Why Hell Must Be Eternal

Why_Hell_Must_Be_Eternal

originally posted 01 July, 2011
reproduced from Why Hell Must Be Eternal

The topic of eternal punishment is one of the most unpleasant and least desirable that any Bible teacher will ever have to discuss. I myself get no sense of enthusiasm, excitement, anticipation—and certainly no joy—out of the requirement that any discussion on death, the afterlife, and human destiny requires an analysis of what happens to the unredeemed. This is something that simply has to be addressed, and one which the author of Hebrews actually considers to be elementary to people of faith (Hebrews 6:2). To only address the positive side of human destiny, and not the negative side, would be a dereliction of a responsible teacher’s duty to the Biblical message and story.

Regardless of which position an individual, or a Biblical interpreter, takes, contemplating the issue of eternal punishment is not something “fun.” While it is difficult for one to ideologically justify a doctrine of psychopannychy for Believers (the idea that those who have died in faith are unconscious in their graves until the resurrection), many people who espouse a doctrine of psychopannychy do so not necessarily because they find the idea of going to Heaven into the presence of the Lord revolting. On the contrary, they reject the premise of an intermediate afterlife because if the righteous are in the presence of the Lord in some kind of paradise, then the unrighteous are likely in some kind of penalized state. Such a penalized state is likely a foretaste for them of the final judgment.[1]

Generally speaking, most of those who adhere to psychopannychy also believe in a concept known as annihilationism, and those who adhere to a conscious intermediate afterlife hold to some kind of never-ending eternal punishment. (There are some who believe in a conscious intermediate afterlife before the resurrection, who do espouse annihilationism, and vice versa, although this is rare.) What is annihilationism? The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms notes how this label is from the “Lat. annihilare, ‘to reduce to nothing,’” detailing it as “The belief that those not believing in Jesus Christ will be directly obliterated by God because of their sin.”[2] Annihilationism is, in no uncertain terms, a belief that the unredeemed will experience total oblivion from existence as their punishment for rejecting the salvation of the Creator God.

Quite contrary to annihilationism, traditional models of eternal punishment throughout Christian history have advocated various degrees of conscious, ongoing, and never-ending condemnation to be meted out upon the unredeemed. Many people, who enter into the discussion and debate over eternal punishment, are actually not aware of the fact that not all traditional models have advocated some kind of never-ending fire and brimstone “bath,” but have focused more on themes of never-ending exile and removal from the presence of the Creator.

Entering into the discussion of eternal punishment is also seriously complicated because of many popular—and even some mythological—ideas about Hell, Satan, demons, and the Lake of Fire that need to be overcome. Many think about eternal condemnation in somewhat comedic terms like going to Pitchfork City, with its mayor being a bearded/goateed half-man half-goat dressed in a red suit, where regular orgies are held between condemned sinners and demons—group sex and drugs all included as some kind of hippie party. We have to overcome the different cultural stereotypes we have encountered in popular media, such as an angel sitting on one person’s shoulder, and a devil sitting on the other, reminding us of what is good or evil. We have to get over things like the Dallas series finale Conundrum, where oil baron J.R. Ewing is tempted to commit suicide by one of the Devil’s top agents calling himself “Adam”—dressed in a red tuxedo no less!

Make no mistake about it: eternal punishment is a very serious issue that is to drive people to tears and lamentation, as they are to consider their own very serious mortal and sinful limitations in view of a perfect Creator God. Those who do not respond to the message of the good news of salvation in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), by receiving Him into their hearts, will be severely penalized for it.

Many of today’s evangelical Christian pastors and teachers admittedly choose to not delve into the topic of eternal punishment that frequently, or in any detail. While being familiar with debates over annihilationism versus a never-ending eternal punishment, they often choose to be agnostic about it. It is often said, “I don’t care what eternal punishment is. Whatever it is, I don’t want to be a part of it.” While I would agree with this basic sentiment, the fact that Bible-believing people do ask the question about what eternal punishment is, and more importantly what human beings need salvation from, makes it imperative that a proper evaluation of the subject be provided. While some theologians and Bible teachers might think that the debate over what eternal punishment is, is just some philosophical exercise; it really is not. When any one of us looks out across the globe and considers the fact that every man and woman needs eternal redemption in Yeshua, what are such people to be redeemed from?

Many people, both inside and outside of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, do not like the idea of an ongoing, never-ending, conscious eternal punishment. They, in fact, find any model of such punishment to be a reprehensible doctrine that is nothing short of being unloving and vengeful. When entering into the discussion of eternal punishment, there is no shortage of emotionally-laden remarks to be found from interpreters and readers, who accuse those who believe that God will punish people forever, as being some kind of sadistic monsters. Yet, while those who believe in an ongoing and never-ending eternal punishment actually disagree among themselves whether it occurs in fire or involving fire (the literal versus the metaphorical views), annihilationists often overlook that the Bible does implore God’s people, in one way or another, to actually celebrate the element of judgment as a part of His salvation (Psalm 96:11-13).[3]

There are undeniably difficult things that must be carefully worked through when evaluating whether or not the condemned will be annihilated from existence as their punishment, or be given some form of ongoing, conscious punishment away from God’s presence. Readers have to not only work through the nature and purpose of such punishment, but they also have to consider its time and place. There are also, admittedly, some speculative aspects to the issue of eternal punishment, especially as readers consider Scripture passages speaking of the future. We have to weigh into our deliberations the different dimensions of Earth, Heaven, the New Heavens, the New Earth, and the New Creation. These factors can make the topic of eternal punishment more difficult to sift through than simply acknowledging that in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, a disembodied human consciousness is held in an inter-dimensional place of refreshment or confinement. On several notable levels, we are dealing with eschatology.

The subject of eternal punishment is also one in which readers encounter ancient people using the limited Hebrew or Greek vocabulary they possessed, to describe terrible realities. Twentieth and Twenty-First Century people know many more things about the greater universe, where descriptions like “Lake of Fire” might be found to be a bit under-encompassing.

Most concerning to us above all, though, is that we do not often see enough people who believe in an ongoing, eternal punishment for the condemned—to speak about it with a great deal of remorse or concern for those who will have to experience it. It is a sad fact, but there are some (supposed) Believers who view eternal punishment as a kind of backdoor way to hate people who have done them wrong. While they cannot exercise any kind of vengeance against those who have committed various offenses against them in this world, their view is that God will rightly damn them to a torturous existence, by frying them forever in a molten sea of fire and brimstone, and make them drink lead and eat burning dog feces for eternity. Eternal punishment is frequently over-exaggerated by those who actually wish to see God’s wrath dispensed upon those who have hurt them. This is not only an unhealthy way of approaching the topic of eternal punishment, but is also most reprehensible!

It should not be surprising that when many people have encountered an insensitive approach to eternal punishment—over-exaggerated forms of “hell-fire and damnation”—that they have responded in kind. With the growth of annihilationism in various sectors of Christian theology in the past half-to-three-quarters century, it is not difficult to see rhetoric like: “It is insanity to believe in eternal punishment! It is a lie and it is not true!” But is responding to one extreme with another extreme really appropriate? While it is absolutely true that there have been many abuses from those who believe in eternal punishment—from people who ultimately may be found to have little genuine concern for the salvation of those who have offended them in life—it is inappropriate to reject all models of an ongoing, never-ending eternal punishment out of our personal anger or disgust. We have to be very careful not to interject our own human values of justice and punishment onto the justice decreed by an Eternal God.

The collective responsibility of Bible readers, to be sure, is to go to the Scriptural text and dissect and exegete it carefully and accurately. With this, it is most ill-advised for those of any side, either that of annihilationism or an ongoing eternal punishment, to claim that their view is the “most Biblical,” but then fail to back it up with some level of Biblical engagement. We have to evaluate as many of the depictions of future condemnation on the wicked as we can, and not make the decision of pitting one set against the other. With this in mind, one will find that one set of Biblical portrayals of eternal punishment, that of fire and smoke, has been over-emphasized in various traditional models—with scenes such as blackness, outer darkness, and separation frequently under-emphasized. Likewise, when contending with various arguments presented in favor of annihilationism, it is also to be noted that the language of “destruction” is frequently not kept in view of the diversity of usages witnessed in both Hebrew and Greek, and how “destruction” frequently does not mean “no longer existing.”

Throughout the course of my service as a Bible teacher, I have never hidden the fact that I have been a staunch critic of annihilationism. While I understand the intention of many annihilationists, and I would not consider such a view to be theological heresy, I do not believe that an annihilationist model of eternal punishment appropriately evaluates the relevant Scripture passages to this conversation. I agree with Robert A. Peterson, “The fact that many passages could be interpreted as teaching annihilationism does not prove that doctrine. In order to be true, annihilationism has to account for all of the passages. And at this point it fails.”[4]

While I do admit that some traditional models of eternal punishment, and various teachings on the subject have gone overboard—various abuses and insensitive attitudes do not warrant a complete jettison of the unredeemed experiencing a never-ending punishment away from God’s presence. Ultimately, the issue over eternal punishment is determined by what unredeemed sinners must be redeemed from, and there are many theologians and leaders who have advocated a conscious, never-ending punishment for the unredeemed with sobriety and great remorse, urgently urging all people to get themselves right with their Creator. Hopefully in this article, you will see that my perspective is in accord with these voices, and not with those who would somehow wish to “play God” and condemn to eternal torment those people who they do not like. Repentance before the Lord of one’s sins should be sought in view of His bar of justice.

While the debate, between annihilationists and those advocating traditional models of eternal punishment, is something witnessed in much of contemporary Christianity today,[5] and we will be engaging with various Christian voices from both sides of the issue—what should concern us more is what this discussion means for today’s Messianic Believers. The broad Messianic movement is a relatively unestablished faith community in many matters of theology. When surveying Messianic Judaism or the One Law and Two-House sub-movements, one will encounter people who believe in traditional models of never-ending eternal punishment, as well as people who believe in annihilationism. There are also people who do not know what to believe, and there are people who are quite confused, but who are eagerly seeking fair-minded answers.

Is annihilationism something we need to be considering as a legitimate Biblical option? Have we even been informed that outside of some kind of never-ending lava bath in the Lake of Fire, that there are other traditional models like the metaphorical view? How might this change our approach to the issue of eternal punishment? How much have we not included, or known to include, within our Messianic deliberations on the topic of Hell?

Why “Hell” Has Lost Its Significance and Sorting Through the Difficult Words

What is the current status of a traditional, never-ending, conscious eternal punishment in contemporary theology and religious philosophy? While many conservative, evangelical Christian Believers continue to adhere to such a position, it is also easily detected that many others do not. While fifty to sixty years ago, it may have been more common to hear that annihilationism was adhered to by members of various cults or heterodox groups, belief in annihilationism—or at least a preference toward annihilationism—can now be found among many (professing) evangelicals. And, this same sentiment can also be definitely found in various sectors of the Messianic community.

Why has there been a decline in those adhering to ongoing and never-ending models of eternal punishment? Part of this, without any doubt, can certainly be credited to a steady liberal influence on various parts of evangelical thought. Concurrent with this, many of today’s Christians, when pushed hard enough, think that a doctrine of eternal punishment and ongoing Hell is just outdated. Robert W. Yarbrough summarizes some of the main sociological factors present, which have helped to see annihilationism gain a widescale following:

“Perhaps the words of ‘Jesus’ about hell are actually later church teaching projected back into well-meaning but largely allegorical accounts of his life. Perhaps they are ultimately relative in meaning and therefore open to thoroughgoing reinterpretation, since they refer to things that lie beyond the space-time world as we know it. Or maybe Christianity, contrary to age-old convention, is now quite simply free to rethink what used to be nonnegotiable teachings. What harm can there be in jettisoning a presumably lower-order, difficult doctrine like eternal hell if doing so helps gain a more positive regard for the central core of the Christian message?”[6]

Is the issue of retribution against sinners just adiaphora? Does it really matter?

A common claim issued against traditional models, of eternal punishment, is that significant damage to the credibility of Biblical faith has been inflicted with a doctrine of never-ending Hell. “If only Hell can be defined as eternal non-existence,” the annihilationist thinks, “might people wish to reconsider the Biblical message and story.” Perhaps, in the annihilationist’s estimation, the generations of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries can finally see a doctrine of never-ending Hell being replaced with belief in eternal non-existence.

There is no doubting how throughout the past two centuries, critics of organized religion have eschewed the Biblical message because of a doctrine of never-ending punishment. One of the most famous evaluations of eternal punishment is witnessed in Bertrand Russell’s essay “Why I Am Not a Christian.” He states on the subject of Hell, “I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture.”[7]

Russell’s problem with a doctrine of eternal punishment, while perhaps noting how some of it had negatively affected various generations, is, however, not stated to be as much with various theologians, ministers, and religious officials. Russell’s problem with an eternal, never-ending punishment for sinners is with the Messiah Himself. The short quote just issued appears within a larger litany of statements criticizing the teachings of Yeshua in the Gospels:

“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching…I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world…I must say that I think that all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.”[8]

It is not at all surprising to see various secular philosophers and critics of religion issue their evaluation about the condemnation the unrighteous will experience, as witnessed in the Holy Scriptures. Bible Believers generally have a problem when the teachings of our Lord are criticized in the manner witnessed above, with the Messiah actually accused of being cruel and merciless.

Given the many abuses throughout history, almost always caused by over-exaggerated messages and sermons on eternal punishment, the annihilationist thinks that he can step in with his message of external extinction. Can he? To what extent is the annihilationist judging the intentions of God (cf. James 4:11), not too dissimilar from the atheist or agnostic who fails to recognize Him?

Traditional models of eternal punishment have lost support in theological studies because human beings have considered themselves appropriate arbiters as to what justice actually is, taking this position away from God Himself. A conscious eternity separated from Him in some kind of unpleasant place, is believed, at the very least, to be entirely unacceptable to the modern mind. Perhaps it is, even if “Hell” were discovered to just be a square room painted in the fire colors of red, orange, and yellow, with a condemned sinner having to sit in a center chair for eternity.

So, if limited mortals feel free to judge and evaluate future actions of God in history, deeming them unacceptable, what about past actions? Should not Bible readers feel free, if they decide that the condemned are not eternally punished in a never-ending state—because we are instinctively repelled by it—to similarly review other actions of judgment depicted in Scripture? What about the severity of the plagues issued by God upon Ancient Egypt in the Book of Exodus? Was not the Lord’s anger utterly unleashed upon the Egyptians because of their keeping the Israelites in slavery? Psalm 78:49-50 does not hold back any words in expressing, “He inflicted His burning anger upon them, wrath, indignation, trouble, a band of deadly messengers. He cleared a path for His anger; He did not stop short of slaying them, but gave them over to pestilence” (NJPS).

The same person who finds a never-ending model of condemnation for the unrighteous personally appalling, needs to consider the humiliation of Ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh, and the great ecological catastrophes that God unleashed to see His people freed.[9] Derek Tidball’s observations are well taken, as he informs us of how “our image of God does not permit us easily to think in terms of his anger. Tolerance is now considered to be the outstanding virtue, so a picture of a God of wrath provokes disbelief or embarrassment rather than fear or wonder…But the holy exactness of God’s judgment is a matter altogether different from a humanly devised bombing campaign.”[10] In a similar vein, we must each be very careful as we consider the much more difficult topic of eternal punishment. Did God ask for our opinion of it?

In the Twentieth Century, a considerable number of liberal theologians came out against all doctrines of eternal punishment, embracing either universalism (the belief that all will be saved) or annihilationism. It can be easily detected how annihilationism has grown steadily in Left-leaning sectors of evangelical Christianity in the last two decades of the Twentieth Century, continuing into the Twenty-First Century. A number of publications have been released to address this subject matter, from the rather general Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) to Robert Peterson’s Hell on Trial (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1995) to the compilation book Hell Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).

