New heavens and a new Earth
The last thing to occur in this present age will be the Great White Throne judgement. This Earth and universe will be destroyed and a new one created (2 Pet 3:6-7, 10, 13; Rev 20:11; 21:1; Isa 65:17; 66:22). The new Earth will be different. No longer the blue planet but as before, the green planet (Rev 21:1). Creation will no longer be cursed (Rev 22:3. Cf Gen 3:16-19). Earth will be heaven because the heavenly Jerusalem will be upon Earth and God will set up his throne there (Rev 21:2, 10; 3:12; Heb 11:10, 16; 12:22-24; 13:14). Jerusalem will be filled with God's glory (Rev 21:11, 23) and it will be beautiful (Rev 21:12-13, 14, 19-21). The city will be huge, possibly like a pyramid in shape and 1,342 miles across in each direction. The throne will be at the top and in the centre and seen be all (Eph 2:20). From the centre pure water will cascade down from the throne representing life. There will be a tree representing health (Rev 22:1-5) and this will be the source for the light which will fill not just the city but the whole land. The sun will still shine but it's light will be redundant (Rev 21:23).

 In this city there is no temple because Jesus himself is the temple and the focus of worship and the visible representation of God in human nature (Rev 21:3, 22-23; 22:4; Col 1:15; John 1:14). His appearance is symbolically described in Rev 1:12-16 and aptly shows his deity and humanity. Under his divine authority the world will finally be a better place, a perfect society in a perfect environment.

There will be two classes of humanity: resurrected, glorified humanity (1 Cor 15:51-54) and those who were loyal in the Tribulation and Millennium and did not rebel against Christ (Rev 7:9; 21:24). This class are ordinary saved humans who will go on to have families and children, populating not just the new Earth but the universe itself. There will be no more death but as probably originally intended before the hiatus of sin, they will grow and mature and reproduce and then be transformed and glorified in due course.

The Lost

God's judgement upon sin began in Eden (Gen 2:16-17) and will end at the lake of fire (Rev 22:18-19). God will condemn those who have refused his salvation and in spite of many these days dismissing eternal punishment and ignoring the many warnings of judgement in the Bible and the conscience, it will become a horrible reality for many. I have heard the empty boasts of many who say it's just lights out, or end of the road, oblivion. 'I'm not afraid of death'. The problem is that death is not the issue but what death leads to - judgement and eternal punishment for the lost (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 12:4-5). The dead will not cease to exist at death but all will be resurrected to stand before God. For others it is assumed that somehow they will join the dead in some mysterious 'up there' where all will be joy. Not so for the lost!

Divine punishment is eternal (Matthew 25:46), that is, not simply endless but timeless. No past or future only now. No movement towards, no counting down days or minutes or seconds, eternal now. This condition is referred to in English as hell which translates the Greek word Gehenna (γέενναν. From the Hebrew for valley of Hinnom). It was the word Jesus mostly used to describe to place of the lost (Matt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:8-9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-45, 47; Luke 12:5). The historical place is located just outside Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8) [I travelled through Gehenna a few years ago and it is just a valley outside Jerusalem now. Unlike the reality of which Jesus spoke.] It was first used as a rubbish dump where fires were kept burning to dissipate the offal and the odours (II Kings 23:10). As Israel incorporated pagan customs into the faith, this was used as a place where children were burned in the molten arms of pagan images (Jer. 7:31). It became a synonym for a horrible place and ultimately the place of final punishment (Isa 66:24). It is eternal ruin and separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9) in a state of darkness (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:13), which the Lord describes as 'outer darkness' (Matt. 25:30). It contains the 'undead worm', the terrible mental anguish. The fire is inextinguishable (Mark 9:48) which may refer to a bodiless existence in which all the desires of life are present such as greed and sexual urge etc but with no outlet of expression. In his book The End Times, Hoyt says this: "If this conclusion be true, a material fire could bring about the second physical death, and the spirit going out unclothed would be without any means of expression, and the unexpressed passions would grow more intense in direct proportion to the degree of sin. This would certainly be punishment according to the works of each person... Permanent disembodiment in the second death may therefore express what is ultimately meant by the statement “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)"

The Eternity of Hell
by Eric Lyons M Min, Kyle Butt MA.

It hardly surprises God-fearing men and women that unbelievers of all sorts reject the notion of an unending penalty for wickedness. Since atheists, agnostics, and infidels of every stripe do not believe in the existence of heaven or an immortal soul, they certainly do not give the idea of an eternal hell much thought (other than to criticize the notion). It is somewhat surprising to many Bible believers, however, to learn that a growing number of people who believe in God, and who accept as genuine the existence of the soul, are rejecting the idea of an eternal punishment for those who live and die outside the body of Christ. What Edward Fudge espoused over twenty years ago in his volume, The Fire That Consumes, and what more recently published works by such writers as Homer Hailey and F. LaGard Smith espouse, is the idea that “the wicked, following whatever degree and duration of pain that God may justly inflict, will finally and truly die, perish and become extinct for ever and ever” (Fudge, 1982, p. 425). Allegedly, as best-selling author Smith wrote in the foreword of Hailey’s book, God’s Judgements & Punishments, “total destruction rather than conscious, ongoing punishment is the dreaded fate which awaits the wicked” (Hailey, 2003, p. 10). “In hell...those who have rejected God and have refused to believe in his Son will be totally wiped out! Completely eradicated. Their existence will come to an abrupt end” (Smith, 2003, p. 184). According to Smith and other annihilationists, the choice for mankind is simple: “Blessed existence versus non-existence” (Smith, p. 190).
To those familiar with Jesus’ statement recorded in Matthew 25:46, it would seem that the question of whether or not the wicked will one day be annihilated, or punished forever in hell, is rather easy to answer. After explaining to His disciples how God will separate the righteous from the wicked at the Judgment (Matthew 25:31-45), Jesus concluded by telling them that the wicked “shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life” (25:46, ASV). For many Christians, this verse settles the issue: the wicked will not be extinguished by God after the Judgment, but will suffer unending punishment. The righteous, on the other hand, will enjoy the bliss of an unending life with God in heaven.
Recognizing the fact that if “eternal” means “unending” in Matthew 25:46, then their whole theory about what happens to the wicked after the Judgment crumbles, certain annihilationists have alleged that the word eternal has nothing whatsoever to do with time or the unending duration of the afterlife. F. LaGard Smith, just prior to his discussion of (what he calls) “The Tormenting Conundrum of Hell” (chapter 8), stated:
    If you have a computer Bible program (or an antiquated concordance!), pull up the word eternal and be prepared for a shock. In all of its many associations, there is not a single hint of time.... To be eternal is to have a lasting nature. To have the kind of qualities which endure despite the passing of time (if, in fact, there is any time at all) [p. 162, italics and parenthetical items in orig., emp. added].
    To say, then, that we will have eternal life in heaven says nothing about how long we will live in heaven. It’s already begun before we get there! The point is that life in heaven will be a qualitatively different kind of life from the one we have known in earth’s space and time (p. 163, italics in orig., emp. added; see also Hailey, pp. 132-133).
With such an interpretation in place for the word “eternal” (and specifically for the phrase “eternal life”), Smith seemingly laid the groundwork for his interpretation of “eternal fire/punishment.” He confidently declared:
    “Eternal fire” bespeaks the nature of hell’s fire, not its duration.... [W]hen we hear Jesus speaking about “eternal fire,” there’s no reason to think in terms of clocks or calendars. Time is not the issue. Effect is the issue (p. 174, italics in orig.).
    “Eternal punishment” will no more be punishment throughout an endless eternity than was the immediate, devastating punishment suffered by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (p. 175).
