Why Hell Must Be Eternal – Part 2

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Continued from Part 1

POSTED 22 AUGUST, 2017


Greek View(s) of Eternal Punishment?

When commonly encountering the statements of annihilationists, one will frequently detect the view that any belief in an ongoing, eternal punishment for the condemned is rooted in some kind of Hellenistic philosophy, as opposed to Biblical doctrine. Is this something really sustainable? When we consider the commonly known aspects of Greco-Roman religion germane to the First Century C.E., to claim that any kind of final condemnation—as anticipated by the Holy Scriptures, and as affirmed by both annihilationists and advocates of an ongoing Hell alike—is actually Hellenistic, has no basis. There is no warrant for claiming that the Greeks and Romans believed, that at one point in future history, all of those who would be regarded as “evil people” would have to stand before a divine judge (or being polytheists a tribunal of gods and goddesses), to be given a final sentencing for all of their crimes. While the Greco-Roman mythos is replete with strange occurrences of individual humans being given diverse penalties or curses by the gods,[118] this is not the same as every person having to give some kind of an account to the One Creator God (cf. Daniel 7:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12).

The Bible teaches, quite contrary to this, that there will be a final sentencing of the unrighteous. What annihilationists and those who hold to models of an ongoing, conscious punishment disagree on, is how long this will occur. Annihilationists, typically also being advocates of psychopannychy, largely deny that there is any extra-dimensional component to the human being that can exist outside the body, surviving physical death. The annihilationist’s appeal to an ongoing eternal punishment being “Hellenistic” really has nothing to do with Greco-Roman expectations of a final sentencing—of which there really are none—and has more to do with psychopannychy’s rejection of Hellenistic dualism.[119] Hellenistic dualism largely, but most incorrectly, affirms that the human soul is trapped inside the prison of the body, eagerly awaiting escape via death. A Biblical dualism is holistic, insisting that the consciousness being removed to another dimension at death (an intermediate Heaven or an intermediate Hell) is only temporary until the resurrection. This assures us that the person resurrected is the same person who authentically lived a life on Earth, and is not a kind of facsimile, duplicate, or clone.[120]

Intertestimental and Rabbinic Views of Eternal Punishment

Before we move toward examining the views expressed in the Apostolic Scriptures regarding the final condemnation facing the unrighteous, it is important that we briefly recognize some of the opinions expressed in both Intertestimental and Rabbinic literature. Did Judaism from the broad First Century believe in an ongoing model of never-ending punishment for the wicked, or in a model of annihilation? Was there any single, definitive view, about what the unrighteous would face with eternal consequences?

There are various statements made in the Apocrypha, which do represent the sentiments of various Jews from before, and likely during, the time of Yeshua, which affirm some kind of ongoing, never-ending punishment for the condemned:

“Now, concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone forth from the Most High that a man shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. And if it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, and who have despised his law, and who have hated those who fear God — such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, ever grieving and sad, in seven ways. The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High. The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance that they may live. The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High. The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days. The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet. The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will pass over into torments. The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High before whom they sinned while they were alive, and before whom they are to be judged in the last times” (4 Esdras 7:78-87, RSV).

“Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; fire and worms he will give to their flesh; they shall weep in pain for ever” (Judith 16:17, RSV).

“[B]ut you suffer torture by the threats that come from impiety. You will not escape, most abominable tyrant, the judgments of the divine wrath….but you, because of your impiety and bloodthirstiness, will undergo unceasing torments….No, by the blessed death of my brothers, by the eternal destruction of the tyrant, and by the everlasting life of the pious, I will not renounce our noble brotherhood…..for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God” (4 Maccabees 9:32; 10:11, 15; 13:15, RSV).

The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha also give testimony to how some form of annihilation, or obliteration from existence of the condemned, might have been expressed by many ancient Jews:[121]

“Then the nations in the whole world will all be converted and worship God in truth. They will all abandon their idols, which deceitfully have led them into their error; and in righteousness they will praise the eternal God. All the Israelites who are saved in those days and are truly mindful of God will be gathered together; they will go to Jerusalem and live in safety forever in the land of Abraham, and it will be given over to them. Those who sincerely love God will rejoice, but those who commit sin and injustice will vanish from all the earth[122]. So now, my children, I command you, serve God faithfully and do what is pleasing in his sight. Your children are also to be commanded to do what is right and to give alms, and to be mindful of God and to bless his name at all times with sincerity and with all their strength. So now, my son, leave Nineveh; do not remain here” (Tobit 14:6-8, NRSV).

“Rouse thy anger and pour out thy wrath; destroy the adversary and wipe out the enemy. Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount thy mighty deeds. Let him who survives be consumed in the fiery wrath, and may those who harm thy people meet destruction. Crush the heads of the rulers of the enemy, who say, ‘There is no one but ourselves’” (Sirach 37:6-10, RSV).

“Praise God, you who fear the Lord with understanding, for the Lord’s mercy is upon those who fear him with judgment. To separate between the righteous and the sinner to repay sinners forever according to their actions” (Psalms of Solomon 2:33-34).[123]

“The destruction of the sinner is forever, and he will not be remembered when (God) looks after the righteous. This is the share of sinners forever, but those who fear the Lord shall rise up to eternal life, and their life shall be in the Lord’s light, and it shall never end” (Psalms of Solomon 3:11-12).[124]

There are statements which appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls that also testify of some ancient Jews possibly believing in a kind of obliteration for the wicked:

“They overstepped covenant, violated law; and they conspired together to kill the innocent, for all those who lived pure lives they loathed from the bottom of their heart. So they persecuted them violently, and were happy to see the people quarrel. Because of all this God became very angry with their company. He annihilated the lot of them, because all their deeds were uncleanness to them” (CD 1-2).[125]

“God’s anger and zeal for His commandments shall burn against him for eternal destruction. All the curses of this Covenant shall cleave to him, and God shall separate him out for a fate befitting his wickedness. He shall be cut off from all the Sons of Light because of his apostasy from God, brought about by unrepentance and the stumbling block of sin. He shall cast his lot with those damned for all time” (1QS 2.15-17).[126]

“The judgment of all who walk in such ways will be multiple afflictions at the hand of all the angels of perdition, everlasting damnation in the wrath of God’s furious vengeance, never-ending terror and reproach for all eternity, with a shameful extinction in the fire of Hell’s outer darkness. For all their eras, generation by generation, they will know doleful sorrow, bitter evil, and dark happenstance, until their destruction with neither remnant nor rescue” (1QS 4.12-14).[127]

Also to be weighed in is how Rabbinic literature like the Tosefta and Talmud bears testimony to ancient Jews affirming an ongoing, eternal punishment for the wicked:

“R. Yosé says, ‘The fire of Gehenna was created on the second day and will never be extinguished…’” (t.Berachot 5:31).[128]

“R. Simeon b. Laqish…said, ‘In the world to come, there is no Gehenna, but rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, brings the sun out of its sheathe and he heats the wicked but heals the righteous through it. The wicked are brought to judgment by it…’” (b.Nedarim 8b).[129]

It has been taught on Tannaite authority: The House of Shammai say, ‘[There will be] three groups on the Day of Judgment [when the dead will rise]: one comprised of the thoroughly righteous, one comprised of the thoroughly wicked, and one of middling [people]. The thoroughly righteous immediately are inscribed and sealed for eternal life. The thoroughly wicked immediately are inscribed and sealed for Gehenna, as it is written [Dan. 12:2]: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to eternal life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Middling [people] go down to Gehenna, scream [in prayer], and rise [again], as it is written [Zec. 13:9]: “And I will put this third into the fire and refine them as one refines silver and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them”’” (b.Rosh HaShanah 16b-17a).[130]

These Rabbinical references from the Talmud are probably the most intriguing of all of those referenced, as they bear testimony to how many of the Rabbis contemporary to Yeshua believed in eternal punishment—and a few of them even believed in a kind of “purgatory” for the condemned, with some being removed from punishment after a limited time of incarceration. The Hebrew Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim, of the famed work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, expresses his view, “since the Schools of Shammai and Hillel represent[ed] the theological teaching in the time of Christ and His Apostles, it follows that the doctrine of Eternal Punishment was that held in the days of our Lord, however it may afterwards have been modified.”[131] The Rabbinical views of eternal punishment, principally that of b.Rosh HaShanah 16b-17a, testify to how there will be those who are consigned to a never-ending process of condemnation. Edersheim seems to suggest that the actual teachings of the Messiah and the Apostles probably modified what the Rabbis taught, and/or that the Rabbinical authorities themselves revised their positions. Such a modification for the Messiah and the Apostles, at least, would necessarily exclude any kind of purgation of sins for those who are not totally righteous but not totally wicked. Edersheim further, and we should think validly, concludes,

“[T]here can at least be no question, that the passage which has been quoted [b.Rosh HaShanah 16b-17a], proves beyond the possibility of gainsaying that both the Great Schools, into which Rabbinic teaching at the time of Christ was divided, held the doctrine of Eternal Punishments. This, of course, entirely apart from the question who—how many, or rather, how few—were to suffer this terrible fate.”[132]

Reviewing the selection of quotations above, be they from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Tosefta and Talmud—there are two main views of eternal punishment that are definitely within the window of ancient Jewish expectations. Both annihilationism and some model of an ongoing, never-ending punishment for the unrighteous, are present with the theological views of the Jewish world contemporary to Yeshua and the Apostles. Of course, it needs to be fully recognized that as we consider the presence of such views, the existence of Jewish annihilationists and Jewish advocates of a never-ending punishment for the condemned—should not be what primarily guides our exegesis. If anything, the acknowledgment that both annihilationism and a never-ending punishment for the condemned were present, should widely confirm that these are the only main options that Bible readers today have to sift through, as valid choices regarding the final destiny of the condemned.

Edersheim most properly directs anyone who considers the unpleasant topic of eternal punishment on how, “[O]f this we are well assured, that the Judge of all the Earth will judge, not only righteously, but mercifully. He alone knows all the secrets of heart and life, and He alone can apportion to each the due need.”[133] This is something that those who regard themselves as either annihilationists, or adherents to a never-ending eternal punishment, should be agreed upon. But, can a viewpoint of ultimate non-existence for the condemned be truly substantiated? This is where we have to consider the specific words of Yeshua the Messiah and His Apostles, and the extreme value of the eternal salvation offered by the gospel.

Expectations in the Apostolic Scriptures Regarding (Eternal) Punishment

Unlike the Tanach or Old Testament, where there is the assurance of a final condemnation for unrepentant sinners, but not much specific detail is given about it—both annihilationists and those who adhere to models of a never-ending eternal punishment are agreed that the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament gives us many specific details about eternal punishment. Yeshua the Messiah, Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and others all discuss the sober realities of the judgment that will face the unredeemed. Do the Apostolic Scriptures teach annihilationism, or do they teach that the condemned will have to experience some never-ending form of punishment?

It should not be surprising that a great deal of discussions and debates between both sides are focused squarely on what the Apostolic Scriptures communicate. Only by examining a wide selection of passages will we be able to truly diagnose whether or not the New Testament teaches an annihilation of the condemned, or a never-ending eternal punishment. We will certainly need to pay attention to various context and setting issues, clauses, verbs, and potential ambiguity in the translation of various Greek terms into English. Some of you may find that advocates from both sides of the “Hell debate” have overstated their claims from various New Testament verses, harping too much on language of destruction, or over-exaggerating images of fire and smoke. Our job must be to get a good, overall picture, of the duration of eternal punishment.

Matthew 3:11-12

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Hearing talk about “fire baptism” is quite commonplace within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, with John the Immerser/Baptist’s words of Matthew 3:11-12 frequently spoken. Is it not true that he said the Messiah would come and “he will immerse you in the Ruach HaKodesh and in fire” (Matthew 3:11, CJB)? This is where too many readers stop. And, for various reasons, too many readers have been conditioned to think of the verb baptizō as only pertaining to “Believer’s baptism,” whereas in its most general sense it means “properly, to dip repeatedly, to immerge, submerge” (Thayer).[134] One can detect a positive tone in John’s word, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 3:11). But is such a positive tone continued when it also includes being submerged “…in fire”?

This is not what we detect from Matthew 3:12, which plainly specifies what being “baptized” in fire is all about: “His winnowing shovel is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out” (HCSB). There is no justification at all to claim that Matthew 3:11-12 speaks of people being immersed with some “fire of the Holy Spirit”[135]; the immersion in fire is a reference to the everlasting punishment that will be meted out by the Messiah on sinners, who are likened unto chaff removed from the barn to be taken out and burned. Craig S. Keener observes,

“…John depicts the wicked’s fire as unquenchable…John specifically affirmed that it involved eternal torment, drawing on the most horrible image of hell available in his day….Many of us today are as uncomfortable as John’s contemporaries with the doctrine of eternal torment; yet genuinely considering and believing it would radically affect the way that we live.”[136]

Here, we definitely see eternal punishment described as a fire that never stops burning. As some will be submerged into the power of the Holy Spirit when the Messiah arrives, others will be submerged into the power of God’s judgment. Such a judgment is compared to a fire in which chaff is burned. Bnguage used to describe the destiny of the wicked.

Ultimately, the question of what happens to the unrighteous condemned is one of ideology. What do you believe is a sustainable punishment for unrepentant sinners? Do you believe that a personal obliteration from existence is reason enough to confess of your sins before your Creator. Or, is an everlasting, never-ending exile from His presence more of a legitimate reason?

In this lengthy analysis, I have answered the question of “Why must Hell be eternal?” for myself, substantiating it with both exegesis from the Biblical text and my personal salvation experience: I was not saved from non-existence. Given the solemnity of eternal punishment in the Scriptures, only a never-ending Hell can be considered something that all people need to be saved from. And, it is likely to be proven that the main descriptions of such a Hell are to point us more to the psychological pain the wicked will experience more than anything else. Only the profound joy of what Romans 8:1 tells us—“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua”—can secure any of us a release from the everlasting suffering and pain to be experienced by unrighteous sinners.

The great travesty, when considering the topic of Hell, is that many people today are already experiencing various degrees of it, and they are actually satisfied with it. There are people in the world right now, and throughout the millennia of human history, who do not want to spend an eternity with God. It is my hope and prayer that you know for certain that you have been reconciled with your Creator, and that you never have to experience any condition of separation from Him—either in this universe, or in what is to come! Each born again Believer should also be concerned with testifying of the transformation that has been enacted within us, as we demonstrate through our actions of kindness and goodness that we have a viable relationship with the Lord, and that all should want to experience His peace and love.


NOTES

[118] The Jewish historian Josephus was rather critical of the ancient Essenes, whose view of eternal punishment for wicked people, to some degree or another, approximated some of that seen in the Greco-Roman mythos (Wars of the Jews 2.156).

[119] Cf. Pinnock, in Four Views on Hell, pp 147-149.

[120] Much of the debate over human composition has already been addressed in the preceding volume, To Be Absent From the Body. You may also need to review the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Dualism.”

[121] These are some of the main references offered by Bacchiocchi, pp 200-202.

[122] Grk. apo pasēs tēs gēs.

Take note of the different textual readings in Tobit 14:7, with the extended reading lacking from the KJV, LXE, RSV, ESV. Cf. Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979), 1:1037; Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, eds., A New English Translation of the Septuagint (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 476.

[123] R.B. Wright, “Psalms of Solomon,” trans., in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 654.

[124] Ibid., 655.

[125] Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996), 52.

[126] Ibid., 128.

[127] Ibid., pp 130-131.

[128] Tzvee Zahavy, trans., “Berachot,” in Jacob Neusner, ed., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew With a New Introduction, 2 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 1:36.

[129] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 1061.

[132] Ibid., 1063.

[133] Ibid.

[134] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 94.

[135] The Phillips New Testament has made a significant error here, paraphrasing Matthew 3:11 with precisely this: “He will baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit.” The clause of interest is en pneumati hagiō kai puri, literally “in spirit holy and [in] fire.”

[136] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), pp 82-83.

[137] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, 52.

[138] “licked by eternal flame, surrounded by utter darkness” (1QS 2.8; Wise, Abegg, and Cook, 128).

[139] “…in the fire of Hell’s outer darkness” (1QS 4.13; Ibid., 131).

[140] “in blazing flames worse than fire” (1 Enoch 100:9; E. Isaac, trans., “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch), in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol 1, 81).

[141] “…in darkness, nets, and burning flame” (1 Enoch 103:7; Ibid., 84).

[142] “and all kinds of torture and torment are there, and a black fire blazes up perpetually, with a river of fire that comes out over the whole place, fire here, freezing ice there, and it dries up and freezes” (2 Enoch 10:2; F.I. Andersen, trans., “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” in Ibid., 118).

[143]…the fire tests the work of anyone and does not touch it…” (E.P. Sanders, trans., “Testaments of the Three Patriarchs,” in Ibid., 890); cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15.

