These writings were published previously in Afterlife website and/or From Death To Life magazine. They appear here as further evidence for the Advent Christian teaching that the final punishment of the wicked will include suffering, but will result in the second death: total extinction of being.
Bell’s Base Cards
Rob Bell does a masterful job of shaking the foundations of the modern theology of human destiny in his new book entitled Love Wins. He exposes the fact that much of what people say about salvation and human destiny is not based on the Bible, therefore does not hold up to the scrutiny of direct questioning. He dares to ask direct questions – many of them.
His tactic is similar to that of knocking down base cards in someone’s house of cards. A house of cards can be an enormous thing, but it is only as strong as the first few cards one lays out. Those base cards serve as the foundation. If they are stable, one can build fortresses out of flimsy cards upon them. But topple those base cards and the entire thing falls apart. Bell’s identified some flimsy base cards in modern theology: the idea that only professing believers will go to heaven and its corollary that all others will suffer in hell forever.
He attacked those familiar base cards by appealing to scripture after scripture to show that the Bible addresses very different issues. He wanted to show that the whole of modern theology about human destiny was built upon assumptions that do not come from the Bible. He accomplished that mission. Each chapter in the book identifies a presupposition, and then proceeds to topple it by going to the text of scripture and comparing the presupposition to what scripture actually says. In short, Bell does theology and he does it well.
Nevertheless, Bell’s book is destined to be much maligned. He has taken on subjects which are practically taboo for evangelical Christians. “Heaven when you die” and “conscious eternal suffering for the lost” are concepts that are too holy for most good church people to investigate. Expect Bell to be branded a hopeless Universalist. Expect retaliation. Expect The DaVinci Code all over again.
…And rightfully so. Any good theologian worth his or her salt makes a difference. Bell has swung a pendulum, and one should expect the thing to swing back in the other direction. Paul told the Corinthians that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Bad theology can mobilize good theology.
With that in mind, let me tell you where I think Bell has it wrong. He spends numerous pages showing that the gospel message is not about going to heaven when you die – then he puts the saved in heaven when they die. He can do no other, because for Bell (and most of his opponents) the human soul has to live eternally somewhere. Bell sweeps away all of the scriptural evidence that he has amassed against the concept that heaven is a destination. In the end, he says what he has been arguing against.
He agrees with his opponents that all human beings are immortal, except that, unlike them, he argues that their immortality gives human beings hope for restoration to God even after their bodies die. He argues from scripture that God is love and therefore never gives up on his own. So, as long as there is life, there is hope. He argues for the concept of future probation on the basis of two premises: God never stops loving, and human beings never stop living.
Herein is the problem: none of Bell’s opponents want to deny either of those premises. They believe that God is both loving and just. They want to agree with what the Bible says about his love, but not forget that it gives equal time to his wrath. When they talk about Judgment Day, they envision that it will be just that – a day in which God will judge humanity, and determine the eternal fate of everyone. They cannot envision a Judgment Day that extends to however many years and centuries needed to purge humanity of all sin and rescue all. Hence, they must believe that death seals the fate of all.
The all important doctrine that Bell and most of his opponents agree upon is the concept of innate immortality: that all humans are born immortal. That doctrine will leads Bell’s opponents to insist on eternal conscious suffering in hell for the lost. It leads Bell to insist that a loving God would never condemn people to such a fate for a limited life of sin; therefore he must give opportunity for restoration.
Allow me then – in Rob Bell fashion – to suggest that it is that presupposition that keeps both Bell and his opponents from seeing what the Bible says about the destiny of the lost. The Bible says that only God is immortal. Immortality is a promise from God that Christ will give to the saved – it is not an innate characteristic of every human. For anybody to live anywhere forever, they must have eternal life. Eternal life is promised to the saved only.
What, then, is the destiny of the lost? The God of justice who gave us his truth in his word has decreed that the lost will be destroyed. Since the wages of sin is death, they will die. They will be appropriately punished according to the decree of a God who is both loving and just, and then they will be no more. They have been granted one life to live. That one life is a gift of grace from God. Nobody deserves to live forever. God is under no obligation to give unbelievers an eternal life, either to suffer, or to repent. He is sovereign, and if he has decided that the wages of sin is death, no theologian has the right to convert the sentence.
Bell wrote a book about a victory. He envisions an eternity in which all sin is forgiven, all wrongs are righted, and love wins. He is absolutely right. Love will win because God will win. God will win because he is God, not because he is love. His love and justice work together to produce a heaven and earth without evil. Our participation in that victory is not a given. Some will not make it. That is what it ultimately means to be lost. In the end, God wins. Reader, where do you stand before God? Don’t take his patience for granted.
Review of Erasing Hell
Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle (Colorado Springs:, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011) Kindle edition.
Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle have joined forces to produce a contemporary book on hell that speaks to the hearts of today’s evangelicals, but engages our minds as well. Although admitting a reluctance to take up the subject, their approach flows from people who are serious about it, and who want to faithfully represent what the Bible says about it. They did not want to “get so lost in deciphering” and “forget to tremble” (87).
The title is a bit misleading – since the authors have no intention of actually erasing hell – or letting their readers forget it. Instead, the title speaks to the almost universal reluctance that modern humanity has of even thinking about the possibility of divine punishment. Most of us “would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture” (13), but the references to final punishment are there, nonetheless.
Some have tried to erase hell by suggesting that it is merely a temporary phenomenon – that eventually all nonbelievers will be restored and God’s love will finally win the day. The problem is, nothing in Scripture “suggests that there’s hope on the other side of the lake (of fire)” (33).
The book prescribes a solution to our problems with hell – that we wise up to the fact that God is sovereign, and he is going to punish the lost so we might as well accept it. He is the potter, we are the clay. If he chooses not to save everyone, his love still wins, because his love is intrinsic. It is not defined by what we might expect it to do. The book defends God and hell, and encourages its readers to accept both as reality.
With one exception, that reality is exactly the teachings of popular Christianity that Rob bell reacted so strongly against. Chan and Sprinkler defend what the modern universalist might call the traditional view of hell – as a place where God will torment unbelievers perpetually for all eternity. The only exception is that for Chan and Sprinkler, hell takes place after the final judgment, not immediately after death. They rightly conclude that the intermediate state is “where the wicked await their judgment” (156). What they do not admit is that it (sheol/hades) is also where the righteous await resurrection, and that for both it is a state of unconsciousness the Bible calls sleep.
No, Chan and Sprinkler will not erase hell. They are uncomfortable with the thought of people suffering for eternity, but conclude that they should not “erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with” them (135).
The book avoids any discussion of the essential nature of humanity, but proceeds from the same presuppositions regarding that question that Rob Bell did – that human souls are indestructible. This is seen in the explanation of Matthew 25:46, where Jesus speaks of the two destinies. The book argues that “Because the life in this age will never end, given the parallel, it also seems that the punishment in this age will never end” (85). If the authors had not already concluded that both destinies involve life, they could perhaps see that Jesus is not giving a description of two parallel destinies, but contrasting two permanent destinies, where only one involves life. The punishment is not life, but death, and it is just as permanent (Gk. aionios) as the believer’s life.
Since they hold this presupposition of innate immortality, although the authors quote numerous texts of Scripture where hell is described as destruction (26-29, 80, 101-102, 109-111, 130), they conclude that this cannot be taken literally in any of them. They also conclude that the fire of hell is not a literal fire (154), and that the second death will not be a literal death (106-107). Neither of those conclusions can be established by exegesis of the texts themselves. They are all based on the presupposition of the innate immortality of the soul – a doctrine borrowed from paganism and infused into Christian thought by syncretism.
For those convinced that humans already have eternal life, Erasing Hell might achieve its purpose: to encourage them to accept the traditional notion of hell as God’s best — even if it is repugnant to them. Chan admits that he does not feel that God is doing right by tormenting people for eternity, but adds “Maybe someday I will stand in complete agreement with (God), but for now I attribute the discrepancy to an underdeveloped sense of justice on my part” (141).