Although Smith seems to think that he has presented a convincing case about the annihilation of the wicked in hell through his definition of the word “eternal,” he actually never gave a precise definition of Greek words translated “eternal” or “everlasting.” In the introduction to his book, Smith admitted: “The afterlife, by its very nature, is a subject which calls for careful study of the text.... [T]here are the necessary word studies to be done, so that we can be confident we’re not confusing linguistic apples and oranges” (p. 9). Unfortunately for the reader, Smith omitted vital, fundamental word studies, and as a result, caused mass confusion for the reader.
First, he failed to cite even one Greek lexicographer in his defense of the word eternal “in all its many associations” not having “a single hint of time” (p. 162, emp. added). Perhaps the reason for Smith’s omission of relevant material from Greek dictionaries is that such word studies overwhelmingly disagree with his premise. Notice how the following eminently respected Greek scholars have defined the two New Testament Greek words (aion and aionios) that commonly are translated “forever,” “eternal,” or “everlasting,” especially when they are connected with ideas that relate to the invisible world.
    The first two definitions of the word aion provided by Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich are as follows: (1) “a long period of time, without ref. to beginning or end” and (2) “a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age.” Three definitions are then provided for aionios: (1) “pert. to a long period of time, long ago;” (2) “pert. to a period of time without beginning or end, eternal of God;” and (3) “pert. to a period of unending duration, without end” (Danker, et al., 2000, pp. 32-33, italics in orig.).
    According to Thayer, aion is used in the New Testament numerous times simply to mean “forever” (1962, p. 19). He then defined aionios in the following three ways: (1) “without beginning or end, that which always has been and always will be;” (2) “without beginning;” and (3) “without end, never to cease, everlasting” (p. 20).
    Of aionios (the Greek word used twice in Matthew 25:46 to describe both “punishment” and “life”), W.E. Vine wrote: “describes duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Rom. 16:25; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2; or undefined because endless as in Rom. 16:26 and the other sixty-six places in the N.T.” (1940, 2:43).
    Of the word aionios, R.C.H. Lenski asked, “[I]f this Greek adjective does not mean ‘eternal,’ which Greek adjective does have that meaning? Or did the Greek world, including the Jewish (Jesus spoke Aramaic) world, have no words for eternity or eternal?” (1943, p. 997).
    According to A.T. Robertson: “The word aionios...means either without beginning or without end or both. It comes as near to the idea of eternal as the Greek can put it in one word”(1930, 1:202, emp. added).
    The first definition Hermann Sasse provided for aion in the highly regarded Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is “in the sense of prolonged time or eternity” (1964, 1:198). Later, when discussing aionios “as a term for the object eschatological expectation,” he indicated that it likewise is used to mean “unceasing” or “endless,” while sometimes extending beyond the purely temporal meaning (1:209; see also Carson, 1996, p. 523).
    Writing in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology under the subject heading of time, Joachim Guhrt stated that aion is “primarily a designation for a long period of time [either ending or unending—EL/KB].... Eternity is thus not necessarily a timeless concept, but the most comprehensive temporal one which the experience of time has produced” (1978, p. 826). Although Guhrt admitted that when aionios is used in the gospel of John (to form “eternal life”), it can be used in a qualitative sense, nevertheless “there is also a temporal sense, so that eternal (aionios) indicates the quantity of this life” (p. 832; see also Robertson, 1932, 5:49-50).
    Finally, James Orr wrote in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia that
        the reply...that aionios...denotes quality, not duration, cannot be sustained. Whatever else the term includes, it connotes duration.... [I]t can hardly be questioned that “the aeons of the aeons” and similar phrases are the practical New Testament equivalents for eternity, and that aionios in its application to God and to life (“eternal life”) includes the idea of unending duration.... When, therefore, the term is applied in the same context to punishment and to life (Matt. 25:46), and no hint is given anywhere of limitation, the only reasonable exegesis is to take the word in its full sense of “eternal” (1956, 4:2502).
When Smith commented on the word eternal, saying, “In all of its many associations, there is not a single hint of time” (p. 162), he placed himself at odds with the most respected Greek lexicographers and scholars of the past century. Any attempt to explain away eternal punishment by redefining the Greek words for eternal will fail because eternal “describes duration” (Vine, 2:43).
Second, even without delving into various Greek dictionaries to find the meaning of the word aionios (translated “eternal” or “everlasting” in Matthew 25:46), one easily could grasp the primary meaning of the word simply by noting two contrasts that Paul made in two of his epistles. First, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, he indicated that the antithesis of the spiritual things that are “eternal,” are the physical “things which...are temporary (proskaira)” [viz., that which endures for a time or season]. Later, in his letter to Philemon, he wrote that “perhaps” his servant Onesimus “departed for a while” so that he (Philemon) “might receive him forever” (Philemon 15). Paul suggested that perhaps Onesimus had abandoned his master for a season/hour (horan), so that their relationship might become one that prevailed in both this life and in the unending life to come. In each of these passages, Paul contrasted the temporary with the eternal—that which comes to an end, with that which is unending.
Third, Bible translators obviously believed that aionios denotes duration, else surely they would have chosen to use English words other than “everlasting” or “eternal” in their respective translations of this Greek word. According to the fourth edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the English word “everlasting” means exactly what it sounds like it means: “1. Lasting forever; eternal. 2a. Continuing indefinitely or for a long period of time,” and in its noun form, “eternal duration” (2000, pp. 616-617). The word “eternal” is similarly defined: “1. Being without beginning or end; existing outside of time.... 2. Continuing without interruption; perpetual...” (p. 611; see also Merriam-Webster’s definition of these words). Why have English Bible translators been translating aionios as “everlasting” or “eternal” for the past four centuries? Because they understood that this word denotes duration, and specifically, when dealing with the future state of the righteous and the wicked, an unending, unceasing duration. Considering that the Greek words aion and aionios, and the English words everlasting and eternal, all obviously signify duration, one is bewildered as to how Smith could allege that in the word eternal, “[i]n all of its many associations, there is not a single hint of time” (p. 162). Talk about confusing apples with oranges!
Though Smith’s definition of eternal is troubling, his attempt at explaining away Matthew 25:46 (in light of his doctrine of annihilationism) is even more perplexing. Having just previously indicated that “eternal” says nothing about duration (pp. 162-163,174), he then proceeded to argue that “the Hebrew word olam and the Greek word aionios, both of which mean the same as ‘eternal’ ” (p. 174), do indicate some kind of duration, but not always an ongoing, unending duration. He gave eight examples from the Old Testament where “eternal” (olam) means “all the days of life” [as when a servant pledged allegiance to his master, had his ear pierced to the door, and was not discharged as long as he lived (cf. Deuteronomy 15:17; see Gesenius, 1847, p. 612)]. He then connected Matthew 25, verses 41 and 46, to his discussion of olam, saying:
    So it is that when Jesus talks about the great dividing of the sheep from the goats, and says of those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” the point is destination, not duration. Likewise, when Jesus says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:41,46), he’s speaking of the kind of punishment—namely destruction—which has everlasting consequences (p. 175, italics in orig.).
Such was Smith’s explanation of Matthew 25:46. At first, he alleged that “eternal” is not about time (pp. 162-163,174). Then he alleged that it was about time, though not always unending in its nature (p. 174). Finally, he stated that “eternal” is not about duration, but destination (p. 175). To say the least, we find his reasoning extremely confusing.
When all of the evidence is considered, Smith’s comments regarding Matthew 25:46 and the word “eternal” are nothing more than a tenuous attempt to propagate an extremely dangerous doctrine. As we have documented, “eternal” does imply duration. Furthermore, simply because the Old Testament Hebrew word for eternal (olam) often involved an eventual ending, does not mean that “eternal” is to be understood in that sense in every case in the New Testament (and certainly not in Matthew 25:46).
Admittedly, there are instances in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word olam means something other than eternal (cf. Exodus 12:24; 29:9; 40:15; Joshua 14:9). As Smith noted, the example of the slave who served his master “forever” (Deuteronomy 15:17) does not mean he will serve him for eternity. The context demands that we interpret the word olam (“forever”) in this verse (and numerous others in the Old Testament) to mean something other than performing the action everlastingly (cf. Exodus 40:15; Leviticus 16:34; 1 Chronicles 16:17). In this case of the “eternal” slave, olam was used to mean “as long as the slave lived on Earth.”