[144] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, 52.

[145] Ibid., pp 53-54.

[146] Pinnock, in Four Views on Hell, 146.

[147] John Nolland, New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 437.

[148] A. Oepke, “apóllymi,” in TDNT, 67.

[149] Ibid.

[150] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1993), 230.

[151] BDAG, 115.

[152] J.A. Motyer, After Death: What Happens When You Die? (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1996), 49.

The references he provides for a diversity of usages of apollumi include:

To be killed: Matthew 2:13; 8:25; 12:14; 21:41; 22:7; 26:25; 27:20; Mark 3:6; 4:38; 9:22; 11:18; 12:9; Luke 8:24; 11:51; 13:33; 15:17; 17:27, 29; 19:47; 20:16; 21:18; John 6:27; 11:50; Acts 5:37.

To be lost: Matthew 18:14; Luke 6:9; 9:56; John 3:15ff; 10:28; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; James 4:12; Jude 5.

[153] Milne, 152.

[154] Yarbrough, in Hell Under Fire, 81.

[155] Douglas J. Moo, “Paul on Hell,” in Ibid., 105.

[156] CHALOT, 1.

[157] Ibid.

[158] Peterson, 44.

[159] The noun kolasis means, “chastisement, correction, punishment” (LS, 441).

[160] J. Lunde, “Heaven and Hell,” in Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 311.

[161] R.T. France, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 967.

[162] In contrast, Ecclesiastes 12:5 speaks of “his eternal home,” beit olamo or oikon aiōnos autou (LXX), would seem to indicate a place that is not of this world.

[163] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, 61.

[164] Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London and New York: United Bible Societies, 1975), 102.

[165] Be sure to have read the statements made on Luke 16:19-31 in the preceding volume To Be Absent From the Body, in particular how following the ascension of Yeshua into Heaven, the righteous no longer go to a Paradise side of Sheol/Hades, but instead into Heaven itself (cf. Ephesians 4:8-10).

[166] Peterson, 66.

[167] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31)” for a further explanation.

[168] BDAG, 351.

[169] BibleWorks 7.0: Louw-Nida Lexicon.

[170] Leonard J. Coppes, “darash,” in TWOT, 1:198.

[171] LS, 344.

[172] Consult some of the useful discussion offered by Christopher W. Morgan, “Annihilationism: Will the Unsaved Be Punished Forever?”, in Hell Under Fire, pp 204-206 surrounding the issue of “conditional immortality.”

[173] John R.W. Stott, The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), 85.

[174] Milne, 217.

[175] BDAG, 976.

[176] Stott, 401.

[177] Do be aware of how en humin, “in you” is in the plural. It has been validly argued that 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 concerns the corporate Corinthian assembly of Believers, and not just individuals exclusively.

[178] G. Harder, “to destroy, corrupt,” in TDNT, 1259.

Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, 1442 also offers the definition, “To corrupt destroy…To corrupt, spoil, vitiate, in a moral or spiritual sense.”

[179] Numbers 16:41; 17:5, 10.

[180] BDAG, 703.

[181]the destruction that one experiences, annihilation both complete and in process” (BDAG, 127).

[182] Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies/Deutche Bibelgesellschaft, 1971), 25.

[183] Peter T. O’Brien, New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp 156-157.

[184] Gordon D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 169 fn#56.

[185] Pinnock, in Four Views on Hell, 146.

[186] BDAG, 702.

[187] Moo, in Hell Under Fire, pp 106-108; Gordon D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), pp 258-260.

[188] Heb. MT m’p’nei pachad ADONAI u’m’hadar ge’ono; Grk. LXX apo prosōpou tou phobou Kuriou kai apo tēs doxēs tēs ischuos autou.

[189] Ibid.

[190] Ibid.

[191] Moo, in Hell Under Fire, 108.

[192] Peterson, 81.

[193] F.F. Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary: 1&2 Thessalonians, Vol 45 (Waco TX: Word Books, 1982), 152.

[194] Thayer, 71.

[195] BDAG, 64.

[196] Ibid.

[197] Ibid., 525.

Another definition, at least offered by BDAG, is “to cause someth. to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside.”

[198] Charles A. Wanamaker, New International Greek Testament Commentary: 1&2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 258.

[199] Consult the statements made in the preceding volume, To Be Absent From the Body, where 1 Peter 3:18-20 is used to affirm a conscious, intermediate afterlife.

[200] Cf. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 467.

[201] BDAG, 1001.

[202] Thayer, 337.

[203] Philo Judeaus: The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 495.

[204] BDAG, 1037.

[205] LS, 841.

[206] BibleWorks 8.0: Friberg Lexicon. MS Windows Vista/7 Release. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC, 2009-2010. DVD-ROM.

[207] Morey, 86.

[208] Peterson, 185.

[209] It can, at least, be suggested that in view of 2 Peter 3:3-13 and its reference to a pre-millennial Day of the Lord, that 2 Peter 2:10-12 might be to an Earth-bound judgment of wicked people.

[210] BDAG, 1054.

[211] Ibid.

[212] Ibid.

[213] Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 357.

“of animals destined for food slaughter, killing” (BibleWorks 8.0: Friberg Lexicon).

[214] Ibid.

[215] CHALOT, 46.

[216] Heb. putz.

[217] Noting 2 Peter 2:11, Duane F. Watson indicates, “if one understands the continued focus here to be on the evil angels, then this reference is to the false teachers’ sharing the destruction of the evil angels” (“The Second Letter of Peter,” in Leander E. Keck, ed., et. al., New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 12 [Nashville: Abingdon, 1998], 350). If this is a worthwhile way to view 2 Peter 2:12, then it necessarily points us in the direction of Matthew 25:41.

[218] BDAG, 214.

[219] The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, 496.

[220] Richard J. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter, Vol 50 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 55.

[221] Peterson, pp 84-85.

[222] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, 59.

[223] Grk. proskuneō.

[224] Charagma is “a mark that is engraved, etched, branded, cut, imprinted, mark, stamp” (BDAG, 1077).

[225] LS, 147.

[226] Cf. J. Schneider, “torment,” in TDNT, pp 96-97; Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, 324.

[227] BDAG, 168.

[228] Grk. eis aiōnas aiōnōn anabainei.

[229] Peterson, 88.

[230] Ibid.

[231] Ibid., 87.

[232] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, 75.

[233] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 196.

[234] Robert H. Mounce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 275.

[235] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 176.

[236] Ben Witherington III, New Cambridge Bible Commentary: Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 245.

[237] Mounce, pp 364-365.

[238] Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, pp 186, 187.

[239] Milne, pp 297-298.

[240] G.S. Shogren, “Hell, Abyss, Eternal Punishment,” in Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament & its Developments (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997), 461.

[241] Peterson, 90.

[242] G.R. Beasley-Murray, New Century Bible Commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 304.

[243] The same Greek clause, eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn, appears in both Revelation 20:10 and 11:15.

[244] Ladd, 280.

[245] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, 76.

[246] “annihilationism,” in Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 24.

[247] As is represented by John F. Walvoord, “The Literal View,” in Four Views on Hell, pp 11-35.

[248] Gary Gilley (n.d.). The Afterlife – Part 4, Southern View Chapel. Retrieved 03 June, 2011 from <If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

In Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount, He warns His listeners, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’ [Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18]; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Inappropriate and ungodly sexual thoughts directed to a person are considered tantamount to having committed adultery. The severity of this is intensified in Yeshua’s continuing word on how it is much better for a person to gouge out an eye, or cut off a body part, than for “the whole body,” holon to sōma to go into Hell. Here, the actual location of such punishment is specified as Gehenna or “Gei-Hinnom” (CJB).

Nothing is specifically stated in Matthew 5:29-30 about how long such a punishment in Gehenna will last for unrepentant, condemned sinners. What we can detect, though, is that it is the whole person who must go into Gehenna, making this a reference to the final punishment, and not any kind of intermediate punishment before the second resurrection. It is far better to lose a body part in this world, than to have to suffer eternal punishment. And, of course, Yeshua’s point is not that people necessarily go purposefully blind or castrate themselves. The emphasis is for people to exercise considerable control of themselves.

Matthew 8:11-12; 13:41-42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30

“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12).

The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).

“Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:13).

“[A]nd will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51).

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

This selection of five verses from Yeshua the Messiah in the Gospel of Matthew, gives each of us an array of important descriptions about the Eternal State. The redeemed from all ages enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The unredeemed are removed to an unpleasant place.

What is the unpleasant place? We commonly call such a place “Hell,” but such a “Hell” is considered to be more a label of its description. In one of these above passages (Matthew 13:41-42), the penalty issued upon the wicked is depicted in terms of a “fiery furnace” (NIV/ESV) or a “blazing furnace” (TNIV). In others (Matthew 8:11-12; 22:13; 25:30) the penalty issued upon the wicked is depicted in terms of “outer darkness.” All of these depictions communicate that the wicked are consigned to a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is a less-than-ideal location; it is by no means any kind of vacation spot; it is not a place where anyone should ever naturally want to go. Regardless of what kind of description is employed, this place is intended to be absolutely repelling.

But what kind of place is such a “Hell” going to be? Is it a place of fire, or is it a place of darkness? Images of fire tend to be red, orange, and yellow—which are hardly dark. Images of darkness tend to be black—and largely cold at that. A hot fire and a cold darkness seem to be contradicting descriptions.

Advocates of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment, look at the list of above passages and conclude that while the duration of Hell will be never-ending, descriptions of it as both fire and darkness are to be taken as references to its severity—but not be pushed too literally. Crockett points out how “In Jewish literature, vivid pictures of hell are given to show that God has ordained an end to wickedness. The writers do not intend their descriptions to be literal depictions of the fate of the damned, but rather warnings of coming judgment.”[137] He references the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 2.8[138]; 4.13[139]) and the Pseudepigrapha (1 Enoch 100:9[140]; 103:7[141]; 2 Enoch 10:2[142]; Testament of Abraham 12-13[143]) as substantiation for how “mutually exclusive concepts like fire and darkness are used to evoke a horrifying image than to describe a literal hell.”[144] If previous Jewish works can depict punishment of the wicked in mutually exclusive depictions, then the Bible certainly can as well.

Do not be fooled: advocates of the metaphorical view of Hell do believe that eternal punishment never ends, and that there is no annihilation or personal extinction to be meted upon the condemned. The arguments of metaphorical proponents principally come from the Biblical text itself, as they would look at verses like those above as a depiction of eternal exile or banishment from God’s presence, more than anything else. Few who enter into the debate over eternal punishment are that well informed as to the value of the metaphorical view. As Crockett properly directs us,

“When the writers use fire to describe judgment or hell, they use a convenient image that will demonstrate the burning wrath of God. If we try to squeeze images that were meant to be symbolic into literal molds, we ill-serve the cause of Christ. Far from helping, our fanciful theories about roaring flames awaiting unbelievers at the end of the road simply hinder the gospel….In the first century the image of hellfire was common and understandable. Most people saw the fiery abyss as a symbol of something awful and indescribable.”[145]

Unfortunately, most of the debate over eternal punishment has been polarized between annihilationists who want to refute an idea of a forever-burning lava pit where people have to writhe in pain for eternity—and those who while rightly holding to a never-ending model, have widely forgotten that eternal punishment is also depicted in terms of outer darkness and separation.

Matthew 10:28

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Matthew 10:28 is, without any doubt, the most frequently quoted passage of Scripture by annihilationists, used to support their argument. For an annihilationist like Pinnock, Matthew 10:28 is a shut case: “Our Lord spoke plainly of God’s judgment as the annihilation of the wicked when he warned about God’s ability to destroy body and soul in hell.”[146] That “soul and body,” psuchēn kai sōma, are referenced here along with Gehenna in the source text, indicates that eternal punishment is in view. Matthew 10:28 cannot be a reference to any kind of intermediate punishment prior to the second resurrection.

Annihilationist readers of Matthew 10:28 do not often take enough time to really pay attention to the text that they ascribe so much significance to. In the almost 1500-page New International Greek Testament Commentary volume on Matthew, all John Nolland can say on this verse is that “‘Destroy’ would naturally imply annihilation…[T]here are no Matthean texts incompatible with such an understanding…,”[147] with no actual Greek exegesis provided in the NIGTC in terms of what the source vocabulary says for “destroy.” Annihilationism is simply assumed from the English alone, and one moves on.

Advocates of an ongoing, eternal punishment for the condemned are definitely aware of the significance annihilationists give to Matthew 10:28, and have made efforts to point out the varied uses of the Greek verb apollumi, which our English translations will most often render as “destroy.” In English itself, “destroy” does not necessarily imply annihilation or extinction from existence, but the Greek verb apollumi likewise has considerable variance. Some possible definitions of this verb include: “‘To destroy,’ ‘kill,’ in battle or prison;” “to suffer loss or lose,” “to perish,” and “to be lost” (TDNT).[148] A related noun, apōleia, likewise means “destruction,” “ruin,” “perishing,” or “loss.”[149] AMG notes that in many cases, “the verb must not be thought of as indicating extinction, but only change from one state of being to another. Nothing actually becomes extinct, but everything changes.”[150] So, when we apply the definition of “ruin, destroy” (BDAG)[151] for apollumi, we cannot insist on a strict definition of “destroy” as meaning “obliterated out of existence.”

When we take into consideration the varied usages of apollumi throughout the Greek Apostolic Scriptures, including references to ruined wineskins (Matthew 9:17), lost sheep (Matthew 15:24), and rotten food (John 6:27), it is perfectly valid for one to interpret Matthew 10:28 as meaning something other than complete and total annihilation. Synthesizing all of the varied applications of apollumi, Matthew 10:28 can be rendered with “fear Him who is able to utterly ruin both soul and body” (my translation). With this possible translation, the reality of an ongoing, eternal punishment is maintained—while recognizing that the condemned sinner is going to undergo a severe change for the worst.

A number of advocates of an ongoing, never-ending punishment of the condemned, confirm these conclusions of the Greek apollumi and its cognates:

  • J.A. Motyer: “The verb ‘to destroy’ is used at least twenty-two times in the sense of ‘to die’ or ‘to be killed’ but in these instances it carries no implication about the ensuing state: thus it must be decided in terms of the meaning of ‘death’. It is used very often as an opposite to the idea of being ‘saved’ but, again, without specifying the precise condition of the ‘lost’.”[152]
  • Bruce Milne: “As to the language employed in the texts referring to hell, it has been observed that ‘destroy’ (apollymi) and its cognates have a range of meanings, not all of which involve the ending of existence.”[153]
  • Robert W. Yarbrough: “[I]n Jesus’ usage ‘destroy’ can also mean to inflict enduring torment. That is, unclean spirits who ask whether Jesus will ‘destroy’ them (apollymi; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) understand that destruction in terms of unending torment (basanizō; Matt. 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). In other words, the verb apollymi (‘to destroy’) in Matthew 10:28 is parallel not only with apokteinō (‘to kill’) in the same verse, where the reference is plainly to earthly death; apollymi can also be parallel with basanizō (‘to torment, torture’), where the reference is to the sphere of existence beyond this one. The spirits were not afraid of being ‘destroyed’ or ‘tormented’ by Jesus on this earth…They rather feared the pain of the ‘forever and ever’ torment that the Spirit of Jesus later revealed to John as the destiny of the devil and all those loyal to him (Rev. 14:11).”[154]
  • Douglas J. Moo: “The key words for ‘destroy’ and ‘destruction’…can refer…to ointment that is poured out wastefully and to no apparent purpose (apōleia in Matt. 26:8; Mark 14:4); to wineskins that can no longer function because they have holes in them (apollymi in Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37); to a coin that is useless because it is ‘lost’ (apollymi in Luke 15:9); or to the entire world that ‘perishes,’ as an inhabited world, in the Flood (2 Pet. 3:6). In none of these cases do the objects cease to exist; they cease to be useful or to exist in their original, intended state.”[155]

Many are agreed that the closest Hebrew equivalent for apollumi is the verb avad, as avad is typically rendered with apollumi in the Greek Septuagint. Apolesai is rendered as l’avdan in the 1991 UBSHNT in Matthew 10:28, and gives us some clues as to what Yeshua may have orally spoken.

In the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), avad can mean “become lost,” “go astray,” “perish,” “be ruined,” or “be carried off” (CHALOT).[156] In the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice), avad can mean “give up as lost,” “let perish,” “destroy,” and “dissipate” (CHALOT).[157] These definitions provide us with the same array of options that apollumi gives, regarding whether we are to consider the “destruction” of the wicked as either a complete annihilation, or utter ruin/devastation. In the Hebrew Scriptures, avad is used to represent utter defeat (Joshua 1:7), the overthrow of a nation (Deuteronomy 28:51), as well as the taking of a life (Exodus 10:7; Leviticus 23:30; Deuteronomy 7:10, 20; 2 Kings 10:19). Avad can likewise refer to the enslavement or loss of a people (Numbers 21:29), as well as broken objects (Psalm 31:12).

