Annihilationism is the belief that hell does not exist, and that unsaved souls are simply annihilated upon the death of the body.
Annihilationists do not believe in eternal torment. As proof texts, annihilationists cite verses such as:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23
The logic goes like this: The Bible says the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment. I must say, that is a very good point. My interest was stirred up enough to read the writings of some annihilationists, and thus was raised red flag number one. That is, I noticed that a plethora of writers espousing annihilationism were not even Christians. They deceptively cloaked their writing in Christianese language to gain credibility with Christians, but these writers were clearly not Christians. How do I know? Well, the Bible excludes all roads to God except one, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ– the Son of God, the Messiah, who was bloodied mercilessly and killed as a substitutionary atonement for my sins, and then rose from the dead. Yet, I was hard pressed to find such confessions from the writers who were most zealously advocating Annihilationism. This was a huge red flag.
Here is another red flag. I noticed that annihilationists tend to be universalists. In other words, they tend to believe that all human beings receive Christ’s salvation, even people who explicitly refuse it. So, with the Annihilationist/Universalist combination, we have a paradigm in which all human beings are saved by Christ’s salvation– AND, if it turns out by some twist of fate that all humans are not saved by Christ’s salvation, it won’t really matter, because the worst that can happen is a “lights out” ending upon death. With this paradigm, one can choose evil their entire life, and there will be no negative consequences in eternity. Now THAT is one convenient paradigm!
I will address universalism in another post. For now, let’s stick with Annihilationism.
To clarify the issue of Annihilationism, I used the same method that I advocate over and over on this website to clear up any question about the Bible– letting the Bible interpret the Bible. As such, let’s look at whether Jesus Christ himself asserts a quick “lights out” ending to those who reject him:
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ~ Jesus Christ, Matthew 13:49-50
Here we have Jesus Christ himself telling us that the wicked will be thrown into the “fiery furnace,” and that they will remain alive inside this fire to weep and gnash teeth. Contrast this with another account of a fiery furnace from the Bible.
Then Nebuchadnezzar…commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace… Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. ~ Daniel 3:19-23
Let’s think about this for a moment. A man-made fire got so hot that it killed strong soldiers who merely got close to it, but the God-made fire has people alive inside of it, weeping and gnashing teeth. Is God incapable of making a fire as lethal as Nebuchadnezzar’s fire, or can God’s fire be one that burns but does not consume? For the answer, just ask the burning bush:
There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush . Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.” ~ Exodus 3:2-3
If the wages of sin are merely “death” (that is, the “death” we understand from this fallen world, a lights out ending), then why does God’s fire not kill the wicked quickly, just as Nebuchadnezzar’s fire killed the soldiers quickly? The eternal “death” the Bible prescribes for the wicked is not a lights out ending. It is eternal torment. This is a very unpleasant thought, especially for those slated to experience it because of their refusal to confess Jesus Christ as Lord (like some of those annihilationists whose works I’ve read). So, these annihilationists simply ignore God as righteous judge, and acknowledge God only as graceful and loving diety.
Then, they craft the argument that a graceful and loving God would never torment the wicked. Instead, he merely snuffs them out. One can live any way they want, sin abundantly without repentance, spit in God’s face, divide God’s land, deny God’s Son, and worship Satan, and the only consequence they would ever face is a quick lights out ending. What a bargain! I hate to be a killjoy, but the Bible says differently:
Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice,”If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” ~ Revelation 14:9-11
Here is another proof text that annihilationists cite:
For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. ~ 2 Samuel 14:14
This is a faulty argument for lights-out death. Once water is spilled on the ground (especially the dusty, rocky, dirty ground of Biblical settings), it is irretrievable. It cannot be gathered up again. Annihilationists argue that human life is the same way. That is, the soul of someone not granted eternal life by God merely ceases to exist upon death. Like water spilled on the ground, it is gone for good. But wait a minute. Water spilled on the ground does not simply cease to exist. There are three options for it:
- It can remain as a liquid
- It can evaporate
- It can freeze
The fourth option of “It can disappear into nothingness” does not exist. Matter cannot be created or destroyed (except by God). Therefore, even if this spilled water quickly evaporates in the middle east sun, it does not simply cease to exist. It becomes water vapor, which has exactly the same molecular composition as liquid water: two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom– H2O. Similarly, if this spilled water froze, it would have the same molecular composition as liquid water and water vapor: two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom– H2O.
- The H2O molecules of frozen water hold each others’ hands tightly.
- The H2O molecules of liquid water hold each others’ hands loosely.
- The H2O molecules of water vapor let go of each others’ hands.
But at the end of the day, we still have the foundational unit of water, the H2O molecule. It does not cease to exist. Likewise, the foundational unit of human life (the soul) does not cease to exist upon the death of the body. If anything, the spilled water of 2 Samuel 14:14 argues for the longevity of the soul, more so than against it. It must not remain in one form to exist. H2O must not remain a liquid to exist, and the human soul must not remain in a body to exist.
To go even further, God states that he will actually rebuild the bodies of the dead to stand at the judgment seat.
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. ~ Revelation 20:12-15
Now we see that just as matter can neither be created nor destroyed (except by God), deceased life cannot be “gathered up again” (except by God). Trillions of atoms, long-since disconnected from each other as the human bodies they formed decomposed in the sea and in the ground, will be instantly reconfigured to stand before God at his judgment seat. When viewed through the lens of the Bible, 2 Samuel 14:14 is seen to be a view of life from the fallen human perspective, not the perspective of the all-powerful Creator God. God can easily gather up water spilled on the ground, just as he can easily gather up the decomposed bodies of the dead.
Jesus tells us that the wicked will be weeping and gnashing their teeth in a fiery furnace. The Apostle John tells us that anyone who worships the beast or receives his mark shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, “and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night.” I do not split hairs in this post on the differences among Hell, Hades, Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, Abraham’s Bossom, etc. These are worthwhile studies, but for the purposes of this post, I want to shore up only one foundational truth– the truth that eternity for those who reject the God of Israel, and the Messiah he sent, is not pleasant, and never ends.
The Bible is always proven true.
(To my brother in the Lord who introduced me to Annihilationism,
You presented your argument for Annihilationism intelligently, and with class (as always). I thought this issue interesting enough, and important enough, to turn my findings into this post. This was a fascinating study to me, and I learned much from it– as I always do in our discussions. I am well aware of your love for the God of Israel and his Messiah, Yeshua. I in no way lump you in with the Annihilationist authors I mentioned in this post, those who make no confession of Yeshua as Lord.
Although I disagree with your conclusion, please see this post as a credit to your diligent study and boldness. Without your boldness for the Lord, and eagerness to discuss him, I would probably still never have heard of this topic. As for the title of this post, “To Hell With Annihilationism,” it was such a good pun, I couldn’t resist. 😉
God bless you, my friend.)