In other Old Testament passages, however, the Hebrew word for eternal clearly is used to mean unending in its duration. When Abraham called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 21:33), He called on the “Eternal” (olam) God. The psalmist praised the God Who is “from everlasting to everlasting” (90:2; cf. Micah 5:2), and Solomon, near the end of Ecclesiastes, wrote of man’s place in the next life as being an “eternal home” (12:5). When the psalmist wrote, “My days are like a shadow that lengthens, and I wither away like grass. But You, oh Lord, shall endure forever (olam)” (Psalm 102:11-12), he quite obviously was contrasting the shortness of human life with the duration of God’s existence. The psalmist went on to say that God’s “years would have no end” (Psalm 102:27). According to Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting (olam) life, some to shame and everlasting (olam) contempt.” Olam was used in these cases to convey the idea of eternal in duration.
In fact, the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon gives the following definition for the word olam: (1) long duration, antiquity, futurity, for ever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual old, ancient, world; (1a) ancient time, long time (of past); (1b) (of future); (1b1) forever, always; (1b2) continuous existence, perpetual; (1b3) everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity (see “Owlam,” 1999).
Like so many words throughout Scripture that have more than one meaning, olam and aionios must be understood in light of the contexts in which they are found. Take, for example, the use of the word “day” (Hebrew yom; Greek hemera) in Scripture. Depending on the context in which it is found, it can mean: (1) the period opposite of night (Genesis 1:5); (2) a literal 24-hours (cf. Joshua 6:1-16); (3) a period of time in the future (not necessarily a literal 24 hours—cf. Matthew 7:22; 2 Peter 3:10); or (4) the total days of Creation (Genesis 2:4). When questions arise about the kind of days experienced during the Creation week, one is compelled to examine the specific context of Genesis 1. When he does, an overwhelming amount of evidence points to these days being literal 24-hour days just as we experience today. (Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that each of these days is described as having both an “evening” and a “morning”—1:5,8,13,19,23,31.) Similarly, the word “eternal” also must be understood in light of its immediate and remote contexts.
Although Smith saw fit to indoctrinate his readers on how the Hebrew word for eternal (olam) frequently is used to mean something other than eternal in duration, he completely neglected to mention any of the numerous Old Testament passages where olam is used to mean a literal forever (as noted above—Genesis 21:33; Ecclesiastes 12:5; et al.). Why mention one usage, but ignore the other? Furthermore, it seems quite inappropriate for someone to comment on a New Testament verse like Matthew 25:46 (originally written in Greek), and basically deal only with how that corresponding Hebrew word is used in the Old Testament, all the while neglecting the overwhelming majority of instances in the New Testament where the word means “unending.”
The word aionios is used seventy times throughout the New Testament. Three times it is used to describe God’s eternal nature (Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 9:14). It is found over forty times in the New Testament, in reference to the unending happiness of the righteous (e.g., John 10:28; Romans 5:21; 6:23; 1 John 1:2). And five times it is used in reference to the punishment of the wicked (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Jude 7). In Matthew 25:46, the word appears twice—once in reference to “eternal punishment,” and once in reference to “eternal life.” Simply put, if the punishment mentioned in this verse is temporary, then so is heaven. Contextually, the two are linked. Just as Jesus expected His disciples to understand heaven as a place of permanent, unending happiness for conscious souls of people, He likewise intended for them to understand hell as a place of permanent, unending torment for conscious souls. The fact that Christ made a special point of repeating aionios in the same sentence requires that we stay with the plain meaning of the word. Both heaven and hell will be eternal (unending!) in duration.
Matthew 25:46 serves as a death knell to the theory of annihilationism. Those who teach the limited duration of hell either refrain altogether from commenting on this particular verse, or the comments they make, like Smith’s, are disorderly and void of evidentiary support. In Homer Hailey’s work on God’s judgments (in which half of the book was dedicated specifically to defending the position that hell is not eternal), he never once gave a clear explanation of this verse. The only comment he offered that might remotely be considered an “explanation” of Matthew 25:46 is found on page 153, where it follows immediately after his only quotation of this verse. Hailey wrote:
    It is sometimes said that Jesus gave a full and accurate picture of hell. Certainly, it was accurate, but it was not the complete teaching on the subject. Much would be added by the Holy Spirit through Paul and Peter, and through John in Revelation. The seven times Jesus used the word Gehenna, He used it from the Jewish point of view. He left the universal aspect of the subject to be revealed by the Holy Spirit (2003, emp. in orig.).
Certainly the Holy Spirit inspired others to write on this subject. But that does not mean that what Jesus said about “eternal punishment” is wrong (or not worthy of comment). How can someone write a book titled God’s Judgements & Punishments, yet never explain the Lord’s comments on “eternal punishment”?
Even after granting annihilationists the fact that aionios can extend at times beyond the meaning of duration, and also may be used on occasion in a qualitative sense (see Guhrt, 1978, p. 832), as we have already seen, “the temporal sense is rarely forfeited” (Carson, 1996, p. 523). First and foremost, the word has to do with duration. Moreover, whenever aion is brought into the discussion, the case against annihilationism is strengthened considerably. If God “lives for ever (aion) and ever (aion)” (Revelation 1:18; 10:6; 15:7), and glory is to be given to Him “for ever and ever” (Revelation 1:6; 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12), and if the saved “shall reign for ever and ever” with the Lord in heaven (Revelation 22:5), then the wicked assuredly “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10; cf. Revelation 14:11). “Forever and ever” is “the formula of eternity” (Vincent, 1889, 2:418). Without a doubt, it denotes duration, even when describing the punishment of the wicked in hell. As Moses Stuart concluded in his book, Exegetical Essays on Several Words Relating to Future Punishment:
    [I]f the Scriptures have not asserted the endless punishment of the wicked, neither have they asserted the endless happiness of the righteous, nor the endless glory and existence of the Godhead. The one is equally certain with the other. Both are laid in the same balance. They must be tried by the same tests. And if we give up the one, we must, in order to be consistent, give up the other also (1830, p. 57).
Sodom and Gomorrah
Another argument of the annihilationist goes something like this: (1) Sodom and Gomorrah were burned to ashes, and were completely annihilated; (2) in the New Testament, hell is likened to Sodom and Gomorrah; thus (3) hell will not be eternal. Those who attempt to explain away the Bible’s teaching on the eternality of hell are well known for making such an argument. Immediately after quoting 2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 7, where the inspired writers compared the future judgment of the unrighteous to the condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah, F. LaGard Smith asked if hell’s fire was indeed an “[e]ternal fire...that keeps on burning its victims forever?” (p. 173). His answer:
    Not if Sodom and Gomorrah are anything to go by. The fate of those two abominable cities stands as the quintessential illustration of a consuming fire. In the wake of that catastrophic fire—however long it burned—nothing was left of the two cities, not even a trace! For anyone still insisting that hell is all about ongoing torment in fire and brimstone, serious thought needs to be given to a specific day in history when fire and brimstone literally rained down on the wicked.
    To be sure, there would have been suffering in the process—undoubtedly even some “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But their suffering would not have lasted long (p. 173, emp. in orig.).
Two pages later, he stated matter of factly: “ ‘Eternal punishment’ will no more be punishment throughout an endless eternity than was the immediate, devastating punishment suffered by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah” (p. 175). Is Smith right? Will the destruction of those in hell after the Judgment be exactly like the one-time physical annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah?