For me, the problem is not with God’s justice. If God created human beings immortal, his justice demands that they spend eternity suffering for their rejection of him. But that is just it. The Bible insists that humanity lost its chance at immortality in the garden of Eden. Since then, the only hope for anyone to live forever is found in Christ. Hell is designed for those outside of Christ. They have nothing immortal that would burn forever if thrown into a lake of fire. The fires of Hell will do what God says they will do. They will destroy those thrown into them, body and soul.
This is both God’s justice and his love, because his new creation will be purged of all sin and evil. There will be no hell existing perpetually beside the kingdom. Christ will destroy all of God’s enemies. That is the biblical hell. It ends God’s judgment and makes room for the eternal kingdom of life and love. That event is absolutely essential to God’s plan in history. No one should want to erase it.
The ancient Greeks had ten ways of describing a process that goes on perpetually without end:
1. They could use the adverb aei, meaning ever, or always.
2. They could use the prefix aien, meaning the same idea when attached to a word describing a process, like aienaoidos, which means ever-singing, or aienaos, which means ever-flowing.
3. They could use eisaei, a combination of eis (for), and aei (ever), hence, forever.
4. They could use esaei, a variation of aei, with the same meaning.
5. They could use eis to pan chronon, meaning “for all time.”
6. They could use di’ aiōnos, meaning “through an age.”
7. They could use ton di’ aiōnos chronon, meaning “through an age of time.”
8. They could use eis panta chronon, meaning “for all time.”
9. They could use eis aidion, meaning “for ever.”
10. They could use sunechōs, meaning “continuously”.
With this enormous vocabulary at their disposal, one must wonder why the New Testament authors never used any of it to describe the final state of the lost. Instead, they chose an the adjective aiōnios to describe – not the process, but the event of Gehenna hell. When describing an event, the adjective aiōnios refers to its permanence. The biblical authors use this word to highlight that hell’s consequences (judgment and death) are permanent.
· Matthew 25:46 — At the judgment, some will gain permanent life, others will suffer the punishment of death permanently.
· Mark 3:29 – Those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness. Their sin and guilt are permanent.
· 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – The lost will suffer the punishment of permanent destruction. God is everywhere, and they will be so obliterated as to be taken away from his presence. That is total annihilation.
· Hebrews 6:2 – The concept of permanent judgment – that is, judgment that leads to permanent death – was considered one of the foundational teachings of the New Testament church.
· Jude 7 – Sodom & Gomorrah – the people and the lands – were completely destroyed by fire, and Jude says that their destruction serves as an example of what the fires of hell will do. It was not a process of perpetual tormenting, but an event that resulted in permanent destruction.
God is infinite, so the adjective “permanent” always applies to him. Believers are not infinite, but we are promised permanent life in place of our present temporary ones. But neither of these uses of the adjective aiōnios suggest the notion that the mortal souls of unbelievers must stay alive forever and ever in order for them to receive an unending process of being punished. The proponents of a never-ending hell have placed too much emphasis on an adjective, pretending that it is an adverb. The Bible never asserts that the lost will suffer eternally. It asserts that they will suffer proportionally – that is, according to what they have done. Then they will all suffer the same final fate, the second death. God is just, and he will punish sinners. But God is not condemned to keep doing so for eternity.
Examining Romans 2:6-8
“(God) will render to each one according to his works: to those
who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and
immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-
seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,
there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6-8 ESV).
Like all of Scripture, Paul’s writings can lend themselves to a variety of interpretations, and this text is no exception. Two questions present themselves to the inquisitive reader of Romans 2:6-8.
· First, there is the works question: is Paul teaching salvation by works here? If so, he would seem to be contradicting what he has written elsewhere, especially in Romans.
· The second question might not be so obvious as the first, but it bears asking: What kind of judgment is Paul talking about? In other words, what is the nature of the divine wrath that Paul is alluding to? That is the wrath question.
the works question
Paul’s argument throughout the book of Romans is that works do not justify anyone – that is, no one is going to be declared righteous before God on the basis of works that he or she has done or will do.
· “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (3:20).
· “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28).
· “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (11:6).
Paul makes similar points in Galatians:
· “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).
· “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (3:2).
· “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them”” (3:10).
So, why does Paul begin his argument in Romans by putting works in a good light, insisting that God is going to award works of well-doing and obedience to the truth? Why does Paul say that works will lead to blessing when he later says that those who rely on works are under a curse?
the context of Romans 2
Part of the answer to questions like that is that Paul is addressing a certain audience in Romans 2, an audience who will understand the meaning of his words in a particular way. He had set up his argument in chapter one by referring to godless and ignorant pagans who suppress what little truth they know, and exchange that truth for a lie, leading to both idolatry and immorality. He concludes that God is storing up his wrath against them.
In chapter 2, Paul turns to the wiser, smug, Jewish part of his audience. He asks them this question: “Do you suppose … that you will escape the judgment of God?”. They probably did. They probably felt that since their sin lives were less conspicuous than those of their Gentile neighbors, God would overlook them. After all, they were not guilty of such blatant idolatry and immorality as is common among the Gentiles.
But Paul’s message to those who were less sinful (or less openly sinful) was that they are going to be judged as well. No one will escape judgment because no one is sinless. But this God of judgment is also a God of grace. He has chosen to save some in spite of their sinfulness.
God will save the repentant
Looking down upon others who are caught in destructive lifestyles and behaviors is not an attribute of someone who is going to be saved. Paul tells the self-righteous Jews of Rome that in passing judgment upon others they are condemning themselves. He tells them that the fact that they are not experiencing some of the unpleasant consequences of blatant sin is due to God’s kindness and forbearance and patience. But these outwardly good people are actually storing up wrath for themselves for judgment day. Their good works will not save them on that day.
There are two reasons for this. First, all sin is repugnant to God, and he sees all sin. He is not blind to the sins of respectable people. He shows no partiality. Second, those who are not blatantly godless or decadent will sin, and those sins will be found out among the rest of the planet. Paul tells these judgmental Jews that their sins are causing his name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.
Paul urges these who are self-satisfied with their almost righteousness to repent of their sins. He tells them that God’s patience is meant to lead them to repentance. He pleads for them not to rely on their good works to save them.
Repentance is the beginning of the process that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of those who will be ultimately saved. The author of Hebrews listed two things that are foundational to every Christian life: “repentance from dead works and … faith toward God.” The act of repenting from one’s sins takes salvation out of the “me” camp and puts it into the “God” camp. It is acknowledgment that one’s attempt to live the perfect life did not work. Thus, it is a plea for mercy and grace. The “patience in well-doing” by which the believer seeks “glory honor and immortality” does not even begin until after repentance. To suggest that someone can become saved and do actual good works without repenting is like suggesting that someone can live without being born.
the wrath question
For those who do not repent and begin a life of seeking “glory, honor and immortality”, God’s “wrath and fury” await. Like grace and repentance, this final punishment will be meted out to everyone regardless of ethnic or national pedigree. It will come to “every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
What is the nature of this wrath? We know that God’s wrath is currently being revealed against the ungodly. The destructive and abusive lifestyles of those who do not know God are killing them regularly. The consequences of their choice to suppress the truth and obey unrighteousness destroys them, either gradually or suddenly. But for some, God’s wrath does not seem to lead to such consequences. For them, God’s wrath is being stored up until judgment day, when it will be revealed all at once.
The book of Revelation describes that event this way:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
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” (Revelation 20:12-15).
This vision of divine judgment was revealed to John on Patmos. It is written in a different genre than Paul’s description of wrath and fury in Romans 2, but there can be no doubt that it describes the same future event. Comparing both texts reveals the following similarities.
1. Both descriptions are of judgment meted out by God.
2. Both depictions include all humanity.
3. Both descriptions include a division of humanity into two groups: one will suffer wrath while the other will receive life.
4. Both descriptions have the same basis for judgment: the evil works done in this life.
5. Both descriptions portray a specific event in the future. Paul calls it “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” John sees that it will take place at the end of the age, just before the creation of a “new heaven and a new earth.”
There is no indication in either of these passages of this judgment taking place in the intermediate state (the time between death and the resurrection). Although Paul says that wrath and fury awaits the wicked, he does not say that this judgment will take place when the wicked man dies. Instead, he speaks of an event in the future when God’s wrath will be poured out on all the wicked together, at the same time. He sees the same thing that John sees.
