A reader recently responded to my posts on Heaven and Hell by offering a detailed response supporting Annihilationism, or the theology that unbelievers of Jesus Christ will cease to exist at the point of death.
There are many verses in Scripture that document the conditions found in Hell. To put it succinctly, Annihilationists believe that humans cannot exist in that environment and will be quickly burned up. In my opinion, their theology misses three points from a Biblical Christian Worldview.
- Mankind is made up of BOTH the physical and the spiritual.
- Scripture makes clear Hell is an eternal condition for those unfortunate enough to find themselves there.
- Our ways are not God’s ways. The Creator of the universe can do whatever He wishes.
The Annihilationist responder to my article used a clear example of his premise.
“If you burn a piece of paper, nothing is left when it is fully burned up, but ashes. That is a permanent transition. The flames go out and the ashes are but dust of carbon.”
What the writer is missing in this analogy is that mankind is made up of two basic parts, the temporal (physical) and the eternal (spiritual). For some theologians, the “spiritual” can be further broken down into the “spirit” and the “soul” of man. In either case, this dichotomy represents a beautiful picture of man, created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Scripture further documents this in,
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Man is not limited to his body alone. We also have a soul or spirit resident within us.
Note, for example, God’s statement in Ecclesiastes when He says,
- Ecclesiastes 12:7 and the dust [man] returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
The context of this verse makes it clear that this “spirit” is not limited to the saved but refers to both the judgments of the Great White Throne and the Judgement Seat of Christ. God applies His righteousness to mankind upon our death, separating the saved and the lost to Heaven and Hell, respectively (Mat. 3:12).
In the New Testament this difference between our physical body and eternal soul can be found in Matthew (below) as well as 1 Cor. 5:5, James 2:26, and 2 Cor. 7:1.
- Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Mankind – What we are made of matters
The flawed illustration of mankind as “burning paper”, ignores our spiritual side. When we are resurrected, we will have new bodies that are made to last for eternity. The Annihilationist is incorrectly applying the physical construct of the human body as being all that we are. We are so much more than mere flesh and bones.
Consider the cremation of the born-again Christian. Most Annihilationists believe in an eternal Heaven. They do not deny verses such as 1 Cor. 15:35-58 which speak to eternity in paradise.
However, how can one explain the resurrection of born-again believers who have been cremated, their bodies burned to ashes. Or those who have fully decomposed in graves or lost at sea?
Scripture makes clear, Hell is eternal
The physical body represents only part of who we are. Mankind has both a physical nature and a supernatural one. The physical may be destroyed; however, the supernatural is eternal, regardless of our state of sin.
- Mark 9:47b-48 It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
This is Jesus quoting Isa. 66:24 which refers to those destined to eternity in Hell where “their fire shall not be quenched”.
In Luke 16, Jesus provides further evidence of the eternal condition of those who are not in a heavenly paradise. Beyond the bounds of this post, it offers a view into the temporary Hell that sadly awaits all those who do not follow Christ and is a precursor to their final resting place in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15). A rich man is communicating with Abraham referring to his agony by saying (Luke 16:24) that he “is in anguish in this flame”. The Bible is noting the eternal spirit of this Rich Man who is suffering in continuous torture long after his physical death.
The writer who supports Annihilationism offered Scripture to support his claim that mankind will cease to exist at death. Those verses follow, along with my response.
- Jude 1:7 and 2 Peter 2:6, which are a reference to the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah as a literal burning of cities, which “are not still burning today”.
My response is that these are physical places, like any other physical reference in Scripture and they follow physical laws. In this world, the physical changes state when burned. God created the universe. A better example of my point can be found in Daniel 3:8-30. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. If God wants to keep mankind (even in the physical realm) from burning, He has the power to abrogate physical laws.
Revelation 14:11 was used by the Annihilationist to suggest that those destined to Hell, “burn up completely”. However, the verse actually defines itself as eternal punishment by saying, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Finally, Revelation 21:4 was quoted as a reference to the Lord wiping away every tear from our eyes in Heaven… where there will be no more death or crying or pain. A beautiful verse with a mystery on why we will need our tears wiped away (again beyond the bounds of this post). However, this verse does not reference or support the annihilation of the lost who will remain in Hell, also sadly in a state of eternal condemnation.
Our ways are not God’s ways
I have invested the time on this subject because Annihilationism is not uncommon in our culture. It often stems from a belief that an omnipotent, omniscient, loving God could not possibly allow eternal punishment for the sins of man. The existence of Hell is one of the primary blocks to many accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
Candidly, there is no easy way to offer a rationalization, much less comfort, to those who refuse to see God the way He commands us to. It is why many turned away from Jesus and why so many still resist today (Matt. 10:14-15).
The unvarnished truth is that God’s ways are above our ways (Isa. 55:8) and we have little right, as the “clay” to question the Potter (Isa. 64:8). It is only through faith and trust that, though we may not see the justification for Hell in this life (1 Cor. 13:12), we will understand it in the next. The Rich Man in Luke 16, referenced earlier, did not challenge his fate or punishment when talking to Abraham. He only asked that his brothers not have to experience the same torturous state.
Of course, the solution to all this is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. It is a free gift from God, regardless of what you have done in the past. Even on the cross, one of the two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Pray to the Lord, recognizing you are a sinner, that He died on the cross for your sins, and ask Him to come into your heart and save your soul. He will do that at that very moment.