What Smith and others who hold to the theory of annihilationism seem to forget is that analogies are meant to be carried only so far. When Jesus compared His disciples to sheep (John 10), He obviously did not mean that His followers are the most senseless people on Earth. Rather, He was stressing that His disciples are dependent upon Him to direct their paths in the way of righteousness, just as sheep are dependent upon the leadership of a shepherd to keep them from harm. Biblical comparisons that are pressed beyond their intended design produce needless (and sometimes dangerous) misunderstandings of Scripture. Those who teach that the command in the parable of the tares to allow both the wheat and the tares to “grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30) somehow prevents the church from exercising discipline upon wayward members, have overextended Jesus’ parable. Such an interpretation stands at odds with what Jesus and Paul taught elsewhere (cf. Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15). Likewise, those who point to the earthly comparisons that Jesus and the inspired writers made with the ultimate punishment of the unrighteous in hell have carried the analogies too far.
The physical punishment that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered for their heinous sins was destruction of their physical lives. “The Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah...out of the heavens” (Genesis 18:24). For the next 2,000 years, this unique fiery judgment served as a constant reminder to the descendants of Abraham of God’s hatred toward sin. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Zephaniah all reminded their Hebrew brethren of this devastating event, as they communicated God’s wrath upon sinners. It seems only natural then, that when Jesus and the apostles and prophets of the first century chose to illustrate the spiritual “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) of the souls of the unrighteous in hell, they compared it to the infamous physical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The devastating event that had occurred over 2,000 years earlier was one of the best earthly examples that God’s messengers could use to convey the idea of the type of judgment, pain, and suffering that eventually would be brought upon the unrighteous.
The comparison of Sodom and Gomorrah’s temporal destruction with that which the souls of the unrighteous will experience spiritually in hell was meant to be about the type of judgment and punishment suffered, not the duration of the punishment. Like the judgment of the immoral citizens of these two cities of old, the eventual punishment upon all of the unrighteous will be final, deliberate, devastating, and hot—like the fire and brimstone that devastated the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, whenever spiritual truths are illustrated using earthly examples there are limitations—at least two of which are apparent in this instance. First, unlike the kind of fire that burned in Sodom and Gomorrah, which caused excruciating physical pain to those who dwelt in those cities, the “fire” of hell will torment spiritual bodies (cf. Luke 16:24). It obviously will be a different kind of “fire” than what we see upon the Earth, because heaven and hell are not physical places, but spiritual. Second, and perhaps most important, the New Testament explicitly teaches that the fiery destruction of the unrighteous in hell differs from that of Sodom and Gomorrah in that the flames of hell will burn forever. Whereas “Sodom...was overthrown in a moment” by fire (Lamentations 4:6, emp. added), the fire and destruction of hell is described in the New Testament as “unquenchable” (three times—Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43,48) and as “eternal” (six times—Matthew 18:8; 25:41,46; Mark 3:29; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Jude 7). If the Bible nowhere used such terminology to describe the punishment of the wicked in hell, then we might come to the same conclusion Smith and others have in regard to the annihilation of the wicked. The truth of the matter, however, is that God conspicuously and purposefully revealed the significant difference between the type of temporary flames that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, and the unending flames that burn in hell, by using such terms as “eternal” and “unquenchable.” Jesus even used the term “eternal” in reference to hell in the same sentence He used the word to describe heaven (Matthew 25:46). How much clearer could He have made it that heaven and hell are both eternal in duration? If God wanted to get across to mankind that hell is a place of everlasting torment, what else should He have done than what He did?
But someone might ask, “How is ‘eternal’ used in Jude 7 in reference to the punishment of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if their punishment was simply temporary? Is the word ‘eternal’ used in a different sense in this passage?” Although Sodom and Gomorrah’s “suffering...of eternal fire” (Jude 7) is used by proponents of the theory of annihilationism to assert that the wicked will not suffer forever in hell, “the term ‘suffering’ (hupechousai—literally to ‘hold under’) is a present-tense participle, which asserts that the ancient citizens of the twin cities were suffering at the time that this letter was penned. The ‘eternal fire’ was not that which was rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah, but that into which they entered at death to suffer eternally” (Jackson, 2003, 39:30, emp. in orig.; see also Hiebert, 1989, p. 239). The immoral inhabitants of these cities suffered a one-time physical death by fire, and currently are suffering in torment while awaiting their sentence to hell (cf. Luke 16:19-31).
Additional evidence from Jude shows that the example of Sodom and Gomorrah was in no way intended to be construed to teach annihilationism. Within the immediate context of the passage, after mentioning Sodom and Gomorrah, the inspired Jude said: “Likewise also these dreamers...” (vs. 8). He next recorded a compendium of sins of which “these dreamers” were guilty. Then, in verse 13, just six verses from the statements concerning the wicked twin cities, Jude commented that these sinners were “wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (emp. added). His point was clear: just as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah once suffered earthly destruction, and were at present enduring continuing punishment (as evinced by the present-tense participle), those wicked men during the time of Jude could look forward to the same darkness and punishment for no less time than “forever.”
Chaff, Tares, and Withered Branches
Other biblical comparisons to the punishment of the wicked that some offer as proof of its temporality include the chaff mentioned by John the Baptizer (Matthew 3:11-12), as well as the tares and the withered vine branches discussed by Jesus (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43; John 15:1-10). Allegedly, since all three of these combustible components “burn up” when cast into fire, rather than burn continually, then there is no existence for any wicked soul beyond that of being “burned up.” After expounding on these three illustrations of hell, Homer Hailey asked (in a chapter he wrote titled “Examples of Eternal Punishments”): “Considered strictly from the words of Jesus, and what He intended to teach, is there anything in these figures from which we can conclude that one who is cast into the fire continues consciousness or suffers beyond the point of having been burned up?” (p. 144, emp. added).
Although Hailey meant for this to be a rhetorical question with the “obvious” answer being “no,” there is something that indicates the punishment continues forever and ever; John said that Jesus “will burn up the chaff with unquenchable (asbesto) fire” (Matthew 3:12, emp. added). This fire differs from that of normal flames in that it is perpetual. Greek lexicographers Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich defined asbestos as “inextinguishable” fire, and then listed “eternal” (aionios; Matthew 18:8; 25:41) as its closest synonym (2000, p. 141). If the wicked are annihilated in hell, one is forced to ask what possible purpose “unquenchable fire” serves? Why have an “inextinguishable” fire for “extinguishable” souls? Why should the fire burn forever if its purpose comes to an end? Furthermore, since Jesus used the word “unquenchable,” it is evident that His parallels to physical materials burning were incomplete, and needed to be qualified in order for His point to be communicated.
A second thought regarding the three above-mentioned comparisons to hell is that “their illustrative value, in terms of punishment, is limited. They are strictly material objects; human beings are not!” (Jackson, 2003, 39:30). Any physical example that inspired men used to give their audience a glimpse into the future punishment of the wicked fails to give an adequate picture of the unending duration of hell. Obviously, the duration of hell is not what John and Jesus attempted to illustrate with those particular analogies. Furthermore, if the punishment of the wicked is not eternal, because the chaff, tares, and withered vine branches to which this punishment is compared are not eternal, then pray tell, will the righteous be annihilated as well? After all, in the parable of the tares, the wheat represented the righteous, whom Jesus said “will shine forth as the sun” in heaven (Matthew 13:43, emp. added). If the Sun is a physical object that will be extinguished when Jesus returns, then, using the “logic” of annihilationists, shouldn’t the righteous be annihilated as well? Peter wrote:
    The heavens and the earth...are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. ...The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:7,10-13, emp. added).