Likewise, John describes an event that takes place at the end of the age, not a process that goes on from a person’s death onward. He sees all the dead together in the same place, and then judgment begins. All the wicked are judged “according to what they had done.” This allows for judgment that properly addresses each person’s sin. The notion that people will be tormented during the intermediate state as punishment for their sins is not supported by either of these texts.
the end of judgment
John sees this judgment coming to a completion, an end. He says of the wicked “they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.” The very next verse says … “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” The symbol is the lake of fire, a large body of fire that does what fire does: it destroys. The reality that the symbol portrays is not a process but an event: the second death. Once that event is over, God is free to recreate, which he does by making a new heaven and earth. The first heaven and earth (together with the lake of fire) had passed away.
Paul’s description of judgment in Romans 2 shows the same result. After an appropriate time of receiving God’s wrath and fury for their sins, all of the wicked are said to “perish.” Thus Paul divides the world into two groups: those “who are being saved” and “those who are perishing.” Paul teaches that all of Christ’s enemies will be destroyed, then the “last enemy to be destroyed is death” itself. Paul gives no place or time for a final punishment that does not end.
the purpose of God’s wrath
Paul’s argument in Romans is that all humanity stands under the judgment of God because of sin, thus all need a Savor. He calls for the ignorant Gentile to repent and turn to God. He calls for the self-righteous Jew to repent and turn to God. He warns that a hell of just punishment awaits both.
The wrath and fury of God can be called just for two reasons: it appropriately deals with the rebellion and sins of each individual who will be punished, and will appropriately deal with the blot of sin in the universe as a whole. Once the lake of fire has burned up the last trace of rebellion in the universe, God will be free to accomplish the purpose for which his wrath was devised: granting life to his redeemed for all eternity.
That is why Paul, eager to share the good news of eternal life with the Romans, had to preface his gospel with the bad news about hell. God has a plan for eternal peace and righteousness. In order for that plan to come about, there must first be wrath and fury poured out upon those who do not repent.
both sides of the story
We seek to win our neighbors to Christ. We want them to know the joy of living with him and for him. We want them to be saved for all eternity. But we are often reluctant to talk to them about the consequences if they reject God’s offer. We do not want to be branded as a “fire and brimstone” kind of Christian. Paul in Romans 2 shows how to appropriately tell both sides of the story of God’s salvation. Our neighbors might not be interested in being saved until we can explain to them what they need to be saved from.
Hell is Permanent
Travis Allen, director of Internet Ministry for Grace to You, recently posted an article entitled “Is Hell Really Endless?” Allen’s article defends the concept that final punishment by God is a process that will never end. Allen rejects the view he calls Annihilationism, which is “a denial of the endlessness of hell.”
Allen asserts that annihilationism “seems to be making a strong resurgence today among evangelicals. That may be an overstatement, but it is a helpful correction to the assumption many have that the view only exists among the cults and theological liberals. Most of us who are labeled annihilationist argue from the same belief in an inerrant, infallible, authoritative scripture as Allen and John MacArthur do. We are solidly in the evangelical camp, and reject the concept of an endless hell on scriptural grounds. We appreciate it when that is admitted.
Allen accurately portrays our view when he says we “don’t allow (God’s wrath) to extend beyond the lake of fire.” As we read the book of Revelation, the lake of fire is precisely described as the place of final punishment, and that the lake itself will commence the second death, from which there is no possible resurrection. It is the ultimate end of the old age, and its consummation will make room for the new heavens and new earth.
The Bible teaches that every sin not atoned for by the blood of Christ will be punished thoroughly in that lake of fire, then death and hell itself will be thrown into it. These words describe an end – a solution to a problem that had a beginning. It is fitting that Revelation should give us the story of how God’s grace will eventually correct the result of the rebellion which is recorded in Genesis.
This second death will be a horrible, agonizing, event in which every transgression against God’s holiness will receive its appropriate punishment. Not until that happens – and God is thoroughly vindicated – will he “snuff every unbeliever out of existence.” He will do so because he has determined what the ultimate wages of sin are. He did not decree that sinners will have the luxury of an eternal life anywhere – not even hell. The wages of sin is death. Eternal life is a gift he has reserved for those he has saved by grace.
Allen makes four specific assertions about how we argue our case against an endless hell. Each of these assertions speak to the heart of the issue, so each is worthy of analysis and a reply.
1) Allen asserts that we redefine the word eternal.
Allen quotes John MacArthur, who asserts that annihilationists “would like to redefine the word aionios and say, ‘well, it doesn’t really mean forever.’” He refers specifically to Matthew 25:46, where Jesus describes two final destinies. Jesus says that the sheep (those who treated the least of his brothers with compassion) will go away into eternal life. The goats (those who do not treat the least of his brothers kindly) will go away into eternal punishment.
The word aionios is an adjective. Its purpose is to explain and further define another word – in this case a noun. Like any other adjective (indeed, practically any other word) aionios has more than one possible meaning. For example, the adjective “hot” may describe the day’s temperature, or it may explain that certain jewels have been stolen. The meaning of the adjective depends a great deal upon the noun it modifies. Any one adjective can have a number of possible meanings in its semantic range. The term itself has no set meaning. Its meaning is determined by the context – in this case, the noun it modifies.
Annihilationists are not guilty of redefining the term eternal. In Matthew 25:46 the term eternal is used twice. In both cases the term modifies an event in such a way as to draw attention to its finality, and so aionios should thus be translated permanent. In one case – eternal life — the noun life clearly depicts the event when believers will inherit immortality: permanent life. In the other case, the term punishment also describes an event: destruction in hell. Both the noun kolasis and its corresponding verb kolazō refer to an anticipated event. The Bible elsewhere describes this event as “the day of the LORD” or “the day of judgment.” When the noun that aionios defines refers to an event in time, then the meaning implied by aionios is not perpetual. A more accurate definition in that case is permanent. The English word eternal can mean either.
Other biblical examples of this use of aionios include:
· the permanent sin which can never be forgiven (Mark 3:29).
· the permanent weight of glory compared with our slight momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10).
· the permanent things that are unseen compared to the transient things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
· the permanent house (body) in the heavens compared to our temporary tent (body) on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1).
· the permanent destruction the lost will face at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
· the permanent comfort and good hope we have through God’s grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16).
· the permanent glory that accompanies salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10).
· Philemon’s permanent return to Colossae, after being parted from them for a while (Philemon 1:15).
· The permanent salvation made possible by Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 5:9).
· The permanent judgment that will take place after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 6:2).
· The permanent redemption secured by Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:12).
· the permanent covenant made possible by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:20).
· entrance into the permanent kingdom provided for all those who make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Most other uses of aionios in the New Testament are when the term describes God, or something that comes from God: his gospel, or the fire he uses to destroy the wicked on judgment day. In neither of these cases is the emphasis on duration. The emphasis is on God as the source. That is why Jude tells us that Sodom and Gomorrah serve as examples of undergoing a punishment of aionios fire. Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed. The destruction was not a perpetual process, but an event in which they were punished by God, the eternal one.
Greek adjectives can appear in plural form, and when that is done to aionios in the New Testament, it is so that the term can modify a plural noun, or it refers to an event predicted or promised long ago, which has now been fulfilled or revealed. The three examples of this are:
· “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages”
· “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
· The final example actually uses aionios twice, once in the sense of permanent, and once in the sense of something promised long ago “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.”
In summary, annihilationists are not redefining aionios. This article has surveyed every use of aionios in the New Testament and has not found a single reference where it has to describe a perpetual process. Once released from the shackles of the presuppositions of pagan philosophy, we are simply free to describe how the Bible consistently uses the term.
2) Allen asserts that we object to an endless hell on moral grounds.
Allen claims that annihilationists cannot fathom a holy and merciful God perpetually torturing billions of people in hell because we see it as “a form of cruel and unusual punishment.” We do often make arguments like this, but not as a means of judging God on our standards. We simply point out that the picture of God that the Bible uniformly presents is of One whose justice is always tempered by mercy. He destroyed the earth with a flood, but in his mercy saved Noah’s family and the animals with the ark. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, but saved Lot and his daughters by his mercy. The psalmist declares, “his anger is but for a moment, and his favour is for a lifetime.”