Avad has the same basic array of meanings as does apollumi. From this connection and the uses of avad, must we likewise insist upon an annihilation of the unrighteous condemned?

While exegetically, both the verbs apollumi and avad allow for the “destruction” of the wicked to be something other than annihilation (namely being “utterly ruined” for eternity), the question of what will actually occur is ultimately one of ideology. If one believes that a loving God could never eternally torment sinners in some way or another, then one’s examination of the Scriptures will reflect this belief. Likewise, if one believes that a loving God would not allow sinners to only be “snuffed out,” and that an ongoing punishment is the only just punishment, then one’s examination of the Scriptures will reflect this belief.

Note that the One who will dispense such punishment is God Himself. The punishment that is meted out upon the unrighteous condemned can only be something that an Eternal Being can deliver. Are there things worse than being dead for eternity, meaning snuffed out of existence and annihilated? This is a question that will continue to be debated, as each interpreter has to decide which value judgment to make. As far as my own perspective is concerned, I concur with Peterson:

“Taken by themselves, this verse [Matthew 10:28] and similar ones that speak of ‘destruction’ are compatible with annihilationism, the teaching that God will blot the wicked out of existence. In the light of all Scripture’s teaching, however, it is clear that the ‘destruction’ spoken of here is God’s punishment of the ungodly with forfeiture of all that is worthwhile in human existence.”[158]

Matthew 25:41

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Matthew 25:41, and Yeshua’s statement to the unredeemed, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (KJV), is a verse that advocates of a never-ending punishment for the condemned strongly appeal to. Several verses later in Matthew 25:46, Yeshua says, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” As the Eternal State commences, those who are righteous will enter into a condition rightfully labeled as zōēn aiōnion or “eternal life,” which may be considered one of total peace, shalom, and communion with the Creator. Annihilationists all agree that such a state will be never-ending. At the same time, the unredeemed will experience kolasin aiōnion or “eternal punishment.”[159] Matthew 25:41 has specified that this will involve an “eternal fire,” to pur to aiōnion.

Matthew 25:41 is clear that the destiny awaiting unredeemed human beings is not something that was originally intended for them; what is called the “eternal fire” is something that was originally intended for the Adversary and his minions. Associating such an eternal fire with later details witnessed in the Book of Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8) is not difficult to do. The punishment of the condemned as “eternal,” lasts the same duration as that of Satan and his host. J. Lunde confirms in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, “it seems that Jesus taught that hell would involve an eternal, conscious punishment. Probably the clearest indication of this is in Matthew 25:46, where the lots of the two groups are contrasted by means of the adjective eternal (i.e., ‘eternal life’ as opposed to ‘eternal punishment’).”[160]

When encountering the ramifications of kolasin aiōnion or “eternal punishment” meted upon the condemned, annihilationists have to protest. R.T. France, for example, thinks that the placement of aiōnios or “eternal” indicates that the punishment “relates to the age to come rather than [being] punishment which continues forever,” concluding “that the term does not in itself favor one side or the other in the annihilationist debate.”[161] France is wrong in his claim. The balancing of “eternal life” and “eternal fire”/“eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:41, 46, does not allow for aiōnios to simply be some kind of adjective about the future.[162] These verses do not allow for an annihilation of the condemned.

Messianic Believers should be particularly piqued at this point, regarding the term aiōnios, and how it appears in Yeshua’s direction of John 12:49-50: “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” When we see hē entolē autou zōē aiōnios, with the Father’s command being “eternal life,” no Messianic would argue that the Father’s Instruction—be that instruction in the Torah and/or His instruction to the Son for His ministry—is “eternal” only in the sense of it affecting the future eschatological age. Such a commandment is to be regarded as never-ending in its significance and authority!

And what of the “eternal fire” that unrighteous human beings, Satan, and demonic angels are to be consigned to? Those who advocate a position of a literal Hell, would argue that this is some kind of an ever-writhing bath in fire and brimstone, lava and sulfur, and poisonous chemicals for all eternity. Contrary to this, those who hold to the metaphorical view of Hell—while a never-ending condition to be sure—would instead view “eternal fire” as being a literary image. Crockett astutely details,

“The eternal fire was created for spirit beings such as the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). How then will people with spirit bodies (and disembodied spirits such as demons) be affected by a physical fire? Physical fire works on physical bodies with physical nerve endings, not on spirit beings. Perhaps the fire is in some sense a spiritual fire.”[163]

The stress of Matthew 25:41, 46, and other similar passages, needs to be placed more on the duration of “eternal”—which here has to be held consistently as never-ending—than anything else.

Mark 9:43-48

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. 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 [Isaiah 66:24].”

Yeshua’s teaching in Mark 9:43-48 closely mirrors that of what we have examined previously in Matthew 5:29-30. Here we only see an emphasis on cutting off one’s hand, and entering into the Kingdom crippled (Mark 9:43), and cutting off one’s foot and entering into the Kingdom lame (Mark 9:45). This is how important it is for the Messiah’s followers to control themselves, with the result in Mark’s Gospel intended to be the same as in Matthew’s. If self-control is not achieved, then the punishment of Gehenna or Hell awaits

There are some textual issues in Mark 9:43-48 with Isaiah 66:24 quoted several times, where vs. 44, 46 might include some kind of either scribal variance or miscopying.[164] It does not ultimately affect how we interpret the overall passage, as Isaiah 66:24 is legitimately quoted in Mark 9:48.

The significance of Isaiah 66:24 appearing in this passage is that some Tanach substantiation is now applied to what Gehenna actually is: “For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24b). This should confirm how this statement Isaiah 66:24b speaks of all of the condemned, which includes not only those who have opposed the Lord at Jerusalem, but ultimately all sinners. As we have previously discussed in our analysis of Isaiah 66:22-24, the main scene could very well be that of the final rebellion against the Lord (cf. Revelation 20:9), something which is post-millennial and before the second resurrection. The condition of Isaiah 66:24b applies to both them, and unrepentant sinners of all ages.

Luke 16:19-31

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 certainly does contain some descriptions, which various interpreters might view as being a bit symbolic.[165] When the rich man cries out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame” (Luke 16:24), this description may be a bit metaphorical. Peterson, who does hold to an ongoing, eternal punishment, rightly indicates, “We simply cannot milk every detail of a parable for meaning.”[166] The point to be taken from the example of the rich man is that while he may have been blessed in Earthly life with wealth and comfort, following death his condition is one that is less-than-desirable.

There are two important indications that are rightfully taken from the Luke 16 account of Lazarus and the rich man. (1) There is most definitely a disembodied afterlife to be anticipated of all people, following death, even if later attended by a bodily resurrection. (Even advocates of psychopannychy or “soul sleep”—also commonly being annihilationists—have rightly recognized that this parable cannot make any literary sense, unless one affirms a disembodied intermediate state.)[167] (2) If there is indeed an intermediate afterlife before the resurrection, this includes not only a Paradise condition for the righteous, but also a penal condition for the unrighteous. Luke 16:19-31 is one of multiple passages that has been used in theological studies to help formulate an intermediate Hell. Luke 16:19-31, while affirming that the unrepentant wicked will begin some condition of penalty immediately after death, does not, however, speak of the final condemnation and sentencing of the wicked before the Great Judge Himself.

Acts 3:23

“And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”

Within the significant preaching of the Apostle Peter, around the time of Shavuot/Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those gathered at the Upper Room (cf. Acts 2:1-13), we encounter a statement made to emphasize the severity of the gospel message. Peter appeals to Moses’ instruction that a Prophet like him would be raised up in the community, to whom all must pay attention:

“Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED [Deuteronomy 18:15, 18] to everything He says to you’” (Acts 3:22).

Immediately following this, Peter says, “And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23). Annihilationists think that it is pretty obvious: those who reject the Messiah will suffer personal extinction. Is this something that is sustainable from Acts 3:23? Note some different English translations that are witnessed of Acts 3:23: “will be completely cut off” (NIV/NLT), “will be utterly rooted out” (NRSV), “will be removed” (HCSB). The verb exolethreuō can definitely mean “to eliminate by destruction, destroy utterly, root out” (BDAG),[168] and so an annihilation or extinction from existence cannot be totally ruled out as an interpretive option.

The full clause exolethreuthēsetai ek tou laou, should, however, cause anyone to pause and consider whether an annihilation from existence is the best option for interpreting Acts 3:23. What does it mean to be destroyed ek tou laou, or “out of the people” (YLT)? The Louw-Nida lexicon presents the option, “It is possible in Ac 3.23 that [exolethreuō] refers to a type of severe ostracism.”[169] This is something that is represented in various mainline translations as noted, and so it would be best for one’s position on eternal punishment to not rise or fall exclusively on by what is communicated from Acts 3:23. In Deuteronomy 18:19 we see that the Lord says, “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.” The verb darash, appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), only means “to seek with care, inquire, require” (TWOT),[170] which can involve penalties enacted by the Lord.

Acts 3:23 cannot be provided as a definitive proof for annihilationism, although it can be offered as evidence of severe penalties issued for those who reject Yeshua the Messiah and the good news. A wider reading of Biblical passages has to be considered in relation to what happens to the unrighteous condemned. Advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment for the condemned would favor Acts 3:23 communicating an extreme form of banishment from the presence of God.

Romans 2:6-8

“[W]ho WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS [Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12]: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”

Annihilationists and advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment are likely to both appeal to Romans 2:6-8 in some way. The main emphasis, that the Apostle Paul wants his audience to be aware of, is how “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11), and how Jewish and non-Jewish people will both experience some kind of penalties for their sins if unrepentant (Romans 2:10, 16). In Romans 2:6, Paul justifies the reality of punishment facing the unredeemed from the Tanach:

  • “And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, for You recompense a man according to his work” (Psalm 62:12).
  • “If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12).

Annihilationists, in viewing Romans 2:6-8, would take Paul’s statement that those who are good will be given “glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Romans 2:7), as meaning that the condemned will not be granted immortality. But they need to be very careful how far this description is pushed, because it is absolutely true that the unrighteous will be resurrected and be given immortal bodies (cf. Revelation 20:5). What the resurrected unrighteous will not be given, which all are agreed upon, is a position of “glory and honor.”

Do not overlook the fact that Romans 2:7 specifies how the righteous “seek for glory and honor and immortality…,” meaning that they “aim at glory, honour, and immortality” (Moffat New Testament). Here it might be best for us to consider the verb zēteō to relate to: “to search after, search out” or “to seek after, desire” (LS).[171] The righteous eagerly desire resurrection bodies and a place of honor in the future age; the unrighteous do not desire or search out for these things. All they can await for, because of the futility of their sin and spiritual blindness, are shame and humiliation. Yet because the unrighteous do not seek out immortality,[172] it does not mean that there will not be a second resurrection for them, with a final sentencing before God to follow for their sins against Him. And, the kind of “immortality” that the righteous definitely desire is far more than just bodies that will never suffer decay or corruption; it also involves a restored communion and fellowship with the Creator akin to what Adam and Eve originally experienced in the Garden of Eden, in a New Creation that is engulfed by total shalom and tranquility.

The punishment issued upon the unrighteous condemned is stated by Paul in Romans 2:8 to be “wrath and indignation,” orgē kai thumos. Note that there is nothing stated here about annihilationism or an extinction from existence; Romans 2:6-8 is a general description about assured punishment for the unrepentant and their exclusion from His Kingdom. An evangelical annihilationist like John R.W. Stott, who could have at least mentioned his position, notably declined to do so in commenting on Romans 2:7 in his book The Message of Romans. All he did instead is say the more general, “To sum up, those who seek God and persevere in goodness will receive eternal life, while those who are self-seeking and follow evil will experience God’s wrath.”[173]

As Milne appropriately summarizes, Hell “is the express, personal judgment of God directed towards, and centred upon, the individual concerned. Hell is his just and personal judgment on those who in ‘godlessness and wickedness’ set themselves against him.”[174] The annihilationist, and the advocate of a never-ending punishment for the condemned, agree upon this. And, both will not rest their case for the duration of the final sentencing on the rather general expectations expressed by Romans 2:6-8. Further engagement with more passages of Scripture is required.

Romans 16:20

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua be with you.”

Sometimes annihilationists will provide Romans 16:20 as a proof text for their position: “And God, the source of shalom, will soon crush the Adversary under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua be with you” (CJB). The verb suntribō has a variety of definitions, as provided by BDAG:

  • to cause destruction of someth. by making it come apart, shatter, smash, crush, of things”
  • to cause damage to by mistreatment, mistreat/beat severely of persons mistreat, beat someone severely
  • to overcome by subduing completely, annihilate, crush enemies”
  • to be severely damaged psychologically, be broken , fig. of mental and emotional states”[175]

Annihilationists who might appeal to Romans 16:20, seeing these available definitions of suntribō, might quickly conclude that it is a shut case. The problem, with such a summary conclusion, is that Paul says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” hupo tous podas humōn. If the final condemnation upon Satan and/or his demonic host is in view, then one would not expect God to use Believers’ feet“your feet”—to enact such punishment. This is something that can only be enacted by the Creator Himself (cf. Revelation 20:10).

Romans 16:20 is much more properly viewed from the vantage point of God empowering the Roman Believers Paul writes to, to defeat the Adversary in their regular spiritual battles, something that comes via the peace of the Messiah. Even an annihilationist like Stott, who could have defended his view from Romans 16:20, did not do so—instead acknowledging how the ongoing fight against the Devil is more the subject matter considered. Stott says, “He has already been decisively defeated; but he not yet conceded his defeat….God’s peace allows no appeasement of the devil. It is only through the destruction of evil that true peace can be attained.”[176] These are largely general statements about God’s people experiencing victory over the power of Satan.

1 Corinthians 3:17

If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”

A surface reading of 1 Corinthians 3:17 might be used by annihilationists as some sort of support for their premise that the condemned will suffer extinction, and not some form of never-ending punishment. What Paul wants to communicate to the Corinthians is proper living on Earth, and self-control over themselves and their bodies: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).[177] All can be agreed that if people expel negative action upon God’s temple—be that an individual’s body and/or the community of faith—that God Himself will expel negative action upon the offender(s). Most English translations render 1 Corinthians 3:17 with some form of “destroy,” but a unique verb actually appears here, phtheirō. TDNT offers the summary:

phtheírō means ‘to destroy,’ middle and passive ‘to perish.’ It is often used for ‘to kill’ (‘to be killed’), but may also mean ‘to languish’ (e.g., in prison). Economic ruin may also be in view. In curses the meaning may be ‘be damned’ or more weakly ‘be off.’ Another sense is ‘to spoil’ (e.g., milk). The loss of food or of animals may sometimes be denoted.”[178]

Differing from other versions, YLT actually renders the verb phtheirō as “waste”:

“[I]f any one the sanctuary of God doth waste, him shall God waste; for the sanctuary of God is holy, the which ye are.”

Elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 7:2, the verb phtheirō appears, as Paul writes, “Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted [phtheirō] no one, we took advantage of no one.”

While annihilationists might appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:17 as a support for their view that the condemned will suffer extinction from existence, there should be some doubt that the verb phtheirō must be viewed from this angle. That 1 Corinthians 3:17 assures severe punishment for the wicked is sure, but it can be doubted whether or not this is annihilation.

1 Corinthians 10:9-10

“Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

All readers of the wider message of 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 should be aware of how the Ancient Israelites’ wilderness experience is being used by Paul to admonish his Corinthian audience to proper action. 1 Corinthians 10:9 makes light of how “The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6). When it is communicated, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents,” this is where it should be obvious that the verb apollumi is closer to “killed” (NIV/TNIV) or “perished by serpents” (LITV), as the people “fell victims to poisonous snakes” (Phillips New Testament).

There are a variety of Torah passages that might be considered[179] in view of the continuing thought of 1 Corinthians 10:10, but the foremost is probably the depiction of the Lord going throughout Egypt issuing the plague of death upon the firstborn (Exodus 12:23). God certainly does not hesitate bringing a degree of chastisement upon His people, as Numbers 16:49 does say, “But those who died by the plague…” Does the issuance of a physical plague of death upon the camp of Ancient Israel and/or Israel’s enemies, account for an eventual annihilation of the unrighteous, though?