Since all that are in the physical heavens (including the Sun) “will be dissolved” at the coming of the day of God, and since the kingdom of heaven will be illuminated by the glory of God instead of the Sun (Revelation 21:23; 22:5), then clearly when Jesus compared the souls of the righteous to the Sun, He was not referring to the Sun’s temporary existence in the heavens. The eventual extinction of the Sun was not the point of comparison with the righteous. The comparison is of the Sun’s “brilliance and splendor” (Lenski, 1943, p. 540), which the saints will acquire from “the glory of God” (Revelation 21:23) after being separated from those who will be cast “into outer darkness” (cf. Matthew 22:13; 25:30). In contrast to the righteous who will “reign forever and ever” in the presence of the Lamb (Revelation 22:5), the wicked will burn “day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10) in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
A final picture of the wicked’s punishment can be derived from an understanding of the Greek word gehenna. This word appears twelve times in the New Testament, and literally means “Valley of the Sons of Hinnom” (Danker, et al., 2000, p. 191)—the name given to the valley south of the walls of Jerusalem. This valley was notoriously connected to the sinful, horrific practice of child sacrifice associated with the pagan god Molech. Josiah, the righteous king of Judah, in his efforts to restore true worship, ransacked the pagan worship arena and “defiled Topheth, which is the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10; cf. 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). As a result, the valley became a refuse dump for discarding filth, dead animals, and other garbage (see Jeremiah 7:32).
Allegedly, since all that was thrown into this earthly model of hell was “ultimately consumed” (see Smith, 2003, p. 176), then the wicked who will be cast into “hell fire” (Matthew 5:22) likewise will be annihilated. This is yet another comparison to hell that has been pressed beyond its intended design. The length of time in which humans, animals, and garbage burned in the valley of Gehenna is not the emphasis of the comparison. The burning dump in the valley of Gehenna served as a great example of what hell will be like for the damned, because it had been a place of fiery torment in the days when children were tortured by fire in the idolatrous worship of Molech. It then was decimated and polluted by King Josiah so as to make it an undesirable place to live, work, or perform religious ceremonies, even for the heathens. Jews associated this place with sin and suffering, which “led to the application of its name, in the Greek form of it, to the place of final and eternal punishment” (McGarvey, 1875, p. 55).
One must recognize that no earthly example can ever perfectly parallel “eternal punishment,” because nothing physical lasts forever. Every earthly example that gives mankind some insight into the hideousness of hell, falls short in this aspect. That which once burned in the valley of Gehenna has been consumed. The burning fire of this repugnant valley has long been quenched. Hell’s fire, on the other hand, “shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43), the figurative “worm” that eats on the flesh of hell’s inhabitants “does not die” (Mark 9:48), and the wicked who find themselves in hell (due to their rejection of the grace of God) “shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, emp. added, RSV).
In many of the instances in which a physical example is given to illustrate the horrors of hell, it is of extreme interest that Jesus and the inspired writers added descriptive words like “unquenchable” and “eternal” to denote the difference between the physical illustration and the spiritual reality of the future spiritual punishment.
According to F. LaGard Smith, “The primary scriptural cornerstone for the case [for the annihilation of the wicked—EL/KB] is Matthew 10:28” (2003, p. 167). Since Jesus told His disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But, rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), His statement supposedly proves that hell is merely a picture of complete extermination of the souls of the wicked. Annihilationists, including both Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have (mis)used Matthew 10:28 for centuries to propagate their error. In his book, After Life, Smith cites this particular verse more than any other verse from Scripture. Surely, annihilationists allege, Jesus would not have employed the word “destroy” in this verse if He did not mean extermination.
The phrase “to destroy” in Matthew 10:28 is derived from the Greek word apollumi, which is used 92 times in the New Testament. It is translated by such terms as perish, destroy, lose, and lost. While it is true that occasionally apollumi is used to mean death (Matthew 2:13; 8:25; 26:52), most often it simply signifies the idea of suffering a loss of well-being and the loss of being blessed. In Luke 15, Jesus spoke of the shepherd’s lone sheep that was “lost” (apollumi), but not annihilated (vs. 6). In that same chapter, He told of the father’s prodigal son who was “lost” (apollumi), not extinguished (vss. 24,32). The wineskins of which Christ spoke in Matthew 9:17 did not pass into nonexistence, but were “ruined” (apollumi). Jesus did not come to seek and to save those who did not exist; rather He came to save those who were alive physically, but ruined spiritually by sin [i.e., lost (apollumi)—Luke 19:10]. Paul stated that the Gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” (apollumi) in sin, not to those who are exterminated by sin. Considering the fact that even when apollumi is used to mean “death” (Matthew 2:13; 8:25; 26:52), total annihilation of the person is not under consideration (for the soul still would be alive). Therefore, one can rightly conclude that there is not a single instance in the New Testament where apollumi means “annihilation” in the strictest sense of the word. The Scriptures clearly teach that those who, at Judgment, will be “destroyed” because of their wickedness, will be like the “beast” who will “go to perdition” (apoleia, Revelation 17:8,11) in “the lake of fire and brimstone,” where they will be, not annihilated, but “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 17:8,11; 20:10). “Destruction” does not equal “annihilation.”
Respected Greek scholars also disagree with the annihilationist’s position that the Greek term underlying our English word “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 means “annihilation.” W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, explained: “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (1940, 1:302). Specifically, in regard to Matthew 10:28, he stated: “of the loss of well-being in the case of the unsaved hereafter” (1:302). A.T. Robertson added: “ ‘Destroy’ here is not annihilation, but eternal punishment in Gehenna” (1930, 1:83). In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, professor Albrecht Oepke commented on the meaning of destroy, stating that it is “definitive destruction, not merely in the sense of extinction of physical existence, but rather of an eternal plunge” into Hell (1964, 1:396). Lexicographer Joseph Thayer agreed with these assessments, saying that “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 means “metaphorically, to devote or give over to eternal misery” (1962, p. 64). [NOTE: Considering that the publisher’s introduction to the fourth edition of Thayer’s lexicon indicates “Thayer was a Unitarian” who denied such things as “the eternal punishment of the wicked” (p. vii), it is logical to conclude that his definition of apollumi could only be the result of an informed knowledge of the word’s true meaning.]
Even when we use the word “destroy” in modern times, frequently something other than annihilation is intended. Suppose a married couple involved in a violent car wreck survived the accident and returned to the scene the next day with a newspaper reporter to see the wreckage. If the couple spoke of their badly mangled car as being “destroyed,” would anyone think that the newspaper reporter would be justified in writing a story about how the couple’s car allegedly “went out of existence” during the wreck? To ask is to answer. When a sports journalist covers a high school basketball game and writes about the Clearwater Cats “destroying” the Blue Horn Bombers, will any person even slightly familiar with the English language understand “destroy” in the article literally to mean “annihilate”? Certainly not. Even in twenty-first-century English, “to destroy” frequently means something other than “to exterminate.”
In the well-known parallel text to Matthew 10:28, Luke recorded: “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5, emp. added). To be destroyed is equivalent to being cast into hell. Since the New Testament indicates that hell is the place of “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41) “that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43, 48), and is the future abode of the wicked where they will suffer “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), we can know that to be destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28) is equivalent to suffering eternal misery.
Paul used the unique phrase “eternal destruction” in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica (1:9). The Greek word translated “destruction” in this verse, however, is olethros, not apollumi. Olethros appears a total of four times in the New Testament, three of which refer to the “destruction” of those who rebel against God (1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:9). Like apollumi, olethros does not connote annihilation. In 1 Timothy 6:9, Paul used olethros to describe the miserable spiritual condition of those who lust after riches. These individuals were not annihilated, but were in a state of “ruin” (NASV, RSV, NIV) because they had “strayed from the faith” (vs. 10). Regarding the appearance of olethros in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, Gary Workman asked: “[I]f the fate of the ungodly is sudden annihilation at the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 5:3), how are they going to stand before his seat? (2 Cor. 5:10)” [1992, 23:32]. Furthermore, “[S]ince that destruction is ‘sudden,’ there could not be any torment at all—which is contrary to Bible teaching” (p. 32). In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 1:9
    [t]he expression “everlasting destruction” is used in apposition to “suffer punishment” (literally meaning, “to experience just payment”). A part of the “deserved” aspect is that of “affliction.” Note that verse 6 says “...God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you....” “Affliction” implies conscious suffering; it stands in opposition to the concept of annihilation.... As Gerstner observed: “Extermination is not affliction; it is the prevention of affliction” (Jackson, 2003a, 39:31).