In terms of our own Messianic community, annihilationism has grown considerably over the past two decades, among all of its sectors. Yet while the broad Messianic movement has its annihilationists, the same as various parts of evangelical Christianity, there are certainly Messianic Believers who hold to a traditional model of eternal punishment. Commenting on Matthew 5:22[11] in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern asserts how annihilationism is an unsustainable view:

“Since the idea of eternal punishment is at the very least offputting, some seek to soften it by proposing that the final judgment is total annihilation, in which nothing is experienced, either good or bad. Nevertheless, what the Bible teaches about both sh’ol (adês) and Gey-Hinnom is that there is a state of eternal sorrowful existence to be consciously experienced by those who come under God’s ultimate condemnation…Changing the Biblical concept of hell to non-existence is, unfortunately, wishful-thinking theology.”[12]

Remarking on Romans 8:13[13] in his Romans commentary, Tim Hegg also seems to favor a traditional model of eternal, never-ending punishment for the condemned. He states, “the person characterized by the deeds of the flesh will die in the sense of eternal separation from HaShem. That Paul, along with Yeshua, understood the punishment of the wicked to be both conscious and eternal seems apparent (Mt 10:28; 13:42; Mk 9:48; Rom 2:6ff; 2Thess 1:5-10).”[14]

There are those Messianics who are not quite so sure what to believe about eternal punishment, perhaps favoring a traditional view but being quite open minded to annihilationism. In his book The World to Come (2008), Derek Leman indicates that “terms like everlasting punishment and eternal destruction in the scriptures would seem to argue against universalism,”[15] but further concludes that “alternative theories…could have some elements of truth to them. It is possible that God has revealed only a part of the total picture of hell.”[16] Here he favors a position he calls “separationism,” which is that eternal punishment will “mainly consist of being separated from God’s presence,”[17] viewing much of the fire and smoke of Hell as being figurative descriptions (which is an ongoing, eternal punishment model held throughout much of post-Reformation thought). As a populist Messianic blogger, though, Leman has noticeably begun (as of 2011) to lean toward a strong preference of universalism.[18] And, one might wonder how many leaders within Messianic Judaism might be leaning the same way.

All a teacher like D. Thomas Lancaster can do, in his 2006 book The King of the Jews, is refer to the subject matter of punishment for the unrighteous as “H.E. Double-Toothpicks.”[19] He spends more time talking about the realm of Hades as depicted in Greek mythology, and none at all on the final sentencing of the condemned before the Creator. This is hardly reassuring for Messianic people desiring answers for some tough questions.

On the whole, today’s Messianic congregational leaders and teachers—no different than many Christian pastors—stay away from the subject of eternal punishment. While we cannot totally blame people for not wanting to deal with the issue, an indefinite avoidance of the subject is not only ill-advised, but also rather irresponsible. This most especially concerns detecting the various factors which have contributed to the rise of adherents to annihilationism in the past century.

The belief in a never-ending, conscious punishment for the unrighteous has diminished significantly since World War I. N.T. Wright details how “belief in hell, already under attack from theologians in the nineteenth century, was one of the major casualties of the Great War. There had been so much hell on earth that people couldn’t believe that God would create such a place hereafter as well.”[20] British evangelical theologians have definitely indicated a much stronger preference for annihilationism than their North American counterparts. How much of this opinion originates because of two world wars, that directly affected their own soil, has to be recognized as a factor affecting their viewpoints. If you were a child of someone who fought against the Kaiser in the trenches, and/or had to endure the Blitz and terror of Nazi Germany, then surely the trauma experienced by those in the trenches or the bombings of British cities would influence how you might view various passages in the Bible that describe “hell-fire.”

Adding to the difficulty of the two world wars are the many abuses about eternal punishment witnessed in fundamentalist Christianity. When separation from the Creator God is presented in terms of people roasting in lava and choking forever in fire and smoke, with descriptions of physical torture overriding the importance of sinners recognizing the severity of what merits them everlasting exile from Him—there can be some significant problems. Such popular preaching can manifest itself in various pastors putting on an asbestos suit and lighting themselves on fire, using fear to get people “saved.” Surely while a healthy fear for the majesty of God is needed among those who require salvation, when sensational acts are necessary—rather than convincing preaching from the Scriptures for repentance—a door for significant criticism by others can be opened.

It has to be observed that most of those who embrace annihilationism today, if not raised in an environment that taught it, probably once believed in the most extreme interpretations and extrapolations imaginable of eternal punishment. People spending eternity in pools of hot lava, made to drink molten hot mercury, and eat burning coals and excrement forever. It is not surprising why many, when presented with arguments favoring eternal punishment as individual extinction, find it welcoming. The eternal punishment that is commonly presented by those who preach on it, as we will find, does not entirely weigh all of the descriptions into the equation. The only images people think of regard those of the Lake of Fire, and an overly-exaggerated one at that.

Yet, in spite of abuses by fundamentalist Christians on “hell-fire and damnation,” annihilationists are not totally immune from their emotions, either. They often respond to the extremes of those who preach on Hell by over-emphasizing its locality, with their own language that expresses their personal distaste of an ongoing punishment for the condemned. One of evangelical Christianity’s most well-known annihilationists (and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, no less), Clark H. Pinnock, asserts,

“There is a powerful moral revulsion against the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell. Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral view because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die. How can one love a God like that? I suppose one might be afraid of him, but could we love and respect him? Would we want to strive to be like him in this mercilessness? Surely the idea of everlasting conscious torment raises the problems of evil to impossible heights.”[21]

It is difficult, in the discussion over what eternal punishment and Hell actually are, to not consider the ideological presuppositions and prejudices of various persons who have talked about it. In Pinnock’s view, his judgment on the nature of God’s judgment, causing him to be an annihilationist, is surely stated: “Our moral intuition agrees with this.”[22] Who is the “our”? It is, of course, one’s human, mortal evaluation of an Eternal Creator. Those who believe in an ongoing, conscious punishment for the condemned are at the very least thought to be misguided, but are probably also quite cruel and merciless.

Putting the abuses of some fundamentalists aside, most evangelical Christians who hold to traditional models of ongoing, never-ending punishment, are by no means those who deride God’s mercy and grace. In the view of Bruce Milne, “We can…be assured that God’s final judgment will be utterly just and compassionate with respect to all his creatures.”[23] Peterson ends his book Hell on Trial with the impassioned plea: “May God stir us to be faithful to him and to our fellow human beings who need to know him who died to redeem sinners from hell.”[24] And as a stated advocate of the metaphorical view of eternal punishment, which holds fire and smoke to largely be images but the duration of eternal punishment to never end, William V. Crockett directs us: “What good does it do to stand within the four walls of our churches, affirming a belief in literal flames, when outside the silence of our lips belies our very words?”[25] All of these teachers recognize that a sober, careful approach to eternal punishment is needed, to stir men and women of God to implore the lost of Planet Earth to turn to Him in repentance. They do not advocate Believers lighting themselves on fire to prove a point; they do advocate non-Believers realizing that if unrepentant of their sins they will be forever humiliated.

A tempered approach to eternal punishment is found in much of evangelical Christianity, as well as among many of the Messianics who affirm it. It is, however, quite easy to encounter a great deal of angry individuals who reject an ongoing, conscious punishment for the condemned. And, they really think that if they press the Scriptures hard enough that their view is quite irrefutable, and to pardon the pun, most fireproof. Sifting through some of the caustic language one will find on this topic is not at all easy.

Linking the issue of eternal punishment to psychopannchy (“soul sleep”), a Seventh-Day Adventist like Samuele Bacchiocchi concludes, “The acceptance of this deadly heresy [belief in an intermediate afterlife before resurrection] has conditioned the interpretation of Scripture and given rise to a host of other heresies such as…eternal torment in hell.”[26] Perhaps a bit surprising to some annihilationists, though, is that most advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment would not claim, in contrast to someone like Bacchiocchi, that an annihilationist viewpoint is deadly heresy.

Those who hold to traditional models of eternal punishment tend to only think that annihilationism is an incorrect and aberrant conclusion, based on some poor assumptions and some improper readings of Bible verses. We think that it has poor ideological support as well. In analyzing some of the views of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which has always taught annihilationism, Walter Martin only concluded that they were “attempting to force the Scriptures into their frame of thought while seeming to ignore context, hermeneutics and exegesis.”[27] The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics also concludes that “The doctrine of annihilationism rests more on sentimental than scriptural bases.”[28]

A careful, reasonable, and an objective-as-possible way of examining the issue of eternal punishment has not been encouraged in much of the Messianic discussion of this issue. Just as it has become en vogue in some quarters to claim that a belief of the righteous going to an intermediate Heaven prior to resurrection is pagan, so it is claimed that believing in an eternal-burning Hell is also pagan. In order to deliberately stir people toward accepting annihilationism, images are conjured up of Dante’s Inferno, with a sign at the Gates of Hell reading: “ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE” (Inferno 2.9).[29] But The Divine Comedy is a Medieval Italian man’s fictional portrayal of the hereafter, including not only his own artistic portrayal of Biblical descriptions, but also his own fictional extrapolations. It is true that throughout much of historic Christian thought, and even that of many Protestants, that their view of eternal punishment has been controlled more by Dante than the Holy Writ. As best as we can, we have to park our emotions and feelings, as we consider what the Bible tells us about the condemnation the wicked will experience. Dante’s Divine Comedy was designed more to entertain and gain an audience than stir people to repentance from their sins. Similarly, sensationalistic Messianic teachings, that one may encounter endorsing annihilationism, are designed to feed base emotions, against what are often very poor Christian teachings on eternal punishment.

Many Messianic Believers across the spectrum have witnessed significant abuses about eternal punishment from various Christian pastors, and they have seen overly-exaggerated depictions of Hell and the Lake of Fire on Christian television. At the very least, some people are just confused about the severity and the duration of eternal punishment. Others, however, because of such abuses, feel quite justified in rejecting a model of eternal punishment where people suffer for an eternity of torturous burning in the Lake of Fire.

I can understand some of the difficulty that Messianics have had with a model of eternal punishment solely depicted as “eternal fiery torture.” This is largely how I would have spoken of eternal punishment ten years ago (2001). I confess that these words were not necessarily tempered, but were instead a dogmatic attempt to oppose annihilationism, using a limited scope of vocabulary and a lower level of engagement with theological opinion. While I still (2011) consider annihilation to be a significant error needing to be addressed, I understand that the annihilationist is not a gross heretic. For the annihilationist, simply removing all traces of a person for eternity is a just punishment. And to the annihilationist’s credit: their point of view advocating personal extinction is a viable alternative to universalism.

While there are important Scripture passages that need to be read and carefully interpreted, which I personally do not see as supporting annihilationism, the ultimate issue for whether traditional models of eternal punishment or annihilationism prevails, is one of ideology. In the typical annihilationist’s schema, the unrighteous dead die and they go into complete unconsciousness. At the second resurrection, the unrighteous are physically reanimated, they go before God to be humiliated as sinners, and then they suffer total non-existence. We have to ask ourselves if this is a viable eternal punishment.

Milne directs us to recognize, “Modern people are not anticipating an afterlife. ‘This life is all you have, so enjoy it before it’s over.’ In this assumption our generation is sadly, even tragically, wrong…”[30] In the preceding paragraphs of his book The Message of Heaven & Hell, Milne has just talked about how there are joys for people far greater than that of sexual intercourse, which for many people, tends to be about as “joyful” as normal human life can be. It is not surprising why a great number of sinful activities and perversions—and indeed many crimes committed against people—throughout history, have been associated with sex. While the common sinner who rejects God is not typically a genocidal maniac like Hitler or Stalin, such a sinner may be a hedonist with complete disrespect for the body. Getting a sexually transmitted disease because of having scores of partners, or even having a whole cadre of bastard children out there, does not matter for the one who thinks he will just die and return to the base elements. It is commonly thought that evolution has proved, after all, that man is just an advanced animal who acts on instinct.

Annihilationists have to seriously ask themselves whether their model of eternal punishment—individual extinction from existence—is quantitatively different from what atheists and agnostics believe about death. The annihilationist believes in eternal non-existence, the same as any good atheist does; the only major difference is being humiliated before one’s Creator. The atheist believes that after death all he will suffer from is non-existence. The following thoughts by J.P. Moreland, delivered in Three Views on Creation and Evolution, should be well taken:

“In graduate school, I once had a professor say that evolution was a view he embraced religiously because it implied for him that he could do anything he wanted. Why? The professor went on to say that, given that there is no God and that evolution is how we got here, there is no set purpose for life given to us, no objective right and wrong, no punishment after death, so one can live for himself in this life any way he wants. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer made the same statement on national TV. Dahmer said that naturalistic evolution implied that we all came from slime and will return to slime. So why should he resist deeply felt tendencies to kill, given that we have no objective purpose or value and there is no punishment after death?”[31]

The basic scenario anticipated by traditional models of eternal punishment for the unredeemed is: physical death, a conscious intermediate state in Sheol, the second resurrection, the Great White Throne judgment before God, a never-ending conscious separation from Him.

The basic scenario for the atheist who denies God is: physical death, non-existence. The basic scenario for the annihilationist is: physical death, non-existence, the second resurrection, the Great White Throne judgment before God, eternal non-existence.

It is ideologically most appropriate to view eternal punishment as constituting some form of ongoing, conscious separation from the Creator, as opposed to the non-existence anticipated by annihilationists, and what should be to their chagrin, the annihilationists’ atheistic compatriots. Yet in this discussion, be very much reminded of the fact that the issue favoring a never-ending punishment for the unredeemed is one of the duration of such punishment. How God chooses to deliver this punishment to those who have rejected Him, whether it be in the form of fire and brimstone (i.e., Revelation 14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8) or by sending the unredeemed into outer darkness (i.e., Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30)—which are seemingly two contradictory forces, one being hot and another cold—is His choice as Judge and Arbiter. And as will be detailed, the debate over eternal punishment, “Hell” in much of our common language, might have more to do with failing to consider the diversity of descriptions of it.

Interpretational Issues and Obstacles to Recognize

There is certainly a significant degree of controversy in theological studies over what eternal punishment actually is, with those of us searching for reasonable, Biblical answers forced to navigate between various extremes. For a variety of culturally-conditioned reasons, too many might be overly influenced by thinking of eternal punishment as being locked up in a castle dungeon from the Middle Ages, whereas what it more significantly involves is the unredeemed losing their right to rule beside God as His viceroy (Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:5-8). If we are able to do this, and think of the condition of “Hell” as not being a kind of Pitchfork City where everyone fries for eternity—but one of exile and banishment from the Creator—then we will be sure to maintain an objective head in considering the subject matter.

The main extremes we must avoid are to be identified as those of annihilationism, where the condemned are completely snuffed out of existence, and universal salvation or universalism, where not only will evil men like Hitler or Stalin be redeemed, but even Satan is likely to ultimately be saved. (Universalism is to be differentiated from the universal availability of salvation, where everyone can be saved if they accept the good news of Yeshua.)

That eternal punishment must be something serious, with the unredeemed necessarily suffering permanent separation from the Creator God, is something that both annihilationists and those who hold to traditional models agree upon. Both annihilationists and traditionalists reject universalism, which would advocate that all people throughout history eventually get saved. The critical flaw of universalism is how it devalues the significance of salvation, making faith in God and His Messiah a mere game of rewards for those who acknowledge Him. Those who recognize the Creator in this world will receive many rewards. Those who do not recognize the Creator will be temporarily separated from Him in some kind of prison, only to later be “returned to Heavenly society,” as it were. They will only bear the stigma of never having known Him in Earthly life, but they will not have to endure the brunt of being removed from Him forever.