Versions like the NASU have rendered 1 Corinthians 10:10 with, “and were destroyed by the destroyer” (the NIV actually has “and were killed by the destroying angel”). The actual Greek clause of interest reads with two different terms commonly translated with “destroy”: kai apōlonto hupo tou olothreutou. A rendering such as, “and perished by the destroyer” (LITV), would be far better to make the proper distinction between the verb apollumi and the noun olothreutēs. Due to the definite Earth-bound scene of the Ancient Israelites and/or their adversaries being judged by God, we should all be content to view the Destroyer in the sense of, “the one who carries out the divine sentence of punishment” (BDAG).[180]

It is undeniable that when the future, final judgment of the wicked transpires, they will have to meet the Destroyer. But will the Destroyer issue extinction upon them, or an extreme form of ruin and perdition?

2 Corinthians 2:15-16

For we are a fragrance of Messiah to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?”

2 Corinthians 2:15-16 obviously communicates that the position of born again Believers, in Messiah Yeshua, are to be the Father’s agents in the world bearing forth His goodness. This involves those who are in the process of being saved (tois sōzomenois), and those who are in the process of perishing (tois apollumenois; or: “those being lost,” CJB). Those who view the gospel, as nothing more than pointing out their death, are the lost masses of Planet Earth. Contrary to this, those who are being saved, find life and fulfillment in the gospel.

What does 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 tell us about the issue of eternal punishment? One of the things it definitely indicates for us is that the lost are quantitatively those who are perishing, seen in the usage of the verb apollumi. If they are unrepentant when hearing the good news, they will have a much more conscious knowledge of their sin and fallenness. Unredeemed sinners get to experience some degree of loss, ruin, or perdition in their lives on Earth—long before they physically die. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 should point us to how both “life” and “death” are qualitative states of being, which one can experience long before the life processes expire.

Philippians 1:28

“[I]n no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.”

In Paul’s letter to his dear Philippian friends, he issues some advice on their current situation, pending whether or not he will be able to visit them. Paul says, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Messiah, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). As the Philippians ban together in one accord, they are to be “in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God” (Philippians 1:28). It is rightly concluded that Philippians 1:28 speaks of the eventual, eschatological experiences of both the condemned and the righteous. The righteous will obviously have sōtēria or salvation. The unrighteous will have apōleia, which is frequently rendered as “destruction.”

Does Philippians 1:28 teach an annihilation of the wicked from existence? It cannot be avoided that a number of lexicons do, in fact, include “annihilation” as a possible definition of apōleia,[181] although a general definition would simply be “destruction, utter ruin; hell” (CGEDNT).[182] Lexicons that provide “annihilation” as a definition apōleia may be offering something that is a bit theologically motivated. The usage of a term like apōleia in the Biblical text is what should ultimately determine its theological meaning for us as readers. Peter T. O’Brien provides us a useful summary on the term apōleia, and how ultimately for unrighteous sinners it does not mean annihilation or extinction from existence:

“Although in many of the OT writings [Septuagint] destruction is understood in the sense of earthly death and destruction, later texts…give to the term a far-reaching significance, relating to the state after death. In the NT, where it appears eighteen times, [apōleia] occasionally is used in a transitive sense for ‘waste, squandering’ (Mk. 14:4; cf. Mt. 26:8). Most instances, however, have the intransitive meaning ‘ruin, destruction’, particularly in the sense of eternal perdition. In the Synoptics there is the way that leads to destruction (Mt. 7:13, [apōleia]; the opposite is… [zoē], ‘life’), while in Paul reference is made to objects of God’s anger, ready for destruction (Rom. 9:22). The end of the wicked is [apōleia] (Phil. 3:19; cf. Acts 8:20; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 10:39), and one who has fallen victim to destruction is called, in Semitic fashion, [ho huios tēs apōleias], as Judas in Jn. 17:12 and Antichrist in 2 Thes. 2:3. The word is a favourite one in 2 Peter, where reference is made to heresies that lead to destruction ([haireseis apōleias], 2:1), introduced by false teachers who bring sudden ruin ([tachinēn apōleian], 2:1) upon themselves (cf. 2:3; 3:7, 16). At Rev. 17:8, 11, the beast is said to go to his destruction ([eis apōleian hupagei]), an assertion that speaks not of a simple extinction from existence, but of an everlasting state of torment and death”[183] (emphasis mine).

Gordon D. Fee also notes how for Philippians 1:28, it is best that apōleia be viewed in “the theological sense of utter ruin for those who do not believe.”[184]

Not all Bible translations have rendered endeixis apōleias as “sign of destruction.” The KJV has “an evident token of perdition,” followed by the NKJV with “a proof of perdition.” The Moffat New Testament has “a clear omen of ruin.” Given the general tenor of apōleia in Philippians 1:28, while annihilationists and advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment will both find degrees of support for their view—some form of assured condemnation for the unrepentant is as far as either side can get when pushing this verse. There are ambiguities present with the noun apōleia to be certain, which allow for it to mean “utter ruin,” but more will obviously be determined by a wider reading of Biblical passages, concerned with the actual specifics of eternal punishment.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Yeshua will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.”

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is understandably an important passage for annihilationists. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9 we see that the wicked “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction,” and as Pinnock concludes, “Paul made it clear that hell would mean termination.”[185] Does 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 definitively support annihilationism? Can advocates of an ongoing, never-ending eternal punishment have an answer to this passage?

The scene of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is easily discerned to be pre-millennial. It speaks of Yeshua’s Second Coming, and how “the Lord Yeshua [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in a fiery flame. Then he will punish those who don’t know God, that is, those who don’t listen to the Good News of our Lord Yeshua and obey it” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, CJB). Pre-millennialists, be they pre- or post-tribulationists, are in widespread agreement that when the Messiah returns to Planet Earth that there will be many people consumed in judgment. These are people who rejected Him, rejected the good news, and will have to pay severely for it. We should all rightly conclude that these people will be eternally lost. This is not, however, the collective judgment of all sinners from all ages, even though the ultimate penalties issued would be the same.

How are we to view the assertion that the penalty is, “suffer[ing] the punishment of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, RSV)? Is olethron aiōnion to be viewed as an annihilation or extinction from existence? From a lexical standpoint, the noun olethros largely means “a state of destruction, destruction, ruin, death” (BDAG).[186] The NEB notably renders 2 Thessalonians 1:9 with, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal ruin,” with the Phillips New Testament having “eternal loss.” Similar language appears in the martyr’s taunt witnessed in 4 Maccabees 10:11, 15, where eternal torment is defined in terms of eternal destruction:

“[B]ut you, because of your impiety and bloodthirstiness, will undergo unceasing torments [akatalutous karterēseis basanous]…No, by the blessed death of my brothers, by the eternal destruction of the tyrant [ton aiōnion tou turannou olethron], and by the everlasting life of the pious, I will not renounce our noble brotherhood.”

Looking at the text of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 in total, what olethron aiōnion or “eternal destruction” actually composes is specified: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” “Eternal destruction,” ruin, or loss is stated in the remainder of 1 Thessalonians 1:9, is to be sinners “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (NIV). Noting the clause apo prosōpou tou Kuriou kai apo tēs doxēs tēs ischuos autou, various interpreters[187] have directed readers to how this language draws us to the judgment scene of Isaiah 2:10-21, where it is stated three times that sinners will try to hide from the Lord on the day of His judgment of the Earth:

  • “Enter the rock and hide in the dust from the terror of the LORD and from the splendor of His majesty[188]” (Isaiah 2:10).
  • Men will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD and the splendor of His majesty[189], when He arises to make the earth tremble” (Isaiah 2:19).
  • “In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs before the terror of the LORD and the splendor of His majesty[190], when He arises to make the earth tremble” (Isaiah 2:21).

Those who are consumed at the parousia of the Lord will suffer olethron aiōnion or “eternal destruction.” But, such “eternal destruction” or “eternal ruin” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, NEB) is stated to not be annihilation from existence, but rather an everlasting removal from God’s presence and glory. Moo concludes how “Paul elaborates the meaning of ‘eternal destruction’ with the idea of being separated from the presence of God…it…implies that the people who are the objects of destruction continue to exist in some form. It makes little sense to describe people who have been annihilated as being separate from the presence of God.”[191] Peterson adds to this, “Unbelievers will be excluded from the gracious presence of the Lord. This cannot be annihilation, for their separation presupposes their existence.”[192]

An interpreter like F.F. Bruce, who largely chose to have an agnostic position on the nature and duration of eternal punishment, was forced to acknowledge, “the ‘eternal destruction’ consists in exclusion from the presence of”[193] the Lord.

Annihilationists would do well to read 2 Thessalonians 1:9 a bit more closely, as it does not support their position. Eternal destruction or ruin is defined in terms of everlasting separation from the Creator. Advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment are right to conclude that exclusion from His presence—described as “destruction”—presupposes some kind of ongoing existence, albeit a rather negative existence.

2 Thessalonians 2:3

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…”

The antimessiah/antichrist is labeled by the Apostle Paul to be ho huios tēs apōleias, commonly rendered as “the son of destruction,” although in the KJV/NKJV as “the son of perdition.” Annihilationists take 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to naturally communicate that this agent of Satan will meet an extinction at the return of the Messiah. The Thayer lexicon, however, considers the usage of apōleia here to communicate “a man doomed to eternal misery.”[194]

So what actually happens to the antimessiah/antichrist? Further on in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul says, “the Lord will slay [him] with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.” The NRSV actually renders this verse with, “the Lord Jesus will destroy [him] with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.” Is the antimessiah/antichrist really to be annihilated from existence? At least one major English version appears to say so.

The NASU offers a rather theologically neutral rendering of 2 Thessalonians 2:8. The first verb of interest, translated as “slay,” is anaireō, often meaning “to get rid of by execution, do away with, destroy” (BDAG),[195] but more generally “to remove or take away, take away” (BDAG).[196] The second verb of interest, translated as “bring to an end” (NASU) or “bring to nought” (LITV) is katargeō, generally meaning “to cause someth. to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless” (BDAG).[197] It is surely within the realm of lexical possibilities to translate 2 Thessalonians 2:8 with, “the Lord will remove [him] with the breath of His mouth and render [him] powerless by the appearance of His coming.” In view of Revelation 20:10 and how “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” the beast or antimessiah has not been annihilated from existence at the point when the Devil himself is cast into the Lake of Fire (discussed further).

So what is 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8 really telling us? It speaks of the ultimate defeat of the antimessiah/antichrist at the Second Coming. Charles A. Wanamaker directs us, “The verb [katargēsei] (‘he will bring to an end’) is parallel to [anelei] and is intended to emphasize the destruction of the rebel and in particular the breaking of his power by the Lord…The rebel who arrogates for himself the claim to be divine (v. 4) will be overthrown at the unexpected appearance of Christ’s public and powerful manifestation.”[198]

Annihilationists’ attention is probably misplaced in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8. These verses speak of the downfall of the antimessiah/antichrist and his regime at the return of the Lord. While the beast and his system will be overthrown and rendered inoperative, we have good cause because of other passages to not think that he will suffer extinction.

Hebrews 9:27

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

Hebrews 9:27 is generally taken as a reference to how no human being gets a second chance of hearing the good news after Earthly life. There is Earthly life, and then there is judgment. While the righteous will get to experience a positive judgment and an evaluation of their good works from the Lord, the unrighteous will experience a negative judgment and be issued punishment for their sins.

What Hebrews 9:27 informs us about is that there is only a single time (Grk. hapax) that people get to physically die. This would stand against any kind of annihilation for the condemned, where the wicked will be resurrected to face the judgment of Yeshua, to only be snuffed out of existence. In the annihilationist’s schema, condemned people would physically die twice. Hebrews 9:27 says that human beings are only allowed one time to die physically, and with this we should view the “second death” (Revelation 21:8) to be everlasting separation from God.

Hebrews 10:26-27, 39

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES [Isaiah 26:11]…But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”

The author of Hebrews is desperately trying to dissuade much of his audience from turning away from faith in Yeshua the Messiah. He knows that the fall of the Second Temple is soon to occur (cf. Hebrews 8:13; 9:8), and with it a safety net will be removed in the minds of many Jewish Believers. Will they be able to fully rely on the Messiah’s sacrifice for their sins, without any animal sacrifices going on in Jerusalem any more? The magnanimity of Yeshua’s offering of Himself for human transgression is quite intense (Hebrews 9:28).

Hebrews 10:26-27 are obviously intended to be rhetorical words, keeping Hebrews’ audience on a straight and narrow path of godly behavior. Sin is to be something removed from their lives. While sin in general is surely to be gone, the specific crime that Hebrews’ author has in view is a denial of the sufficiency of Yeshua’s atonement (Hebrews 10:29). Those, who deny the Messiah, will be subject to the penalties specified in Isaiah 26:11. As we have previously discussed in our analysis of Isaiah 26:11-21, such persons—rather than being regarded among the company of God’s chosen—may instead be regarded as among those previous pagan masters of Ancient Israel (Isaiah 26:13) like the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Is the penalty to be enacted upon the wicked enemies of the God of Israel an annihilation from existence? Hebrews 10:39 does say, “we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” The clause eis apōleian elsewhere appears as “unto perdition” (KJV/NKJV) or “are lost” (NEB/NRSV), which could also be “to ruin” (my translation). The ambiguities present with the noun apōleia are key to note here, because of what the author of Hebrews has just told his readers:

“Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:28-29).

Those who commit capital crimes as specified in the Torah receive the capital punishment of the death penalty. According to Hebrews 10:28-29, those who deny the Messiah and commit apostasy will suffer an even worse penalty than capital punishment, as they have committed the most serious of crimes by denying the sufficiency of His once-for-all sacrifice for sins. In the annihilationist view of eternal punishment, there is no worse penalty for condemned sinners than a permanent death, viewed as extinction. In models of an ongoing, never-ending eternal punishment, there are worse and more severe penalties than physical death and/or being issued a personal obliteration into nothingness.

1 Peter 3:18-20

“For Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

There are a variety of proposals surrounding a correct meaning of 1 Peter 3:18-20, specifically as they regard what ekēruxen, “made proclamation” (NASU), means. In our previous discussion on 1 Peter 3:18-20,[199] it does seem best to view the datives sarki and pneumati as instrumental: “He was put to death in/by the flesh, but made alive in/by the spirit.”[200] Via the power of the Spirit, which clearly had resurrected Messiah Yeshua, the Lord was able to speak forth a word of His vindication to a group of spirits that were judged at a point in human history, when our Creator had to eliminate all people from Planet Earth save Noah and his family. This most likely took place when Yeshua the Messiah had died and descended to Sheol/Hades (Acts 2:27; Romans 10:6-8), later to open up Heaven for the righteous at His ascension (cf. Ephesians 4:8-10). Whatever evil or heinous crimes against the Lord God were committed by the generation of Noah—a sure epitome of great corruption, rebellion, and defiance against Him—the sacrificed Messiah Yeshua could certainly declare were defeated by His work. 1 Peter 3:18-20 draws our attention to how significant Yeshua’s atoning work actually is, and how great a victory those who believe in Him truly have.

We should not at all think that a declaration of victory to such imprisoned spirits, as liberals commonly view this passage, allows for a post-mortem chance of redemption. But what we should rightfully detect here regarding phulakē pneumasin or “the imprisoned spirits” (CJB/TNIV), is that there is an intermediate penal condition or an intermediate Hell, to be experienced by the wicked before their final sentencing. While such a Hell is popularly associated as a place of fire and smoke and heat, 1 Peter 3:18-20 associates the intermediate Hell more as a place of detention and confinement.

2 Peter 2:1-3, 6

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…[A]nd if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter….”

That unrighteous rebels opposed to God will experience a significant punishment is something easily seen by the tenor of 2 Peter 2:1-3, 6. The Apostle Peter testifies how there will be false teachers who arise, who will introduce hairesis apōleias to the faith community. In 2 Peter 2:1, it is clear that the false teachings are “dangerous heresies” (Phillips New Testament) or “damnable heresies” (KJV), as they will utterly ruin those who accept them. This will cause tachinēn apōleian, meaning that “it will not be long before they bring on themselves their own downfall” (Phillips New Testament). Given the ambiguities regarding apōleia, “destruction” in 2 Peter 2:1, at least, can involve spiritual and ethical ruin, and the assurance of judgment for the unrepentant. As the Apostle further testifies, “their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:3). Annihilationists and advocates of an ongoing, eternal punishment alike, know that false prophets and false teachers can bring nothing but ruin to the people of God if not stopped.

Annihilationists commonly declare a support for their view, in the ensuing statements which follow from 2 Peter 2:1-3. Of particular interest is the attestation, “He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter” (2 Peter 2:6). The penalties due to fall on the condemned are compared to the great judgment that the Lord issued upon Sodom and Gomorrah. In other versions we see “he condemned them to extinction” (RSV/NRSV/ESV), which could be used to support annihilationism. Other versions, though, have “condemned them to ruin” (HCSB), “condemned them with an overthrow” (KJV), and “sentenced them to devastation” (Moffat New Testament).