There simply is no solid evidence to justify interpreting “eternal destruction” as “annihilation.” Paul used olethros in this verse to mean “the loss of a life of blessedness after death, future misery,” not extermination (Thayer, 1962, p. 443; cf. Wuest, 1973, p. 41). The wicked face “eternal ruin
Throughout the New Testament, the fires of hell are depicted as being the “second death.” The picture painted in Revelation 20 tells of a burning lake of fire into which the devil and all his cohorts will be cast, including wicked humans whose names are not written in the Book of Life. Verse 14 of chapter 20 declares: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” The inspired writer James remarked that if one of the brethren turns away from Christ, then if someone turns the wayward brother back, he will “save a soul from death” (James 5:20). James’ statement speaks directly to the fact that the sinning soul is destined for spiritual death. In John 6, Jesus described Himself as the bread that came down from heaven. Those who eat this “living” bread will “live forever” and not die (John 6:48-51,58). All who will not eat this living bread will die. Jesus’ comments here clearly refer to the second death in hell.
What Does the Word “Death” Mean?
All those involved in the debate of afterlife issues understand that hell is called the second death, and that a person’s soul is said to die in hell. But what does the word death actually mean? Those who advocate annihilationism have put forth the idea that the word death must mean “to go out of existence.” Along these lines, Smith wrote:
    Those whose names are found written in the book [of life—EL/KB] will inherit life with God forever. For those whose names are missing, there is no lasting life whatsoever, tormented or otherwise. Only death. The second and final death.... As the greater weight of scriptural evidence indicates, the only option is eternal life versus eternal death. Blessed existence versus non-existence (pp. 189,190).
From statements peppered throughout his book, and especially from the final two parallel sentences in this quotation, it is obvious that Smith defines the word death as nonexistence.
In truth, however, the concept of death as used in the Bible does not mean non-existence, but rather “separation.” In regard to physical death, it refers to the separation of the soul from the physical body. In regard to spiritual death, in connotes separation of the soul from God.
The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon gives the following primary definition of the Greek word that is translated “death” (thanatos): “(1) the death of the body (1a) that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which life on earth is ended” (see “Thanatos,” 1999). The fact that physical death is viewed in the Bible as separation is evident from several Scriptures. The inspired writer James offered a clear picture of this idea of death when he wrote: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). According to James, faith separated from works is a dead faith, in the same way that a body which is separated from the soul is a dead body. Notice that a body separated from a soul is not a nonexistent body. On the contrary, the body still exists and lies lifeless, but is separated from the soul and thus presumed to be dead.
The narrative describing Rachel’s death in Genesis provides further evidence that the Bible depicts physical death as the separation of the soul from the body. As Rachel was giving birth to Benjamin, her labor became so intense that her life was in danger. The text reads: “Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear; you will have this son also.’ And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” [Genesis 35:17-19, emp. added]. Rachel’s death occurred when her soul departed (i.e., leaving her physical body). Her body continued to exist for some time and was buried, but it was recognized as a dead body as soon as it was separated from Rachel’s soul, not when the body eventually decayed in the tomb. Here again, the biblical picture of death revolves around the concept of separation, not nonexistence.
Luke 8 contains additional evidence that separation of the soul and physical body is the actual meaning of physical death. Jairus came to Jesus pleading for the life of his sick daughter. While en route to the house, someone came from Jairus’ house, explaining that the girl had already died. Jesus encouraged Jairus not to doubt, and continued toward the house. Arriving at the ruler’s house, Jesus sent everyone out except Peter, James, John, and the parents of the child. He approached the child’s dead body, took her hand and said, “Little girl, arise.” Immediately after this comment, the text states: “Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately” (Luke 8:40-55). Note that both the girl’s body and her spirit existed at the time Jesus entered the room. Her body, however, was dead because her spirit had departed from it. When her spirit returned to her body, it was made alive again. Once more, the biblical text presents the idea that the concept of death is not one of nonexistence, but of separation.
John 19:30 offers another example that establishes physical death as separation of the soul and body. In the final moments of Christ’s life during the crucifixion, after all of the prophecies had been fulfilled, Christ cried, “It is finished.” Immediately following this last cry, the Lord bowed His head, and “He gave up His Spirit.” At this point, when His soul departed from His body, He was dead. Joseph and Nicodemus buried the dead (still existent) body of Christ in a new tomb, while the soul of Christ had departed.
Even after looking at these several biblical examples, some annihilationists might continue to argue that physical death still means “nonexistence,” because those who die no longer exist in the physical world. But notice what the Bible describes as dead—the body. James stated that “the body without the spirit is dead.” The body continues to exist for some time, but is said to be dead immediately when the soul leaves it. And the spirit is not said to be “dead.”
While the idea that physical death is defined by separation and not nonexistence is clear from the Bible, the idea that spiritual death is defined by a soul’s separation from God and not by a soul’s nonexistence is even more clearly set forth in Scripture. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he wrote: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world.... But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...” (Ephesians 2:1-2,4-5). When the Ephesians committed sins in their unsaved condition, they were described as “dead.” Obviously, however, they were not nonexistent. Instead, they were separated from God by those sins. In fact, verse twelve of the same chapter says that during their time of sinfulness, they were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” The Ephesians were spiritually dead in their sins. This spiritual death was a separation from God, Christ, and hope, yet it was not a state of nonexistence. In chapter 4 of the same epistle, Paul told the brethren that they should “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:17-18). The sinful Gentiles described here were in the same state of spiritual death the Ephesians were in prior to their becoming Christians. That death was an alienation (or separation) from the life of God, yet, here again, it was not a state of nonexistence.
The inspired apostle Paul also wrote to Christians in Colossae, declaring, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). Paul obviously did not mean that the Colossians had been physically dead in their sins. Neither did he intend to assert the nonsensical idea that at one time, while they were sinning, their souls were in a state of nonexistence. On the contrary, their souls existed, but were separated from God because of their sins, and thus they were labeled as dead. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah explained this principle clearly when he wrote: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2, emp. added).
Paul presents very clearly in 1 Timothy 5:6 the concept that spiritual death is separation from God, not nonexistence. In this chapter, Paul instructed the young Timothy about which widows should receive assistance from the church treasury. In his discussion, Paul mentioned widows who trusted in God and continued in prayer. He contrasted those widows with one who “lives in pleasure” or indulgence of the flesh. Concerning such a widow, he wrote: “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” As is the case throughout the New Testament, individuals who live in sin are considered spiritually dead. They are referred to as dead by the Holy Spirit because they have separated themselves from God via their sin. The sinning widow continued to exist physically, and her soul continued to exist, yet she was called dead. The biblical picture of spiritual death is not one of nonexistence, but one of a miserable existence separated from God.
The antithesis of death is “life” (zoe). As we have seen from numerous passages, one way that the word life is used in the Bible is to describe the state in which the physical body is joined or connected to the soul of a person. Furthermore, spiritual life, the opposite of spiritual death, is used in the New Testament to describe the condition in which a separated soul is brought back to, and joined with, its Creator. Paul described this condition when he wrote: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight” (Colossians 1:21-22, emp. added). Sin alienates a person from God and leads to spiritual death. God, through Christ, allows those dead, separated souls to be cleansed of that sin and have spiritual life, which reconciles them to Him. That is why John wrote: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
It is evident, then, from a close look at the Scriptures that the word death does not mean a state of nonexistence—either in the physical realm or the spiritual realm. The Bible describes bodies that were dead, yet still very much in existence. The inspired record describes individuals who were spiritually dead, yet existing in that dead condition nonetheless. The misguided ploy to define “the second death” (Revelation 20:11; 20:6,14; 21:8) as a state of nonexistence is merely a failed attempt to avoid the actual meaning of the biblical text. The second death describes nothing more (or less) than the total separation of wicked, unsaved souls from the God Who created them.