Our real objection to a perpetual hell on moral grounds is that we see it as inconsistent with God’s character as revealed in his word. Perhaps there are those who go too far with this line of reasoning and say “if God were a God who tortured people forever, then I would not believe in him.” The only logical response to such an argument is “then you would be tortured forever.” We try not to cross that line in our arguments against a perpetual hell. We honestly believe that when all the biblical evidence is presented, God is not revealed to be a sadistic monster who will keep people alive forever simply to torment them.
3) Allen asserts that we fail to understand the theology of justice.
Allen spends four out of 13 paragraphs in his post arguing that annihilationists reject an endless hell because we do not get how sinful sin is, and how holy God is. He says our view “fails to account for a lawgiver who is infinite and eternal by nature.” He implies that if we really understood God, then we would see how a never-ending hell fits into his plan. To be fair, he admits that even those who believe in a place of perpetual torture have problems with it when they contemplate its severity. He insists, however, that those contemplations are there because of “how little we understand the sinfulness of sin on the one hand, and the holiness of God on the other.” He argues that since God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9), then we should ignore those contemplations and accept a perpetual hell on faith.
But we annihilationists are theologians too. We know how dangerous it can be when God’s people are told to accept a line of reasoning on faith, and to avoid questioning. From the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus spent a great deal of his time on earth questioning and arguing against the contemporary theologians and accepted doctrines of his day.
It is true that God’s thoughts are not our own. It does not follow that the doctrine of an endless hell clearly represents God’s thoughts. We argue that the doctrine of an endless hell is the result of the syncretistic combination of what the Bible says about final punishment with the pagan philosophy of innate immortality. The idea of a perpetual hell was created out of this syncretism. It reasoned not from the nature of sin or the nature of God but from Plato’s doctrine of the nature of man.
Since Augustine (whom Allen quotes as an authority) accepted Plato’s idea of innate immortality of the soul, he reasoned that hell must be perpetual because the soul of man cannot die. It was for that reason that he rejected the idea of a hell of limited duration as “the height of absurdity.” But if one accepts the clear statements of scripture that God alone has immortality, and God will punish sinners by destroying them, so that they exist no more, it becomes clear that Plato’s innate immortality theory cannot be accepted on the same basis as scripture. They contradict each other.
Perhaps that is why Allen does not argue for human immortality, but chooses rather to defend perpetual hell on the basis of the sinfulness of sin and the holiness of God. But, even there, the argumentation fails. Allen argues that because God is infinite, then sins against him require infinite punishment. If that were so, then how could Jesus atone for the sins of all humanity by merely dying on the cross and remaining dead for a few days? Surely if the punishment for any sin against God requires perpetual suffering, then Christ should still be on the cross!
The Bible clearly states what God requires to pay for sins. The wages of sin is death – not perpetual suffering. Not satisfied with this clear description of just punishment for sin, proponents of the concept of perpetual hell simply redefine death – as eternal separation from God. This can only be the case if the person who dies cannot really die. Again, we see that the theology behind the perpetual hell idea is not really based on the nature of God, but is derived from Greek dualism and its understanding of the nature of humanity.
Neither does the concept of a holy God require a perpetual hell. In fact, God’s holiness requires that sin and righteousness be destroyed – not kept alive and tormented eternally. There was a point in time in eternity past, when there was no sin – no rebellion. Everything was good in God’s universe. Then sin entered heaven through the rebellion of Satan and eventually came to humanity and earth by Adam and Eve’s transgression.
Ever since sin entered God’s realm, he has been at work to destroy it. There is nothing within his character that requires that he tolerate it. He has a plan that includes the undoing of the curse of sin, and the undoing of the consequences – including death. God’s holiness demands that the plan be carried out. The sin which has infected his universe will be eradicated, and all that is under him will again be his. The doctrine of an endless hell requires God to capitulate. It robs God of his sovereignty – insisting that sin is just as eternal as he is, and there is finally nothing that he can do about it.
Those who accept this notion are imprisoned by a pagan theology that finds no place in the Bible. Until they come to reject the concept of the immortal soul they will always have to place the immortal souls of dead sinners somewhere. A perpetual hell seems the logical place.
4) Allen asserts that we refuse to embrace the hard doctrines of the Bible.
Allen implies that those who accept the concept of a perpetual hell have embraced “the hard doctrines of the Bible” and that is evidence that their faith is “true” and “God-given.” The assumption, of course, is that the Bible teaches this hard doctrine. If the Bible actually teaches that hell will be perpetual, then all believers should accept it as truth, no matter how hard or easy it is.
Annihilationists argue that the doctrine of endless torture is not clearly taught in the Bible. We argue that those passages which appear to teach it are being misread. Many of our writings examine those texts because our concern is that this hard doctrine is hard because it really does not fit the evidence.
It is true that some of the doctrines the Bible clearly teaches are difficult to get a handle on. Anyone who has struggled with the implications of God’s sovereignty and how it affects man’s will can attest to this fact. God is complicated and we should not expect his word to be always easy to understand.
It is also true that accepting the things we learn in scripture is evidence that our faith is genuine. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of believers, giving them insight into what God means by what he said in scripture. We call this the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without His guidance, believers would be prone to all kinds of deceptions and false theologies.
History has shown, however, that the illumination of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee that all Bible-believing Christians will agree with each other, or that a doctrine that is popular is also biblical. In fact, many doctrines over the ages which were extremely well-received by the Church have been proven to be unbiblical and discarded.
The doctrine of perpetual hell, which grants eternal life to sinners and requires that they spend eternity alive “outside of the mercy of God” should be discarded. While it is obviously a hard doctrine – and “an absolutely horrible, terrifying doctrine” – it has always had its dissenters who are convinced that it is not a biblical doctrine. There is no advantage to holding to an unbiblical doctrine. Holding to an unbiblical doctrine cannot be evidence of the veracity of one’s faith.
Annihilationists believe in a literal hell which will appear at the end of the age. It is the lake of fire of Revelation, and it will burn as hot as it needs to burn. It will be a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It will include all those who regret their not coming to faith, and all those who defy God’s right to judge them to the very end. It is the place of final justice. All wrongs will be dealt with. In the end, God will be vindicated. Everyone in hell will understand that it is their own sins and rebellion that put them there. It will last as long as it needs to last for every deserved punishment to be meted out. It is the final historical event of the present age. In it, God will destroy the lost completely, soul and body.
Then, a new age will begin, after Christ destroys all God’s enemies – even the last enemy – death itself.
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
After hell ends, then there will be a new heaven and a new earth because the old order of things will have passed away. Hell is aionios in both major senses in which the term is used in the Bible. It is from God, the perpetual one, who had no beginning and will have no end. Hell is also permanent, an event having a beginning, and a definitive end, and from which there will be no deliverance.
God is perpetual. He never had a beginning, and will never have an end. Human beings have a beginning. We are not infinite. God in his grace offers eternal life to those who believe in his Son. We have the opportunity to become perpetual. By trusting in Christ as our Savior and Lord, we take hold of his promise of eternal life. He intends to keep that promise by granting us immortality at his return.
He has not promised immortality to unbelievers. Their fate is to be destroyed permanently in hell. To make hell an endless process requires that unbelievers as well have immortality. That is not honoring to God nor is it taught in the scriptures.
The title of Allen’s post is “Is Hell Really Endless.” The word endless only appears once in the Bible, and refers to teachings “which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” The Bible never uses the term endless to describe hell. Instead, the Bible says:
· “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.”
· “And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.”
· “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.”
· “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”
· “So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
· “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
· “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
The only permanent things in this universe are events that happen in history, God himself and the beings he has decided to rescue from this age into the next. Hell will not be perpetual, like God’s life. It will be a permanent event in history, but not a perpetual process.
Judas’ Eternal Sin
The three major views on final punishment of the wicked can be outlined like this:
1. traditionalism: God will justly punish unbelievers with an unending process of perpetual torment.