Unlike 2 Peter 2:1-3 preceding, there is no usage of apōleia for “destruction” witnessed in 2 Peter 2:6. Of interest to readers is tephōsas [katastrophē]. The verb tephroō means “cover with or reduce to ashes” (BDAG),[201] with the noun katastrophē involving an “overthrow, destruction: of cities” (Thayer).[202] 2 Peter 2:6 could be rendered with “covered with ashes {in} catastrophe.” That the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah to Divine judgment is important for the instruction of subsequent generations, is attested by the First Century Jewish teacher Philo:

“Therefore on this occasion, as the holy scriptures tell us, thunderbolts fell from heaven, and burnt up those wicked men and their cities; and even to this day there are seen in Syria monuments of the unprecedented destruction that fell upon them” (Life of Moses 2.56).[203]

The real difficulty with 2 Peter 2:1-3, 6 does not lie in evaluating the significance of the judgment; that the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is something severe is something that those of all sides on the eternal punishment debate are agreed upon.

Are the condemned to be utterly reduced to ashes? Is the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah an exact depiction of what will befall the unrighteous? Much comes down to how we choose to view hupodeigma or “example.” BDAG defines it as “an indication of someth. that appears at a subsequent time, outline, sketch, symbol,”[204] with LS having “a token, mark.”[205] It should be abundantly clear to any Bible reader that the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is something terrestrial (Genesis 19:12-29), making the fires and burning subject to various Earthly, physical laws of time and matter.

While an example to surely be considered, hupodeigma should at least cause the annihilationist to pause and not rely too much on what 2 Peter 2:6 says. At best, the example of Sodom and Gomorrah is “a representative copy or likeness of what is original and genuine” (Friberg Lexicon; cf. Hebrews 8:5).[206] The catastrophe unleashed upon Sodom and Gomorrah does not include the total array of wrath that the Creator will see unleashed upon unrepentant sinners.

2 Peter 2:9-12

“…[T]the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed.”

The purpose of the wider cotext of 2 Peter ch. 2 is to not only encourage the righteous behavior and perseverance of the audience, but to assure them that wicked people will be punished for their sins and rebellion against the Lord. The Apostle Peter testifies, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). What is implied by the statement, eis hēmeran kriseōs kolazomenous tērein? YLT offers the more word-for-word rendering: “to a day of judgment, being punished, to keep.”

The two verbs of interest in 2 Peter 2:9 are kolazomenous tērein. Kolazomenous is a present passive participle, and tērein is a present active infinitive. While a future day of judgment is definitely in view for the ungodly, it remains true that the Lord is keeping or holding them in punishment in the interim. Morey concludes how “Peter is grammatically picturing the wicked as being guarded like prisoners in a jail until the day of final judgment.”[207] Peterson further states, “Although the Bible says more about the intermediate state of the righteous than that of the wicked, it implies the latter as well….[A] passage that suggests that the conscious suffering of the wicked in the intermediate state is 2 Peter 2:9.”[208]

2 Peter 2:9ff, though, is obviously not only concerned about a current confinement of the condemned in an intermediate Hell, but an eventual final sentencing.[209] 2 Peter 2:10-12 is frequently offered by annihilationists (even annihilationists who may affirm a conscious intermediate state), as supporting an eventual extinction of the condemned.

The severity of final sentencing is detailed by Peter to be “especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings” (2 Peter 2:10, NIV). These people do not hesitate to slander angels (2 Peter 2:11). A straightforward English reading of 2 Peter 2:12 might seem to imply an annihilation of the unrighteous, no different than how various wild animals have to be put down:

“But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed” (NASU).

The difficulty with 2 Peter 2:12 is seen in how two unique terms are typically rendered along “destroy” lines. The noun phthora means a “breakdown of organic matter, dissolution, deterioration, corruption, in the world of nature” or a “ruination of a pers. through an immoral act” (BDAG),[210] and the related verb phtheirō can mean either, “to cause harm to in a physical manner or in outward circumstances, destroy, ruin, corrupt, spoil” (BDAG)[211] or “to cause deterioration of the inner life, ruin, corrupt” (BDAG).[212] These terms have both physical and ethical applications, with some form of “corruption” in view. Ben Witherington III informs us how these terms can be used “about animals designed to be killed and used as food.”[213] Because it is obvious that God as the Eternal Judge does not intend to “eat” the unrighteous condemned—as beasts caught, skinned, butchered, and succulently prepared—it is appropriate that we conclude that some figurative language is intended by Peter. The sinners highlighted (2 Peter 2:13-22) are to be compared to out-of-control animals with no good sense. Their sinful behavior is hard-wired into their psyche, and they will be utterly ruined by it.

The clause of interest in 2 Peter 2:12 that concerns the destiny of these condemned is en tē phthora autōn kai phtharēsontai. The KJV/NKJV actually translates this with, “and shall/will utterly perish in their own corruption.” Witherington indicates the difficulty with rendering v. 12c, and how “It may mean ‘in their decadence they will also decay,’ or ‘in their destruction they will also be destroyed’ or even ‘suffering hurt for the hurt they inflicted.’ The obvious Greek wordplay here is hard to render into good English.”[214] That these ungodly are to ultimately be treated with a low level of respect—as though they are just wild beasts to be taken, killed, and eaten—is difficult to avoid. But does this imply annihilation or an ultimate dishonor—in that these human beings originally made in God’s image and likeness, are to be treated as not much better than wild animals?

One of the closest linguistic parallels seen to 2 Peter 2:12c in the Septuagint is witnessed in Isaiah 24:3 where the judgment of the Earth is detailed: “The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the LORD has spoken this word.” The Hebrew hiboq tiboq ha’eretz was translated as phthora phtharēsetai hē gē, “The earth shall be ruined with ruin” (NETS). The verb bqq, appearing twice in the Nifal stem, means “be laid waste (land)” (CHALOT).[215] What is seen in Isaiah 24:1 is not an annihilation or an extinction of Earth’s inhabitants, but instead an utter defeat and scattering of them: “Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters[216] its inhabitants.” A similar destiny surely awaits the condemned, as they are removed from God’s presence—something that both annihilationists and advocates of a never-ending punishment agree upon.

2 Peter 2:9-12 affirms that the unrighteous condemned are presently being held in punishment, awaiting final condemnation. Such condemned persons may be likened unto brute animals that have been captured only to be put down, but it is clear that they are not to be butchered and eaten by God as some kind of cosmic hunter. Instead, they will suffer great corruption, loss, waste, and humiliation as a result of their own base corruption. 2 Peter 2:17 further says, “These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.” Reading 2 Peter 2:9-12, in concert with other passages describing punishment issued upon the unrighteous, is certainly required for a more definite conclusion to be made.[217]

Jude 7

“[J]ust as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

Jude 7 is a frequently-quoted passage offered by annihilationists in support of their view. Since Jude attests that the two sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah engaged in gross sexual immorality, they are to “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (RSV). The fires of Sodom and Gomorrah presumably went cold many centuries before Jude communicated this, and so it is concluded that whatever eternal fire is said to consume the wicked will likewise eventually go out.

Those of all sides in the eternal punishment debate should rightly recognize how deigma regards the “example” of Sodom and Gomorrah being an “indicator, proof” (BDAG)[218] of the surety of condemnation to be meted upon the wicked. If God can rain down His judgment upon these two Earthly cities, then it can be assured that a final sentencing of the condemned will come in the future. This is why the NIV renders Jude 7 with, “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” But is the condemnation upon the wicked intended to be an annihilation from existence?

It has been recognized by a variety of examiners how in the First Century Jewish world, it was believed that the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah had not actually been extinguished. Philo testified, “dusky flame…still is sent up from the ground as of a fire smoldering beneath” (Life of Moses 2.56).[219] Richard J. Bauckham informs us, “Jude means that the still burning site of the cities is a warning picture of the eternal fires of hell.”[220] So, if an Earth-bound fire started many centuries before Jude is still “burning” to some degree, concluding that Jude 7 teaches total annihilation might be a little hasty.

More important, though, is how the Greek puros aiōniou dikēn, “fire eternal punishment,” lacks the definite article. The RSV/NRSV/ESV are all right to render it with “a punishment of eternal fire,” as the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is an Earth-bound example of the greater penalties to be meted upon the condemned of all ages.

There is a problem with annihilationists appealing to Jude 7 as teaching an obliteration from existence. If all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah have already experienced “eternal fire,” meaning that they have been annihilated, does this not to some degree nullify futuristic prophecies foretelling of a second resurrection and final sentencing before the Creator? If those of Sodom and Gomorrah have already experienced “eternal fire,” would they need to go through the final sentencing process with the other unrighteous from human history? If Jude 7 is pushed too far, then as Peterson says, “it proves more than annihilationists want to prove—that the inhabitants of those cities were destroyed at death, never to exist again. That, however, is not the teaching of evangelical annihilationism, which holds that the wicked dead will be resurrected to face terrible judgment before their extinction.”[221]

A more appropriate view of Jude 7 takes the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah to serve as a definite proof or indicator of the assurance of judgment upon the unrighteous. Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “a punishment of eternal fire” (RSV/NRSV/ESV), but such a punishment was clearly terrestrial, something to be contrasted to a wide degree with the punishment of eternal fire issued upon the unredeemed in another dimension with different laws of time-space and matter (cf. Revelation 20:11).

Further on in Jude 10, we see an admonition issued against sinners: “these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.” Here, just as in 2 Peter 2:12, we see the verb phtheirō employed. A personal corruption, “in those/these things they corrupt themselves” (KJV/NKJV), is what is in view in Jude 10. The ultimate destiny of sinners is seen in how “the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13) for them. An advocate of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment, like Crockett, directs us, “Did the New Testament writers intend their words to be taken literally? Certainly, Jude did not.”[222] In Jude 7 we see an allusion made to fire, but in Jude 13 a reference made to ho zophos tou skotous, “the blackness of darkness” (HCSB).

Revelation 14:10

“[H]e also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

Anyone who is caught receiving the mark of the beast (Grk. charagma) is going to suffer a most extreme penalty indeed. It is not just enough for one to be given this mark, as there are likely to at least be some who have it forced upon them during the Tribulation period against their will or without their knowledge. Revelation 14:9 informs us, “If anyone worships[223] the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,” then what follows will be devastating consequences. Presumably, active worship of the beast as well as an acceptance of his branding[224] must go together. Such a mark of the beast will be a physical sign of one’s total rebellion against and rejection of the True Creator:

“[H]e, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10, NIV).

The Greek verb rendered with “torment” is basanizō, which in a classical context meant, “to rub gold upon the touch-stone,” by extension “hence, to try the genuineness of a thing, to put to the test, make proof of” (LS).[225] Originally used as a term to test the authenticity of metals, it became quickly associated with torment in general.[226] BDAG offers the two principal definitions: “to subject to punitive judicial procedure, torture” or “to subject to severe distress, torment, harass.”[227]

The point taken from Revelation 14:9-10 is not difficult to see: those who receive the mark of the beast will experience something most unpleasant. Revelation 14:11 further states, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever[228]; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” This implies that the torment these specific condemned will receive is something that is eternal and never-ending.

Revelation 14:9-10, and its warning about those who receive the mark of the beast, is commonly invoked to emphasize the severity of eternal punishment. Indeed, Revelation 14:11, and its reference to “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever” (NKJV) or “for timeless ages” (Phillips New Testament), is often presented as evidence against an annihilation or eventual extinction of the unrighteous. Peterson observes, “the perpetually rising smoke bears witness to the continual suffering of the lost,”[229] further concluding, “In fact, if we had only this passage, we would be obligated to teach the traditional doctrine of hell on the authority of the Word of God.”[230]

What few readers are likely aware of is how a wide variety of conservative theologians and commentators, who have viewed Revelation 14:9-11, have largely looked at the language of eternal punishment to be symbolic. While these teachers have certainly affirmed a never-ending punishment to be meted out upon the lost, they stop short of concluding that the torment issued upon them is some kind of a fire and chemical immersion bath. The descriptions, of fire and brimstone or sulfur, are to largely draw our attention to its severity. The following are some quotations, on Revelation 14:9-11 worth considering, from theologians deliberating on Hell and commentators on the Book of Revelation:

  • Robert A. Peterson: “We need not…insist that there is literal fire in hell.”[231]
  • William V. Crockett: “The book of Revelation has many images and symbols that should not be taken literally, but the intention in this passage is clear. The damned will suffer eternally and consciously.”[232]
  • George Eldon Ladd: “The lake of fire and brimstone is pictured as the final place of punishment of the beast and the false prophet, as well as all whose names are not found written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:10, 15). Such language, like John’s description of the heavenly city, must be taken as symbolical of a fearful and final reality which no man can describe.”[233]
  • Robert H. Mounce: “The torment of those who worship the beast is to be with fire and brimstone…That we are dealing with a rather obvious apocalyptic symbol should not lead us to take it lightly.”[234]
  • Leon Morris: “The effect is torment with burning sulphur. This is, of course, to be taken symbolically, but seriously.”[235]

Many people, who approach the topic of eternal punishment, seeing Revelation 14:9-11 and being a bit turned off to its message, are understandably swayed by the thought that “forever and ever” might be the effect of the punishing rather than the punishment itself, as advocated by annihilationists. The advantage of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment is that it gives a fair hearing to all of the descriptions of condemnation, as it chooses to treat them as images.

At the same time, if viewing descriptions of fire, brimstone, sulfur as only some kind of too-less-than-literal metaphors of severity disturbs you—there is also another way we can fairly affirm a never-ending eternal punishment, and treat these terrible things as more literal. Wherever the condemned are ultimately consigned might not be the proverbial writhing in fire, brimstone, and hot boiling acid that popular culture has communicated. The condemned instead might very well be exiled outside of God’s presence to a deserted place, where they have to witness things like fire, smoke, brimstone, etc., as a part of the scenery. Being forced to endure “fire and brimstone,” might be like having to witness a hurricane, a tornado, a volcanic eruption, or even a nuclear critical mass from a distance—but one close enough where it clearly will have a negative psychological effect. What the Book of Revelation describes, about the destiny of the wicked, is to encourage Believers to never fall away from the faith, making sure that all have partaken of Yeshua’s salvation.

Revelation 19:20

“And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”

Pre-millennialists affirm that immediately following the Second Coming of Yeshua the Messiah, and the Battle of Armageddon (cf. Revelation 19:11-19), that the figures of the beast or antimessiah/antichrist and the false prophet—will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. These two Satanically-empowered human figures, unlike the rest of sinful humanity, really need no final trial before the Creator God. The antimessiah is known for his speaking of perverse blasphemies against the Most High (Revelation 13:5-6), perhaps in terms of declaring himself the only true “anointed one” or “divine figure.”

The beast and the false prophet are said to be thrown “alive” or “living” (YLT; zōntes), compared to the rest of his armies and associates who are just killed (Revelation 19:21). The beast and false prophet are the first two to experience eternal punishment, something that annihilationists and advocates of a never-ending condemnation can agree upon. Annihilationists might take the reference to them being “alive,” though, as an indication of immediate extinction from existence. This needs to be tempered, though, by what we see later in Revelation 19:20, when Satan himself is finally punished after the Millennium:

“And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Here, the Devil, the beast or antimessiah/antichrist, and the false prophet will all be punished together. Basanisthēsontai is a future passive indicative, third person plural verb: “they will be tormented.” By the moment that Satan and his fallen host experience punishment, the beast and the false prophet have already endured a period of a thousand years or so. No annihilation or extinction from existence has been issued upon them.

It is probably worth noting that with Revelation 19:20 in view, a commentator like Witherington, while affirming a never-ending punishment of the condemned, nevertheless takes the descriptions of a Lake of Fire with brimstone or sulfur to be largely literary:

“[T]his image cannot be taken literally, but it should be taken seriously. Hell is viewed as a place of torment, not comfort for the lost. It is a place where one experiences the absence of the presence of God forever, with no remedy. No literal lake of fire could approximate that horror. It appears that John views hell as a place of eternal punishment, not annihilation.”[236]

 

Because the Book of Revelation largely depicts the final state of things—for both the righteous and the unrighteous—the following passages we will examine (Revelation 20:7-10, 14-15; 22:14-15) undeniably have a significant amount of influence in the debate over eternal punishment. Much of what we have discussed thusfar from the Tanach and Apostolic Scriptures, which will surely affirm a final judgment to be issued upon the condemned—but may be vague or unclear about some of the specific details—should be widely clarified by these descriptions of what is commonly called “Hell.”

Revelation 20:7-10, 14-15

“When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever…Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

While a significant amount of attention is understandably given by Bible prophecy readers to the return of the Messiah, and His defeat of the antimessiah/antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon—there is going to be one final battle left afterwards. The Devil, who was previously bound at the beginning of the Millennium, is released at the end of the Millennium in order to stir up humanity for one final time (Revelation 20:2-3). The post-millennial battle that is conjured against Jerusalem and against the Messiah is very short, with the rebels quickly defeated (Revelation 20:7-9).