Of all those wicked people who will ask “in that day” (i.e., the Day of Judgment), “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” (Matthew 7:22), Jesus, the righteous Judge (John 5:22; 2 Timothy 4:8), will declare (sentencing them to a second death), “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23, emp. added). Of those evil people who neglect the needy, He will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, emp. added).
“Eternal destruction” awaits those who are cast away “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, emp. added). As both Jesus and the apostle Paul declared, the second death is not annihilation, but eternal separation “from the presence of the Lord.” Death in no way implies a state of nonexistence.
It seems obvious that the idea of annihilationism did not originate from a straightforward reading of the biblical text. After looking at the way biblical verses must be bent, stretched, ripped out of context, and twisted to support the concept of annihilationism, one cannot help but wonder why this idea is so attractive to certain well-educated individuals. While we do not have the space here to examine all of the reasons for the acceptance of this false doctrine, one very pertinent motive for accepting annihilationism does surface regularly in the writings and lectures of those who adhere to annihilationism
In April 1988, while speaking on the subject of “A Christian Response to the New Age Movement” at the annual Pepperdine University lectures in Malibu, California, F. LaGard Smith asked the members of his audience:
    I also wonder if you feel as uncomfortable as I do in our traditional view of hell. Do you readily accept the traditional view of hell that says God sort of dangles you over the fires that burn day and night?... Is that what hell is all about? Haven’t you struggled with the idea of how there can be a loving God and anywhere in his presence permit that to exist? Doesn’t it seem like cruel and unusual punishment? (1988).
Notice his line of reasoning. Smith is “uncomfortable” with the “traditional view” of hell. What does he suggest has caused this cognitive dissonance on his part? He states that eternal punishment in hell seems (to him) like “cruel and unusual punishment.” Smith does not believe that a “loving God” could permit eternal torture of impenitent sinners. Fifteen years later, in his book, After Life, Smith was even more assertive in his view that God is “not a twisted, cruel God who tortures the wicked, dangling them over licking flames” (p. 183). Do not miss his point. According to Smith, if God punishes the wicked eternally in a flaming fire (rather than annihilating them), then God is both “twisted” and “cruel.”
Smith’s complaints bear a striking resemblance to the countless attacks that have been made upon the God of the Bible by skeptics and infidels. The renowned agnostic, Bertrand Russell, once stated:
    There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment (1957, p. 17).
Russell’s self-defined sense of humanness balked at the idea of an everlasting punishment, which he offered as one of his primary reasons for rejecting Christ (since Jesus taught on an everlasting hell). Russell further noted:
    Christ certainly, as depicted in the Gospels, did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching.... I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.... I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that (pp. 17-18).
Smith and Russell both “feel” that there exists an irreconcilable moral dilemma between a loving God and an eternal Hell. Due to this belief, Russell felt compelled to reject the Christ of the gospel accounts Who forcefully presents, to any unbiased reader, the idea of an eternal hell. On the other hand, Smith, not willing to reject the Christ of the Gospel, rejects the eternal hell presented in the New Testament. Both have rejected a facet of New Testament teaching based on a subjectively perceived moral dilemma.
That dilemma, however, has been created more from a sense of emotional discomfort than from an honest study of the Bible and God. As J.P. Moreland accurately stated when questioned about the eternality of conscious punishment, many people “tend to evaluate whether it’s [eternal punishment—EL/KB] appropriate, based on their feelings or emotional offense to it” (as quoted in Strobel, 2000, p. 172). He went on to state: “The basis for their evaluation should be whether hell is a morally just or morally right state of affairs, not whether they like or dislike the concept” (p. 172). The alleged moral dilemma presented by Smith and Russell is one that is based on emotions, not on accurate assessments of morality and justice. Upon further investigation, there proves to be no dilemma at all. Allow us to explain.
God is Love
It would be extremely difficult for a person to read the Bible and miss the fact that God is described as a loving and caring Creator. In 1 John 4:7-8, the writer declared that love issues directly from God and that, in fact, “God is love.” First John 4:16 states: “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” Throughout the Scriptures, God’s love for His creatures is repeated time and time again. One of the most familiar passages of Scripture, known even to the masses, is John 3:16, which declares: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
It is here, however, that a very important point must be made. Our “politically correct” society has influenced many people to believe that a loving person would never cause harm or discomfort to the object of his love. In an interview with Lee Strobel, J.P. Moreland addressed this issue when he observed:
    Yes, God is a compassionate being, but he’s also a just, moral, and pure being. So God’s decisions are not based on modern American sentimentalism.... People today tend to care only for the softer virtues like love and tenderness, while they’ve forgotten the hard virtues of holiness, righteousness, and justice (as quoted in Strobel, p. 174).
What does the Bible mean when it says that “God is love”? In today’s society, the concept of love quite often is misunderstood. Many people seem to think that a “loving person” is one who always tries to keep others out of every pain or discomfort. Punishment often is looked upon as an “unloving” thing to do. But that is not the case. In fact, a loving person sometimes will cause pain to others in order to accomplish a greater good. For instance, suppose a mother tells her 4-year-old son to stop putting the hair dryer into his little sister’s bath water, but the child continues his mischievous and dangerous activity? Is it not likely that the boy will be punished? Maybe he will get a swift swat on the leg, or have to sit in the corner of a room. The physical pain or mental discomfort inflicted on the child is for his own good and/or the good of his sister. This mother loves her children, but still punishes them. In fact, the Proverbs writer stated that a parent who does not discipline his/her child (which includes corporal punishment) simply does not love that child (Proverbs 13:24; cf. 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15).
God is Just
God is hardly a one-sided Being. He has many different attributes that need to be considered. Yes, one of those attributes is His love. But another is His justice. Psalm 89:14 states that “righteousness and justice” are the foundation of God’s throne. Deuteronomy 32:3-4 declares: “For I proclaim the name of the Lord: ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.”
What is justice? Justice is the principle that crime must be punished. It is not difficult to recognize justice. Suppose a certain judge in a large U.S. city let every murderer walk away from his courtroom without any punishment. Even though many of the murderers had killed several people in cold blood, the judge would just wave his hand, pat the murderer on the shoulder, and say something like, “I am feeling very loving and generous today, so you are free to go without any punishment.” The judge obviously would not be administering justice, and he should promptly be relieved of his position. In the same way, if God did not provide punishment for the sinful actions that humans commit, then justice could not be the foundation of His throne.
It can be shown, then, that a loving person could punish those that he loves, and that justice demands that some type of punishment or penalty must be endured or paid for actions that break the law. But the problem still remains that eternal punishment seems to some to be too harsh and permanent to come from a loving God.
There is one other principle of justice that needs attention at this juncture. Punishment almost always lasts longer than the actual crime. When a gunman walks into a bank, shoots two tellers, robs the bank, and is successfully apprehended, tried, and found guilty, his punishment is of a much longer duration than his crime. The actual shooting and looting might have taken only three minutes to accomplish, but he most likely will pay for those three minutes by spending the remainder of his life in prison. Those who contend that hell will not be eternal say that forever is “too long.” But once a person concedes that punishment can (and generally does!) last longer than the crime, his argument against an eternal hell becomes self-defeating. Once a person admits that the punishment can last longer than the crime, it is simply a matter of who gets to decide how long the punishment should be.
Skeptics, infidels, and others admit that punishment can be longer than the crime, but then they contest that “forever” is too long. Who says forever is too long? Would a hundred years be too long to punish a child molester? What about two hundred? It soon becomes obvious that determinations of “too long” are arbitrarily made by those (like skeptics and infidels) who want to reject the God of the Bible or (like annihilationists) the hell of the Bible.