2. universalism: God will justly punish unbelievers for their personal sins, and eventually restore them to his favor.
3. conditionalism: God will justly punish unbelievers for their personal sins and eventually destroy them.
All three views have been honestly argued from scripture, and all three have been contested as unbiblical. As believers seek to sort out what the Bible actually teaches on this subject, they need to consider those arguments carefully. Attacks against one’s position may cause them to rethink it, or they may help them understand it more clearly, and therefore defend it more effectively.
John Piper has consistently argued for position 1 (which we call traditionalism) and has opposed both universalism and position 3 (which he calls annihilationism). One of his arguments has to do with what the Bible says about Judas Iscariot. There are four passages pertinent to this argument:
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of
Man is betrayed! It would have been better
for that man if he had not been born.”
“While I was with them, I kept them in your
name, which you have given me. I have
guarded them, and not one of them has
been lost except the son of destruction,
that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy
Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty
of an eternal sin.
And whoever speaks a word against
the Son of Man will be forgiven, but
whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit
will not be forgiven, either in this age
or in the age to come.”
Piper sees the evidence describing Judas’ fate as proving that he had committed the unpardonable sin, and therefore will never be forgiven. That speaks to the universalist position. He also claims that what the Bible says about Judas’ fate negates the conditionalist position: that Judas will be judged and eventually destroyed.
“If Judas were destined for glory
eventually (as in universalism) or even
destined for extinction (as in
annihilationism), it is difficult to
imagine why it would have been better
for him not to have been born.”
Conditionalists can be thankful for this argument for at least two reasons. First, it is a “chapter and verse” approach which allows those interested in the debate to actually exegete the texts to see if they support the propositions of the argument. Secondly, it is a legitimate argument, since it involves a question to be considered. That sets the parameters for a potentially civil discussion, rather than simply choosing sides and condemning the opposition.
Piper proposes that Judas must suffer perpetually for his betrayal. If Judas was to suffer only a finite amount of time, justice would not be served, and Jesus’ “woe to that man” remark would not make sense. The remark suggests that the betrayer would undergo a fate worse than nonexistence, that he would endure some unthinkable suffering. Specifically, Jesus said that it would have been better for his betrayer if he had not been born. Piper’s reasoning can be mapped like this:
unthinkable suffering = eternal torment
unthinkable suffering ≠ eventual restoration
unthinkable suffering ≠ eventual destruction
A biblical discussion on that line of reasoning might be helped by reference to similar passages which speak of a person’s fate as being worse than having not been born. There are a few such passages in the OT wisdom literature. Job lamented his birth, asking why he had not been stillborn. He had suffered so much that he began to regret his life altogether. Job’s experience definitely qualified as unthinkable suffering, but it did not involve perpetual suffering. He was eventually restored, which (one might suppose) would be an argument for universalism. However, Job’s suffering was not punishment for his sins, and thus it is not proof of eventual restoration after final punishment. Neither does it prove either of the other positions.
David prays that his enemies’ arrows be “like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.” He asks for the LORD to make his enemy’s plans come to nothing. Having the opportunity to live and see the sun is very important. It is a terrible fate to never have had that experience. It is a life that is wasted. But what Jesus said about Judas was that his fate was worse than that of a wasted life. It was a life that could have been lived for Jesus, but was not. Judas was a disciple. He learned what the other disciples learned, saw the miracles that they saw, but he ended up turning away from that. His life was truly wasted, and that made it worse for him than for the man who was never born. David’s prayer would suggest that the reason Jesus pronounced a woe upon Judas was not so much what Judas would experience in hell as what he refused to experience in his life.
Solomon claimed “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” The Preacher of Ecclesiastes had known every possible achievement, yet he came to the conclusion that one could not gain lasting satisfaction from accomplishments themselves. Unless a relationship with God is in the equation, all the accomplishments in the world are meaningless.
From these three OT references, one might draw a general conclusion about the stillborn metaphor. It refers to meaninglessness and futility. When we overlay that conclusion with what Jesus said about Judas in Matthew 26:24, this is what results: Judas’ life was worse than meaningless. In fact, Judas had the potential to lead the world to its Saviour, but betrayed him instead. Jesus was not so much predicting Judas’ future fate, as he was lamenting Judas’ present decisions, and stating that he would some day regret those decisions. But Jesus did not imply that Judas would be suffering for, and regretting those decisions perpetually.
Piper is comfortable with the idea of Judas as a “son of destruction” as long as he is allowed to define the word destruction so that it does not mean what it obviously means. He concedes that the noun apoleia in John 17:12 is related to the verb apollumi in Matthew 10:28. Ok, that would mean that since God is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, and Judas is a son of destruction, then Judas will be destroyed soul and body in hell.
But wait: Piper is not finished. He goes on to say “the word for destruction (olethros) means ‘ruin’ (1 Timothy 6:9; 1 Corinthians 5:5). The picture is not of obliteration but of a ruin of human life out of God’s presence for ever.” John 17:12 and Matthew 10:28 do not contain the word olethros. They use other words for destruction: apoleia and apollumi. A recent study of the apoleia word group used in the same way as these two texts found that the words always refer “to the literal killing of a person, with not a single exception. 
In fact, 1 Timothy 6:9 says that the fate of the lost will be both “ruin and destruction” (olethron kai apoleion). So, the lost will be separated from God’s presence forever, but will also be destroyed soul and body in Gehenna. What the conditionalist refuses to accept is the idea that since unbelievers will suffer ruin (olethros) that somehow negates their destruction (apoleia). Since the Bible declares both as the destiny of the lost, that is what we believe.
Mark 3:29/Matthew 12:32
The two remaining texts put forth by Piper are not specifically applied to Judas in the scriptures, but Piper uses them because they connect the idea of sin with the word aionios: (eternal). Piper argues that “there will be no forgiveness in the age to come for the unforgivable sin, and so Mark calls it an eternal sin, which shows that the word ‘eternal’ is indeed a temporal word of duration and not just a word referring to a limited period in the age to come.” He is particularly addressing universalism here, as he states that the texts rule out “the idea that after a time of suffering in hell, sinners will then be forgiven and admitted to heaven.”
Admittedly, the assertion of no forgiveness in the age to come does speak against the notion of eventual restoration. Yet, conditionalists are bothered by the assumption that if a sin is eternal, the sinner who sins it must never die. Piper is implying this, as it were, through the back door. He argues that an eternal sin requires a perpetual punishment.
The word aionios can possibly mean perpetual, but its most usual meaning is permanent (as opposed to temporary). A permanent sin will be punished by the permanent destruction of the sinner in Gehenna. It does not require that the sinner be granted eternal life so that he can continue to sin and continue to be punished. The wages of sin is death, not an everlasting life of sinning and being punished. The eternal punishment the Bible describes is a lake of fire called the second death, a permanent event. It is a description of the eternal consequences of eternal sins committed against an eternal God, but it results in the opposite of eternal life. It does not, and cannot involve eternal life.
God demonstrated his great love for humans by having his own Son put to death as our substitute. Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life, but whoever does not believe will perish. Judas looked like a believer. That made his betrayal and unbelief all the more despicable. Judas made his choice, and will one day stand before the Savior he betrayed, and receive his just punishment. Jesus was absolutely truthful in declaring that his fate will be worse than that of a man who was never born. His sin was great, and his punishment will be unspeakable. But the greatness of Judas’ sin does not give him the privilege of eternal life. That gift only belongs to true believers.
(Devotional Thoughts from Psalm 37).
This wisdom psalm from David encourages believers to think rightly about their future and that of the wicked. we need to stop worrying about wicked people and envying their strength and possessions. They may seem strong and secure now, but they will shrivel up like a dead plant (2). They will be cut off (a metaphor for death) (9,22,28,38). They will be no more (10). They will not be at their place (10). Their day is coming (13). Their weapons will be turned against them (15). Their strong arms will be broken (17). They will perish, vanish like smoke (20). They will pass away and be no more, be looked for and not found (36). They will be altogether destroyed (38). They may have a glorious present, but they will have no future (38).
LORD, help us to consistently trust in you, for only in you is there a future.