Following this, Satan himself is cast into the Lake of Fire, just as the beast and false prophet had a thousand years earlier. All together, it is said that they “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10), eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn, which hardly equates to some kind of annihilation from existence. Satan, being the Adversary of the Creator God and His righteous ones from the very beginning, needs no trial or conviction, as he has consistently stood totally condemned. It is presumably also at this moment, when “the time” (Matthew 8:29) noted by the demons has also arrived, with the host of fallen angels now finally cast into torment (Matthew 25:41).

Following the condemnation of Satan comes the final sentencing of all of the unrighteous. As stated earlier in this analysis, Revelation 20:11 gives us an important clue regarding the location of where this will occur: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” Mounce is of the impression that this is likely “the dissolution of the universe as we know it in preparation for the new heaven and new earth which will shortly appear (21:1).”[237] It is worthwhile for us to quote Ross again, who concludes in his book Beyond the Cosmos,

“The lake of fire and the new creation both survive God’s ‘rolling up’ the entire physical universe and replacing it with something entirely new, including new (to us) dimensions or realms and new physical and spiritual characteristics…When the universe’s matter, energy, and space-time dimensions no longer exist, the new creation and the lake of fire do exist. This information indicates that hell occupies a different dimensional realm from the one familiar to us.”[238]

The realm to which the condemned will ultimately be consigned, known by the designation of “the Lake of Fire,” will have different laws of time-space and matter widely unknown to this one.

The unrighteous condemned all must stand before the Judge, Yeshua the Messiah. The Apostle John records, “books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12). The unrighteous are interestingly described as “the dead,” even though they have apparently just been resurrected from the dead in the second resurrection (Revelation 20:5-6). This should be a good indicator how “death” has multiple dimensions in the Scriptures, far from just being physically alive with one’s heart beating and brain functioning.

The resurrection of the condemned will be something which will occur involving those who were given a burial at sea, who were a part of “death” or the grave, and the disembodied consciousnesses present in Sheol/Hades or the netherworld, the intermediate Hell (Revelation 20:13). None of these people have just died in their sins and offenses against God, to be later forgotten by Him. Milne’s observations cannot be overlooked, in terms of the all-encompassing judgment to befall the wicked:

“By the very nature of this judgment, no-one can be absented from it. ‘The sea’, ‘death’ and ‘Hades’ are specifically noted as sources from which the dead are assembled (v. 13). Cumulatively, these three represent locations where no human trace is left behind, where it might be thought that people have simply ‘gone’ into oblivion and hence face no ultimate accounting for their lives and deeds.”[239]

The small and the great all have to stand before the Great White Throne. Whether they lived wasteful lives on Earth, or if they were the rich and powerful on Earth, they all must give an accounting before the Lord. While it is sometimes thought that the unrighteous condemned are all given the same exact punishment, Revelation 20:12 and 13 both say that they are judged “according to their works” (KJV), kata ta erga autōn. Their deeds or actions committed, play a direct role in the severity of their punishment. Those who committed a much more severe and dastardly level of sin—the dictators, tyrants, and conquerors—will surely receive a much higher level of punishment than garden variety sinners. One can easily picture a madman like Adolf Hitler placed beside a jewel thief who burgled in the dark of night, and while both sinners deserve the final sentencing coming to them—the former will certainly receive a higher degree of punishing than the latter.

After the unrighteous condemned are sentenced by the Eternal Judge, Revelation 20:14-15 gives us a most sobering, unpleasant word:

“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Annihilationists immediately pounce on how the final condemnation of the wicked is described as “the second death,” ho thanatos ho deuteros. But how is this to be properly reconciled with the assertion of Hebrews 9:27: “it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (NRSV)? Is the second death a complete termination from existence? The text has given us a clear answer: “the second death, the lake of fire.” The Lake of Fire was originally intended for Satan and his host (Matthew 25:41), who will be given a never-ending punishment forever. Similarly, the unrighteous condemned will be given a never-ending punishment forever.

One may legitimately view “the second death” as something to be contrasted to a “first death.” Physical death is experienced by all people prior to the resurrection; “the second death” is the final condemnation upon the wicked, who are consigned to the Lake of Fire, which the redeemed people of God do not have to experience (cf. Revelation 2:11; 20:6).

The second death is defined to be hē limnē tou puros, the Lake of Fire being a location of punishment that the unrighteous must be consigned to. Is this a place for the condemned to be annihilated from existence, or is it a place of miserable separation from the Creator God? In the view of G.S. Shogren, “While the author of Revelation joins the rest of the canonical writers in calling the fate of the wicked ‘death,’ death in that case is defined not as extinction but as existence in the inferno.”[240]

We can be reminded of the many abuses seen among Bible readers and interpreters who believe in a never-ending punishment of the wicked, who have over-exaggerated Revelation 21:10, 14-15 with the unrighteous being pummeled for eternity by writhing flames, made to breathe poisonous sulfuric gas, and having to eat hot coals and drink molten lead. This somewhat problematic version of Hell has helped annihilationism gain many adherents. But this is not what is intended at all by what we read here. Peterson directs readers’ attention to how, “If eternal life entails forever knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:3), its antithesis, the second death, involves being deprived of God’s fellowship for all eternity.”[241] In his commentary on the Book of Revelation, and in view of Revelation ch. 21, G.R. Beasley-Murray makes the poignant observation about the Lake of Fire,

“John’s use of the symbol shows that he views it as the alternative to the city of God, the new Jerusalem (see 21:7f). Its significance for humanity thus begins with the new creation. That it does not have the meaning of annihilation is indicated by 21:10. The lake of fire signifies not extinction in opposition to existence, but torturous existence in the society of evil in opposition to life in the society of God.”[242]

Beasley-Murray’s thoughts point more in the direction of the Lake of Fire being a tortuous psychological existence, than actually having to be showered for eternity in fire and brimstone (even though as stated above for Revelation 14:10, such things might be viewed more as a part of the “scenery” of Hell). The duration of such things is intended to be “forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10), no different than how the Messiah is to reign “forever and ever”[243] (Revelation 11:15). This rules out only the “effect” of eternal punishment lasting indefinitely. Eternal punishment, even with some of its descriptions taken symbolically and/or not pushed too literally, is a conscious existence that will never end for the condemned.

Revelation 22:14-15

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

To the annihilationist, our discussions about eternal punishment should be over: the condemned have been snuffed out of existence in the Lake of Fire. But the Book of Revelation has more to tell us about the final destiny of the condemned. Revelation 21:8 says, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” This is somewhat of a reaffirmation of the Apostle Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Later, in Revelation 22:14-15, we see the Eternal State depicted in terms of the New Jerusalem present, with the redeemed of God as its citizens. Such citizens are permitted to enter into the city. Others, the unredeemed, are not permitted to enter into the city: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15, NIV). In the annihilationist model of eternal punishment, there would presumably be no need to mention this. The unrighteous condemned should by now have been annihilated from existence in the Lake of Fire. But in the depiction of Revelation 22:15, sinners are excluded from entering into the city. Ladd comments,

“[L]ooking back to the holy city, pictures dogs and sorcerers and fornicators as cowering outside the city walls, excluded from the city itself; in the new Jerusalem and the new earth, all evil will have been completely purged from the new creation.”[244]

If the unrighteous condemned were to be annihilated from existence, then why do some of the closing verses of Revelation depict them instead as being excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven? Far from having experienced non-existence, the unrighteous have to instead be a sorry company who are situated far outside of the Realm from which they will be separated and eternally exiled. For many of these condemned people, the agony of being excluded will be heightened, because in Earthly life they made every attempt to oppose the righteous, and the Sovereign One who has banished them away from His presence for all eternity. Ultimately, as Crockett reminds us, “Heaven and hell are real; one a place of immeasurable happiness, the other of profound misery.”[245] When the Book of Revelation closes, condemned sinners exist outside the city.

 

Do the Apostolic Scriptures teach annihilationism? In our examination of many passages detailing either the intermediate and/or eternal condition of the unrighteous, we have definitely challenged the view that a “destruction” of the wicked equates to an obliteration of sinners from existence. That the wicked will experience extreme ruin, loss, and personal devastation and defeat is definite.

In the final description of the wicked in Revelation 20:10, 14-15; 22:14-15, we find support for the main position held by advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment for many centuries: “Hell” is to ultimately be considered eternal exclusion and banishment from God’s Kingdom. It will be a painful, agonizing, and miserable condition to be sure. Whether it will be a literal fire and smoke, or that fire and smoke and worms and darkness are used as images to enhance its severity, does need to be further evaluated.

What will it mean to suffer eternally? Literal or Metaphorical?

While a significant amount of attention over the issue of death, the intermediate state, and the resurrection is necessarily given to the destiny of the redeemed—the unredeemed too will die, experience their own intermediate penalization, and then be resurrected. Daniel 12:2 informs us that there will be those resurrected “to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Revelation 20:5, 6 explains, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed…Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power…” Those who participate in the second resurrection are those who will have to stand trial before Yeshua the Messiah, and be judged according to the level of their deeds or works they committed (Revelation 20:12-14). It is worth being reminded of how all created beings will have to acknowledge Yeshua the Messiah as Lord:

“[A]t the name of Yeshua EVERY KNEE WILL BOW [Isaiah 45:23], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

There will be those who obviously acknowledge Yeshua as Lord (YHWH), because they have recognized Him as the Messiah of Israel and their Personal Savior. They have recognized Him as the Source of eternal redemption, and have been saved from their sins, washed clean by His atoning sacrifice. There will be others, though, who rejected the Messiah, who rejected His salvation, but will nonetheless be forced to recognize Him as the Supreme Deity. Yeshua Himself says in John 5:29 that there will be “those who committed the evil deeds [brought] to a resurrection of judgment.” Just as the redeemed who participate in the first resurrection will be able to spend eternity in a fully embodied, immortal state—what is to be said about the unredeemed who are similarly given immortal bodies at the second resurrection?

Those, who advocate a traditionalist model of eternal punishment, are of the position that the resurrection of the condemned, the second resurrection, gives the unrighteous the nature or form of being that is needed to experience a never-ending form of punishment. While the righteous are to experience everlasting life, fellowship, and communion with God—the unrighteous are to experience an everlasting death of exile and banishment from Him.

The annihilationist, however, only views concepts like “life” and “death” in an entirely medical sense. In his typical scenario, the unrighteous die, they fall into unconsciousness, they are resurrected, they face final judgment, and then they suffer individual extinction and nothingness. The annihilationist will argue stridently against any model of eternal punishment as somehow being “eternal life in hell-fire.” But if eventual termination is what is to be anticipated by the unredeemed, though, what would be the actual point of a second resurrection? In the annihilationist’s schema, would it not just be best for the unrighteous to die, decompose into nothingness, and that should be it?

Messianic annihilationists commonly argue that the Torah only permits capital punishment for those who sin against God. Yet, it is often not that recognized how capital punishment is a human-enacted penalty issued upon other humans. Surely, the final sentencing of those who have rejected the Creator God is to be more severe than a terrestrial-based capital punishment (cf. Hebrews 10:28-29).

There is no question that almost all annihilationists, in expressing their position, have to attack the most hard-pressed, (overly-)literal view of eternal punishment as possible, in order to make their case. They protest the Hell model of torture in writhing flames—with men, women, and children all breathing in toxic fumes, being sprayed with poisonous acid, and having to eat hot coals and drink molten lead. Yet, we have certainly observed throughout this analysis that there are many interpreters and theologians, holding to a never-ending eternal punishment for the condemned, who would actually take issue with this interpretation of Hell.

The growth of annihilationism in evangelical Christian circles, at least, has been directly caused by a widescale failure of preachers and teachers, to adequately explain and address all aspects of how the condemnation of the unrighteous is presented to us in the Bible. There are populist views of eternal punishment that need to be put off to the side—the views that annihilationists are able to exaggerate for themselves, and use emotional pleas to get people to reject. The Bible does not exclusively portray eternal punishment in terms of fire and smoke, but also in terms of darkness and a removal from God’s presence. While the condemned will surely suffer on some demonstrable level, how much of the punishment actually occurs in terms of what we might consider physical torment can be disputed.

The word of Revelation 20:12-13 is that the unrighteous will be judged “according to their deeds,” indicating that the judgment that the Lord will issue upon them will surely fit their crimes. Not all condemned sinners receive the same degree of punishment, as some will receive less, and some will receive more, than others. Advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment are right to conclude that the unrighteous will receive various levels of torment—even if it is ultimately a psychological recognition on behalf of a sinner that he or she quantitatively rejected the Creator, and is to face the consequences of outstanding exclusion from His Kingdom.

What kind of a judgment meted out upon the unrighteous can actually take place, if they are to be snuffed out of existence? Whether one has robbed a candy store and taken only a few dollars in sweets, or has overseen a ponzi scheme and taken away billions of dollars in collective savings—annihilation is the same penalty for everyone who commits robbery. The male who rapes and murders only a single female, receives the same penalty as the brutal dictator who sends thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to work and die in labor camps. The Baker Encylopedia of Christian Apologetics points out how,

“Annihilation would not be a punishment but a release from all punishment. Job can suffer something worse than annihilation in this life. The punishment of evil men in the afterlife would have to be conscious. If not, then God is not just, since he would have given less punishment to some wicked than to some righteous people. For not all wicked people suffer as much as some righteous people do in this life.”[246]

Indeed, any interpreter is on good grounds to conclude that the everlasting punishment, that the unrighteous experience, has to be more severe than some of the Earthly suffering experienced by the righteous.

While none of us likes the topic of suffering—whether it is contemplating people burning for all eternity or being separate from God for all eternity—we have made note of those interpreters who have viewed the descriptions of eternal punishment more along the lines of the latter than the former. Why has this been so important? Because annihilationists do not typically respond, or even respect, the metaphorical position on eternal punishment. Most annihilationist literature responds to the literal view of people really burning in a never-ending crematory.[247] If you have never even heard of the metaphorical view on eternal punishment until reading this article, you are not alone. One evangelical pastor, conducting a study at his church on the subject of death and the afterlife, had this to say about it:

“I was surprised to learn in my studies on this subject that the metaphorical view of hell is by far the most popular among evangelicals today, and indeed, has a long and distinguished pedigree.”[248]

If many of today’s evangelical Christians are totally shocked and surprised to ever hear of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment—which focuses the attention of Believers upon descriptions of everlasting banishment and exile from God—how many of today’s Messianics have never heard of it?

From my family’s own Protestant background, John Wesley commented on Revelation 20:3, “How far these expressions are to be taken literally, how far figuratively, who can tell?”[249] Given the tenor of his Sermon #73, “Of Hell,” there is no question that he believed eternal punishment was an everlasting condition of total loss, saying,

“All the pleasures of the imagination are at an end. There is no grandeur in the infernal regions; there is nothing beautiful in those dark abodes; no light but that of livid flames. And nothing new, but one unvaried scene of horror upon horror! There is no music but that of groans and shrieks; of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; of curses and blasphemies against God, or cutting reproaches of one another. Nor is there anything to gratify the sense of honour: No; they are the heirs of shame and everlasting contempt.”[250]

Many of the other mainline Protestant traditions can find similar statements made by their founders, in terms of Hell being an awful place of suffering, with sinners removed from the care and concern of God. While there are figures who held to a much more literal Hell than a metaphorical one, the metaphorical view of everlasting exile has had a noticeable impact on theologians’ thoughts over the past few centuries.