How significant is it that universalism be rejected? J.I. Packer’s evaluation cannot go unnoticed:

“Applied to our six-billion global-village world, multicultural, multifaith, and endlessly diversified as it is, the scope of universalism is breathtaking. It covers all the dead from earliest times as well as all the living, both present and future. It embraces all the adherents of all the religions and cults that ever have been or shall be—theistic, deistic, pantheistic, polytheistic, atheistic, trinitarian, Unitarian, syncretist, Satanist, animist, shamanist, white- or black-magic oriented, earth- or self-centred, tribal or ethnic, primitive or sophisticated. It extends to the many millions who have no religion and no interest in religion…Bloody-handed practitioners of treachery, genocide, and torture, and bloody-minded devotees of personal cruelty and child abuse are included; no one is left out. Universalism thus asserts the final salvation of, for instance, Judas, Hitler, Genghis Khan, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein, to name a few.”[32]

Annihilationists and advocates of traditional models of eternal punishment alike, rightly oppose universalism. And, annihilationism in comparison to universalism is something to be preferred. But is annihilationism a sustainable position in comparison to an ongoing, never-ending punishment for the condemned? Like universalism, annihilationism advocates that the punishment will end. And like atheism, annihilationism advocates non-existence.

One of the things that has to be acknowledged in not just examining annihilationist arguments for an extinction of the condemned—but also the various Scripture passages that inform us about eternal punishment—is how the annihilationist will almost always be reacting to a view of eternal punishment that is overly-, or even a bit hyper-literal. Most, if not all, of the interpreters we will be considering, who adhere to an ongoing punishment for the wicked, actually hold to a metaphorical view of eternal condemnation. Few are aware that this is a widescale position (and probably even the majority position) held among theologians since the Protestant Reformation, including figures like John Calvin. I myself am rather open to proposals by the metaphorical view of eternal punishment, which holds to the condemnation actually taking place and being ongoing for eternity, but views images like fire, smoke, brimstone, and darkness as principally being literary images of its severity.[33] The significance of the metaphorical view in theological studies is not something commonly, if at all, acknowledged by annihilationists, who instead have to portray people burning forever in a sea of molten fire, sulfur, and acid—and an embellished one at that—as something to be rejected.

My own conviction of an eternal, ongoing punishment for the condemned, is something that I would hope is not rooted in a vengeful attitude toward people who have wronged me that I would like to see “pay” for their offenses. Instead, I have done my best to carefully read through the relevant Bible passages that inform us as to the condemning justice of God, and dutily weigh what redeemed men and women really need to be redeemed from: non-existence or everlasting exile? In my own salvation experience of coming to faith and receiving Yeshua into my life, I can forthrightly say that I was not saved from eternal non-existence (discussed further).

As Messianics, we are in a much more unique position than our evangelical Christian counterparts, as we are much more consciously aware of how our theology is significantly rooted to the thoughts and views of Second Temple Judaism. Of particular importance to us should be the theology of the ancient Pharisees, who did affirm an intermediate afterlife prior to the resurrection of the righteous. And undoubtedly rooted within such beliefs was discussion about eternal punishment for the wicked. To quote Menahem Mansoor,

“Pharisaic doctrines have more in common with those of Christianity than is supposed, having prepared the ground for Christianity with such concepts as Messianism, the popularization of monotheism and apocalypticism, and with such beliefs as life after death, resurrection of the dead, immortality, and angels” (EJ).[34]

Pharisaic beliefs and views of eternal punishment, as we will see, were very much open to the condemned experiencing an ongoing punishment in some way. Yeshua the Messiah directed His followers to respect the theological lead of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:2-3), and far from wanting to be influenced by Ancient Hellenism or the literary creativity of the Medieval Dante, a conviction favoring an ongoing, never-ending punishment for the condemned should be in alignment with Pharisaism (discussed further in the sub-section “Intertestimental and Rabbinic Views of Eternal Punishment”).

What does “eternal” mean?

Frequently, when Bible readers discuss the subject of eternal punishment, it is assumed that such condemnation meted out on the unredeemed is eternal—meaning ongoing and never ending. The descriptions that we see of future wrath to be dispensed upon the wicked certainly seem to bear this out. Daniel 12:2 states, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Yeshua the Messiah speaks of “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) and of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). Paul says that the condemned “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), with the author of Hebrews referencing “eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:2) as an elementary teaching of faith. Probably the most notable verses encountered are how in the Book of Revelation we witness that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11), and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Annihilationists, when encountering language of “eternal” or “forever” in the Scriptures, commonly claim that the Biblical terms rendered as either “eternal” or “forever” do not always denote something that never ends. They prefer to say that “eternity” is, rather, something that only lasts for a very long time, but is something that will eventually terminate. Is this at all true? Do annihilationists have a basis for saying that eternal punishment will actually, at some point, be something that ends?

Annihilationists are not incorrect in pointing out that there is flexibility present in the uses of the two main terms rendered as “eternal” or “forever” or “everlasting” in English Bibles: the Hebrew olam[35] and the Greek aiōnios.[36] These terms and their derivatives (i.e., aiōn) can be employed to signify some kind of antiquity or something lasting a very long time, but they can most certainly also be used to reference timelessness. When appearing in the plural, olamim is used to signify a degree of permanence, such as in “everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 40:28), God being an “everlasting Rock” (Isaiah 26:4), and God’s Kingdom being an “everlasting kingdom” (Psalm 145:13). The plural aiōnas is similarly employed to denote future permanence (Luke 1:33; Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Hebrews 13:8). Also encountered is the doubling language tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn,[37] literally “the age of the age,” which would also denote an eternal, everlasting condition, frequently in the form of never-ending praises and worship to be issued to God.[38]

Annihilationists would argue quite strongly in favor of those temporary, Earth-bound uses of “eternal” or “everlasting,” such as “The everlasting heights have become our possession” (Ezekiel 36:2), or “the perpetual mountains were shattered, the ancient hills collapsed. His ways are everlasting” (Habakkuk 3:6), as supporting their case. Eternal punishment is something, then, to only be viewed in terms of it originating from God and/or it having an effect for a very long time. Yet it is also very true that “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18), l’olam v’ed, is something that is surely never supposed to end.[39]

While annihilationists do point out how terms such as olam and aiōnios/aiōn can relate to antiquity or a long duration, and not necessarily something everlasting or never-ending, context in a Biblical passage as always will ultimately determine what olam and aiōnios/aiōn actually mean. George Eldon Ladd properly directs us, “The Hebrew word ‘ôlām means a long indefinite period of time, whether past or future, whose limits are determined only by context or the nature of the thing spoken of.” He further says, “The word aiōn, like ‘ôlām, is used to mean an indeterminate period of time.”[40] Those who believe in an ongoing, never-ending punishment of the unredeemed claim that the terms olam and aiōnios/aiōn more strongly support their case, especially given the Biblical uses that detail the nature of God and His future, everlasting Kingdom. “Forever and ever” language that is used to issue praises to the Almighty, is the same that appears in language describing the condemnation issued upon the wicked. And, not at all to be overlooked regarding such “forever” language, is how the location and setting determines its meaning—especially if what we mortals consider as “normal” rules of time and space no longer apply (discussed further).

Seeing how the language of “eternal” or “forever” or “everlasting” is employed in the Scriptures, in distinct eschatological locations, the majority of interpreters throughout the centuries have necessarily held eternal punishment to be never-ending in process. But let us not think that this has been an easy, or even desirable position for many to adhere to. Milne is quite keen to observe how while “the vast majority both among general Christian believers and the church’s leaders have believed…that the Bible teaches the endless duration of hell,” he points out that this has been “seldom without considerable inward struggle.”[41] Indeed, a great number of those who adhere to traditional models of never-ending punishment would prefer to believe in annihilationism.

Messianic Believers, aside from the issues of how olam and aiōnios/aiōn are used in Earth-bound and extra-terrestrial-bound settings, have a further challenge as it regards these terms in association with Torah practices they feel are very important for today’s Body of Messiah to keep. Exodus 31:16-17 lays forth the perpetual importance of the seventh-day Sabbath, with olam used in the Hebrew MT, and aiōnios in its Greek LXX translation:

“So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant [Heb. MT: b’rit olam; Grk. LXX: diathēkē aiōnios]. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever [Heb. MT: l’olam; Grk. LXX: aiōnion]; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”

While olam and aiōnios/aiōn have flexibility within the Holy Scriptures, it cannot go without noticing that a passage like Exodus 31:16-17 is strongly emphasized by many seventh-day Sabbath-keeping groups to support the idea of Shabbat-permanence. The Sabbath is an eternal sign for God’s people, right? The great irony is that many of those same seventh-day Sabbath-keeping groups, and now many Messianic groups, espouse annihilationism as a viable “eternal punishment.” The significance of the seventh-day Sabbath is thought to certainly last forever, but eternal punishment, ultimately, does not.

You will not find many of today’s Messianic Believers arguing for Shabbat to be something eternal or olam, only in the sense that it was to last a very long time, i.e., from the formal giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai until the sacrifice of Yeshua at Golgotha. On the contrary, many within the broad Messianic world are convinced that given the eternality of Shabbat, this is something that the Lord is restoring to His people. Many see Shabbat as a Creation ordinance given by God to all of humankind (cf. Genesis 2:2-3), not something to be “eternal” only until the end of the so-called Mosaic dispensation. The Sabbath is to be something that is beneficial for all people forever, teaching us lessons now about the future Kingdom.[42]

Messianic annihilationists who may argue for the eternality of Shabbat, but then argue for eternal punishment to be something less than forever in its duration, demonstrate some real inconsistencies in how they choose to view the terms olam and aiōnios/aiōn. There are Christian annihilationists who are at least consistent, viewing the seventh-day Sabbath as “eternal” only until the crucifixion of Yeshua, and likewise viewing eternal punishment as “eternal” only in terms of its effect.

For Messianics to be theologically consistent in how the terms olam and aiōnios/aiōn are used in the Scriptures, we need to treat the eternality of things like the Sabbath and the punishment meted out on the wicked as both lasting forever.[43]

Can “death” mean something more?

Annihilationists who advocate extinction from existence as the punishment the unrighteous will experience, believe they have a strong Biblical case for their position. The Scriptures do, after all, teach “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Those who receive the salvation of Yeshua will have never-ending life, and those who reject Him will have never-ending death. While there is no disputing that death (Heb. mavet; Grk. thanatos) is the penalty that will be incurred by those who reject the Creator God and His ways, it is a mistake for any Bible reader to think that such “death” is only to be viewed as a medical state of being.

Advocates of psychopannychy and annihilationism think that life and death are only physical concepts. When a person is alive, his or her heart is beating and the brain is functioning. When a person is dead, his or her heart is not beating and the brain is not functioning. A common annihilationist argument is that an ongoing, eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire would constitute “eternal life in hell-fire,” and could not at all classify as “death.” Is theirs a proper approach to eternal punishment? While the concepts of life and death, as seen in the Bible, are used to describe the physical life processes, it is also a fact witnessed in the Bible that life and death are qualitative conditions of being that can be manifested in a person who is medically alive. The concepts of life or death can be used to describe a condition of communion or exile from the Creator.[44]

The worst punishment defined in the Bible, which humans can inflict upon other humans, is the capital death penalty. Noah was told in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” The uniqueness of human beings requires that if one person murders another, when it has been proven that a murder has been committed, the murderer has forfeited his right to continue living. The reason that murder is so universally appalling, is precisely because a murder robs another person of partaking in the goodness of life on Planet Earth. While survivors from a victim’s family have to mourn and go on living without their loved one to be with them, there are experiences that only a biological life can allow for, which someone who dies cannot partake of in an intermediate afterlife and/or in a resurrected state.

As Believers in Yeshua the Messiah, we should all be in rightful agreement that the capital punishment for high sins in the Torah has been largely absorbed by His sacrifice at Golgotha, per Paul’s word that “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us…He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Capital punishment issued for murderers, as a Creation ordinance from Genesis, is something that should be few and far between. Yet while our record of guilt before God is regarded as having been paid for, and with it the capital penalties issued in this world—the reality of eternal punishment has not been erased or nullified. All people, whether they acknowledge Yeshua or not, are free from the Torah’s capital penalties upon high crimes. But it is only those, who have appropriated the permanent offering and atonement made by Yeshua, who may consider themselves free of the eternal penalties to be issued upon the unrepentant.

Yeshua’s sacrifice for sinful humanity has only nullified penalties that can be administered by humans upon other humans (with possible capital punishment for murderers being an exception). Eternal punishment, however, is agreed upon by both annihilationists and traditionalists alike to be something only able to be administered to the unredeemed by an Eternal Creator. Is a death penalty that can be issued by mortals upon other mortals, which could include a cremation and scattering of an offender’s remains—the same as the eternal penalties inflicted by God on the unrighteous at the final judgment? The annihilationist seems to think so, as the unrighteous will experience extinction and an eventual reduction to base atoms and nothingness. But the very nature of eternal punishment requires that it be something much different, and even more severe, than the capital punishment that humans have been able to dispense upon other humans.

Throughout the Torah, the main penalty for high crimes in the camp of Israel—be they crimes committed against God or members of the community—is frequently that of being “cut off” (cf. Ezekiel 18:4).[45] There are instances where being “cut off” can pertain to the death penalty (Exodus 31:14; Leviticus 18:29; 20:3, 5-6, 17; 23:29; Numbers 15:30), usually because of committing idolatry, blasphemy, or some high sexual sin. At the same time, there are instances where being “cut off” can pertain to some kind of exile or removal from Israel (Exodus 30:33; Numbers 19:13, 20). And, there are places of debate among interpreters, where “cut off” could mean capital punishment, but could also be viewed as exile (Exodus 12:15, 19; Leviticus 7:20, 21, 25, 27; 17:4, 9, 10, 14; 19:8; 20:18; 22:3; Numbers 9:13; 15:31). The fact that the meaning of karat is disputed in many instances, reveals how being “cut off” does not always mean being executed for high crimes against God. TWOT informs us of the difficulties:

“In addition to the literal meaning of this root, ‘to cut off’ (Exo 4:25; 1Sam 5:4) and ‘to cut down’ (a ‘woodcutter’ in Isa 14:8) there is the metaphorical meaning to root out, eliminate, remove, excommunicate or destroy by a violent act of man or nature. It is sometimes difficult in a given context to know whether the person(s) who is ‘cut off’ is to be killed or only excommunicated. Verses like Gen 9:11, ‘Neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood’ clearly refer to destruction, but Exo 12:15 appears to refer to exclusion from the community. An interesting passage which illustrates the difficulty in deciding whether the word is literal or metaphorical in usage is Num 11:33. Did the Lord strike the Israelites with a plague before the meat of the quails was chewed (literally ‘cut off’) or was it while they were still eating quails before the quails ceased to come or were removed?”[46]

In Jewish theology, one witnesses the concept of karet certainly involving capital punishment issued upon violators for various crimes, but it may also include excommunication from the assembly.[47]

While the annihilationist feels confident in his assessment that death is only a physical condition, with the unredeemed to be issued extinction, death as a spiritual condition—experienced by those still physically living—is something definitely encountered in the Scriptures. Hosea 13:1, chastising the Northern Kingdom’s idolatry against God, speaks in terms of how “When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling. He exalted himself in Israel, but through Baal he did wrong and died,” a condition of separation from the Lord. In the Messiah’s parable of the prodigal son, the father declares, “for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:24), even though the prodigal son had not physically died. In Yeshua’s message to the assembly at Sardis, He says, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).

Within the Pauline letters, death is portrayed as a condition of a person, while physically alive, existing in a realm of sin and removal from God. Colossians 2:13 asserts how, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” This is echoed by Ephesians 2:1, 5, where the audience is told, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…even when we were dead in our transgressions, [we were] made…alive together with Messiah (by grace you have been saved).” The instruction of 1 Timothy 5:6 observes, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.” And, the “I” sinner of Romans ch. 7 speaks forth, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me…Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:9-10, 24). Romans 8:6 further explains how life and death are to be viewed as qualitative conditions of being: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

That the presence of sin causes a rift between people and their Creator, and thus a condition of death—for those who are physically alive—finds support in Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” This is undoubtedly the status of all non-Believers prior to their knowing Yeshua (cf. James 5:20; 1 John 5:17). The salvation provided by Yeshua offers one a transfer into the realm of life, where restoration and communion with the Father can be experienced. A main result of Yeshua’s sacrificial death for humanity was so “He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Ultimately, only the Creator Himself has the power over who physically lives and who physically dies. But the Adversary certainly has power over that realm of sin and God-lessness, where people live as dead beings in a condition of wickedness. Yeshua came to break this hold over people.