Solving The Problem of Hell
Our ancestors’ rebellion in Eden has changed humanity from what God originally intended. Because of that rebellion, humanity has inherited a sinful inclination that devastates all our attempts at being good and doing good things. We are tainted with evil, depraved to the core. Legally, we stand condemned before God, so that even our obedience is never enough to justify us. We all sin in so many ways and so many times throughout our lives that destruction in Gehenna hell is almost the only solution for a just God to apply to the problem of us.
Every life so corrupted by the initial rebellion of Adam – so separated from God by its inherently selfish sinful inclination – deserves the punishment that God warns us of in the Bible. Unfortunately, there has been so much unbiblical tradition added to what the scripture says about that punishment that the term “hell” has ceased to be a helpful word to describe it. A better term – the one Jesus used – is Gehenna. Unlike the hell of tradition, this hell does not begin at death, but begins on judgment day at the end of the age. Also, unlike the hell of tradition, this hell is not a place for the torment of disembodied spirits, but is the place for the punishment and destruction of the whole person – body and spirit.
Originally designating a valley near Jerusalem where garbage was burned, Gehenna for Jesus is a place where every sin – no matter how small it might seem – counts. It is an event and a place for the punishment of every act of violence. It is also a place for the punishment of every careless thought and word of violence. Jesus said “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment … and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” The reality of hell should make us careful about how we express our emotions.
Gehenna will also punish all those who have followed false teachers, and willfully passed on their deceptions. This idea makes modern humanity a little less comfortable, because it implies that humans are held accountable for the lies they are told as well as the lies they tell. But Jesus clearly taught that the religious leaders of his day were going to Gehenna, and taking with them all of their converts. He called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, because they “travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, (they) make him twice as much a child of hell as (them) selves.” The reality of Gehenna should make us all wary of accepting any “new” doctrine.
The scribes and Pharisees were considered the super-spiritual of their day. If anyone envisioned what a holy man looked like, the appearance would be similar to that of a scribe (scripture expert) or Pharisee (law expert). Yet Jesus detected an inner spiritual defilement in these religious leaders. He said they “outwardly appear righteous to others, but within (they) are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” He warned them by saying “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” The reality of Gehenna should make us all yearn for genuineness in our relationship to God and obedience to his word.
The hell of tradition is a different matter. Rather than teaching that hell is a place where sin is dealt with ultimately by God, tradition teaches a hell that is a sort of repository where God puts all those pesky sinners that he could not cure. It is a place of punishment and confinement, but not destruction. Having bought into the Greek concept of the immortality of the human soul, tradition is not in a place where it can accept what Jesus literally says about Gehenna. For Jesus, the judgment will take place not during the intermediate state (between death and the resurrection), but “on the last day.”
That “last day” will be truly the last day for all sinners, because they will be raised not for life but for condemnation, punishment (including torment) appropriate for each of their personal sins, and then destruction. Yes, destruction. God has not created anything that he cannot destroy. Jesus said that he “can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus compared the Day of Judgment to the day the world was destroyed by Noah’s flood, and the day the people of Sodom were destroyed by fire. In calling people to himself, he urged them to take the narrow gate which leads to life, not the broad gate, which leads to destruction.
Gehenna is a place for that destruction of both soul and body. That is why Jesus said “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Gehenna is not a place known for life, but death. Those who suffer on judgment day will suffer for only as long as it takes to punish them for their sins, and then they will experience the same reality as anything else that is thrown into fire: they will die. The redeemed who are not condemned to Gehenna are said to “enter life.” But those condemned to Gehenna have entered death. That is why Jesus said “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
Destruction in Gehenna hell is almost the only solution for a just God to apply to the problem of sinful us. Thankfully, there is another solution. Since sin is so pervasive, and its consequences in our lives so comprehensive – God has provided in salvation a solution which touches upon every problem that sin has caused for his creatures. That solution is the gospel, which explains what Christ did for us (substitutionary atonement), and what he will do (resurrection and glorification).
The apostle Paul put forth an axiom which applies to every aspect of sin discussed. He said “the wages of sin is death.” Carried to its logical conclusion, that axiom would place every human being who has ever lived in the fires of Gehenna for a just destruction. Fortunately, there is a “but” in Paul’s statement: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gospel tells us that Christ’s death on the cross can serve as a substitute punishment for the personal sins of everyone who turns to him in faith.
This substitutionary atonement is God’s idea. It is a free gift from a loving God who is determined to destroy all sin, but does not want to depopulate his universe in doing so. It is a manifestation of God’s attribute of grace. It is also a manifestation of his attribute of justice, since the punishment and death due us for our sins has been meted out on the substitute. The lesson Abraham learned on Mt. Moriah was that God will provide. In that case, he provided a ram, whose head was caught in thorns. That ram served as a substitute for Abraham’s son, Isaac. The event prefigured another substitute God provided, when he allowed his own son to wear a crown of thorns, suffer punishment he did not deserve, and die. The wages of our sin was his death on the cross.
Since the wages of sin is death, the countryside of every country on this planet is littered with cemeteries. The sin imputed to all humanity as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion has resulted in just what God predicted: mortality and eventual – inevitable death. God offers a solution to this problem as well. He cannot simply reverse the curse and make it so that human beings will never die. He will not undo his just penalty. Instead, he offers a resurrection unto eternal life at Christ’s return.
This solution is once again a miraculous combination of God’s justice and his grace. His just punishment of mortality and eventual death still reigns. The cemeteries are still being filled. But the free gift of God is eternal life. This life will begin with a resurrection unto eternal, immortal life. It is the believer’s inheritance. Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Resurrection life is God’s solution to the problem of imputed sin, which keeps us heading to the grave.
The axiom “the wages of sin is death” is also true spiritually. Our inherited sin has resulted in spiritual death. We not only experience death because of God’s justice, we also have died to his justice (and his grace too). Paul described this dilemma well: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” As much as we might want to do the right thing, spiritual death causes us to continue to sin.
God has provided a solution for this sin-reality as well. For every believer who trusts in Christ for his justification, God initiates through his Holy Spirit a process that will eventually lead to glorification – a complete restoration to a sinless state. This is a work of God from start to finish. Paul says “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” He speaks of glorification as a past tense event because he is emphasizing that it is a work of God.
In the present, however, most of us do not feel all that glorified yet. Our lives are a struggle where we keep getting in the way of the Holy Spirit as he seeks to sanctify us more and more. In fact, if anyone ever starts boasting that she has arrived and no longer sins, she is calling God a liar, and his word is not in her. But we can look forward to more and more victories over sin as we yield to the Holy Spirit. He is the seal and guarantee of the glorified life that awaits us.
In this life, believers do not have to experience the wages of spiritual death. This is true because “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh (sinful inclination) with its passions and desires.” We have been spiritually resurrected. Our baptism symbolizes this truth. Paul says “we were buried … with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Our death to sin allows Christ to live his resurrected life through us. This allows us to experience a glimpse of the glorified life now – in victory over sin.
The only way to solve the problem of the hell of destruction we all deserve is to trust in Christ for salvation now. All who do so will receive forgiveness from sins now, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives leading to their resurrection and glorification at Christ’s return. All others will face hell, which the Bible calls the second death. That hell is permanent. There will be no coming back, and no second chance. For sinners today, Christ is the only way to avoid destruction in hell tomorrow.
Recently, pastor Rob Bell has suggested that God’s love will eventually restore even those who are thrown into hell itself. In his bestselling book, Love Wins, Bell speaks of “a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody” – even those he has thrown into hell. That long standing tradition was the belief in purgatory. It was based on another long tradition in the church – the doctrine of the immortality of souls. The reasoning was that since souls burning in hell will be alive for eternity, there is a chance that God’s mercy might eventually restore them. Bell suggests that this is God’s plan – to eventually restore all to himself and through that restoration his love will win over his wrath.
Bell’s solution to the problem of hell has much appeal to today’s society, just as the invented doctrine of purgatory did in the dark ages. It allows humanity to continue to reject Christ – the only solution God offers – and still come out alive. Bell’s problem with the traditional hell is that in it God never gets what he wants. He points out two conflicting facts: “ ‘that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that billions of people will spend forever apart from this God, who is their creator, even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2). So does God get what God wants?” Bell’s solution is to suggest what pagan Christianity did: that Hell is not permanent.