But why has the metaphorical view of Hell been an option? Is it because some interpreters do not like the idea of the condemned having to suffer in literal fire and brimstone? Is it somehow a position of compromise between annihilationism and having to “burn” or “fry”—taking “the Hell out of Hell”? Actually, we find that the metaphorical view of eternal punishment is most concerned with being fair to all of the descriptions of Hell, carefully balancing them together. Noting the Lake of Fire in Revelation 20:10, and the description of darkness in Matthew 25:30, Milne issues “a reminder that we are dealing here with metaphors,”[251] as fire and darkness are largely contradictory. Considering these ghastly elements to largely be symbols, most theologians today prefer instead to focus on the length of time that eternal punishment actually lasts, with the process of eternal punishment considered secondary. Leon Morris observes,

“It must be borne in mind that Scripture uses symbolic terms of necessity to refer to realities beyond the grave. We must not press statements about ‘fire,’ ‘death,’ and the like. But neither must we yield to a sentimental demand that they be watered down. That there is a dread reality Scripture leaves us in no doubt.”[252]

Those who adhere to a metaphorical view of eternal punishment, definitely consider it as taking place and being ongoing for eternity. Descriptions like fire, smoke, brimstone, and darkness are to be principally taken as literary images of its severity. Too many might be overly influenced thinking of Divine punishment as being locked up in a castle dungeon from the Middle Ages, whereas what eternal punishment really involves is the unredeemed losing their right to rule beside God as His viceroy (Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:5-8). Crockett, as a proponent of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment, summarizes some of the descriptions that are seen in the Bible:

“Fire and darkness, of course, are not the only images we have of hell in the New Testament. The wicked are said to weep and gnash their teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:15; 25:30; Luke 13:28), their worm never dies (Mark 9:48), and they are beaten with many blows (Luke 12:47). No one thinks hell will involve actual beatings or is a place where the maggots of the dead achieve immortality. Equally, no one thinks that gnashing teeth is anything other than an image of hell’s grim reality….When we take into account the various images that describe hell and couple them with what seems unequivocally to be metaphorical language used for heaven, we see that God has not given us a complete picture of the afterlife. As always, God communicates to people in ways they can understand.”[253]

The metaphorical view of eternal punishment is definitely a traditional model witnessed throughout a great deal of Christian history. In the debate over whether annihilationism is Biblically valid—it often does not receive the hearing that it surely deserves. Those who move away from holding a position of a never-ending eternal punishment, often move from the literal view directly to annihilationism. They have usually not even heard about the metaphorical view, which focuses the attention of Bible readers upon eternal punishment as everlasting exile. Most of today’s Messianic Believers I have personally encountered have never even heard of the metaphorical view.

For my own self, I am sad to say that I had never even heard of the metaphorical view until I started my post-graduate seminary studies in 2005. Up until that time, I thought that we were only given two choices: a literal eternal fiery torture or an utter annihilation from existence. Believing that annihilationism was a problematic doctrine, I chose the only other option that I thought I had. Like many, I had to deal with the contours of popular preaching, much of which views Hell as an eternal, ongoing crematory. And like many, when I discovered that a metaphorical view of Hell—which focuses largely upon Hell as a condition of everlasting separation from God—has probably been the majority view among theologians since the Reformation, I was understandably surprised!

If we can all concede that some poetic language or literary license is used in Genesis ch. 1 to describe the Creation of the universe, and that there is even some poetic language or prose used in Revelation chs. 21-22 to describe the New Creation—then we should not be surprised to see some symbolic language used to describe the punishment of the condemned. Recognizing that some descriptions have to be held in concert with others, should move an intelligent Bible reader beyond the rhetoric of various fundamentalists who light themselves on fire to prove the literal view, and the annihilationist who whines and complains that the God who would force sinners to burn for eternity is an utter sadist. For as Motyer carefully details, “fire” has various components to it throughout the Scriptures:

“Fire is used in the Bible to symbolize both the holiness of God and the unsatisfied desire of man. In Ezekiel it is the fire of God’s holiness that destroys the doomed city (Ezekiel 10:2); Paul speaks of the ‘burning’ of unfulfilled desire (1 Corinthians 7:9). When the Bible, therefore, speaks of eternal loss as ‘fire’ it is pictorializing a double reality: a conscious realisation both of alienation from God and of burning, personal desires eternally deprived of satisfaction.”[254]

A metaphorical view of Hell, with descriptions of eternal punishment involving some poetic or artistic language, should not disturb us too much. A metaphorical view of sinners having to “burn” or have God’s anger “kindled” against them, sees it in terms more of punishment being “issued,” “dispensed,” or “delivered” upon them—albeit most seriously and severely. If we can concede that the New Jerusalem can only be humanly conceived in terms of it being a “city”—the most comprehensible description of eternity for the redeemed—then we should be able to concede some less-than-literal descriptions present in Scripture regarding Hell.

What advocates, of both the literal and metaphorical views of eternal punishment, are agreed upon, is that the level of punishment for the unrighteous is given to them on an evaluation of their works. Each sinner is punished differently. Annihilationism, however, knows no such degrees. Annihilation or a personal obliteration from existence is the same across the board, whether a sinner is a pickpocket, a serial murderer, a pathological liar, or a perverse sexaholoic.

Advocates of annihilationism are not totally ignorant of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment, and how it attempts to deal fairly with all of the images of the destiny of the unrighteous. But, annihilationists do not typically address the metaphorical position, because if eternal punishment in Scripture is ultimately everlasting exile from God, they cannot easily make their emotional case against it, as they do with the literal view. Still, even when descriptions of eternal punishment are taken more in a symbolic way, one finds that the annihilationist thinks that sinners suffering, in any manner, is something to be considered cruel. Bacchiocchi thinks, “Mental anguish can be as painful as physical pain.”[255] True, but no one said that the metaphorical view was devoid of any kind of torment, agony, or unpleasantness.

Annihilationists believe that a conscious eternity separated from God, in some kind of unpleasant place, is to be entirely unacceptable to the modern mind. Even if eternal punishment, “Hell,” were to be likened unto the cosmic equivalent of a never-ending high school detention, they would still consider it to be cruel and unusual. Any alternative to non-existence, even one that focuses less on the scenery of eternal punishment and more on sinners having to consider their rejection of the Creator, is simply unacceptable to annihilationists.

What are redeemed people to be saved from?

In evaluating the many centuries of Christian theology, even into the modern era, has the subject of eternal punishment—“Hell” in the common vernacular—at all been abused? Absolutely! A portrayal of sinners suffering a wide, creative number of torments in a bath of hot lava, poisonous gases, and acid, has been trumped up too many times so as to scare people into Heaven. The sober reality of eternal punishment for condemned sinners, who reject the Creator God, has not often been presented as a necessary component of what will befall the unrepentant. Because of abuses throughout history regarding “hell-fire and damnation,” annihilationists have been able to make emotional pleas to the extent that Hell portrays God as a sadistic monster, no worse than the Devil.

The following is a brief evaluation of the different models of eternal punishment present in much of today’s theological examination. Included are some of their varied pros and cons:

The Literal View: Traditional Fire and Smoke

PROS: tries to be faithful to how eternal punishment is “eternal,” and does sit within the First Century Jewish options available

CONS: is almost exclusively concerned with descriptions of fire, brimstone/sulfur, and smoke; other descriptions such as darkness or exile can often be overlooked; an eternal process of burning is very easy to be over-exaggerated by both proponents and opponents alike

The Metaphorical View: Physical Images Representative of Everlasting Exile

PROS: forces interpreters to look at all of the different aspects and descriptions of eternal punishment, not just fire and smoke; depicts eternal punishment as misery and endless banishment from God, and does sit within the First Century Jewish options available

CONS: does not define the specifics of eternal punishment as much as some people want; claimed weakness of metaphorical view is that it leaves much undefined, as the judgment is bad, it never ends, but the specifics can only be known after the final sentencing of the wicked

Annihilationism: Obliteration from Existence

PROS: is certainly a viable alternative to universalism, where all are saved in the end (perhaps even including Satan), and it does sit within the First Century Jewish options available

CONS: tends to look at any kind of endless punishment as sadistic; forces definitions of “destroy” beyond their reasonable scope; has a rather static view of concepts such as “life” and “death”; ultimately annihilation into oblivion or non-existence is quantitatively indifferent from atheistic and agnostic views of what occurs after death

One interesting view of eternal punishment, which does deserve a kind of “honorable mention,” rejects the literal, metaphorical, and annihilationist positions. Theologian N.T. Wright, correctly noting how with his view of eternal punishment, “I have now wandered into territory that no one can claim to have mapped,”[256] has proposed what may be called the de-humanizing view. His suggestion is that the unrighteous will lose the image of God impressed upon them, and they will be reduced to something less-than-human for all eternity. Wright’s thought is, “by their own effective choice, beings that were once human but now are not, [will become] creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.”[257]

There may at least be some suggestion seen in Scripture that the unrighteous condemned will lose a great degree of what it means to be human (Psalm 49:14; 2 Peter 2:12). Wright’s de-humanizing proposition has the merit of the condemned truly suffering for eternity, and bringing out the fact that in losing the image of God, or at least some degree of it, they forfeit the right to rule over the New Creation beside Him. The weakness of the de-humanizing view is that it might be based in a theistic evolutionary assumption that at one point, man’s predecessors were sub-human, ape-like creatures. In eternity, then, the condemned might get to be de-humanized by being de-evolved, only with some vague and obscure memory of what they were like previously.

The debate over eternal punishment will continue to be largely between the positions of a conscious, never-ending condemnation versus annihilation from existence.

While this analysis has tried to present a wider window of interpretations, such as presenting the similarities and differences between the literal and metaphorical views of eternal punishment—does annihilationism actually work as a sustainable punishment? If all sinners are to be obliterated from existence, does this not mean that Adolf Hitler will not have to reflect for all eternity on what he did in trying to conquer Europe and commit genocide against the Jewish people? Will Joseph Stalin get away with all the murder that he committed, much of it against his own Soviet people? It cannot be denied that both of these evil men changed the world, but not at all for the better: one causing World War II, and the other being a major cause of the Cold War. The pain and suffering that they—and many others like them—inflicted onto others, cannot go unanswered. And while the vast majority of sinners throughout human history would never have committed the same degree of crimes as these two, that sinners are to be judged “according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12-13), means that the level of punishment issued is not uniform. Annihilationism, in contrast, is a uniform punishment.

An ongoing, never-ending eternal punishment—whether it be literal or metaphorical—is not something that anyone would, or should, ever wish for. Most theologians and interpreters who address this topic, and who affirm a never-ending Hell for the wicked, would personally prefer that the Bible speak of something far less severe. Most would prefer a universal salvation of all beings created, with any kind of judgment to be issued being a forfeiture of various rewards. Yet, as Sinclair B. Ferguson properly observes,

“Hell is at the end of the day the darkness outside; dense like a black hole, it is the place of cosmic waste. Who can contemplate this for long? Who, indeed, is sufficient for these things? The question is surely rhetorical. None of us is sufficient. But our sufficiency is to be found in Christ, the Savior, the perfect Man, the Redeemer, the Judge. We must constantly remind ourselves that it is the Savior who spoke clearly of the dark side of eternity. To be faithful to him, so must we.”[258]

The annihilationist claims that any model of a never-ending punishment meted on the wicked is not only cruel, but that it is an offense to non-Believers. The annihilationist will commonly say that any doctrine of everlasting Hell is something that has caused more to reject the good news of Yeshua (Jesus) than any other teaching derived from Scripture. Yet, if the good news is presented properly from the Bible, such good news is intended to be an offense (cf. 1 Peter 2:8). The fact that people are born sinners, and naturally exist in a condition of separation from their Creator, without some form of rectification, is offensive. The fact that such sinners will be punished if resolution is not enacted, within their lives, is offensive. While the joys of an eternity of communion and fellowship with the Creator will welcome the redeemed, what such redeemed persons are saved from must be adequate enough for salvation to be a highly valued gift that they require.

There are surely other things which may be considered “deterrents” to the gospel being accepted by mass numbers of people: God expects us to obey Him. God expects us to control our behavior. God expects us to love one another according to His guidelines of who can and cannot be married. God expects us to control ourselves sexually.

Speaking for my own self as a teacher, if I held to a Calvinistic position of God having predestined some people for salvation, and had predestined others to damnation, I probably would think that any kind of eternal punishing would be a pretty cruel idea. Why would God actually send people to Hell for all eternity, unless they had some kind of legitimate choice on the matter? If all the redeemed are predestined to be saved, meaning that they cannot make a free will decision themselves, it would be far better to just annihilate the unredeemed—those who are left out and were not similarly chosen—from existence.

An Arminian outlook of the redeemed having to make a free will choice to receive the salvation available in Yeshua the Messiah, actually lends a much, much stronger support for a never-ending model of eternal punishment. If people fail to recognize the Creator God during their Earthly lives, and they willfully reject Him and His ways, then should they not be punished for such a rejection of Him? If people reject God, do they not at least passively accept a condition of being separate from Him? What, at least, happens to the millions of people who die every day—who acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Creator—yet in their final moments curse Him with their dying breath? Would it not be true that, even at the end of their Earthly lives, they have declared their citizenship and allegiance to a place separate from Him and His righteousness?

Ross’ observations in Beyond the Cosmos should be well taken:

“Hell is a place people choose. While the people in hell will despise their torment, they have demonstrated their preference for it over eternal fellowship with God and with all who love the Light. For them, the experience of such fellowship would be far less tolerable than the torment of hell….The lake of fire is a place where people and demons get what they want more than anything else: freedom from the will and rule of God. He yields to the desires of committed rebels by withdrawing forever the influence of His Spirit from their beings.”[259]

If people reject God out of their conscious choice, then they will experience the consequences of such a willful rejection. Only the traditional models of eternal punishment make salvation in Yeshua something that all people must seek, whereas annihilationism makes salvation in Yeshua something that all people should or can seek. In the annihilationist model, though, if salvation in Yeshua is something that is rejected, only non-existence awaits. The destiny of annihilationism—even with a great humiliation to be experienced before the King of Kings—is quantitatively indifferent than what all atheists and agnostics believe about what follows death: total nothingness.

If annihilationism is the ultimate destiny of the unredeemed, would it not be true that a great number of people today would prefer nothingness over an eternity to be experienced with Yeshua? Why not live a life of survival of the fittest, where hedonism reigns and we can all be quasi-Bohemians? Why not live a life of endless sexual affairs, drugs, and ungodly pleasures? Why not exploit the poor and destitute, and inflict suffering upon the weaker in society, so that you can have more money and power? In the annihilationist model of eternal punishment, there is no penalty except non-existence. There really are no consequences for sin, and Darwin may actually be proven correct: human beings are largely just animals who will turn on themselves, preying upon others who are easily taken advantage of.

Is a never-ending, eternal punishment to be experienced by the wicked really the act of a sadistic, mean, and evil God? Christopher W. Morgan argues, “While hell indeed may in some sense rightly be seen as an awful reality, sin is actually the ultimate horror of God’s universe. Hell is merely the punishment. Sin is the crime.”[260] Annihilationism offers no substantial incentive for sinners to truly repent of their offenses against the Creator; only a model of an everlasting condemnation does.

When questions are asked about eternal punishment among today’s Messianic Believers, it is not difficult to detect a particular reason why annihilationism has been embraced by many people. What about the unsaved Jew? An everlasting eternal burning of sinners, as is popularly portrayed, is viewed as being far worse than the crematories of the Nazi death camps. Why would a loving God make Jews suffer for eternity in a condition more horrific than that inflicted by Hitler, especially as many Jews rejected Jesus because of Christian anti-Semitism? Would it not be better for Jews who have rejected the Messiah to just experience non-existence? For that same matter, what about all of the other people who never had an opportunity to hear about Yeshua? Why not have them just experience non-existence as well?

It is probably often not emphasized enough, either in evangelical Christian teaching or Messianic teaching, that only our Eternal God knows the final destiny of any person. There will be people who enter into His Kingdom who many of us would have not even considered as candidates for entry, and there will be various people excluded from His Kingdom who we thought would have obviously been included. The issue of Romans 1:18-20[261] and God’s natural revelation to all human beings in His Creation, should rightly point us to the reality of how there are probably going to be some people—however unlikely—who make their peace with the One True God, by crying out to Him because they have a distinct impression on their conscience that something is wrong because of various deeds they have performed.[262]

Today’s Messianic Believers need to legitimately consider how many Jewish people, or for that same matter backslidden Christian people—cry out to the God of Israel in their final moments of life. How many people, who were raised in the Synagogue or Church, and who never left their belief in God, know that when they reach the end of their Earthly lives that they will have to give an account for their sins? Some of these are people who attend synagogue or church on a fairly regular basis, but whose faith is not too genuine. If truly repentant and desirous of reconciliation before God, does He at all provide them a way? Many of today’s Messianic Jews, no different than Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, have claimed to have Yeshua appear to them (as “Jesus,” no less)—when truly desirous of answers from the Almighty. Does Yeshua actually appear to Jewish people who desperately cry out to God in their final days, knowing that there is a definite answer? For that same matter, what about all of the good, moral people in today’s Church, who desire a definite resolution for all their mistakes in life?

While eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners is truly something quite sober and unpleasant for any of us to consider, I would submit that there will be various people who will narrowly make it into the Kingdom. The way that they finally reconcile themselves to the Creator may be in their final days or hours, and they may not at all be recipients of great rewards other than making it in. But, within the ambiguity of what people go through in their final days and hours, as they reflect upon their mortality and errors, I think that we cannot exclude from our deliberations that many Jews and Christians do finally come to a knowledge of the Savior Yeshua (Jesus)—if they have sincerely and steadfastly called out to God with all of their beings for an answer to their transgressions.