Annihilationists can only convince audiences of their argument in favor of eternal non-existence, when Bible readers have not been adequately informed as to the different dynamics of life and death presented to us in God’s Word. It is not at all inappropriate to view the death that Yeshua must redeem us from, as being a condition of sin, exile, and removal from the Father. We need to significantly remember how Yeshua said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24; cf. 6:47; 1 John 3:14). While there are surely futuristic aspects of such eternal life yet to be experienced in the eschaton (John 6:54), eternal life is something that the redeemed already have (echei being a present active indicative). Eternal life is to be primarily understood as a qualitative state of being, where men and women are reconciled to their Creator by the good news.[48]

For whatever reason, annihilationists have a very one-dimensional view of concepts such as life and death. Contrary to their thinking, eternal life is something to be partaken of today, in the hearts of those who acknowledge Yeshua as Savior, who can have a restored relationship with the Father—with a grand future awaiting them in His Kingdom. While annihilationists would conclude that eternal death is being physically dead and personally extinct, those of us who can see that the death we are to be redeemed from is actually being cut off and exiled from God’s presence—can surely view eternal punishment described as “death” as a negative condition of being. Experiencing “death” as eternal punishment is hardly having “eternal life in hell-fire” as annihilationists unfairly describe; it is, rather, a condition of being removed from God that will never end. An eternal, never-ending death for the condemned will be a condition of separation from Him, with no chance of any reconciliation.

Being removed from the Creator’s presence was not something that was ever a part of His original intention for humanity. The result of Adam and Eve’s sin was expulsion from paradise. Genesis 3:23-24 details, “therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” No longer could Adam and Eve have the intimate communion that God had desired with those made in His image (cf. Genesis 3:8), but there was a definite rift and barrier introduced because of sin. The justification for readers concluding that “death” in the Scriptures, as a condition of separation from the Creator, is found in how Adam and Eve were removed from His chosen place as soon as they broke His law. Milne observes how “The inner meaning and ultimate spiritual tragedy of Adam’s and Eve’s revolt appear at the conclusion of the account in Genesis 3…Thus the presence of God to which Adam and Eve had enjoyed constant and delighted access is now withdrawn from them, and that very presence becomes a threat.”[49] Of course, the advantage for us who believe in Yeshua and who now possess eternal life, is that this condition of estrangement can be almost instantly nullified by the gospel!

The location of eternal punishment, which most Bible readers and theologians tend to refer to by the all-encompassing term “Hell,” is not a place to which human beings were originally supposed to be confined. Speaking of eternal condemnation, Yeshua will say, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). The punishment, that unredeemed people will experience, was originally something intended only for Satan and fallen angels. Noting this verse, along with 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6, Milne correctly directs us, “God’s loving, eternal purpose did not include hell as far as humans were concerned. It was not God’s primary thought in his plan for human destiny…That hell should exist also for humankind is the supreme tragedy of existence.”[50] Being condemned to such an unpleasant place is, in the Scriptures, considered to be a just penalty for rejecting the Creator—just as Satan and his minions rejected Him.

And if we are correctly able to recognize the different aspects of life and death given to us in the Scriptures, going beyond a medical condition of being physically functioning or physically non-functioning—then we can understand why eternal punishment in Hell is by no means “eternal life.” It is permanent separation from the Creator, from which there is no possible hope of return. “Hell is…both a condition of retribution and a place in which the retribution occurs. In both of these aspects of the three basic ideas associated with the concept of hell are reflected: absence of righteousness, separation from God, and judgment,” ultimately involving “eternal loss in exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and fellowship with God” (NIDB).[51]

A hyper-literal view of destroy?

A significant part of the annihilationist argument, in that the condemned will suffer extinction and not some kind of ongoing, conscious punishment separated from God, is witnessed in their usage of and approach to the English word destroy. It is most common to hear annihilationists quote a verse like Matthew 10:28, where Yeshua says, “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Pointing out the English word “destroy,” they then insist that God will “destroy” sinners in the Lake of Fire, reducing them to nothingness.

In English itself, it cannot go unnoticed that the verb “destroy” has a wider variety of definitions than just “wipe out of total existence,” which the annihilationists incorrectly believe is the only definition. Indeed, as seen in Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus, the main English definitions of the verb destroy include: “to tear down, demolish,” “to ruin,” “to do away with,” and “to kill.”[52] “Destroy” in an entirely English context need not be what annihilationists insist it means. “Destroy” can very well mean existing in a completely decrepit and demolished, or ruined and devastated condition—as opposed to meaning completely extinct. As is validly pointed out in Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics:

“If someone undergoes everlasting destruction, then they have to have everlasting existence. The cars in a junkyard have been destroyed, but they are not annihilated. They are simply beyond repair or unredeemable. So are the people in hell.”[53]

Of course, while the English verb “destroy” need not at all communicate any sense of annihilation, our responsibility as Bible readers is to be adequately informed as to the various Hebrew and Greek terms that sit behind our English translations. When we do this, we find that the various terms often translated as “destroy” in our English Bibles, do not at all connote an absolute sense of obliteration or extinction from existence. These verbs all have a range of meanings, which dependent upon context, connote various degrees of defeat, exile, banishment, scattering, humiliation, utter ruin, and some form of destruction.

The following are some of the main Hebrew terms that we will encounter, which can denote various degrees of destruction:

  • avad: appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), the verb avad can mean “become lost of property,” “perish, of men,” “be ruined, of nation”; appearing in the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice) the verb avad can mean “give up as lost,” “let perish,” “destroy,” “exterminate”; and appearing in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice), the verb avad can mean “exterminate” (CHALOT).[54] The basic sense of avad, as offered by AMG, is that it is “A verb meaning to perish, to be lost, to wander, or, in a causative sense, to destroy, to reduce to some degree of disorder.”[55]
  • shamad: appearing in the Nifal stem (simple action, passive voice), the verb shamad can mean “be exterminated, of persons” or “be made useless”; appearing in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) it can mean “exterminate” (CHALOT).[56] Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament makes the point that “This word always expresses complete ‘destruction’ or ‘annihilation.’ While the word is often used to express literal destruction of people (Deut. 2:12; Judg. 21:16), šāmad frequently is part of an open threat or warning given to the people of Israel, promising ‘destruction’ if they forsake God for idols (cf. Deut. 4:25-26).”[57]
  • kalah: appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), the verb kalah can mean “come to an end,” “become finished, complete: (construction of) house…sacrifice…be fulfilled, accomplished,” “disappear, perish: grass…men,” “be destroyed, ruined,” and “be consumed, waste away”; appearing in the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice) the verb kalah can mean “complete, finish” and “destroy, exterminate” (CHALOT).[58] The difficulty with approaching the verb kalah is how “The basic idea of this root is ‘to bring a process to completion.’…The processes which are brought to an end may be either positive or negative. That is, something may be continually added to until it is full or complete, or something may be taken away from until there is nothing left. The English word ‘finish’ coincides very nicely with kālâ in that it too can have either positive or negative connotations” (TWOT).[59]
  • damah: appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), the verb damah can mean “destroy, or be destroyed”; and appearing in the Nifal stem (simple action, passive voice) the verb damah can mean “be destroyed” (CHALOT).[60] It is true of damah that “The verb means to come to an end, but it is always a violent end that is indicated.” Yet also to be noted is how “In a different context, however, this verb is used by Jeremiah in his aspiration that his tears shed for his people not ‘cease’ (Jer 14:17; cf. Lam 3:49). Isaiah also uses the verb (in the Niphal perfect) in his familiar, ‘Woe is me for I am “undone”’ (Isa 6:5)” (TWOT).[61]

The following are some of the main Greek terms that we will encounter, which can denote various degrees of destruction:

  • apollumi: the verb apollumi, appearing in the active voice, can mean “to cause or experience destruction,” “ruin, destroy”; in the middle voice the verb apollumi can mean “perish, be ruined.” Other notable meanings of the verb apollumi include, “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose,” and “to lose someth. that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost” (BDAG).[62] Vine indicates how for apollumi, “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being.”[63] AMG further states, “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.”[64]
  • olethros: the term olethros pertains to “a state of destruction, destruction, ruin, death,” as well as an “act of destruction, destruction” (BDAG).[65] Like the “Lat. pernicies and pestis,” olethros can concern “that which causes destruction, a pest, plague, curse” (LS).[66]

While we can be informed a great deal by knowing what some of the Hebrew and Greek terms, frequently rendered as “destroy” in our English Bibles, are—ultimately the issue rests with each individual passage that speaks of some kind of punishment to be meted out upon the wicked. What is communicated in these passages? What is the place of the judgment? What is the nature of the judgment? Is the judgment a corporate judgment upon Ancient Israel or one of its enemies, or is it a personal judgment upon individual sinners? Context, as always, will be king.

As we prepare ourselves to delve into various Scripture passages, from both the Hebrew Tanach and Greek Apostolic Writings, you will find that annihilationists have over-emphasized the word “destroy.” For them, “destroy” must always equal “totally wipe out of existence,” yet for the Bible itself “destroy” need not always mean this at all. Readers must do the best that they can to not approach the text with a hyper-literal viewpoint of “destroy,” when being utterly ruined or suffering extreme corruption by Divine retribution might be a better vantage point to consider.

Location, Location, Location! The Real Estate of Eternal Punishment

When the subject of eternal punishment is evaluated by those examining theology, what we are typically considering to be “Hell” is, in actuality, a condition of significant punishment—removed from the presence of God. In widespread and common usage, though, “Hell” is frequently thought of to not just be a terrible condition, but also be the ultimate place where the condemned will be consigned forever. Various terms are actually employed within the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures to speak of conditions of punishment issued by God to the condemned, which we need to be aware of as we prepare to examine various passages describing either intermediate or eternal condemnation.

As we review the various terms, which in various English Bibles have all been rendered as “hell,” there is one important thing we must each keep in mind: The most important rule of real estate is knowing the location of a property. One of the most critical aspects, of proper Biblical interpretation, is in recognizing where the events detailed actually occur or will occur. Is it important to know a few things about Egypt when studying the Book of Exodus? Or a few things about Rome when reading Paul’s letter to the Romans? Of course. Properly reviewing the topic of eternal punishment is no different. Does the final judgment of the wicked take place on Planet Earth, or somewhere else? How many passages, which have been interpreted to speak of the final judgment of the wicked, could actually be misinterpreted because of a failure to consider their real location? On Planet Earth, the duration of things is bound by certain rules of time-space and matter; in another dimension, the duration of things may not similarly be bound by such time.

In a prophetic word issued to those in Jerusalem, the Lord decrees, “But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched” (Jeremiah 17:27). God says that if the Sabbath is not honored by the people, then “I will set fire to its gates, and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem and not be extinguished” (HCSB). While Jerusalem did fall to the Babylonians, whatever fires were kindled against the city have long since gone out. And the reason for this is obvious: if not provided a continual, terrestrial fuel source, a fire will go out. The memory of fires and judgment issued by God, via the Babylonians, does continue.

Annihilationists will commonly use verses like Jeremiah 17:27 quoted here, and claim that a fire not quenched against the wicked will ultimately go out, and they will be obliterated (i.e., Jude 7). But does the final judgment against the unredeemed get dispensed to them in this dimension? Are there dimensions of existence where the rules that govern our terrestrial sphere and universe no longer apply—such as a “fire” never being extinguished?

How many Scripture passages that appear to support annihilationism, on a surface read—actually do not—because the location or time of these words is not considered? These could be Day of the Lord prophecies that speak of God’s judgment on Planet Earth prior to the inauguration of Yeshua’s Millennial reign, or a final battle to occur between the forces of good and evil at the end of the Millennium—neither one being the Eternal State. When defending a traditional view of an ongoing, never-ending punishment for the condemned, we have to be very careful in noting where such a punishment takes place. Annihilationists will commonly catch even the best Bible readers off guard, by often providing as proof-texts verses that speak of Earth-bound scenes, and God issuing judgments for His people upon Earthly enemies or terrestrial enemy armies.

It is not difficult for Bible readers to imagine the New Heavens, New Earth, and New Jerusalem described for us at the end of the Book of Revelation, to possess unique qualities henceforth unknown or not fully understood, to those of us living in the current Creation. Revelation 21:1, 4 informs us, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” The introduction of all of this, of course, occurs immediately after the unredeemed are judged. An important clue as to the nature of this judgment, which we need not overlook, is stated in Revelation 20:11:

“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.”

What does this mean? Obviously, it does mean that Yeshua the Messiah has the ultimate authority over all things created. But it also should be taken as a statement that the place where the unredeemed will be consigned, after their final judgment is issued, is not a place like our present universe. In his book Beyond the Cosmos, Hugh Ross astutely observes, “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.”[67] The annihilationist, contrary to this, cannot acknowledge that eternal punishment is to be issued to the wicked in a different domain than this one. The annihilationist’s model of eternal punishment is bound to current ideas of terrestrial time-space, whereas those who advocate a never-ending punishment for the unredeemed can correctly place such a punishment in another dimension with different rules of time and being.

So what of the Hebrew and Greek terms that are commonly used to speak of punishment on the wicked?

The most frequent terms that one will encounter in the Scriptures, which the King James Version often (but not always) rendered as “hell,” are Sheol and Hadēs.[68] In the Tanach, all of the deceased are said to go to Sheol, which leads many to think of it just in terms of “the grave” (although the Hebrew qever, more appropriately relates to a place of internment). Yet, in both Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20 and Luke 16:19-31, Sheol or Hades are witnessed more to be a netherworldly place, where the disembodied consciousness of the deceased can exist after death and before resurrection. While Sheol/Hades did function as a place where the righteous deceased went prior to the ascension of Yeshua into Heaven (cf. Ephesians 4:8-9), it would have continued to function as a place where the unrighteous deceased would be transported, henceforth called “Hell.” Yet, such a “Hell” should be understood only as an intermediate Hell, with final sentencing and punishment awaiting the condemned at the second resurrection (Revelation 20:5).

In a modern English translation like the NASU, and to a lesser extent the RSV/NRSV/ESV family of versions, Sheol and Hadēs are typically just left as Sheol and Hades in the Old and New Testaments. What is instead rendered as “hell” is Gehenna, itself a Greek transliteration of Gei-Hinnom. A fair number of Bible scholars identify this place of Gehenna or Gei-Hinnom with Valley of Hinnom, “the scene of the idolatrous worship of the Canaanite gods Molech and Baal. This worship consisted of sacrificing children by passing them through a fire on Topheth (a high place) and into the hands of the gods (Jer 7:31; 19:4-5; 32:35)” (ABD).[69] In the Intertestimental and Rabbinic literature Gei-Hinnom was regarded as “a glen to the south of Jerusalem where Molokh was worshipped; whence place of punishment of the wicked in the hereafter, hell” (Jastrow).[70] Due to the idolatrous, widely burning nature of Gehenna, it became used as a suitable image for the kind of condition to befall the unrepentant, unrighteous at final judgment.[71] The term Gehenna is most often witnessed in the Gospels, and as Yarbrough informs us, “Jesus uses a despicable, disgusting, and harrowing geographical reference familiar to him and his listeners to warn of an eschatological destiny that his listeners should seek to avoid at all costs.”[72]

The third, and perhaps most frightening of all the terms employed to describe the punishment that will befall the wicked, is how the Book of Revelation says that they will be cast into the Lake of Fire (tēn limēn tou puros; Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14-15). The terminology “lake of fire” is general enough, that some degree of overlap with the representation of Gehenna is surely intended.

