In our September 2014 Prayer News we published the following item:

BILL NYE CHOOSES HELL rather than believe in creation, according to Christian News 8 September 2014 and Popular Science September 2014. In an interview with Popular Science about his debate with Ken Ham, Bill Nye commented “Let’s say that I am, through my actions, doomed, and that I will go to Hell”. He went on to say, “Even if I am going to Hell, that still doesn’t mean the Earth is 6,000 years old. The facts just don’t reconcile”.

We would remind Bill Nye, and anyone else who dismisses Hell lightly, that it is a real place described by Lord Jesus Christ as an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” (Matthew 25:41) and all those who defy God, and lead others to do the same, will also be sent there. Hell is further described by Jesus as a place where “the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched”. (Mark 9:48) When the great final judgement takes place those whose names are not in the Book of Life will be thrown into a place described as a lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

A reader wrote in with the following objection:

The reference to worms, is in fact to the worms living on the edges and ledges of the rubbish tip outside Jerusalem known as Gehenna, which is not the same as the Lake of Fire. Hell described as a place where mortal humans don’t die but suffer everlasting pain, fits nicely in support of the Bible’s very first recorded lie from the father of lies, that goes something like this; did God really say that you would die if you ate that fruit? And Satan added in Gen 3:4 “You will not certainly die” It also does rather counter Jesus’ saying recorded in Matt 10:28:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”.
Thankfully we have a kind and merciful God, who in His wisdom created man as a mortal being. Those who hate him are not consigned to eternal suffering, as might a vengeful human but to an instant death, they are then no more; just as Richard Dawkins keeps telling us.

The above objection has led to the question: “Do people who reject Jesus as saviour suffer an eternity under the judgement of God or will they in the final judgement be put out of spiritual and physical existence?”

Simon Turpin’s Answer

We will examine three claims that are made in the objection above:
1. Man was created mortal.
2. Matthew 10:28 teaches annihilation.
3. Hell is different to the lake of fire.

As we approach the subject of Hell we must remember that no Christian should take this issue lightly but instead it should urge them to warn others of the coming judgement.

Was Adam created as Mortal?

In Genesis 2:7 God created man from the dust of the ground, breathed into his mouth the “breath of life” and he then became a living being. This indicates that when God made man originally it was with a material body and an immaterial soul (or spirit) (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 10:28).

In the context of Genesis chapter 3, after Adam disobeys God, both spiritual death (Genesis 3:7–8) and physical death (Genesis 3:17–19) are the result (Genesis 2:17). However, if Adam was created mortal from the beginning and would have died whether he had sinned or not, then this would remove the biblical teaching of God placing the ‘curse’ on a disobedient humanity. If unfallen man had died without sinning, then the threat of God for disobedience would be nonsense. The apostle Paul confirms this in Romans 5:12-14 where he states that death (both physical and spiritual) came upon mankind through Adam’s disobedience (see also 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

At death our bodies return to the dust of the earth (Genesis 3:19, see also Job 10:9; 34:15; Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; 12:7). However, depending on whether we have repented and trusted in Jesus, our spirit/soul will go to either one of two places: heaven or hell, where we await the final judgement.

Final Judgement in Matthews’ Gospel

In the New Testament it is Jesus who speaks more on hell and judgement than anyone else (Matthew 3:12; 5:22-30; 10:28; 13:40-42; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; 25:41-46). However, did Jesus teach that at the final judgement those who did not trust in him would cease to exist? In Matthew 10:28 Jesus declares:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

The presumption here by some is that the word for destroy – apollymi –indicates that unbelievers at the final judgement are annihilated and are no more. This is hard to justify as the qualifying language “in hell” does not fit easily with annihilation.

What is more, the book of Matthew does not allow for reading this text as a state of non-existence. For example, in Matthew 3:12 John the Baptist warns the religious leaders of the coming judgement of God:
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:12

Notice that the fire is described as “unquenchable” a description that goes beyond a temporary burning of the chaff but instead speaks of its eternality (Isaiah 66:24). If the chaff, which is consumed by the fire, were to no longer exist then there would be no need for the fire to be described as “unquenchable”. Matthew further describes hell as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”:

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40-42 see also Matthew 8:12; 22:13).

The language of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” implies conscious anger and pain in a place described as “the fiery furnace” or “outer darkness” (see Matthew 8:12; 22:13) which speaks of conscious punishment. Furthermore, in Matthew 25:41-46, a passage dealing with final judgement, Jesus contrasts the fate of the sheep and the goats:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46

The meaning here is not difficult to understand. The adjective “eternal” qualifies the length of the destinies of the two groups. The suffering of the unrighteous will last as long as the bliss of the righteous: eternity. Lastly, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 26:24 regarding the fate of Judas does not fit with a state of non-existence after death:
“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.” Matthew 26:24

If Judas’ end were non-existence, then how is his final state worse than the non-existent state which was prior to his birth? The gospel of Matthew, or the rest of the Bible, does not support the annihilationist position (see Isaiah 66:22-24; Daniel 12:2; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:11).

Is hell the same place as the lake of Fire?

The phrase “lake of fire” is used only four times in the New Testament and all of these occasions are found in the book of Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14-15. The descriptive word used of the lake is “of fire” which is the same term used to describe hell ‘geenna’ in Matthew 5:22. The Greek word gehenna is translated “hell” in Matthew 10:28 and 25:41 where it is also described as “eternal fire.” Therefore, there is no reason to see hell as a different place to the lake of fire.

Conclusion

Many Christians today seem to find the annihilationist position attractive; however, it does not fit the Biblical picture of final judgement. While God is kind and merciful towards humanity he is also holy and righteous and will deal with justly with sinful mankind. As Christians we need to be broken over the lost and remember that their only hope is the good news of the gospel found in our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for sin so that we would not have to face the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

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About The Contributor

Simon Turpin