My Own Personal Experience

No matter how hard one tries to stay focused upon the Biblical passages that inform us about eternal punishment, issues of personal ideology and experience will ultimately be those which cause someone to choose between the condemned being annihilated from existence, or eternally punished in a never-ending state of misery and despair. As a Bible teacher myself, I cannot claim that my experience surrounding this issue, and in particular how I came to faith in 1995, has not influenced me in some major way. My personal experience with supernatural forces—both of Light and of Darkness—has definitely caused me to conclude that the condemned are saved from a never-ending eternal punishment, to be rightly viewed as an everlasting banishment or exile from the presence of the Lord.

I was not truly born again until I was fourteen in 1995. I had been raised in a Christian household, that was nominally pursuing some Messianic things, my parents had been lay leaders in the United Methodist Church, I attended a Baptist elementary school, and I was well versed in my Bible. At the age of five, I had prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and asked Jesus into my heart. But as I got older and I reached puberty, I had less and less of a desire to pursue God. This was compounded by my father’s death from cancer in 1992, and me moving from my only home in Northern Kentucky to Dallas, Texas in 1994. I had become a rebellious child and had great disrespect for my parents, notably my new stepfather.

It was not until the Summer of 1995 that my mother finally sat me down and told me that I had some things I needed to get straight with the Lord. She told me that I had been raised better, and that I was not pursuing God, reading my Bible, or that I really cared about my faith. She was right. In the course of our conversation, she told me that when I was a young child I was covered by grace, and it was not until I reached an age of accountability when I could understand my sin nature that I could truly understand why I needed a Savior. She then told me, flat out, that “John, you’re not saved.”

Providentially, the previous week my stepfather and I had attended a father-son week long retreat in Northern California, where there was a strong focus on the Ten Commandments. The Lord had been preparing my heart that week to convict me that I needed to get serious about my faith. Looking back on it now with what I know, I was being convicted from God’s Torah that I was a sinner who was deserving of eternal punishment (cf. Galatians 3:24).

After our little mother-son “talk,” I knew that I had to get myself right with God, and that my mother telling me that I was not saved was absolutely true. I knew that truly confessing and repenting of my sin via the “Sinner’s Prayer” route would not be sufficient if I wanted answers for my pleas. I knew that I was Biblically required to do more, and I was strongly convicted that I should not hide anything from God. I knew that I had to talk to God and just tell Him what I had done wrong in my life, recall the types of sins that I had committed, and truly ask Him to give me a new heart so that I might change and turn to a life of holiness.

What I proceeded to do was follow the list of the Ten Commandments and verbally confess of sins that I had committed. I had made myself first in my life, and had forgotten God. I had used the terms God and Lord as curse words. I had coveted, I had lusted, I had lied, stolen, and cheated. I even had hatred in my heart for my parents. I confessed sins for hours. What I did was much, much more than just “Lord, forgive me of my sins.” It was, “Lord, please forgive me of Sins A, B, C…X, Y, Z…AA, BB, CC…” In recalling these sins, I felt deep regret, sorrow, and I even cried. When this was all over, I felt a physical lifting of my heart, and I truly felt different. I had a spiritual peace and a desire to pray and study my Bible more. I knew I had been saved. I knew I had assurance of that salvation! Since 1995, I look back on all the things the Lord has had me do and I am amazed.[263]

In the course of my confession before God—on my face or prostrated down most of the time—I saw some things that I will never forget. Like many people, I wear glasses, and I did not take them off during my time of confessing my sins. As I confessed before the Lord, I saw a reflection off of the inside of my glasses, but what I saw was not my own human eye. What I saw, instead, was what looked like the pupil of a bird of prey. In that pupil, what I saw reflected was a landscape devastated by some kind of disaster: a marshland with some sparse ruins, a nuclear-type mushroom cloud in the background, and gray-bluish haze everywhere. It was not an ideal scene. The impression that I got was that this was precisely what I was being spared from, as I poured out my heart, my feelings, and my innermost thoughts to my Creator.

So what did I see? Was this an impression of “Hell”? I believe it was. I was definitely saved from knowing that I would be eternally separated from God, my redeemed family, and that it would never end. An eventual annihilation from existence and an obliteration into nothingness, never entered into the picture.

At the same time, this “revelation” if you will, not at all possessing pleasant scenery—was not really being saved from having to swim in lava, or drink molten lead for eternity, as popular views of Hell and the Lake of Fire are widely communicated. What I had the distinct impression of being saved from was simply being alone, for a never-ending period of time, in what was a less-than-ideal place.

On August 8, 1995, I became a redeemed child of the King of Kings, and was shown some things about my then-future which were quite motivational and necessary in getting me to finally cross the line and fully surrender myself to Jesus Christ. (And yes, for the Messianic person reading, I did come to salvation in the name of “Jesus.”) Yet what might be more intriguing about this experience than simply being shown a vision of eternal punishment, is what the eye of the bird of prey represents. As I later explained what I had seen to my mother, she had an instant word of knowledge of what this bird was. This was the raven that appears on the coat of arms for Clan MacKay of Lairg.

When my paternal grandmother died suddenly in 1960, my grandfather, G.K. McKee, took her death as a sign that he needed to return to his family roots. Part of this was returning to the Presbyterian church, and another part of this was doing a great deal of genealogical research into how the McKees came to America from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Within his search, he found the specific line of Clan MacKay that we are descended from. Unlike the broader Clan MacKay, whose coat of arms bears a hand with a dagger, and the Latin motto Manu Forti or With a Strong Hand, this clan sept had a very unique image. The prominent image was of two ravens, both of them with an arrow between their necks. The story behind this image was that a member of Clan MacKay, many centuries ago, famously shot two ravens with a single arrow.

Clan MacKay

MacKay of Lairg

The issue of family curses is something that is certainly controversial for many of today’s Bible readers. We should each consider, though, how a widely-known instruction such as the Second Commandment does say, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5 cf. Deuteronomy 5:9). Anything that occurs with an association of idolatry, which is not rectified by the power of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), confessed of, and canceled, is likely to have some serious consequences passed down across the generations.Family history should be important to each one of us, as none of us could be who we are without the generations which preceded us. In the case of the McKee family, we can trace at least three generations of people—that of my father, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother—who have died a pre-mature death, with something often having to do with the neck. My father died after melanoma cancer metastasized on his brain stem, with five cancerous legions. My paternal grandmother died after having a major heart attack, choking to death. My paternal great-grandmother died in the Spanish influenza of the early Twentieth Century. All of them died around the age of 40.

Like many families from the British Isles, the McKees were quite active in the Masonic Lodge, and the figure of the raven has historically been associated with the occult and familial spirits. While there will be Freemasons who do make it into the Kingdom, the fact that the Masons are associated with many ungodly rituals directly opposed by God’s Law, does mean that the consequences of various Masons’ actions do get passed down to the succeeding generations. In the case of my family, our own coat of arms bears testimony to a past action that passed down to various husbands and wives—even to the point of claiming my own father at the age of 41.

One of the things that you do need to know, about my late father, is that Kimball McKee wanted nothing to do with the Freemasons. A great part of his not wanting to join the Masonic Lodge was some rebellion against my grandfather and not having to associate with his “old fart” friends. Even though he was not a Believer at the time, my father considered the Freemasons to be the quintessential representation of the “good ‘ol boy” network, having seen how Grandad McKee used it for his business contacts. As a non-Believer, he thought that as a good liberal American, he had to do better when inheriting his father’s company. Being a Freemason was not a good reason to automatically give someone your business.

After my father came to faith in 1984, and becoming far more conservative, he began investigating non-Christian cults and groups, and was understandably horrified as to some of the practices of the Freemasons. Had he known more about the reality of Torah-prescribed family curses, whatever the two ravens on the crest of MacKay of Lairg represented, it may not have claimed his life. In spite of the reverberating effects of an ancient sin manifesting itself, my father absolutely knew Jesus Christ as his Savior, and his thoughts in his final days were focused around how, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23, RSV). In his final moments, just like the martyr Stephen, he visibly saw the Rock of his salvation (cf. Acts 7:56, 59).[264]

The curse that was once on the McKee family has now been broken by the power of Jesus, with my own salvation experience and with me nullifying it by His power. Notwithstanding me dying of unnatural causes, I am going to live far beyond the age of 40!

Not everyone gets to have a family “prop” detailing some sordid things from the ancient past. Why a past generation of my line of the Clan MacKay chose ravens for their coat of arms—especially given the many Medieval superstitions about ravens, and how such birds of prey are often associated with evil forces and even the Devil—we may never know. But there is a silver lining in all of this worth being aware of.

The motto of the greater Clan MacKay is With a Strong Hand, something that may surely remind someone of the Biblical admonition to bind God’s Word on the hand as tefillin/phylacteries (Exodus 13:16), and wield Holy Scripture as a weapon (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). The Latin motto of MacKay of Lairg, though, is actually Labora. It is not difficult for one to figure out how this Latin term actually means Labor or Work. Of course, in Scripture we are definitely warned about dead works (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14). At the same time, there are a plentitude of passages that admonish Messiah followers to have good works,[265] which come forth from a heart which has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The motto Labora can be a bad thing, or it can be a good thing—depending on what one’s work or labor is focused upon.

Only recently in the past year (2010), did I myself really get curious about the motto Labora. (I would joke previously and say that if we were still in Britain today, this would obviously mean that we would be supporters of the Labour party.) I thought that such a common Latin term, like “work,” had to appear somewhere in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. When I found where labora actually appeared in the Vulgate, I was pleasantly shocked, surprised, but was also quite steadfastly reminded of the call that is upon my life to be a worker in the Kingdom of God. The Latin labora appears in two extremely important places for all Messiah followers to take note of:

Labour as a good soldier of Christ Jesus[266]” (2 Timothy 2:3, Douay-Rheims).

“But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober[267]” (2 Timothy 4:5, Douay-Rheims).

In spite of whatever the forces of Darkness have tried to do to the McKee family, from our Masonic past in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and into America—the Lord Himself made sure that we have the motto Labora. In gratitude of how Jesus Christ saved me from my sins, and even gave me a picture of Hell, all I can do in response to the redemption He has provided is labor ably for Him in ministry. No one can deny how 2 Timothy 2:3 and 4:5 are extremely important missional verses! The motto Labora is definitely something that I have to remember in the Messianic service that the Lord has granted me, as it is sure motivation to never quit or give into pressure—especially given the definite reforming call of Outreach Israel Ministries and Messianic Apologetics.

My salvation experience of being shown a raven’s eye, a nuclear wasteland, and having a family crest bearing testimony to a long-standing curse that has been broken—is not what most people have to experience when they come to know Yeshua. Most true Believers simply experience a removal of sin-guilt from their hearts, knowing that they are reconciled with the Father via His Son. But with what is certainly to come in the future history of our faith, having a definite supernatural encounter with Hell on August 8, 1995, has been necessary for a teacher and leader such as myself. Having had a dramatic salvation experience, I take it as a sure indication that there are some (very) bad things on the horizon. Knowing that I am, without a shadow of a doubt, a born again Believer, is required for the battles that are to come.[268]

I knew that when I turned my life over to Christ, that I did not get saved from an eternity devoid of existence. While the images of a wasteland and nuclear plasma are compelling, a fear of physical pain is not what should drive one to the Creator God. It is a fear of everlasting separation. One of my greatest personal fears is being left alone and by myself, with no one to talk to, not necessarily burning in a perpetual crematory. How bad would an eternity being alone be for a person? For myself, I can think of no worse kind of Hell.

Based on my own reading of the Holy Scriptures, coupled with my salvation experience, what do I personally think about eternal punishment? I obviously do reject annihilationism. I was not saved from non-existence, and I do not at all believe that non-existence offers any person a worthwhile incentive to be saved, when non-existence is what atheists and agnostics all believe occurs after death. What I do believe is that the metaphorical view of Hell does tend to rightly focus on how fire, smoke, brimstone, worms, and outer darkness are in various places to be taken as symbols of extreme exile, separation, and banishment from the Creator God. At the same time, the weakness, of the metaphorical view, is that it can leave what will specifically happen to the unredeemed largely undefined.

My salvation experience, and my almost sixteen years of reflection upon it, has guided me to what may be considered a scenery view of eternal punishment. Unrighteous sinners are to be marooned for eternity away from the presence of God, because they choose to be. The metaphorical view is right to principally direct our attention to eternal punishment being separation. At the same time, when I was shown my eternal destiny as a yet-to-be-saved individual, the main elements of fire, smoke, and darkness were all present in my vision. I was not saved from the experience of having to writhe in pain, in a hot lava and acid bath, eating hot coals and drinking molten lead for eternity. I was saved from an everlasting, lonely exile away from God and other sentient beings, having to look at a scene of total devastation—which definitely included fire, smoke, plasma explosions, outer darkness, and other horrifying things. Hell is a world that is constantly falling apart, where disaster is the norm—the exact opposite of the perfect world of the Kingdom of God. And, Hell is a place that does operate according to different physical laws than that of the current Planet Earth.

For me, being cast into the Lake of Fire is not like having to take an endless swim without a safety vest; being cast into the Lake of Fire is more like having to be cast into the Mediterranean, placed on your own deserted island. When weighing together the various images of fire, smoke, worms, darkness, etc., I believe these things are all a part of the scenery of Hell, but that the ultimate punishment is on the sinner being removed from Heaven. Such a scenery would be an outward manifestation of what is present in the unredeemed heart of one who has consciously rejected the Creator of all that is good. For myself, I was saved from an eternity of extreme loneliness, having to look at a less-than-picturesque wasteland.

As a Bible teacher and researcher, I cannot deny how in the past two decades, adherence to annihilationism has grown in many religious circles. My reading of the Holy Scriptures—and being consistent with how “eternal” appears in the text—has led me to conclude that personal extinction from existence is unsustainable. My experience in coming to faith prohibits me from being an annihilationist, even though it may permit me to be favorable in various areas to the metaphorical view of eternal punishment.

I do not believe that a wide number of annihilationists are “heretics,” unlike some others who hold to traditional models of eternal punishment. I do think it possible that there are people, who believe that the condemned are snuffed out of existence, who can be saved. But I would issue the word about such an annihilationist: How serious was his or her salvation experience? The annihilationist who claims to be born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, was saved from an atheist’s expectation of personal obliteration. This is not at all the expectation of a sinner who must stand in front of a Holy God, aware of his or her offenses, and be meted severe penalties at the bar of the Creator’s justice.

Why must Hell be eternal?

This analysis, on the topic of eternal punishment, has not been something pleasant for me to write, and I am sure that for you as the reader there are some parts of it that have not been pleasant to read. Whether condemned sinners will be annihilated from existence or suffer some form of an ongoing, never-ending punishment, will be a continual debate in both evangelical Christian and Messianic theology for quite some time. Because the arguments issued in favor of annihilationism are often given in response to overly-exaggerated views of a literal Hell with people having to swim in lava for eternity, today’s Messianic community can expect annihilation to grow in adherence. Few are willing to sit down and read through the many passages in the Tanach and Apostolic Scriptures, considering their setting, as well as factor in some of the diversity of la3A//www.svchapel.org/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>http://www.svchapel.org/>.

[249] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, reprint (Peterborough, UK: Epworth Press, 2000), pp 1037-1038.

[250] John Wesley (n.d.). Of Hell-Sermon #73, Global Ministries: The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 03 June, 2011 from <http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/>.

Cf. Joel B. Green, ed., The Wesley Study Bible, NRSV (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009), 1556.

[251] Milne, 126.

[252] Leon Morris, “Eternal Punishment,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, pp 196-197.

[253] Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, pp 60, 61.

[254] Motyer, After Death, 58.

[255] Bacchiocchi, 220.

[256] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 183.

[257] Ibid., 182.

[258] Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” in Hell Under Fire, 237.

[259] Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, pp 188-189.

[260] Morgan, in Hell Under Fire, pp 209-210.

[261] “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

[262] For a further discussion, consult the author’s exegetical paper on Romans 1:18-25, “Is Salvation Only Available for those who Profess Faith in Yeshua?

[263] This testimony includes some embedded quotations from the author’s article “The Assurance of Our Salvation.”

[264] For more about the deathbed experience of Kimball McKee, consult the final sections of the preceding volume, To Be Absent From the Body.

[265] I.e., Matthew 5:16; John 10:32; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:10; 5:10; 6:18.

[266] Lat. labora sicut bonus miles Christi Iesu.

[267] Lat. tu vero vigila in omnibus labora opus fac evangelistae ministerium tuum imple.

[268] I believe this to be especially true in terms of the apostasy that is prophesied (2 Thessalonians 2:3). I think that there are some things in store for today’s Messianic community, which it is largely unprepared for. Some of these things directly relate to people denying Yeshua’s Divinity and Messiahship, and other things which likely relate to scientific discoveries yet to be made in this century.

For a collection of thoughts, consult the author’s article “The Great Apostasy.”


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