While the Biblical terminology witnessed for eternal punishment, largely speaks for itself when witnessed in diverse contexts, some annihilationists claim that the English term Hell may have nothing to do with any kind of punishment. It is true, after all, that the famed Oxford English Dictionary, noting the origins of the word “hell,” states that it is derived from the “Old English hel, hell, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hel and German Hölle, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to cover or hide.’”[73] Whether “to cover or hide” has Earth-bound or non-terrestrial applications, of course, can probably be disputed, and the annihilationist argument here is a little desperate. A more theologically informed resource like the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms notes that the English word “hell” derives from the “North German hel, ‘realm of the dead,’” and that “In Christian theology, [it is] the place of the dead after death in which the wicked endure eternal punishment and the total absence of God (Matt. 25:46; Luke 10:15; Rev. 20:13-15).” It is further observed, “It has also been interpreted symbolically to indicate the most profound separation from God.”[74]

The ancient linguistic roots of the modern term “hell” may have some more variance than is witnessed today, perhaps more akin to “the hidden beyond” than anything else. For our purposes, we are most concerned about the theological meaning of the term Hell. What is commonly referred to as Hell is a condition of removal from the Creator’s presence, terrible pain and agony to be experienced not only by the unredeemed after death and for eternity—but also a condition that can be experienced in one’s current life on Earth. Even born again and redeemed Believers have been known to say things like, “That was a hellish experience,” describing terrible and unpleasant things that they have had to endure. And for the unredeemed, such a condition can surely be known to them in Earthly life, before they die and have to experience an intermediate punishment, later attended by an everlasting punishment.

Expectations in the Tanach Regarding (Eternal) Punishment?

Liberal and conservative readers of the Tanach (Old Testament) are both widely agreed that while there is teaching on the hereafter present, that the emphasis of the Hebrew Scriptures is far more geared toward Earthly life in the present. Given how the Tanach actually has few references about the intermediate state between death and the resurrection,[75] and about the resurrection itself,[76] it might be said that it gives us even fewer references about the final penalty awaiting unrepentant sinners. Robert A. Morey properly directs our attention: “We must remark at this point that the annihilationists have the habit of misapplying texts. They consistently put forth dozens of passages which actually pertain to the fate of the wicked in this life as if these passages were speaking of the final punishment of sinners after the resurrection.”[77] However, rather than ignore any potential Tanach passages that may seem to support annihilationism, we must instead engage with them.

There are surely words issued by the Lord that detail His Divine retribution upon the unrighteous and the enemies of His chosen people. Yet, how many of these passages definitively deal with individual eschatology and the final sentencing of persons before God’s throne versus the judgment and humiliation of Israel’s enemies (before the Millennium?), can only be determined by an examination of the relevant Tanach passages. Not to be overlooked for us as Messianic Believers, is how some of these Tanach passages—which detail the defeat of Israel’s enemies at the hands of Israel’s God—are instead viewed to refer to eternal punishment because of replacement theology. With Israel relatively out of the picture of God’s prophetic plan, supposedly not anticipating any kind of restoration to the Promised Land in the Millennium (if there is such a time), words of defeat against its adversaries are applied to all of the unrighteous who oppose God. It can be very easy to get caught off guard with these passages, meaning that as readers we have to proceed very carefully, paying attention to context.

Numbers 16:30-33

“‘But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.’ As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.”

One of the first major scenes in the Tanach, which associates some kind of punishment with the realm of Sheol, is in that of the judgment of Korah and his compatriots. Moses is clear to inform the Ancient Israelites that the ground opening up and swallowing the discontents and their possessions is “something unprecedented” (HCSB) or a “miracle” (REB), beriah, meaning that this was not the normal way that people die.[78] The rebels opposing God and Moses had the ground open up and consume them alive, along with their possessions, likely to emphasize to the witnesses that what they owned could not save them; their fate as the unrighteous was sealed. Those witnessing the event were greatly afraid: “All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, ‘The earth may swallow us up!’” The Targum Jonathan on Numbers 16:34 records an ancient Jewish view that those being swallowed up, declared forth that God is righteous and their punishment was just:

“And all Israel who were round about them fled from the terror of their voice, as they cried and said, Righteous is the Lord, and His judgment is truth, and the words of His servant Mosheh are truth; but we are wicked who have rebelled against him: and the children of Israel fled when they heard; for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up.”[79]

In all probability, Korah and his associates were killed by being swallowed up by the Earth. But was this the total end of them? We may need to take a hint from Psalm 141:7, which informs us how when some people die, “As when one plows and breaks open the earth, our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol” (cf. Psalm 141:6).[80] Is this intended to be a description of how those slain can remain unburied, even though a grave awaits them? Or could it be a description of how those slain are hastily, although dishonorably buried? If we correctly consider Sheol to be an inter-dimensional holding place for the consciousness of the deceased, then the latter option should be preferred. These deceased are hastily buried, as though the place of internment is only as deep as a plow furrows the soil. L’pei Sheol or “at the mouth of Sheol,” implies that more awaits those who are buried in such a manner.[81] The dishonor of a poor burial is only part of the problem.

For the enemies of God and Moses like Korah and his associates, after being swallowed up by the ground, their mortal remains were strewn at the mouth of Sheol. More awaited them among the company of the shades in the netherworld. The scene of Numbers 16:30-33, while principally describing an Earthly punishment in the view of Ancient Israel, can be taken as helping to lay a foundation for a future, more developed understanding of a doctrine of intermediate Hell.

Isaiah 1:28-31

“But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, and those who forsake the LORD will come to an end. Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, and you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away or as a garden that has no water. The strong man will become tinder, his work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together and there will be none to quench them.

Upon seeing the word of Isaiah 1:28-31, the annihilationist will immediately draw our attention to vs. 28, 31: “But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish…The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire” (NIV). Obviously, we cannot deny that the Hebrew verb kalah in v. 28 largely means “be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished, spent” (BDB),[82] and that they “shall be consumed” (RSV/NRSV/ESV) regards how transgressors and sinners will suffer a horrible fate. Likewise, v. 31 does speak of a fire issued “With none to quench” (NJPS).

But what is the scene of this prophecy? Clues that we are given in the surrounding cotext regard how Jerusalem has become a harlot, even though righteousness did once dwell within the city (Isaiah 1:21). Because of significant sins that have been found (Isaiah 1:22-23), “Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, declares, ‘Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries and avenge Myself on My foes. I will also turn My hand against you, and will smelt away your dross as with lye and will remove all your alloy’” (Isaiah 1:24-25). A significant judgment will be issued by God against His holy city, but with it comes a promise of return, as He says, “Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.’ Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:26-27).

In this promise for restoration to Zion, it is true that Jerusalem will be known as ir ha’tzedek qir’ah ne’manah. Restored to Zion will be “your magistrates as of old, and your counselors as of yore” (Isaiah 1:26, NJPS). Is this describing the final redemption of Jerusalem in the Eternal State? A redemption of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Millennium? Or a redemption of Jerusalem at the end of the Babylonian exile? There were, notably, judges and officials punished by the Lord at the beginning of the Babylonian exile (2 Chronicles 36:14-21). In the future Millennium, when all Israel is restored and Jerusalem is finally given a place of honor in the Earth, there will finally be righteousness found in the Holy Land (Jeremiah 23:5-8; Ezekiel 20:33-38).

The fate of those described in Isaiah 1:28-31 has to regard those who are judged by the Lord in battle, in association with Jerusalem’s restoration. They are those who have fallen prey to various oaks and gardens (Isaiah 1:29), which as J.A. Motyer informs us, “are the symbols of the life of ‘nature’ and of the fertility gods.”[83] Isaiah 1:31 should be viewed as Earth-bound judgment, particularly as “The strong man will become tinder, his work also a spark,” refers to how both the idol-maker and his idol will burn together. The impression that one gets is that when Jerusalem is made the City of Righteousness, at the Messiah’s return, idolaters and their idols will be rightly punished in the execution of warfare. That “they shall both burn together and there will be none to quench them,” is a statement of assuredness that nothing can stop the inevitability of such punishment. Yet, this is obviously not describing all sinners condemned at the final judgment; this is a less-than-pleasant, Earth-bound defeat.

Given how Jerusalem as the City of Righteousness, will have judges and counselors restored to it at this time, some degree of normal living will continue on. It is best that we consider the scene of Isaiah 1:28-31 relating to the start of the future Millennial Kingdom reign of Yeshua, something largely described in the oracle of Isaiah 2:1-11 that follows (cf. Zechariah 8:3-5). Isaiah 1:28-31, while speaking of the sure judgment to befall idolaters, does not speak of the eternal punishment to be issued against all the unrighteous.

Isaiah 10:18

“And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.”

When encountering the teachings of an annihilationist, it is very easy for someone to get completely caught off guard by a quotation like Isaiah 10:18. The ArtScroll Tanach even renders this verse as, “his glorious forest and his fertile field, it will annihilate [kalah] from soul to flesh, and they will be like a termite’s chewings.” The punishment issued here seems pretty complete, does it not? M’nefesh v’ad-basar. If Isaiah 10:18 is offered as a support for annihilationism, then what the annihilationist has failed to tell those he is trying to convince is that this verse appears within a series of prophetic oracles describing the Messianic Age, the start of the Millennium, and an Earthly judgment issued by God upon Assyria.

In the wider view of Isaiah ch. 10, it is easy to detect how God had raised up the Assyrians to judge Israel for its sin against Him (Isaiah 10:1-11). But, in spite of the necessity for Assyria to be raised up against the Northern Kingdom, the Lord says, “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation,” as the very instrument of His judgment will itself be subject to judgment. When God’s judgment is completed against Samaria and against Jerusalem, it is then that He decides, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness” (Isaiah 10:12). Precisely because of Assyria’s boasting (Isaiah 10:13-14), a thorough punishment is decreed:

“Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; and under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day. And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. And the rest of the trees of his forest will be so small in number that a child could write them down” (Isaiah 10:16-19).

It is very obvious from the wider context that Isaiah 10:18 has nothing to do with the final punishment of wicked individuals; it rather concerns a severe and rather wide-sweeping judgment to be issued by God upon Assyria. This is something that will occur in conjunction with the restoration of Israel (Isaiah 10:20-22), and the geography of the Divine retribution issued is specified: “For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land” (Isaiah 10:23). Whether one takes b’qerev kol-ha’eretz to be “in the midst of the whole land” or “in the midst of all the earth” (RSV), Isaiah 10:18 is delivered in an oracle describing the judgment of Assyria, and the regathering of Israel, which will occur in conjunction with the Second Coming of Yeshua. It is a terrestrial-bound judgment.

Isaiah 13:6-16

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, and every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified, pains and anguish will take hold of them; they will writhe like a woman in labor, they will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame. Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger. And it will be that like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with none to gather them, they will each turn to his own people, and each one flee to his own land. Anyone who is found will be thrust through, and anyone who is captured will fall by the sword. Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.”

A typical annihilationist tactic with a passage like Isaiah 13:6-16 might be to only quote v. 9: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it.” Here, we see the verb shamad used, which in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) does mean “exterminate” (CHALOT).[84] While this severe judgment is to be issued upon sinners, we need not overlook the fact that it is connected to “the earth [being] a desolation” (RSV), and the wider series of events that will also occur. Is this the final punishment issued upon all the unrighteous, or is it a terrestrial judgment in association with the Last Days?

That there are some Earthly terrors present in this scene is quite difficult to overlook. Isaiah 13:15-16 indicates how “Whoever is found will be stabbed, and whoever is caught will die by the sword. Their children will be smashed to death before their eyes; their houses will be looted, and their wives raped” (HCSB). Even if some of this is not to be pressed too literally, what is communicated is that the families of the sinners will suffer greatly, and their possessions will be taken away from them. This is not the description of eternal punishment, but rather that of certain humiliation to the enemies of the God of Israel.

That this Day of the Lord when judgment is issued against sinners in association with the Second Coming of Yeshua, is seen in the intertextuality of how Isaiah 13:10 is quoted in Matthew 24:29-31:

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL [Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15] from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY [Zechariah 12:10, 14] with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER [Isaiah 27:13; Deuteronomy 30:4; Zechariah 2:6] His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”

Given Yeshua’s quotation of Isaiah 13:10, in association with His return, we should be able to more easily understand how the Millennial Age will begin with some rather severe judgments issued upon the Lord’s enemies:

“Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger” (Isaiah 13:11-13).

Isaiah 13:6-16 cannot be offered as a support for annihilationism, as the judgment witnessed is terrestrial, and occurs in conjunction with the Second Coming. That sinners from all ages are not judged here is also quite obvious. The Lord says “I will punish the world for its evil” (Isaiah 13:11), teiveil perhaps being “the inhabited and cultivated areas of the mainland” (HALOT).[85] At the return of the Messiah, there is going to be considerable carnage.

Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20

“Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; it arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth; it raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones. They will all respond and say to you, ‘Even you have been made weak as we, you have become like us. Your pomp and the music of your harps have been brought down to Sheol; maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering’…All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb. But you have been cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch, clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit like a trampled corpse. You will not be united with them in burial, because you have ruined your country, you have slain your people. May the offspring of evildoers not be mentioned forever.”

Within this scene, the refaim or “shades” (Isaiah 14:9, RSV) of the kings who had preceded the king of Babylon in death, issue a taunt against him. Each of these kings is said to be able to have his own honored gravesite or qever (Isaiah 14:18), but the king of Babylon is “cast out of your tomb” (Isaiah 14:19), and unlike those other leaders will not have a place of burial (Isaiah 14:20). The king of Babylon dies, and his corpse becomes lost to the elements (Isaiah 14:11). All the king of Babylon has now is a place among the departed spirits in Sheol (Isaiah 14:15).

The passage of Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20 is a clear indication that there is some degree of disembodied, conscious activity in Sheol,[86] which can also be used to firmly support the idea of disembodied, conscious activity for all of the deceased between the point of death and future resurrection. Given the negative depiction here of these wicked kings going down into Sheol, and the king of Babylon suffering judgment, it should not be surprising why the KJV rendered Sheol as “hell.” Furthermore, we should be able to see how a passage like Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20 would be used to develop a doctrine of intermediate Hell—the unpleasant penalties experienced by the unrighteous dead—until their future resurrection and final sentencing.

Isaiah 26:11-21

“O LORD, Your hand is lifted up yet they do not see it. They see Your zeal for the people and are put to shame; indeed, fire will devour Your enemies. LORD, You will establish peace for us, since You have also performed for us all our works. O LORD our God, other masters besides You have ruled us; but through You alone we confess Your name. The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise; therefore You have punished and destroyed them, and You have wiped out all remembrance of them. You have increased the nation, O LORD, You have increased the nation, You are glorified; You have extended all the borders of the land. O LORD, they sought You in distress; they could only whisper a prayer, Your chastening was upon them. As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth, she writhes and cries out in her labor pains, thus were we before You, O LORD. We were pregnant, we writhed in labor, we gave birth, as it seems, only to wind. We could not accomplish deliverance for the earth, nor were inhabitants of the world born. Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; hide for a little while until indignation runs its course. For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; and the earth will reveal her bloodshed and will no longer cover her slain.”

In encountering various teachings from annihilationists, you might see a statement, or more likely a half-statement, made from Isaiah 26:14: “Therefore You have punished and destroyed them, and You have wiped out all remembrance of them.” The verb shamad does appear here, but be aware of how Isaiah 26:14 in total actually begins with, “The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise.” This can present a continuity problem with Daniel 12:2 and Revelation 20:5-6, where it is clear that all of the deceased will be resurrected, as those who do not participate in the first resurrection will be resurrected to face final sentencing before God. But Isaiah 26:14a says, of these enemies of God, “They are now dead, they live no more; those departed spirits do not rise” (NIV). Is there a contradiction here? Furthermore, what are we to do with variant renderings such as “You punished them and brought them to ruin” (Isaiah 26:14b, NIV)?