But everything the Bible says about hell suggests otherwise. Hell is a second death from which there is no resurrection. The first death is temporary, because all will be raised from it to stand before God on Judgment Day. Only those whose names are on the Lamb’s book of life will be rescued from that second death. Those who are not listed as having been saved will perish, be destroyed, and be burned up.
This destruction is permanent. The New Testament had many ways of describing something that is permanent. It could talk about things that remain after other things disintegrate. In such cases it would use the Greek verb meno. Paul said that the new covenant has more glory than the old, because the new covenant remains (meno), while the old covenant was being brought to an end.
Sometimes a word indicating the impossibility of destruction would be used of permanent things. Examples include the adjective afthartos (imperishable) and the noun athanasia (immortality). These words are never used to describe the people in hell. They are only used of God, and of those who come to Christ and so never see hell.
The word the New Testament uses of hell that causes the most confusion is the adjective aionios, usually translated eternal. The English word eternal suggests a process that goes on forever. The way the New Testament uses the word, it usually depicts something that is permanent in contrast with things that are temporary.
Notice, for example how the New Testament uses aionios to compare some things that were permanent with some things that were temporary:
• the permanent sin which can never be forgiven (Mark 3:29).
• the permanent weight of glory compared with our slight momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10).
• the permanent things that are unseen compared to the transient things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
• the permanent house (body) in the heavens compared to our temporary tent (body) on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1).
• the permanent destruction the lost will face at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
• the permanent comfort and good hope we have through God’s grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16).
• the permanent glory that accompanies salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10).
• Philemon’s permanent return to Colossae, after being parted from them for a while (Philemon 1:15).
• The permanent salvation made possible by Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 5:9).
• The permanent judgment that will take place after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 6:2).
• The permanent redemption secured by Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:12).
• the permanent covenant made possible by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:20).
• entrance into the permanent kingdom provided for all those who make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Use of this adjective was never intended to negate the concepts of destruction and coming to an end already inherent in the idea of hell. The adjective aionios was used to show that the event of hell could not be reversed. Sadly, this reversal is exactly what Bell is suggesting. He attempts to solve the problem of hell by making it a temporary phenomenon.
God’s justice demands a hell that is hot enough to destroy, and to do so permanently. The problem of hell cannot be solved until hell itself is destroyed. Paul envisioned a reign of Christ which would destroy all his enemies, including death itself. Death would be the last enemy destroyed. That means all other enemies will be destroyed – not punished for a while and then restored. Sadly, there will probably be billions in that number. Jesus said “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” That is a terrible tragedy, but pretending that it will not be so is not going to help.
We should question the traditional view of hell (that of unending torment), because it is wrong. But suggesting that God is not serious when he warns people of their impending destruction is also wrong. Those who know about God’s grace, and his limited time offer of eternal life through Christ should be finding fresh new ways of proclaiming that truth to this generation on its way to hell. The gospel is the only solution to the problem of hell.
The Wrath to Come
The biblical prophets had a double role. As representatives of the LORD, they were free to pronounce blessing upon the people if God willed it. Often, however, they predicted his impending judgment. John the Baptist was no exception. As the forerunner to the Messiah, he proclaimed the marvelous good news (or gospel) that Christ was coming to this earth. Yet the people were not ready for their king. Consequently, John’s message was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The good news of the Christ to come had to be taught alongside the bad news of the wrath to come. Two very similar verses from the record of John’s ministry in the New Testament highlight this message.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “”
“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “”
These are the first major texts in the New Testament that address the issue of final punishment of the wicked. They reflect the fact that John encountered multitudes of Israelites who felt ready to embrace the coming of their Messiah, but they were actually not ready. So, John’s message was to get ready for him or face his wrath.
The crowds, and particularly the religious elite, felt that the Messiah’s coming would bring victory against Israel’s enemies, and blessing to all of those who were physical descendants of Abraham and Jacob. John’s message was that physical lineage meant nothing. If God wanted to, he could produce children to Abraham out of stones. In fact, being children of Israel meant that these people stood to be the first to fall when God’s wrath is unleashed. Thus, John’s message was that the nation had to get right with its God.
the wrath of the orchard owner
The nature of this wrath is spelled out by John with two familiar images. First, he pictures the Messiah as an orchard owner, whose axe is laid at the root of the trees. He had planted the trees for the purpose of bearing fruit. If they are fruitless when he comes, they will serve as firewood. Their destruction would be fair because they will have not served their master’s purpose.
The threat that these people face could in no way be construed as any kind of eternal existence at all. They were in danger of being cut down and destroyed. The wrath that John described was not an ongoing process of perpetual wrath, but an event. That event would be eternal, in the sense of permanent. It would result in death forever – the second death.
the wrath of the wheat farmer
The second image John uses to describe the wrath to come is that of a wheat farmer during harvest time. The Messiah would gather the authentic wheat into the barn for preservation. He will then set out to remove all the chaff that is left over. He will do this by burning the chaff up.
The image illustrates essentially the same teaching as the axe image did. Those who are not prepared for the Messiah’s arrival will not take part in his kingdom. They will be excluded from it because they will have been destroyed by the Messiah’s wrath. Mere appearance will not save them. Unfruitful chaff will be eliminated in the same way that the unfruitful trees will. The wrath is fire, and the fire destroys.
But John’s use of the wheat farmer imagery adds one more element to the theology he is defining. This element makes explicit what was merely implied in the use of the orchard owner image. John further describes the fire of God’s wrath as “unquenchable.”
Piper insists that “the term “unquenchable fire” implies a fire that will not be extinguished and therefore a punishment that will not end.” Neither the image, nor the teaching of John the Baptist support that assumption. The adjective asbestos only appears three times in the New Testament. In each reference, the word describes the nature of the fire, not the process of burning. It is a warning that anyone thrown into the fire will not be able to extinguish it. It contains no promise that the process of burning will go on forever.
In both of the images John the Baptist uses, it is clear that the subjects thrown into the fire are destructible – that is the point. The trees and chaff are not thrown into fire to be tortured, but to be destroyed. The punishment is destruction. The masters of the orchard and wheat fields gain neither pleasure nor profit from this fire. It is only there to eliminate what will not meet their objectives. Likewise, God will not be pleased when he puts people into the fire of Gehenna hell. His wrath only exists because eternity is for the recipients of his grace alone. His wrath is subservient to — not coequal to – his love.
The conditionalist teaching on hell is that it will be a necessary reality at the end of the age. It does not take place at death. It takes place in conjunction with the second coming of Christ. This is in line with John the Baptist’s teaching on the wrath to come. John never mentioned the intermediate state. To him, what happens at death is eschatologically insignificant. Judgment will happen when the Judge returns.
Traditionalists have bought into the unbiblical concept of immortal souls, and must do something with those souls in the intermediate state. Thus, they highjack passages like these, and make them serve another purpose. For them, the wrath of God is not something that Christ brings with him, it is something that the wicked go to. In so doing, major elements of the text have to be explained away, because they do not fit the new referent.
1. John taught that the wrath is coming from God. Traditionalists teach that God’s wrath is something that souls go to.
2. John taught that the wrath will accompany the Messiah when he returns. Traditionalists teach that God’s wrath is currently ongoing, and is experienced immediately after death.
3. John taught that the subjects of the wrath will be destroyed by fire (burned up). Traditionalists teach that the subjects are immortal souls, who cannot be destroyed, and therefore must continue to suffer eternally.
4. John taught that the masters of the orchard and wheat farms had complete control over their dominions. They had unproductive elements which they intended to remove by destruction, and nothing could stop them. They would put an end to the problems. Traditionalists teach that God’s wrath is a process that cannot ever end. It will never stop tormenting the lost because it cannot.
