THE ERROR OF ANNIHILATIONISM
compiled by Michael Jeshurun
Annihilationism is the belief that unbelievers will not experience an eternity of suffering in hell, but will instead be “extinguished” after death. For many, annihilationism is an attractive belief because of the awfulness of the idea of people spending eternity in hell. While there are some passages that seem to argue for annihilationism, a comprehensive look at what the Bible says about the destiny of the wicked reveals the fact that punishment in hell is eternal.
A belief in annihilationism results from a misunderstanding of one or more of the following doctrines: 1) the consequences of sin, 2) the justice of God, 3) the nature of hell.
In relation to the nature of hell, annihilationists misunderstand the meaning of the lake of fire. Obviously, if a human being were cast into a lake of burning lava, he/she would be almost instantly consumed. However, the lake of fire is both a physical and spiritual realm. It is not simply a human body being cast into the lake of fire; it is a human’s body, soul, and spirit. A spiritual nature cannot be consumed by physical fire. It seems that the unsaved are resurrected with a body prepared for eternity just as the saved are (Revelation 20:13; Acts 24:15). THESE BODIES ARE PREPARED FOR AN ETERNAL FATE!
Eternity is another aspect which annihilationists fail to fully comprehend. Annihilationists are correct that the Greek word aionion, which is usually translated “eternal,” does not by definition mean “eternal.” It specifically refers to an “age” or “eon,” a specific period of time. However, it is clear that in New Testament, aionion is sometimes used to refer to an eternal length of time. Revelation 20:10 speaks of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet being cast into the lake of fire and being tormented “day and night forever and ever.” It is clear that these three are not “extinguished” by being cast into the lake of fire. Why would the fate of the unsaved be any different (Revelation 20:14-15)? The most convincing evidence for the eternality of hell is Matthew 25:46, “Then they [the unsaved] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” In this verse, the same Greek word is used to refer to the destiny of the wicked and the righteous. If the wicked are only tormented for an “age,” then the righteous will only experience life in heaven for an “age.”
IF BELIEVERS WILL BE IN HEAVEN FOREVER, UNBELIEVERS WILL BE IN HELL FOREVER!
Another frequent objection to the eternality of hell by annihilationists is that it would be unjust for God to punish unbelievers in hell for eternity for a finite amount of sin. How could it be fair for God to take a person who lived a sinful, 70-year life, and punish him/her for all of eternity? The answer is that our sin bears an eternal consequence because IT IS COMMITTED AGAINST AN ETERNAL GOD! When King David committed the sins of adultery and murder he stated, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:4). David had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah; how could David claim to have only sinned against God? David understood that all sin is ultimately against God. God is an eternal and infinite Being. As a result, all sin against Him is worthy of an eternal punishment.
IT IS NOT A MATTER OF THE LENGTH OF TIME WE SIN, BUT THE CHARACTER OF THE GOD AGAINST WHOM WE SIN!
The final argument is that the saints’ joy in heaven would be marred by knowing that some continue under merited retribution. But this cannot be said of God, as if the expressing of his holiness in retribution hurts him more than it hurts the offenders.
And since in heaven Christians will be like God in character, loving what He loves and taking joy in all His self-manifestation—including the manifestation of His justice (in which indeed the saints in Scripture take joy already in this world)—there is no reason to think their eternal joy will be impaired in this way.
“The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily He is a God that judgeth in the earth!” [Psalm 58:10,11]
A.W. Pink on the PASSAGES APPEALED TO BY THE ANNIHILATIONISTS –
Truth is one: consistent: eternally unchanged. Error is hydra-headed, inconsistent and contradictory, ever wavering in its forms. So determined are men to persuade themselves that the eternal punishment of the wicked is a myth, the enmity of the carnal mind has devised a variety of ways of ridding themselves of this truth which is so hateful to them.
“God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
One of these inventions is the theory that at death the wicked pass into oblivion, and that after their resurrection and judgment at the Great White Throne, they are annihilated in the Lake of Fire. Incredible as this view appears, nevertheless it has had and still has many advocates and adherents; and what is even more unthinkable, the Word of God is appealed to in support of it. It is because of this that we make a brief notice of it here.
The first class of passages to which they appeal are verses where “death” is mentioned. Death is regarded in the most absolute sense. Death they take to mean the passing from existence into non-existence; an utter extinction of being. Death is applied to the soul as well as the body. How, then, is this error to be met? We answer, By an appeal to God’s Word. The meaning of a word is to be defined not from its derivation, not from its employment by heathen writers, not from the definition supplied by a standard English dictionary, nor from the lexicons, but from its usage in the Holy Scriptures. What, then, does death mean as used by the Holy Spirit?
Let us turn first to 1 Corinthians 15:36:
“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.”
Here is the Holy Spirit’s illustration and type of the death and resurrection of a believer. Now, does the living germ in the seed sown become extinct before it brings forth fruit? Surely not. There is a decaying, of course, of its outer shell—and therein lies the analogy with the death of man—but the living germ within dies not, otherwise there could be no harvest. Death, then, according to this illustration of the Holy Spirit is not annihilation. The same illustration was used by our Lord. Said He,
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).
The stalk and ear of corn in harvest time are but the life-germ fully developed. So it is with man. The body dies; the soul lives on. Note how this comes out, unmistakably, in the Saviour’s words as recorded in Matthew 10:28:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The “soul” man is unable to kill! But God is able—and mark carefully the distinction—”to destroy (not kill) both soul and body in hell.” As the word “destroy” is another word misused and erroneously defined by the Annihilationists, a few words must be said upon it.
As used in Scripture the words “destroy,” “destruction,” “perish” etc. never signify cessation of existence. In Matthew 10:7 one of the principal Greek words for “destroyed” is rendered “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Those Israelites had not ceased to be, but were away from God! In Mark 2:22 the same word is translated “marred” in connection with “bottles” of skins which the new wine burst. So, too, the word “perish” never signifies annihilation in Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:6 we read, “The world” that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” The “world” that perished, whether the reference be to the pre-Adamic earth or the world destroyed by the Flood, was not reduced to nothing. When, then, Scripture speaks of the wicked as perishing and as being destroyed, it is in order to expose the error of those who assert that they have a gospel for those who die unsaved, That the wicked have “perished” excludes all hope of their subsequent salvation. 1 Timothy 5:6 tells us there is a living-death even now—”She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth”—so will there be in eternity.
The absurdity and unscripturalness of Annihilationism are easily exposed. If at death the sinner passes out of existence, why resurrect him in order to annihilate him again? Scripture speaks of the “punishment” and “torment” of the wicked; but any one can see that annihilation is not these! If annihilation were all that awaits the wicked, they would never know that they had received their just deserts and the “due reward” of their iniquities! Scripture speaks of degrees of punishment for the lost; but annihilation would make this impossible; annihilation would level all distinctions and ignore all degrees of guilt.
In Isaiah 33:14 we are told,
“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
So far from sinners being annihilated they shall dwell with the devouring fire! Scripture speaks again and again of the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” of those who are cast into hell, and this, at once, gives the lie to those who affirm extinction of being.