If we read Isaiah 26:11-21 a bit more carefully, we see that the main intention is to contrast the power of the Lord God of Israel, with those other kings and leaders that Ancient Israel was forced to be subject to. The purpose of stating that certain persons will not rise to live again, being punished, destroyed, and with all memory of them gone—is to affirm that the Lord will restore His people Israel. Isaiah 26:11-14 specifies,

“O LORD, Your hand is lifted up yet they do not see it. They see Your zeal for the people and are put to shame; indeed, fire will devour Your enemies. LORD, You will establish peace for us, since You have also performed for us all our works. O LORD our God, other masters besides You have ruled us; but through You alone we confess Your name. The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise; therefore You have punished and destroyed them, and You have wiped out all remembrance of them.”

The key statement to be aware of is, “other lords [adonim] besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance” (Isaiah 26:13, ESV). Motyer correctly directs our attention to how “The reference to other lords includes Pharaoh, the many alien rulers in the period of the Judges, the Philistines and, more proximately, the Assyrians.”[87] These people are never going to be raised to life again to oppress Israel, and should be effectively forgotten. The issue in view is not the general resurrection of the condemned, but rather how Israel’s enemies who once conquered them will never rise again to conquer them again. Geoffrey W. Grogan adds to this, “it is best for us to think in terms of both false deities and the foreign rulers who regarded themselves as their representatives”[88] being seen here.

Quite contrary to Israel’s previous adversaries not being allowed a second chance to oppress them, in spite of there being some oppression and turbulence that Israel experienced (Isaiah 26:16-18), there is the expectation of national resurrection. Even though the great powers who oppressed Israel will never be resurrected, Israel as a great power will be resurrected, and the Lord Himself will judge Israel’s Earthly enemies:

“You have increased the nation, O LORD, You have increased the nation, You are glorified; You have extended all the borders of the land…Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; hide for a little while until indignation runs its course. For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth [yosheiv-ha’eretz] for their iniquity; and the earth will reveal her bloodshed and will no longer cover her slain” (Isaiah 26:15, 19-21).

What we see detailed, in Isaiah 26:19, is not quantitatively different from the Ezekiel 37:1-14 scene of the dry bones, describing the national resurrection of Israel. Of course, verses like Isaiah 26:19 and Ezekiel 37:1-14 have been used as ancillary supports for the doctrine of resurrection. Yet, the overall scene of Isaiah 26:11-21 is nationalistic to Ancient Israel, and how past injustices will be righted in the future Kingdom Age. As far as Isaiah 26:14 is concerned, even the annihilationist should be aware of the dangers of quoting a passage of Scripture that appears to speak against a general resurrection of the wicked, when other passages in the Bible do speak in favor of a general resurrection of the wicked.[89] Isaiah 26:14 is specifically concerned with the foreign rulers and powers that have oppressed Israel, who will never be able to rise up again, as Isaiah 26:13 has specified. It is best that we view Isaiah 26:11-21 as a pre-millennial promise of Israel’s restoration in the Millennium.

The annihilationist, when presented with the fact that he may have failed to read Isaiah 26:11-21 in concert with some other Biblical passages, may think that he has one final way to support his premise that the unrighteous suffer extinction. While Isaiah 26:11-21 is primarily concerned with the national resurrection of Israel, and the final defeat of Israel’s national enemies—it cannot be avoided that Isaiah 26:11 is quoted in Hebrews 10:27, to refer to an individual judgment that will befall the enemies of God.

The author of Hebrews tells his audience, “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” (Hebrews 10:26-27). One can see, given some of the intertextuality with Isaiah 26:11-21, how some might take this as a reference to annihilation. We should more appropriately think, though, that given Hebrews’ author wanting to dissuade many First Century Jewish Believers from denying the Messiah—how he wants them to realize that if they give up on Yeshua, thinking they are being loyal to the Jewish Synagogue—they will actually find themselves as being in the same category of judgment as previous enemies of Israel (Isaiah 26:13). Annihilation need not be intended, as a place among the adversaries of God’s people throughout the ages is instead.

Isaiah 34:1-4, 8-10

“Draw near, O nations, to hear; and listen, O peoples! Let the earth and all it contains hear, and the world and all that springs from it. For the LORD’s indignation is against all the nations, and His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter. So their slain will be thrown out, and their corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood. And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree…For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams will be turned into pitch, and its loose earth into brimstone, and its land will become burning pitch. It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; none will pass through it forever and ever.”

Looking at the words of Isaiah 34:1-4, 8-10, the annihilationist will focus our attention particularly on what vs. 9-10 communicate: “Its streams will be turned into pitch, and its loose earth into brimstone, and its land will become burning pitch. It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; none will pass through it forever and ever.” This is actually a judgment that God will issue upon the Land of Edom (Isaiah 34:6). It will involve a significant fire, the smoke of which will go up l’olam or “forever.” Edom will be desolate, with no one passing through l’neitzach netzachim, different language than what one would expect, as neitzach means “eminence, enduring, everlastingness, perpetuity” (BDB).[90] Annihilationists commonly compare Isaiah 34:9-10 with later verses like Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever…,” and assume that since the fire, burning, and smoke of this judgment on Edom will eventually terminate, that eternal punishment will eventually terminate as well.

The issue presented by Isaiah 34:9-10 is a locational one. Isaiah 34:1-3 preceding informs us, “Draw near, O nations, to hear; and listen, O peoples! Let the earth and all it contains hear, and the world and all that springs from it. For the LORD’s indignation is against all the nations, and His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter. So their slain will be thrown out, and their corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood.” The location of the judgment of Edom is on Planet Earth (Isaiah 34:1), and it not only involves all nations, but specifically “their armies” or “their host” (Isaiah 34:2, RSV). It is such armies that the Lord has “doomed” (RSV/NRSV), with the verb charam, appearing in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice), relating to “ban, devote, exterminate” (BDB).[91] John N. Oswalt directs our attention to how,

“[T]he statement of ḥērem, or devoting to destruction, would have been enough for any hearer, especially any Hebrew. This is the idea that no spoils of battle belonged to any human victor, but must belong totally to God. Typically this meant that the spoils must be completely destroyed to prevent any human misappropriation.”[92]

The firm defeat of the armies in Isaiah 34:2, with charam likely relating to whatever spoils might be taken, could be taken as a clue about what will happen to their weapons. The Millennial expectation of Isaiah 2:4, at least, is “they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”

The Divine judgment issued in Isaiah 34:1-4, 8-10 is one which is terrestrial bound, and involves the Lord defeating the armies of the Earth gathered against Him. This corresponds rather appropriately to how in Revelation 14:20 we see, “the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.” Isaiah 34:1-4, 8-10 is most probably paralleled by Revelation 16:18-21,[93] making this a judgment that will occur in conjunction with the start of the Millennium, concurrent to the Battle of Armageddon (cf. Revelation 16:17). Annihilationists find support for their belief in that the fiery judgment issued upon Edom will eventually terminate, the smoke will clear, and all that will be left are scattered remnants. Those who support models of ongoing, never-ending punishment see this as an Earth-bound defeat in warfare, ultimately conditioned by laws of space-time and matter which are not present when the final judgment is to be issued by God against the condemned.

Isaiah 66:22-24

“‘For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘So your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the LORD. ‘Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.’”

If not read carefully, Isaiah 66:22-24 can be a bit confusing. What is the time and place of the judgment described? Is this describing the Eternal State, or does this include overlapping descriptions of the Millennium to then be followed by the Eternal State? Those of us who are pre-millennial, and who believe that Israel will be restored, there will be a thousand-year reign of Yeshua on Planet Earth from Jerusalem, to be then followed by the Eternal State and the issuing of eternal punishment to the wicked—can much more easily see a scene of an ongoing, never-ending punishment for the condemned then those who do not. Consider the preceding passage of Isaiah 65:17-25, where pre-millennialists see a reference to the New Heavens and New Earth, but it being definitely preceded by the Millennial Age:

“‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness. I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; and there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying. No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed. They will build houses and inhabit them; they will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They will not build and another inhabit, they will not plant and another eat; for as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people, and My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, and their descendants with them. It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,’ says the LORD.”

The same thoughts of the Millennial Kingdom, and what is to transpire regarding it, are picked up again in Isaiah 66:18-24:

“‘For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,’ says the LORD, ‘just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,’ says the LORD. ‘For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘So your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the LORD. ‘Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”

That the Eternal State is involved with the scene of Isaiah 66:18-24 is undeniable, but the inference of Isaiah 66:22 is, “‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the LORD, ‘so will your name and descendants endure.’” The surety of a New Creation coming, should give testimony to the most skeptical person who originally heard Isaiah’s prophecies that the calamities and tragedies that have befallen Israel will be fixed, and that there will be a longstanding period of restoration and glory for the nation. Isaiah 66:8 includes the famed word, “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her son,” which is commonly applied to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. In the future, we see that from among the nations, the Lord “will also take some of them for priests and for Levites” (Isaiah 6:21). The institution of the New Moon is observed (Isaiah 66:23), which is contrary to the Eternal State where there will be no need for the moon (Revelation 21:23). On the whole, the word of Isaiah 66:18-24, and 65:17-25 preceding, regards the Millennial Kingdom—but it is a period which will notably be one of transition into the Eternal State. The main options regarding Isaiah 66:24, and whether this depicts a Millennial condition or an eternal condition, are summarized for us by Barry G. Webb:

“The image of verse 24 may be that of a smouldering battlefield, or of the Valley of Hinnom (Jerusalem’s rubbish dump) to the south of the city (Je. 7:31-33). As it stands, it seems to depict annihilation rather than eternal torment. The bodies are dead; the undying worm and ever-burning fire exclude any possibility of recovery. Destruction is total and permanent. In the New Testament, however, the same imagery is taken more in the direction of eternal torment (Mk. 9:47-48; and, more clearly, Lk. 16:23-24; Rev. 14:9-11).”[94]

Annihilationists take Isaiah 66:24, “they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (ESV), as relating to the Eternal State. Outside of Jerusalem is a large fire pit, where the corpses of the condemned are dead and burning. Those of us who advocate a never-ending, ongoing eternal punishment for the wicked—which is something affirmed by Yeshua the Messiah in the Apostolic Scriptures—should recognize Isaiah 66:24 as being either a pre-millennial or post-millennial scene. The righteous see dead bodies burning outside of Jerusalem to be sure (Isaiah 66:24a), but these are not all of the unrighteous condemned, as these rebels and the subsequent host of unredeemed will suffer together (Isaiah 66:24b).

If Isaiah 66:24 depicts a pre-millennial scene, then this would be the host of armies and defiant ones who had gathered against the Lord for battle, at His Second Coming and the inauguration of the Millennial Age. Alternatively, the burning corpses could be those witnessed in Revelation 20:7-14, and the last, final battle which occurs before the inauguration of the Eternal State:

“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 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. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and 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. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

If Isaiah 66:24 depicts a post-millennial scene—that of the final rebellion Satan is able to stir against the Lord, as Jerusalem is surrounded—then one can easily see how fire would come down, consume them, and then the righteous would come out of the city and witness them dead and piled up. Yet with Isaiah 66:22-24 read in conjunction with Revelation 20:7-14, their being consumed occurs prior to the general resurrection of the unrighteous, where the unredeemed must be tried and convicted before the Great White Throne. And as we have concluded, such persons who face Yeshua the Messiah and are eternally condemned, do not experience extinction (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 14:9-11).

Whether Isaiah 66:24 depicts a pre-millennial scene at the return of the Messiah, or a post-millennial scene before the Great White Throne—these people whose corpses are piled outside of Jerusalem deserve the epitaph: “they will be loathsome to the whole human race” (TNIV).[95] And the reason for this is clear, because in spite of the restoration of Israel, and the establishing or the establishment of the Messiah’s Kingdom: they directly opposed God. It is one thing to fight against God’s people in battle, and indirectly oppose Him; it is surely another when people fight against a reigning Lord in person!

Ezekiel 18:4

“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”

It is a common annihilationist tactic to see a verse like Ezekiel 18:4 quoted, “The soul who sins will die,” and for annihilationists to then advocate that personal extinction is the ultimate destiny of unredeemed sinners. It is not difficult to see, given what is witnessed in the wider cotext of Ezekiel 18, that what is detailed are terrestrial-bound punishments for various violations against God’s Law. The term nefesh as employed here is much more akin to just “person”—“The person who sins will die…” (Ezekiel 18:20)—if caught committing any of these crimes. The final condemnation issued upon the unredeemed for eternity is not what is in view. Those who are punished for various worldly transgressions, include:

  • those who shed blood (Ezekiel 18:10)
  • those who defile a neighbor’s wife (Ezekiel 18:11)
  • those who oppress the poor, commit robbery, or commit idolatry (Ezekiel 18:12)
  • those who lend money with interest (Ezekiel 18:13)

Some of these specific sins might have some historical significance to Ezekiel’s time, per the restoration message of Israel witnessed in much of the Book of Ezekiel. The Lord urges repentance of His people, so that they do not have to die and be punished for their transgressions:

“‘But the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is not right.” Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord GOD. ‘Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore, repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:29-32).

Ezekiel 18:4 does speak of capital punishment as being a judgment issued by the Lord upon the sinners of Ancient Israel who have rejected the ways of His Torah. Ezekiel 18:4 does not speak of the eternal punishment issued against all sinners at the final judgment.

Ezekiel 26:19-21

“For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘When I make you a desolate city, like the cities which are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you and the great waters cover you, then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of old, and I will make you dwell in the lower parts of the earth, like the ancient waste places, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited; but I will set glory in the land of the living. I will bring terrors on you and you will be no more; though you will be sought, you will never be found again,’ declares the Lord GOD.”

Anyone, who has examined annihilationist arguments, is likely to have seen a quotation offered from Ezekiel 26:21: “I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more; though you be sought for, you will never be found again” (RSV). An annihilationist who simply types in a few keystrokes to his Bible software program, and looks for sayings like “no more” or “cease to exist” (CJB), can easily offer Ezekiel 26:21 as a support for his view. But, Ezekiel 26:21 as providing a support for annihilationism can be easily challenged, because the scene which is in view in both Ezekiel chs. 26 & 27 is God’s judgment issued upon the city of Tyre. The “you” referred to in Ezekiel 26:21 is not a sinner who stands before the Lord on Judgment Day; the “you” is a city that exercised a degree of economic influence in the Ancient Near East that is to meet a terrible end. This is most likely a reference to the fall of Tyre during the expanse of Alexander the Great’s empire in the Third Century B.C.E.[96]

The city corporate of Tyre is what is to be judged in Ezekiel 26:19-21. Ezekiel 26:17-18 is certain to specify, “They will take up a lamentation over you and say to you, ‘How you have perished[97], O inhabited one, from the seas, O renowned city, which was mighty on the sea, she and her inhabitants, who imposed her terror on all her inhabitants! Now the coastlands will tremble on the day of your fall; yes, the coastlands which are by the sea will be terrified at your passing.” When the city falls, it will be brought down, and it will “dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins” (Ezekiel 26:20b, NIV); “I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the LORD have spoken” (Ezekiel 26:14). While “those who go down to the pit, to the people of old” (Ezekiel 26:20a) might refer to individuals who have died, it could well be that given the corporate judgment upon a city, that am olam or “the people of antiquity” (HCSB) regard various civilizations or pagan ways of life that have been previously judged by God.

Given the judgment of the ancient city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26:19-21, Steven Tuell’s direction is well taken: “We cannot deduce from this oracle what Ezekiel, let alone Israel, believed about an afterlife.”[98] The issue present is not the destiny of individuals between death and resurrection, or the final condemnation issued upon sinners.