Rob Bell questioned how God could be a winner in such circumstances. He was right to do so. The traditionalist doctrine of hell makes God’s wrath the end. John taught that the Messiah’s wrath would be necessary, but the purpose was different. Wrath is necessary to make room for eternal peace and love. In the traditionalist approach, God’s wrath never makes an end of sin. It is eternally affected by it.
the purpose of the wrath to come
These snapshots from John the Baptist’s ministry teach of a wrath which will accomplish the greater purpose of establishing a world without evil and sin, where love and righteousness will reign eternally. They envision a harvest that will outlast the judgment. They see fruit trees productive forever, and wheat gathered safely into the barn forever. The burning fires that remove the impediments in this vision are inevitable, and they cannot be put out until they accomplish this vision of forever. But the fires are not the purpose. They will be unquenchable until they accomplish the purpose.
If this is not so, then the coming wrath serves absolutely no purpose. Today we live in a world where good and evil already coexist. There are productive trees, and hypocritical trees. There is wheat, and there is chaff. Both exist together, so God’s glory is limited by the unholy combination. The traditionalist teaching is that God’s wrath will merely separate the unrighteous, but that they will continue to live eternally in the same universe as the righteous. God’s universe will be eternally marred by the existence of this blight, and his wrath will not be able to change that. The God who once saw all creation and pronounced it “very good” will never be able to say that again.
Conditionalists suggest a different scenario. we suggest that John’s description of hell is much more realistic. Hell is a tool God uses for eliminating the undesirable elements, and that is all. The fire is real, and it does what fires do. It destroys, and makes way for something better, something indestructible. God’s love will win, not because he eventually pulls people out of hell, but because after hell has served its purpose, there will be no need for wrath. The Christ whose wrath will destroy the old things will make “all things new.”
(Devotional Thoughts on Zephaniah 2:1-8).
Nation after nation were destroyed by God’s judgment, yet the peoples continued to walk in corruption, never fearing his great wrath. Therefore he made a decision. He will gather all the nations and assemble all the kingdoms for one great day of judgment. On that day he will pour out his anger, and they will all be consumed.
Fortunately, the prophets also teach that God is gathering a people to himself from among the nations, and assembling them from among the kingdoms. Which assembly are you in? Are you being gathered into Christ’s church for life, or into hell for the second death? Those are the choices.
LORD, we accept your grace, and the atoning death of Christ. Gather us to your assembly for life, not death.
 Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).
 1 Corinthians 11:19.
 Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16.
 Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 1 Timothy 1:10.
 Matthew 25:46; John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68, 10:28; 12:25; Acts 13:46, 48; Romans 2:7; 5:21; 6:22; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 John 5:11; Jude 1:21.
 Matt. 10:28; 22:7; Luke 17: 27, 29; 20:16; 1 Cor. 3:17; 6:13; 15:24, 26; Heb. 10:39; 2 Peter 2:12; Rev. 11:18.
 Matt. 21:41; John 5:24; 8:51; Romans 6:16, 23; 1 Cor. 15:26, 54; James 5:20; 1 John 3:14; Rev. 21:8.
 Psalm 104:35; Ezekiel 26:21; 27:36; 28:19.
 Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).
 For more on the meaning of aionios, see my article “Solving the Problem of Hell.” http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2011/theology/annihilationism/solving-the-problem-of-hell-by-jefferson-vann/
 Matthew 10:28. For more on this fate, see Edward Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, third edition. (Eugene Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011).
 1 Corinthians 15:24-26.
 Woodhouse’s English-Greek Dictionary, The University of Chicago Library (http://artflx.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/efts/dicos/woodhouse_test.pl?keyword=eternally&sortorder=Keyword).
 Romans 16:26.
 1 John 2:25.
 Revelation 20:12-13.
 Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.
 Romans 2:3.
 Romans 2:4.
 Romans 2:5.
 Romans 2:11.
 Romans 2:24.
 Hebrews 6:1. Both terms figure into Paul’s introduction to salvation in Romans (1:5, 8, 12, 17; 2:4).
 Romans 2:9.
 Romans 1:18.
 Romans 2:5.
 Romans 2:5.
 Revelation 21:1.
 Revelation 20:13.
 Revelation 20:13.
 Revelation 20:14.
 Revelation 21:1.
 Romans 2:12.
 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
 1 Corinthians 15:26.
 All quotes not otherwise referenced are from Allen’s post.
 This is not a term we often use or appreciate. The term most of us use is conditionalist, because we argue that human immortality is conditional. Since the unsaved will not be made immortal, they cannot exist forever in a burning hell.
 Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 18:18, 30; John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14, 36; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2, 3; Acts 13:46, 48; Romans 2:7; 5:21; 6:22, 23; Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 1:16; 6:2; Titus 1:2; 3:7; Hebrews 9:15; 1 John 2:25; 5:11; Jude 21.
 2 Peter 2:9 NET: “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment.”
 Isa. 13:6, 9; Jer. 46:10; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obad. 1:15; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Mal. 4:5; Acts 2:20; 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:10.
 Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; 1 John 4:17.
 Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 9:14;
 Revelation 14:6.
 Matthew 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7.
 2 Corinthians 4:18 “the things that are unseen are eternal.”
 Romans 16:25.
 2 Timothy 1:9.
 Titus 1:2.
 Psalm 30:5.
 1 Timothy 6:16.
 Matt. 10:28; 22:7; Luke 17: 27, 29; 20:16; 1 Cor. 3:17; 6:13; 15:24, 26; Heb. 10:39; 2 Peter 2:12;
 Psalm 104:35; Ezekiel 26:21; 27:36; 28:19.
 Romans 6:23.
 Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28.
 Revelation 21:8.
 Matthew 10:28.
 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.
 Revelation 21:1-4.
 1 Timothy 1:4.
 Zephaniah 1:18.
 Mark 3:26.
 Romans 6:21.
 1 Corinthians 15:24.
 2 Corinthians 11:15.
 Philippians 3:19.
 1 Peter 4:7.
 Matthew 26:24 ESV.
 John 17:12 ESV.
 Mark 3:29 ESV.
 Matthew 12:32.
 John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 123.
 Job 3:16.
 Psalm 58:8.
 Ecclesiastes 6:3 ESV.
 Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1:2.
 John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 123.
 John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 124-125.
 Glenn Peoples, “The Meaning of ‘apollumi’ in the Synoptic Gospels.” http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/the-meaning-of-apollumi-in-the-synoptic-gospels/
 John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 124.
 Jefferson Vann, “Hell is Permanent.” http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2011/theology/annihilationism-annihilationist/hell-is-permanent/
 Romans 6:23.
 Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8
 Matt. 5:22.
 Matt. 23:15.
 Matt. 23:28.
 Matt. 23:33.
 John 12:48.
 Matt. 12:37; Mark 12:40; 16:16; Luke 20:47; James 5:12; 2 Pet. 2:3.
 Rev. 20:13.
 Matt. 10:28.
 Luke 17:27.
 Luke 17:29.
 Matt. 7:13-14.
 Matt. 5:29-30.
 Matt. 18:9.
 Rom. 6:23.
 Gen. 22.
 Gal. 3:18; Eph. 1:11,14,18; 5:5; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 9:15.
 1 Pet. 1:3-5.
 Rom. 7:22-24.
 Rom. 8:30.
 1 John 1:10.
 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14.
 Gal. 5:24.
 Rom. 6:4.
 Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition, 2011), 107.
 Bell, 97.
 Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27.
 Luke 13:3, 5; John 3:16; 10:28; Acts 8:20; 13:41; Romans 2:12; 2 Pet. 3:9.
 Matthew 7:13; 22:7; Luke 17:27, 29; Acts 3:23; Romans 9:22; 1 Cor. 8:11; 10:9f; 15:26; Philippians 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:12; 3:7.
 Malachi 4:1, 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7.
 2 Cor. 3:11.
 Mark 16:8; Rom. 1:23; 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52; 1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Pet. 1:4, 23; 3:4.
 1 Cor. 15:53f; 1 Tim. 6:16.
 1 Cor. 15:26.
 Matthew 7:13.
 Matthew 3:7 ESV.
 Luke 3:7 ESV.
 Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9.
 Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17.
 Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17.
 John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 121.
 Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17.
 Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011). See my review here: http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2011/featured-article/review-of-love-wins-by-rob-bell/
 Revelation 21:5.