Nana Yaw Aidoo
Before the errors of modernism and post-modernism, the doctrine of eternal punishment for the wicked, was the prevailing view of “Christendom.” Our Lord had much to say about this subject, so much that He used the word “Hell” (Ge-Hinnom/ gehenna) 11 times. He said; “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”. Also, in revealing a little bit of the judgement scene, He made this statement; “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).
However, the doctrine of eternal punishment for the wicked, has fallen on such hard times that some people would move heaven and earth in order to teach that Jesus did not say what He meant and did not mean what He said. Some denominational sects teach that all evil men will cease to exist or be annihilated rather than suffer eternal torment in hell. This doctrine “is directly related to the doctrine of conditional immortality, the idea that a human soul is not immortal unless it is given eternal life” and thus “…God will eventually destroy the wicked, leaving only the righteous to live on in immortality” (Wikipedia). We submit that not only is this teaching false but that it is eternally fatal.
We begin by calling attention to the fact that in Matthew 25:46, the same Greek word that is used to describe the duration of the life received by those on the right hand of Christ is also used to describe the duration of the punishment received by those on His left hand. The word is aionion which is translated both everlasting and eternal in the text. If “everlasting punishment” as used by our Lord means punishment that shall terminate at some point in eternity, then we might as well believe that “eternal life” as used by our Lord, shall also terminate at some point in eternity. Of this point the 19th century gospel preacher, Benjamin Franklin wrote,
At the same time that the righteous enter into life, the wicked “go away into everlasting punishment,” and the same word, in the same sentence, in the lips of our Lord, expresses the duration of both; and we have just as much respect for an expositor of Scripture that undertakes to prove that the state of glory shall cease to exist as for the expositor that undertakes to prove that the punishment shall cease to exist, no matter whether he be called Restorationist, universalist, Soul-sleeper or what. (Book of Gems, “Annihilation—Future Punishment”, pp. 101-102).
Those who teach this doctrine argue that the word “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 means annihilation. If so, then the word “lost” in Luke 19:10 also means annihilation because the same Greek word Apollumi is used in both places. In Vine’s Expository Dictionary, W.E. Vine wrote this of Apollumi: “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well being. This is clear from its use, as, e.g., of the marring of wine skins, Luke 5:37…”. If, as it is claimed, the word “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 means annihilation, then as well might we believe that Jesus Christ in Luke 19:10, came to seek and save that which was annihilated.
Furthermore, the proponents of this doctrine teach that there shall be no eternal punishment for the wicked because man does not possess an immortal soul and that dead people have no consciousness beyond this life. “Well”, say they, “unless Jesus Christ raises to eternal life all who died in faithfulness to Him.” Some even go as far as proclaiming that, “The concept of an immortal soul came from Greek influence and not from the Bible…There is no text that says that the soul is immortal” (David Newman, www.rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-a-seventh-dayadventist-response).
What about Revelation 6:9-10? Are the souls that were martyred while on earth not said to cry? The word “soul” (v9) is used and it is written that “…they cried with a loud voice…”, asking God to avenge their blood “…on them that dwell on earth…” (v.10). Is this not evidence of immortality and consciousness of the soul beyond the grave, while others lived on earth? “But, but, these were faithful to Christ!” Certainly they were! However, the doctrine under review says, those who are faithful, receive consciousness only when Christ returns. Newman posited; “Very briefly, we believe that when a person dies, they sleep in the grave until the resurrection…When Jesus comes back the second time, he raises to eternal life all who died trusting in Him.” Yet, the souls that cried in Revelation 6, did so while people lived on earth. Their souls were anything but unconscious at death.
Moreover, in Luke 16, we are told of a rich man who, though dead, lifted up his eyes, recognized others, spoke to others and even desired some water. “Oh it is a parable!” say they. In response to this assertion, we submit these words from Daniel Sommer; “If someone says that this is a parable it becomes the reader to consider that no inspired man ever called it a parable, and that the words, “and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus” are just as definite as these words: “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius” (Acts 10:1). To this it should be added that there is no more evidence that the case mentioned in Luke 16th chapter was a parable than that the one mentioned in Acts 10th chapter was a parable” (Russelism, p. 3).
My friends, annihilationism is false. It teaches people not to fear “the terror of the Lord” because after all, they would be “punished” with non-existence, even if they live their lives in a sinful manner. But all right-thinking people know that non-existence isn’t punishment “else” says Benjamin Franklin, “we were always in punishment till we were brought into existence” (ibid., pp.103). Also, annihilationism fails to take into consideration the infinite evil and heinousness of sin in the sight of God. What could possibly be so hated by God as to deserve eternal punishment? It is the same thing that brought God to earth, to be beaten and murdered by His own creation.
Those who subscribe to this teaching are in for a rude awakening on the day of judgement. The Hebrews writer wrote; “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28-19). There is a much sorer punishment than death without mercy and if it isn’t eternal punishment, then pray tell what it is. The inability of some men to reconcile God’s infinite love with His infinite justice is not God’s fault. We need to take heed because “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
Jesus Christ says He shall pronounce “everlasting punishment” on evil men. He is a wise man who takes the Son of God at His word, rather than wasting his time trying to prove that he would cease to exist even if he lives a useless and sinful life on earth. If you think that when Christ told Judas that it would have been good if he hadn’t been born, as a result of Judas’ role in the crucifixion (Matt. 26:24), that He had “everlasting non-existence/annihilation” in mind, then you certainly haven’t studied the justice and severity of He “…that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night…” (Amos 5:8).
It needs be noted that we can be saved from this horror of everlasting punishment by keeping God’s commandments. It is written; “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). What then must we do to be saved? We must believe in the gospel, in the fact that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died, was buried and arose on the third day (John 8:24). We must repent of all our sins (Luke 13:3). We must confess faith in Christ before men (Matt. 10:32). We must be baptized in order to the remission of sins (Acts 22:16) and to be added to the church of Christ (Acts 2:47; Rom. 16:16). And then, we must remain faithful unto death so as to receive eternal life as our victor’s crown (Rev. 2:10). Do these and we shall be saved from everlasting punishment as God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).