Ezekiel 28:6-10, 16-19

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Because you have made your heart like the heart of God, therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most ruthless of the nations. And they will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die the death of those who are slain in the heart of the seas. Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of your slayer, though you are a man and not God, in the hands of those who wound you? You will die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers, for I have spoken!’ declares the Lord GOD!…‘By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who see you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have become terrified and you will cease to be forever.’”

Ezekiel 28:6-10, 16-19 can be some particularly challenging verses to read, whether one adheres to annihilation or a model of a never-ending eternal punishment, because inserted within this decree of judgment are some verses which have been used to develop a theology of a personal Satan (Ezekiel 28:11-15). Seeing references made to Eden (Ezekiel 28:12), great beauty and gems (Ezekiel 28:13), “an anointed cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14), and being “blameless in your ways…until unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:15)—annihilationists often apply Ezekiel 28:19 and its reference to “you will cease to be forever,” and assume that this entire passage speaks about the final fate of Satan and his host. The problem with this view is not the possibility that Ezekiel 28:11-15 may indirectly refer to Satan; it is that the one ultimately who is judged, is one who “By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned…” (Ezekiel 28:16). This is a reference to a worldly power or leader, and not the Prince of Darkness.

In understanding the religious world of the Ancient Near East, it is not difficult to understand how many kings and princes would think of themselves as being divine and/or invincible (cf. Ezekiel 28:1-6, 9). Continuing the theme of judgment witnessed in Ezekiel chs. 26 & 27 preceding, Ezekiel 28:1-19 is principally a word given against nagid Tzor or “the leader of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:2), or melekh Tzor, “the king of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:12), which is then followed by judgments issued against Sidon (Ezekiel 28:20-24) and Egypt (Ezekiel chs. 29-32). Any information that we may glean about Satan from Ezekiel 28:11-15 is presented with how this mortal king exalted himself, considered himself a god (Ezekiel 28:9), thought he had great power, and consequently can very much be identified with the Adversary. Yet, the Adversary clearly did not fall from Heaven because of some trading empire or commerce: “By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade[99] you profaned your sanctuaries” (Ezekiel 28:18a). If there is any identification to be made between the king of Tyre and Satan, it is obviously intended to rebuke the king.

There is no doubting the fact that the king of Tyre has been setup for a significant fall along with his state. This is not describing the final judgment upon sinners, but is instead speaking of the downfall of a significant leader whose personal character is not too dissimilar from the Adversary himself. That this is not the final judgment upon all the unredeemed is clear from the location of the king of Tyre’s defeat: “Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who see you” (Ezekiel 28:18b), al-ha’eretz. This is a terrestrial punishment issued upon the king of Tyre. “All who knew you among the peoples were astonished over you; you were a terror, but you shall be no more, forever[100]” (Ezekiel 28:19, ATS). In the view of Daniel I. Block,

“The refain with which the oracle against the king of Tyre concludes bears a horrifying note of finality. The proud ruler, the envy of the nations is gone—forever, leaving the bystanders paralyzed with shock.”[101]

The king of Tyre, who to a wide extent embodies his nation, will cease to exist in the world. He is burned to ashes along with his country. Tyre and its leaders will never rise again. But the downfall of the king of Tyre and his humiliation before the ancient world, are not the final sentencing of the condemned before the God of Creation.

Daniel 12:2

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”

Both annihilationists and advocates, of a never-ending eternal punishment, will make some kind of an appeal to Daniel 12:2. This single verse is the Tanach’s most direct endorsement of a resurrection of the dead to come. That the unrighteous throughout history will have to face their Maker is agreed upon by both annihilationists and traditionalists alike. The unrighteous will experience “everlasting abhorrence” (ATS). Given the fact that the righteous who are resurrected will never physically die again, it would seem probable that the unrighteous who are resurrected will also never physically die again. Ultimately, though, Daniel 12:2 is general enough a word that it needs to be read in concert with other passages regarding eternal punishment found in the Bible. On those grounds, teachers such as myself who advocate a never-ending eternal punishment for unrighteous individuals, would argue that annihilationism is unsupportable.

Obadiah 16

“Because just as you drank on My holy mountain, all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and swallow and become as if they had never existed.”

The statement of Obadiah 15 is that “the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head.” That this concerns a future period of judgment is something all readers can agree upon. But does this concern the final sentencing of all sinners before the Creator God? Quite frequently in pre-millennial studies involving future eschatology, it is discerned that the Day of the Lord or Yom-ADONAI is associated with the return of Yeshua the Messiah, the Battle of Armageddon, and the encompassing conflict that is to transpire. The short Book of Obadiah itself, largely concerns the judgment to be issued upon Edom, for its haughtiness against the Southern Kingdom of Judah’s fall to Ancient Babylon. The remark v’hayu kelo hayu, “and shall be as though they had never been” (Obadiah 16, NRSV), is made regarding all the nations of the world. As the continuing verses detail, there will be a massive return of Israelite exiles to the Promised Land, to retake their ancestral country:

“‘But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape, and it will be holy. And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions. Then the house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau will be as stubble. And they will set them on fire and consume them, so that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau,’ for the LORD has spoken. Then those of the Negev will possess the mountain of Esau, and those of the Shephelah the Philistine plain; also, possess the territory of Ephraim and the territory of Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead. And the exiles of this host of the sons of Israel, who are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negev. The deliverers will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will be the LORD’s.”

The statement regarding the nations’ non-existence, when the Day of the Lord occurs, surrounds their national status being significantly diminished at the time of Israel’s restoration, the Second Coming, and the start of the Millennial Kingdom. The nations’ non-existence does not concern individual, unrighteous sinners who have to stand before their Creator to be sentenced for their crimes against Him. Obadiah 16 cannot be offered as a support for annihilationism.

Zephaniah 1:14-18

“Near is the great day of the LORD, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers. I will bring distress on men so that they will walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; and their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of the LORD’s wrath; and all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.”

In the course of encountering annihilationist arguments, one is likely to have seen Zephaniah 1:18b quoted: “For He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.” There is no doubting that the term kalah here means “destruction, annihilation” (CHALOT).[102] Such calamity, though, does not pertain to all sinners throughout all ages; it instead concerns kol-yoshvei ha’eretz or “all who live in the earth” (Zephaniah 1:18) at the time the Day of the Lord occurs. Even if this actually ends up being “all who dwell in the land” (NJPS), meaning the environs of the Land of Israel and not the whole planet, Zephaniah 1:18 still depicts a terrestrial setting.

The fact that the Day of the Lord in Zephaniah 1:14-18 concerns a scene upon Planet Earth is immensely obvious when one considers the wider message of Zephaniah ch. 1. That great destruction and carnage will be manifested on Yom-ADONAI is certain. Zephaniah 1:2-3 says, “‘I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; and I will cut off man from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD.” The RSV/NRSV/ESV render this with “sweep away,” with the KJV having “utterly consume.” Such judgment not only includes people, but will also involve land and sea creatures. The word of judgment is rooted within the setting of idolatry practiced within the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and how Judah, Jerusalem, and its royal leaders will all be judged (Zephaniah 1:4-13). Their prestige, their wealth, and their position will not be able to stop the torrent of Divine anger to be manifested.

Much of Zephaniah chs. 2 and 3 carries the same tone, as judgment will be issued upon the enemies of Judah, and also how Jerusalem will have to bear a brunt of humiliation. We do witness, however, a key promise of restoration: “‘At that time I will bring you in, even at the time when I gather you together; indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the LORD” (Zephaniah 3:20).

The word of Zephaniah 1:18, that “in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth” (NRSV), concerns what will happen on the Day of the Lord. Pre-millennialists would associate this not with the final judgment upon all sinners, but instead with a massive defeat issued upon the enemies of the God of Israel, as His people are fully restored subsequent to the Second Coming of Yeshua the Messiah.

Malachi 4:1-3

“‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

The word of Malachi 4:3 (or 3:21 in Jewish Bibles) is probably one of the most-frequently referred to Tanach passages by annihilationists that one will encounter. There is a tenor of finality to the statement, “you will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on that day that I bring about, says HASHEM, Master of Legions” (ATS). But once again, when the time and setting of this prophetic word is considered, Malachi 4:3 cannot be offered as a support for annihilationism.

That the unrighteous will burn and be consumed is something plainly stated in the text (Malachi 4:1), and those who are righteous need to turn to God (Malachi 4:2). We should not overlook, though, how Malachi 4:3 says, “you will trample down the wicked” (NIV), the verb asas meaning “press, crush, by treading, tread down” (BDB).[103] The righteous will play a role in seeing that the enemies of God judged here are humiliated, by actually treading them down into ashes via a walking or stomping motion. The admonition to turn to the Lord and to His ways is emphasized in Malachi 4:4-5:

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.”

The scene of the wicked being trampled down to ashes is one which will occur on Yom-ADONAI. This is rightfully considered to be in association with the Second Coming of Yeshua the Messiah, as a part of the aftermath of the Battle of Armageddon and its related judgments. An outspoken annihilationist like Pinnock himself, in referring to Malachi 4:3, actually does have to note, “it is true that the point of reference for these warnings in the Old Testament is this-worldly.”[104] While annihilationists are still likely to refer to Malachi 4:3 as a support for their position, the setting is terrestrial, and it does not concern sinners from all ages of human history having to go before the Lord for final judgment. It instead concerns those people who will be consumed in Divine wrath at the return of the Messiah, and how His people will literally tread their brittle bone fragments down into ashes.

Psalm 34:16, 21

“The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the memory of them from the earth…Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.”

The kind of sentiment, expressed by verses like Psalm 34:16, 21, is the kind that annihilationists will push beyond what the actual context of Psalm 34 allows. The wide message of Psalm 34 has David recognizing the Lord as his Provider and Deliverer,[105] specifically “when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed” (Psalm 34:1). Immediately prior in Psalm 34:12, a terrestrial scene of this Psalm is confirmed: “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?”, a reference to a happy and long life on Earth. In terms of the wicked being cut off, represented by the verb karat, Psalm 34:16 is clear to say, “The face of the LORD is set against evildoers, to erase their names from the earth” (NJPS), m’eretz. The Psalm continues with an appeal to how “The righteous cry, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17), an affirmation of how the salvation of the God of Israel is something that very much involves physical deliverance (Psalm 34:18-22).

Psalm 34:16, 21 cannot be offered as a support for annihilationism, given the definite context of David reaching out to his God for defeat over his worldly enemies. Their memory or fame is to be removed from the Earth; this is not describing the final punishment of all of the condemned before the Creator.

Psalm 37:10, 20

“Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there…But the wicked will perish; and the enemies of the LORD will be like the glory of the pastures, they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.”

The tone of Psalm 37:10, 20 certainly does communicate the vanishing away (kalah) of the wicked enemies of God, but can Psalm 37:10, 20 be offered as a support for annihilationism? In surveying Psalm 37, much of what is detailed definitely concerns an Earthly setting, but might it concern the final condemnation of all the wicked throughout human history? Psalm 37:3 admonishes, “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land [sh’kan-eretz] and cultivate faithfulness.” Psalm 37:9 follows this by saying, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land [yir’shu-eretz]” or “the earth” (KJV; cf. Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5). The wicked, who will be cut off or removed (Psalm 37:10), are those who bear their weapons against the Lord to no avail (Psalm 37:12-17).

While those who are blameless will be kept by the Lord forever (Psalm 37:18), the inheritance of the redeemed will eventually extend far beyond this current Earth and universe. Those who are evil will be ashamed and will surely disappear (Psalm 37:19-20), but this seems to point us more in the direction of a Millennial context for Psalm 37. The God-less deeds that the wicked have committed are doubtlessly terrestrial (Psalm 37:21), and they will be cut off from the Land/Earth as a result (Psalm 37:22). Those who are righteous will have descendants (Psalm 37:25-28b), whereas “the descendants of the wicked will be cut off…transgressors will be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked will be cut off” (Psalm 37:28c, 38). A major part of the wicked vanishing away is that they will have no ability to produce children, with no generations of offspring to follow after them.

The wide emphasis of Psalm 37 is “The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever…Wait for the LORD and keep His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (Psalm 37:29, 34). While eretz can also mean “earth,” and need not be limited to the Promised Land of Israel, the portrayal of the wicked being destroyed or exterminated (shamad; Psalm 37:38) largely regards their lack of descendants or offspring (zera; Psalm 37:28c). Far from Psalm 37:10, 20 supporting an annihilation and personal extinction of all the unrighteous at their final sentencing before God, if there is an eschatological tenor from Psalm 37, it would seem to much better fit the inauguration of the Millennium, into which no unrighteous will be allowed to enter (Psalm 37:10). The enemies who gather themselves against the Lord will be defeated, they will disappear from the scene of history (Psalm 37:20), and they will have no progeny on the Earth—contrary to the righteous who will be restored to the Land, and who will have offspring (Psalm 37:37).

Psalm 73:17-20

“Until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.”

When looking through some of the surrounding verses in Psalm 73, Psalm 73:17-20 could be offered as a support for annihilationism. The verses that one encounters are general enough, such as Psalm 73:8-9,[106] to possibly be provided as some ancillary evidence in favor of an extinction of the unrighteous. But upon closer examination of the vocabulary employed, Psalm 73:17-20 really cannot be offered as definitive support for annihilationism. In Psalm 73:18, we see the clause l’mashu’ot, rendered by the NASU as “to destruction,” but the noun mashu’ah actually means “deception” (HALOT),[107] with the REB having the less specific “into utter ruin.” In Psalm 73:19, we see the clause l’shamah, rendered by the NASU as “destroyed,” but the noun shama actually means “what is horrible, frightful,” “horror,” or in the plural “what causes astonishment, horror” (CHALOT).[108] The KJV has “into desolation,” ATS has “become desolate,” and the New American Bible has “devastated.” That the wicked are “utterly consumed with terrors” (Psalm 73:19b, NKJV), is something that both annihilationists and advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment would agree on, the actual duration of this being what they disagree on. Does such a consumption result in non-existence?

Later on in Psalm 73:27-28 it is attested, “For, behold, those who are far from You will perish[109]; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” Most English versions render Psalm 73:27b with some form of “destroy,” although the RSV/NRSV/ESV has “put an end.” Appearing in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) in Psalm 73:27b, the verb tzmt has a variety of meanings, including either “to destroy, ruin, corrupt,” or “to silence” (HALOT).[110] TWOT indicates how “The verb is a very strong word for destruction or for completely silencing someone,”[111] with the latter implying that unrepentant sinners have no chance of an appeal before the Divine Judge.

Is extermination from existence implied in Psalm 73:17-20, 27-28? It would be too tenuous, given some of the ambiguities present in the Hebrew, to insist upon an annihilation from these verses alone. They must be read in concert with other passages, which are more clearly concerned with the final sentencing of the wicked before God. And it would be on this basis that advocates of a never-ending, ongoing punishment for the condemned will find their support.

Psalm 92:7

“That when the wicked sprouted up like grass and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.”

Psalm 92 has no stated author, although it is labeled to be “a Song for the Sabbath day” (Psalm 92:1). When surveying its fifteen verses on the whole, this is a general enough Psalm to allow for certain cosmic ideas to be communicated, particularly as they concern some negative destiny to befall sinners who stand before their Creator:

“A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night, with the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre. For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. How great are Your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man has no knowledge, nor does a stupid man understand this: That when the wicked sprouted up like grass and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore. But You, O LORD, are on high forever. For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD, for, behold, Your enemies will perish; all who do iniquity will be scattered. But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil. And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes, my ears hear of the evildoers who rise up against me. The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:1-15).

It might actually be said that of all the Tanach verses that annihilationists could offer in support of their view, Psalm 92:7 might be the best one. The clause l’hisham’dam adei-ad is rendered by ATS as “to destroy them till eternity,” and the verb shamad, appearing in the Nifal stem (simple action, passive voice), does mean “be exterminated” (CHALOT).[112] If we were only going to look at Psalm 92:7 in our deliberations over eternal punishment, it might seem that the annihilationists have a good case. But there are some important points which need to be considered.

