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Don Stewart :: Will the Unbelieving Dead Become Non-Existent? (Annihilationism)

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Don Stewart
Annihilationism is a popular belief, even among Christians, and it has been growing more popular in recent years. Those who hold the position of annihilationism believe that the wicked dead are annihilated, or destroyed - they lose all consciousness forever. Annihilationists deny that there is an eternal place of torment known as hell. When the Bible speaks of hell it means the annihilation of the individual - not everlasting punishment. The wicked are reduced to nothing or non-existence. There is no such thing as the eternal existence and punishment for the wicked.

Different Forms

The idea that the wicked will be annihilated takes on different forms.

1. Conditional Immortality

There is a form or annihilationism known as conditional immortality. According to this view, humans are by nature mortal. Death is the end of all existence. Those however who trust Christ are then given immortality, the others are annihilated.

2. Restorationism

This theory teaches that the wicked are restored to life to be given a chance to believe in the afterlife. Those rejecting Christ are then annihilated.

3. Limited Suffering

There is another position that says suffering in hell will be for a limited duration. After the suffering is complete the wicked are then annihilated.

Whatever the particular form, annihilationism teaches that some human beings will not exist eternally. The only ones who will live forever are those who have trusted God's promises.

Arguments For Annihilation

There are a number of reasons why people embrace the idea of the annihilation of the wicked. Some reasons are emotional, some philosophical, and some are biblical.

1. Eternal Suffering Is Abhorrent

The idea of eternal suffering is abhorrent to many minds. The God of the Bible is a God of love. The Bible says.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).

A God of love would not allow anyone to suffer conscious torment forever. Though not everyone deserves to be saved, no one deserves eternal punishment.

2. Wicked Destroyed

Some who favor annihilation of the wicked, look to the Bible for support of their view. The psalmist wrote.

Indeed, those who are far from You will be destroyed; You put an end to those who are false to You (Psalm 73:27).

In the Book of Esther, we read.

And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).

Jesus said.
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it (Matthew 7:13).

These passages say that the wicked perish, or are destroyed, which, it is argued, means to be annihilated.

3. Suffering Not Everlasting

It is argued that the Greek word aion, translated as "eternal" in Scripture, has the idea of "age long" and not everlasting. In certain contexts it can be shown that Scripture uses aion to refer to something that is not everlasting. The suffering is eternal in its effects, not eternal in time. Therefore the affect would be that the person will never experience God's blessings for eternity, not that the person would suffer eternally.

4. Disproportionate

The punishment does not fit the crime. Sin only occurs in time, not eternity. Sins committed in time should not be punished for eternity. Eternal suffering is beyond what justice demands. It is not proportionate to the offense.

5. Evil Would Continue

The continuing presence of evil in the universe would mar God's perfection. How could there be a new heavens and new earth with a place of eternal suffering still existing? Everlasting punishment is difficult to reconcile with what the Bible says about the future universe. Paul wrote.

To be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

and through Him [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20).

6. Never Ending Torment For Devil

Some have argued that the never ending torment is only for the Devil, the beast, and the false prophet. Humans are not specifically said to be tormented eternally as are these evil beings.

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

These arguments have convinced many that annihilationism is the best way to understand the fate of the wicked.

Response To Annihilationism

The Scripture is clear that this is not the case. Death is not a cessation of being for either the believer or unbeliever. Jesus said.

And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25:46).

A person can exist without being punished but that person cannot be punished without existing. Something must exist to be punished.

1. God Is Righteous

While it is true that God is love, He is also righteous. Sin must be judged. The Bible says.

Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (Ezekiel 33:11).

There is no pleasure for God for the judgment of the wicked but wickedness must be judged.

2. Spirit Lasts Forever

The Book of Genesis gives us the account of the fall of the humanity and the pronouncement of death upon their descendants. All subsequent allusions to death in Scripture shows that it is only the dissolution of the body, not the spirit. The state of the spirit of the unbelieving dead is one of absence from God's holy presence, as well as suffering, but it is never extinction.

3. Destruction Is Not Annihilation

The passages appealed to teach annihilation do no such thing. Perish speaks of physical death, not annihilation. The destruction of the unbeliever means to be sent away from the life of the Lord.

These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

The only implication of these passages, that speak of the wicked as perishing and destroyed, is that the unbelievers are deprived of the presence and fellowship with God.

4. Punished In Time

If God has punished people in time, then why is it inconsistent that He punish people in eternity? There is nothing unreasonable that God would punish people. Justice demands punishment. No punishment means no justice.

5. Eternal Is Not Age Long

Though the Greek word aion, translated eternal can mean age-long, there is nothing in the context of the passages that speak of the destruction of the wicked that suggests age-long. To the contrary, the natural way of understand the term would be everlasting. This is the usual sense of the term. The Bible says the believer will have everlasting life.

This is the bread which came down from heaven - not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever (John 6:58).

So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21).

This same word, eternal, that describes the state of the righteous also describes the state of the wicked. This speaks of the time of their punishment, not the quality of punishment.

6. Figurative Language

The terms and phrases cited by those holding to annihilationism are figurative, the language of observation. They explain how things appear to the observer. For example.

His spirit departs, he returns to earth; in that very day his plans perish (Psalm 146:4).

From Observer's Viewpoint

This is how death looks from the point of view of an observer.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Those who have died have ceased their existence as far as this earth is concerned. This does not mean the end to all existence.

7. Not Understand Evil

Those who support annihilationism do not understand the extent of evil. Sins are committed against God. Who are we to tell God what is fair? He is the One who determines what justice demands.

8. Depth Of Mercy

Those who are punished eternally serve as a reminder of the depth of mercy of God to those who are not punished. All of us deserve punishment. The fact that anyone is saved is a tribute to God's amazing grace and mercy.

9. Bible Foretells Resurrection Of Wicked

The Bible clearly foretells the resurrection of the wicked, and a second death for them. Paul wrote.

I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust (Acts 24:15).

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death (Revelation 2:11).

Why have a second death if people are annihilated when they die?

Second Chance?

This argument is countered by those who say that the wicked are raised to have a second chance, or in some cases, a first chance to believe. There is, however, no biblical justification for arguing that the unrighteous are raised to have a chance to believe after they had died.

10. Biblical Description Of Afterlife

The descriptions in Scripture for the place of departed spirits have, in them, no indication of annihilation or the cessation of consciousness for the wicked. To the contrary, they describe continuous existence.

And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the people who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh (Isaiah 66:24).

11. Have No Rest

The smoke of the torment of the unbeliever arises forever, they have no rest.

And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name (Revelation 14:11).

It must mean punishment is eternal.

12. Degrees Of Punishment

If annihilationism is true, then why does the Bible teach different degrees of punishment? Jesus said.

And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much shall be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:47,48).

Can there be degrees of annihilation?

13. Saved From Something

The Bible says that Christ came to be the Savior of humanity. To be our Savior, we have to be saved from some type of punishment. Extinction is not a form of punishment. We must be saved from something!

14. Judas

Jesus said the following about the traitor Judas.

The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born (Matthew 26:24).

Why did Jesus say it would have been better if Judas had never been born? If Judas were merely annihilated, why say it the way that He did?

15. Biblical Example

A comparison of Revelation 19:20 with 20:10 shows that death is not annihilation.

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur (Revelation 19:20).

A thousand years after this happens, we read the following.

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

After a thousand years in the lake of fire, the beast and the false prophet are still there - they have not been annihilated.


We conclude that there is no biblical support whatever for the idea that the wicked will cease to exist after they die. The Bible clearly teaches a conscious life after this one for believers as well as unbelievers.
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