We are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we shall live another life, better than the present one…or, falling with the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere by-work, and that we should perish and be annihilated.
Annihilationism simply will not wash. Christ says that the lost will go into “eternal fire,” which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. And then He adds, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Since the same word eternal describes both the destiny of the righteous and the wicked, it seems clear that Christ taught that both groups will exist forever, albeit in different places. The same eternal fire that Satan and his hosts experience will be the lot of unbelievers… The wicked will experience shame and contempt for as long as the righteous experience bliss.
I fear that if annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, that will hinder the missionary enterprise. Many people have devoted their lives to bringing the gospel to the unsaved around the globe. Would they continue to do so if they really thought that the worst fate awaiting those who reject Jesus is final extinction? I seriously doubt it. Annihilationists can argue that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible fate if measured against the bliss of the righteous. But when compared to suffering in hell forever, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist.
The Bible used five main pictures to speak of hell: darkness and separation, fire, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” punishment, and death and destruction. Only the last fits with annihilationism, and not even every passage in that category fits.
Historically, the key passage on hell in the Gospels is Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and the goats. Jesus, the Son of Man, banishes the accursed to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Does this “eternal fire” denote pain or extinction? John answers this question: “The devil…was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur…[and] will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). Here fire denotes torment. And this torment, not obliteration, lies ahead for the Devil, evil angels, and all unrepentant human beings.
Annihilationism is a most serious error because it leads unrepentant sinners to underestimate their fate. Would not the ungodly be more inclined to live selfishly their whole lives, without thought of God, if they expected after death to face ultimate extinction rather than eternal punishment? The unsaved would probably like annihilationism to be true, but it is not. Because we believers love the lost, we must tell them the truth: all who live ungodly lives face eternal conscious torment at the hands of the living God.
Will hell be everlasting? All the way back in the Old Testament, Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Matthew 25:46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” In this verses, the word translated “eternal” is the same one used for both heaven and hell. Heaven and hell parallel each other for eternity. They both stand or fall together. Jesus in Matthew 18:8 calls hell and “eternal fire.” Three times, Mark says of those in in hell, “Their worm will not die” (Mk. 9:44, 46, 48; cf. Isa. 66:24). When Jude speaks of false teachers in hell he says “for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13). 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
If, therefore, any one shall violently suppose that the destruction of the soul and the flesh in hell amounts to a final annihilation of the two substances, and not to their penal treatment (as if they were to be consumed, not punished), let him recollect that the fire of hell is eternal – expressly announced as an everlasting penalty; and let him admit that it is from this circumstance that this never-ending “killing” is more formidable than a merely human murder, which is only temporal.
It would be most absurd if the flesh should be raised up and destined to “the killing in hell,” in order to be put an end to, when it might suffer such an annihilation (more directly) if not raised again at all. A pretty paradox, to be sure, that an essence must be refitted with life, in order that it may receive that annihilation which has already in fact accrued to it!
The problem here is the obvious lack of understanding of the infinite nature of sin as contrasted to the infinite righteousness of God. If the slightest sin is infinite in its significance, then it also demands infinite punishment as a divine judgment. Though it is common for all Christians to wish that there were some way out of the doctrine of eternal punishment because of its inexorable and unyielding revelation of divine judgment, one must rely in Christian faith on the doctrine that God is a God of infinite righteousness and well as infinite love. While on the one hand He bestows infinite grace to those who trust Him, He must, on the other hand, inflict eternal punishment on those who spurn His grace.
One is faced with the fact that the only place one can prove absolutely that God is a God of love and grace is from Scripture. If one accepts the doctrine of God’s love and grace as revealed in the Bible, how can that person question, then, that the same Bible teaches eternal punishment?