The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament points out two Nifal definitions for the verb shamad that we need not overlook: “to be laid waste” and “to be destroyed, cut off, of peoples.”[113] The verb shamad is notably employed in Deuteronomy 4:25-31, where Moses demands the obedience of the Israelites, and warns them of extreme consequences that will befall them if they commit idolatry:

“When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.”

In Deuteronomy 4:26, the verb shamad is employed twice in the Nifal stem: ki hishameid tishameidun, “but will be utterly destroyed” (NASU). Does the verb shamad appear in Deuteronomy 4:25-31 to describe the Eternal State and final penalties issued upon the unredeemed? No. And neither is shamad used to describe some kind of Earthly annihilation or genocide upon the Israelites, either. It is instead used to describe how the Israelites will be punished by being scattered among the nations (Deuteronomy 4:27), only in the end-times to be fully restored to the Lord. The NJPS notably renders the clause ki hishameid tishameidun as “utterly wiped out.”[114]

Recognizing how shamad is used in terms of scattering and exiling Israel as a punishment is important, because no Messianic Believer today would honestly believe—in spite of the severity of God’s judgment upon Israel throughout history—that either the Israelites or today’s Jewish people have passed completely out of existence or have suffered extinction. Psalm 92:7, communicating that “the wicked sprouted up like grass and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore,” needs to be kept in view immediately of Psalm 92:9: “For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD, for, behold, Your enemies will perish[115]; all who do iniquity will be scattered.” The actual destruction and perishing that the wicked will experience is how they will be scattered, the verb parad in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice) largely meaning “divide, separate” (BDB).[116] The destruction to be experienced by sinners in Psalm 92:7, 9 is not an annihilation from existence, but is rather the ultimate exile to be experienced away from God’s presence (cf. Revelation 22:15).

Psalm 94:23

“He has brought back their wickedness upon them and will destroy them in their evil; the LORD our God will destroy them.”

Psalm 94 is anonymous in the Hebrew MT, but the Greek LXX does label it as “A Psalm of David” (Psalm 94:1, LXE). Still, surveying its twenty-three verses, no specific setting is given, as its words largely issue accolades to God for His power and His judgment upon the wicked. Psalm 94:23 communicates, “He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the LORD our God will wipe them out” (RSV). The clause of interest is u’v’ra’atam yatz’miteim yatz’miteim ADONAI Eloheinu. The verb tzmt, appearing in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) is used twice here. As previously mentioned in the remarks on Psalm 73:17-20, this verb can either mean to destroy or to silence. Versions like ATS actually render Psalm 94:23 with, “He will cut them off; HASHEM, our God, will cut them off,”[117] the KJV and NKJV also having “cut them off.” The RSV/NRSV/ESV family renders Psalm 94:23 with “wipe them out.”

Both annihilationists and advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment for the condemned, agree that God will turn the wickedness of sinners upon them, and that they will be consumed by such evil. In the case of Psalm 94, while few details are given to us about its setting, Psalm 94:2 does notably declare, “Rise up, O Judge of the earth, render recompense to the proud.” With the Lord labeled as shofeit ha’eretz, it would seem that the Psalmist’s intended plea to Him would be terrestrial, and not necessarily be the Eternal State. Psalm 94:2 cannot be offered by annihilationists as a primary support for their view, and as such must be read in association with other passages, which we believe more clearly support some model of never-ending punishment for the condemned.

Psalm 104:35

“Let sinners be consumed from the earth and let the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!”

Psalm 104:35 may be a verse which is sometimes quoted in support of annihilationism. While immediately from the verse itself we see how its scene is min-ha’eretz or “from the earth,” meaning that it is terrestrial and not the Eternal State, annihilationists might not expel a great deal of effort reading the passage too carefully. Consider, for example, how a preceding verse like Psalm 104:29 might be quoted: “You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust.” This might be offered to say that condemned sinners will return to the base elements after they are condemned by God at the final judgment. If anyone sees Psalm 104:29, 35 quickly quoted together, and fails to look at some of the surrounding verses, one could be easily convinced of annihilationism.

While Psalm 104:35 would apply to human beings who are sinners, Psalm 104:29 preceding is not so easily applied. The creatures who have their spirit or ruach taken away from them are largely members of the animal kingdom. Birds, land animals, and sea dwellers are all to be surely admired because of the majesty God has given them as Creator. They live and die as part of His Creation. Human beings too might be considered here (Psalm 104:23), but the life cycle of animal creatures is instead what is largely in view:

“Where the birds build their nests, and the stork, whose home is the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the cliffs are a refuge for the shephanim. He made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night, in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises they withdraw and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening. O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals [living things, RSV] both small and great. There the ships move along, and Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. They all wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:17-30).

Another part of God’s Creation is how sinners are to be consumed, meaning that those who commit evil are to be quantitatively removed from the tranquil scene which is instead to be manifest: “But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD” (Psalm 104:35, NIV). Psalm 104:35 does not speak of some kind of annihilation of sinners from existence at the final judgment. The removal of those who commit evil on the Earth, serves as an appropriate contrast to the glories of the animal kingdom and the good people who work the Earth as the Lord originally intended (Psalm 104:23). The scene of Psalm 104 is completely terrestrial.

 

Does the Tanach teach annihilationism? This is something that can be contested on many different levels. Most frequently, passages which are offered by annihilationists from the Old Testament in support of their view, very clearly have an Earthly or terrestrial-bound scene in mind. Those passages which annihilationists can claim as supporting their view, such as Daniel 12:2 and its reference to “everlasting contempt,” can also be claimed by advocates of a never-ending eternal punishment.

Ultimately we have to say that the Hebrew Scriptures do certainly support the fact that unrepentant sinners will be judged severely by the Creator God, and that they will face a final judgment. How long this final judgment actually is, and whether their “destruction” connotes an obliteration/extinction from existence or some kind of extreme ruin and loss, is debated. Those from both sides of the debate over eternal punishment cannot exclusively rely on the Tanach for their answers regarding how long the final condemnation of the wicked may last. They can rely on the Tanach for knowing, at least in a general sense, that it will be quite serious and that Believers must make sure that no person on Earth today has to experience it—turning to the Lord in repentance.

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—as 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. But is an immersion in fire the only description of the sure judgment to befall the unrepentant? The description offered by John the Immerser should stimulate any Bible reader to make sure that he or she is repentant, and surely surrounded by the Holy Spirit—and are not facing an unpleasant destiny, removed by the Messiah from His Kingdom.

Matthew 5:29-30

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:

  • 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 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 is used 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.’”

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 as phtheirō “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 2:9 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 consciousness 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 lost 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 (h` li,mnh tou/ puro,j), 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 by 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

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.

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.

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 language 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

[1] Before reading this article, it is highly recommended that you have read the author’s preceding piece, To Be Absent From the Body.

[2] Donald S. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 12.

For a useful summary, see also Roger Nicole, “annihilationism,” in Everett F. Harrison, ed., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), pp 43-44.

[3] “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:11-13).

[4] Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1995), 166.

[5] For a general overview of the points of this debate, consult “The Hell Debate,” in Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), pp 254-264; and William V. Crockett, ed., Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).

Also consider the main points of agreement that evangelical annihilationists and traditionalists have on eternal punishment, in Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven & Hell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), pp 154-155.

[6] Robert W. Yarbrough, “Jesus on Hell,” in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), pp 70-71.

[7] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, and other essays on religion and related subjects (New York: Touchstone, 1957), 18.

[8] Ibid., pp 17, 18.

[9] Consult the author’s article “The Message of Exodus.”

[10] Derek Tidball, The Message of the Cross (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 58.

[11] “But I tell you that anyone who nurses anger against his brother will be subject to judgment; that whoever calls his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing!’ will be brought before the Sanhedrin; that whoever says, ‘Fool!’ incurs the penalty of burning in the fire of Gei-Hinnom!” (Matthew 5:22, CJB).

[12] David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995), 28.

[13] “[F]or if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

[14] Tim Hegg, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Chapters 1-8 (Tacoma, WA: TorahResource, 2005), 214.

[15] Derek Leman, The World to Come: A Portal to Heaven on Earth (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2008), 65.

[16] Ibid., 66.

[17] Ibid., 65.

[18] Derek Leman. (2011). Richard Beck on Universalism as Biblical Truth. Messianic Jewish Musings. Retrieved 04 April, 2011, from <http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com/>.

[19] D. Thomas Lancaster, King of the Jews (Littleton, CO: First Fruits of Zion, 2006), pp 125-129.

[20] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 8.

[21] Clark H. Pinnock, “The Conditional View,” in Four Views on Hell, pp 149-150.

[22] Ibid., 149.

[23] Milne, 105.

[24] Peterson, 242.

[25] William V. Crockett, “The Metaphorical View,” in Four Views on Hell, 54.

Peterson, 192 also notably holds to a metaphorical view.

[26] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1998), 189.

Some of the issues that he lists, including “Purgatory…prayer for the dead…[and] indulgences,” are things that many evangelical Protestants would consider, at the very least, to be extremely aberrant.

[27] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985), 459.

[28] “annihilationism,” in Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 24.

[29] Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy, trans., Allen Mandelbaum (New York & Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 1995), 68.

[30] Milne, 142.

[31] J.P. Moreland, “Response to Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds,” in J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, eds., Three Views on Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), pp 88-89.

[32] J.I. Packer, “Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?”, in Hell Under Fire, pp 170-171.

[33] The metaphorical view is best summarized by William V. Crockett, in Four Views on Hell, pp 43-76.

[34] Menahem Mansoor, “Pharisees,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica. MS Windows 9x. Brooklyn: Judaica Multimedia (Israel) Ltd, 1997.

[35] Cf. Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), pp 761-763; Allan A. MacRae, “olam,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:672-673; Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 2:798-799.

[36] Cf. H.G. Liddell, and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 25; H. Sasse, “aíōn, aiōnios,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abrid. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), pp 31-32; Frederick William Danker, ed., et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp 32-33.

[37] Revelation 1:18; 4:9-10; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5.

[38] Galatians 1:5; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11; Revelation 1:6; 5:13.

[39] For similar uses of olam, see: 1 Chronicles 29:10; Nehemiah 9:5; Psalm 9:5; 10:16; 21:4; 45:6, 17; 48:14; 52:8; 104:5; 111:8; 119:44; 145:1-2, 21; 148:6; Daniel 2:20.

[40] George Eldon Ladd, “Age,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 31.

[41] Milne, 150.

[42] A notable exception to this would be Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1996), pp 655-660 where he precisely argues that the seventh-day Sabbath had a limited timespan, thinking that olam does not really mean “eternal.”

The different perspectives regarding Shabbat will be considered in the forthcoming Messianic Sabbath Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[43] Consult Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1984), pp 100-170 for a lengthy analysis of uses for olam and aiōnios/aiōn in association with the topic of eternal judgment.

[44] Peter Toon, “Death,” in Merrill C. Tenney, ed., The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), pp 263-264.

[45] The attestation of Ezekiel 18:4, “The soul who sins will die,” is followed with some particularization detailing a wide array of offenses that merited capital punishment. Nefesh here is akin to “person” (NJPS).

[46] E.S., “karat,” in TWOT, 1:457.

[47] Cf. Jacob Milgrom, JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), pp 405-408.

[48] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Eternal life, physically alive forever” for a further explanation.

[49] Milne, 65.

[50] Ibid., 299.

[51] Clarence B. Bass and J.A. Motyer, “Hell,” in NIDB, pp 431, 432.

[52] Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus, second edition (Cleveland: Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2002), 170.

[53] “annihilationism,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 22.

[54] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 1.

[55] Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, eds., The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003), 1.

[56] CHALOT, 375.

[57] Merrill F. Unger and William White, Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980), 59.

[58] CHALOT, 158.

[59] John N. Oswalt, “kalah,” in TWOT, 1:439.

[60] CHALOT, 72.

[61] Victor P. Hamilton, “damah,” in TWOT, 1:192.

[62] BDAG, pp 115-116.

[63] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980), 164.

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

[65] BDAG, 702.

[66] LS, 551.

[67] Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos: The Extra-Dimensionality of God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996), pp 186, 187.

[68] Cf. “hell,” in Jacob Neusner and William Scott Green, eds. Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 283; Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004), pp 114-116.

Be sure to have consulted the previous discussion over the terms sheol and hadēs in the preceding volume, To Be Absent From the Body.

[69] Duane F. Watson, “Gehenna,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:927.

[70] Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 236.

[71] Cf. Gary A. Lee, “Gehenna,” in Geoffrey Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 2:423.

[72] Yarbrough, in Hell Under Fire, 79.

[73] (2011). definition of hell. Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 08 April, 2011, from <http://oxforddictionaries.com>.

[74] McKim, 126.

[75] These issues have been addressed in the previous volume, To Be Absent From the Body.

[76] This issue will be examined in the planned succeeding article, “The Certainty of the Resurrection.”

[77] Morey, 112.

[78] Milgrom, 137 indicates how the Hebrew beriah yiv’ra is “Literally, ‘will create a creation,’ that is something unprecedented that did not exist before.”

[79] BibleWorks 7.0: Targum Pseudo Jonathan on the Pentateuch. MS Windows XP. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC, 2006. CD-ROM.

[80] “Their judges are thrown down by the sides of the rock, and they hear my words, for they are pleasant” (Psalm 141:6).

[81] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, NASB (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1994), 830 points out how Sheol should be viewed as “the nether world.”

[82] BDB, 477.

[83] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 51.

John N. Oswalt, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), pp 110-111 also thinks, “The reference may be to the sacred groves which were a part of the fertility cult of Baal and Ashtoreth, although the prophet may have in mind merely the worship of spirits assumed to inhabit trees.”

[84] CHALOT, 375.

[85] HALOT, 2:1682.

[86] Be sure to have consulted the previous analysis of Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20 in the preceding volume, To Be Absent From the Body.

[87] Motyer, Isaiah, 217.

[88] Geoffrey W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. et. al., Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 166.

[89] Consult the useful discussion in Ibid.

[90] BDB, 664.

[91] Ibid., 355.

[92] Oswalt, Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, 608.

[93] “And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe” (Revelation 16:18-21).

[94] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 251 fn#165.

[95] The term deira’on, “aversion, abhorrence” (BDB, 201), is also employed in Daniel 12:2, where it speaks of the condemned being resurrected “to disgrace and everlasting contempt [l’deira’on olam].” This is an important clue that Isaiah 66:24 depicts a scene which occurs before the Great White Throne and final sentencing of the unrighteous.

[96] Cf. Christopher J.H. Wright, The Message of Ezekiel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 240.

[97] Heb. avad.

[98] Steven Tuell, New International Biblical Commentary: Ezekiel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), 181.

[99] Heb. rekullah; “trade,” “merchandise” (CHALOT, 340).

[100] Heb. chayita v’ein’kha ad-olam.

[101] Daniel I. Block, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 117.

[102] CHALOT, 158.

[103] BDB, 779.

[104] Pinnock, in Four Views on Hell, 145.

[105] Cf. Zodhiates, Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, 740.

[106] “They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth” (Psalm 73:8-9).

[107] HALOT, 1:642.

[108] CHALOT, 375.

[109] Heb. avad.

[110] HALOT, 2:1036.

[111] John E. Hartley, “tzamat,” in TWOT, 2:770.

[112] CHALOT, 375.

[113] H.F.W. Gesenius: Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 833.

[114] In Rabbinical literature, the Nifal stem of the verb shamad can mean “to be destroyed, cut off” or “to apostatize” (Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature [New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004], pp 1591, 1592).

[115] Heb. avad.

[116] BDB, 825.

[117] Jewish versions like the Koren Jerusalem Bible and Keter Crown Bible, both render Psalm 94:23 with “cut(s) them off.” This is followed by the Complete Jewish Bible.

[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 <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.”

About J.K. McKee 633 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (www.messianicapologetics.net), a division of Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net). He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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