In his debate with renowned atheistic philosopher, Antony Flew, Thomas B. Warren pressed this point masterfully. Before one of the debating sessions, Warren gave Flew a list of questions to be answered (a facet of the debate that was agreed upon before the debate started). One of the questions was a “true or false” question that read as follows: “It is not possible that the justice of God would entail any punishment for sin.” To this question Flew answered “false,” indicating that it is possible that the justice of God could entail some punishment for sin. The next “true or false” question offered by Warren stated: “It is possible that this infinite justice of God might entail at least one minute of punishment when this life is over”—to which Flew answered “true.” Warren then commented:
    He answered “true.” Now note, it might entail at least one minute of punishment and not be out of harmony—the basic concept of God would not be self-contradictory. What about two minutes, Dr. Flew? What about three minutes, four minutes, an hour, a day, a year, a month, a hundred years, a million years? Where do you stop? Would a billion years be long enough? Could God punish a man a billion years and still be just and loving? You can see that he has given up tonight.... He has shown his inability to answer these questions in harmony with the atheistic position and the implications which follow from it. He himself is on record as saying when a man cannot do that, then it is clear that he holds a false position (Warren and Flew, 1977, p. 150).
Once the point is conceded that a loving God could punish sin with at least one minute of punishment after this life, then the only question left to answer is: Who is in the best position to determine how long punishment should be? Would it not be a righteous judge who knew every detail of the crime, including the thoughts and intents of the criminal? God is exactly that. He is not motivated by selfishness, greed, or other vice, but sits on a throne of righteousness (Psalm 89:14). Furthermore, He knows all the facts of the case (Proverbs 15:3) and the intents and thoughts of the lawbreakers (Psalm 44:21). Only God is in a position to determine how long sin should be punished.
Furthermore, it is ironic that those who are claiming that “forever” is “too long” to punish people for sins, have themselves sinned. Of course a person who is guilty of sin is going to want to lessen the punishment of that sin. Once again we must ask, would a person guilty of sin be in a better position to determine how long sin should be punished than a sinless, perfect God (1 John 1:5)? To ask is to answer.
Yet again, the idea that eternity is “too long” only tugs at human emotions when dealing with punishment, never with reward. Who would argue that heaven cannot be eternal because God would be unjust to reward us for “too long.” On the contrary, the eternality of heaven and hell stand and fall together. And both are deeply rooted in the justice and mercy of God. When Jesus spoke to the people of His day about the ultimate fate of humanity in eternity (as we discussed earlier), He stated that the wicked would “go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment, but the righteous into eternal (aionios) life” (Matthew 25:46). The Greek word rendered “eternal” in the English, is the same Greek word (aionios) rendered earlier as “everlasting.” Observe that precisely the same word is applied to the punishment of the wicked as to the reward of the righteous. Those who are willing to accept Christ’s teaching on heaven should have no trouble whatsoever accepting His teaching on hell.
One pertinent question that should properly be addressed in any discussion of this nature is simply, “What does it matter?” Why should these questions be discussed at length? In answer to such appropriate questions, it must be stated that God, through His inspired Word, saw fit to include these issues in the list of “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). That fact alone is enough to justify such a discussion.
But that is not the only reason afterlife issues are of utmost importance. In a discussion regarding Roman Catholicism’s unofficial doctrine of limbo, F. LaGard Smith wrote:
    [A]fterlife issues become a litmus test of the legitimacy of underlying theological assumptions. Whenever any afterlife scenario lacks coherence with other clear biblical teaching regarding what happens after death, red flags are raised immediately as to the validity of any doctrines upon which that afterlife theology is based (p. 242).
Smith correctly noted that what a person believes about the afterlife often stems from that person’s beliefs about God and the Bible—what Smith calls his or her “underlying theological assumptions.” Interestingly, an outstanding case of this statement’s validity can be seen in Smith’s own dealings with afterlife issues.
As was quoted earlier, Smith stated that God is “not a twisted, cruel God who tortures the wicked, dangling them over licking flames” (2003, p. 183). When one dissects such a statement, he can view Smith’s primary “underlying theological assumption,” which becomes evident via the following syllogism. First, any God Who “tortures the wicked, dangling them over a licking flame” is “twisted and cruel.” But the God of the Bible is not “twisted and cruel.” Therefore, the God of the Bible could not, and would not, torture the wicked by dangling them over a flame that lasts forever. Notice that his “underlying theological assumption” is that any God Who would torture the wicked in everlasting fire is twisted and cruel. Because of his assumption, Smith must twist the Scripture in a way that would not allow for God to punish the wicked forever in hell.
The problem with Smith’s argument is that he falsely assumes that a God Who punishes people forever in hell is twisted or cruel. As we have shown, eternal punishment of the wicked in unending flames does not violate any of the attributes of God, including His love. It is the case that a loving, just, righteous God could cast the wicked into an eternal hell, where they would be punished by fire forever, and still be a loving God. Smith’s views on the afterlife have been shaped by this false assumption, and thus are built upon a faulty foundation.
What is worse, since the assumption is false, the implications of Smith’s argument impugn the very nature of God. Follow the logic. If any God Who tortures the wicked by “dangling them over licking flames” is “twisted and cruel,” and if the Bible teaches that God does, in fact, torture the wicked in licking flames unendingly, then the God of the Bible must by necessity be both “twisted” and “cruel.”
It is no wonder that Smith so adamantly defends his position that the Bible does not teach that the wicked will be punished forever in hell fire. He, like so many other annihilationists, has painted himself into a corner. If the Bible does, in fact, teach that the wicked will be punished forever in hell then all those who have stated that any God Who would allow such is “twisted and cruel,” have in reality accused the God of the Bible of being “twisted and cruel”—an extremely dangerous accusation to make, to be sure (since the Bible does teach that God will punish the wicked forever in hell).
Make no mistake about it: a person’s beliefs about afterlife issues are of utmost importance to that person’s spiritual well-being and future eternal destination. As Wayne Jackson correctly stated:
    The dogma of annihilation is not an innocent view with harmless consequences. It is a concept that undermines the full force of that fearful warning of which the Almighty God would have men be aware. There is many a rebel who would gladly indulge himself in a lifetime of sin for an eternal nothingness (Jackson, 2003b).
It is ironic that the picture of nonexistence painted by annihilationists and described as hell, is almost identical to the picture of nonexistence painted by Buddhists and labeled as the ultimate reward (also called Nirvana). Buddhists’ “heaven” closely resembles many annihilationists’ idea of hell!
Does it really matter what a person believes in this regard? Jackson again spoke to that question when he wrote:
    Those who contend that the wicked will be annihilated are in error. But is the issue one of importance? Yes. Any theory of divine retribution which undermines the full consequences of rebelling against God has to be most dangerous (1998, 33[9]:35, emp. added).
Those who argue that a “loving God” cannot punish impenitent sinners for eternity, simply have neglected to realize the heinousness of sin. What could possibly be so bad that it would deserve an eternity of punishment? God’s divine answer to that is simple—unforgiven sin. Adam and Eve’s sin brought into the world death, disease, war, pestilence, pain, and suffering. The cumulative weight of the sin of mankind from that day until the Day of Judgment was, and is, so overwhelming that it cost God the lifeblood of His only Son.
To see the atrociousness of sin, cast your eyes back 2,000 years to the excruciating violence, mockery, and torture perpetrated on the only human ever to live a perfect life without sin—Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15). Does God want the wicked to be punished for eternity in hell? Absolutely not! Scripture, in fact, speaks expressly to that point. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Paul wrote that God “desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel recorded the words of God concerning the wicked: “ ‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’ ” (Ezekiel 18:23).
The answer to that rhetorical question is a resounding “No.” God does not want the wicked to die in their sin and be lost forever in eternal punishment. He will not, however, override the freewill of humans, and force them to accept His free gift of salvation. Nor will He contradict His own revealed Word in order to save those who have not obeyed the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8) by coming into contact with the saving blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). The Scriptures are crystal clear on these important points.
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