and the eternal torment of the unredeemed is equivalent to being eaten alive by the same worms you happen upon when discovering a stinking, decayed dead animal.
When the Old Testament was translated into the Greek language [vi], scholars used the corresponding word to maggot eighteen times. In keeping with its origin meaning (“to rot, decay”), תּוֹלָע was translated to the Greek using the very word Mark used (σκώληξ). This worm, like σκώληξ, specifically refers to one that springs forth from putrid decay. It is primarily reserved for the worm that is attracted to rotting foods and decaying bodies. It is also used as a metaphor for a process of unending bodily corruption which the soul of the dead person experiences as absolute pain. When the Hebrew word תּוֹלָע is used in association with God’s divine Judgment it took on the expression of eternal suffering. We find in rabbinical literature that the word is associated with endless punishment which God gives sinners special, renewed bodies to endure [vii]. In the Qumran Community, the word is related with death and corruption, and is the fate of sinful man [viii].
The word that is translated “hell” (GK: γέεννα, gehenna) in Mark 9 is transliterated from two Hebrew words meaning “Valley of Hinnom.” At Jesus’s time the site became a refuse dump where fires burned continually to consume regular deposits of maggot-infested garbage. The maggots were continually at work. Dead bodies of people and animals putrefying in that place would be overrun with maggots. Jesus used the imagery of the dump to portray the place of future eternal judgment of the wicked. The fire of gehenna never went out and the worms never died. It is a picture of the unending torture of hell.
Note that Jesus said that the maggot is their maggot. Every particular sufferer has a particular maggot, for the creature need not look for putrefying bodies elsewhere. The maggot is permanently affixed to a specific person, feeding on him continually. The vivid idea of the maggot having permanent residence in an individual conveys the horror and pain of an undying maggot everlastingly consuming an everlasting decaying body of a unique individual.
At the final judgment, the Lord Jesus Christ will raise the wicked from their graves, give them new indestructible bodies capable of enduring endless pain and suffering. It is a suffering of broad kind on multiple layers. Jesus does not separate “worms that will not die” with “fire that is not quenched.” Instead the Lord puts them together. This suggests that the sufferings are inseparable as is the body and the soul. The gnawing of conscience and physical pain are descriptions of the punishment which affects the whole man.
These words are difficult for the universalist churchmen of today. Yet to dismiss them entirely with the notion that they were written in a language and thought form that are no longer ours is a failure to deal honestly and frankly with the words of Jesus. Many attempts are made to deny the solemn warning in the Gospel of Mark, but the meaning is quite clear.
And too, some readers might take offence at a strictly literal interpretation of maggots in this Scripture. They would say there will not be any real maggots in hell—perhaps no material fire either; nor can it be stated, they declare, what the Lord intended by utilizing undying maggots in His preaching. But we all agree that the image is loathsome, dreadful, and suffering is its objective. Any way you look at it the metaphor denotes great misery. It invokes revulsion, and rightly so for that was Jesus’s intention.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came from heaven to taste death for His people. He came to save men from the “worm that does not die.” Receive His offer of mercy today and follow Him. He suffered a terrible death on the cross in order to cancel your sin debt that you yourself will otherwise have to pay.
JESUS THE GREAT SIN-BEARER:
Throughout history God has pardoned sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only: the finished work of Christ [ix]. We are released from our sins by His blood [x]. He has reconciled us in His earthly body through His death [xi]. Jesus bore our sins in His own Body on the cross so that by His wounds we are healed [xii]. We are made holy through the offering up of Jesus’s Body as a sacrifice once for all [xiii]. Christ appeared once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself [xiv]. God sent His Son to remove the wrath that we ourselves deserved [xv]. The penalty of sin that is rightly ours is absolved by grace through faith, not by any righteous deeds of our own [xvi]. Only when we are born again, given a new life through God’s Spirit, by faith in Jesus Christ are we forgiven.
Do not delay in being wise. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today and be saved from the torment that awaits you.
[i] Daniel 12: 1-2
[ii] Revelation 20:12-15
[iv] Two-winged insects
[v] BIOLOGY: God’s Living Creation. Pensacola, FL: Beka Books, p. 510. © 1986
[vi] Commonly known as “LXX“, it is the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translated in stages between the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. in Alexandria
[vii] Seder Olam 3.20-29; R Yehuda (c. 150 A.D.)
[viii] 1 QS 11:9f
[x] Revelation 1:5
[xi] Colossians 1:22
[xii] 1 Peter 2:24
[xiii] Hebrews 10:10
[xiv] Hebrews 9:26
[xv] 1 John 4:10
[xvi] Ephesians 2:8-9