Matthew 25:46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (NKJV; emphasis mine)
It is becoming more and more popular in fundamental Christian circles to deny the existence of a real, perpetual and eternal hell/punishment/condemnation for those who reject God (some partial combination of those things).
I received a newsletter yesterday from an otherwise sound Bible teacher that made the following comments:
- The average evangelical Christian takes the position that the ungodly will be consciously exposed to perpetual torture
- Do the Scriptures teach that the ungodly will be subjected to excruciating torture perpetually, or will they eventually be annihilated?
- Let it be said that Satan is real. Hell is real. Eternal or everlasting punishment is real. But not endless torture.
The writer frequently used the word “torture” and called God the “master torturer” if Hell is indeed eternal punishment/torment.
The Bible never says “torture” or “torturer”. That’s an important distinction because using that word makes it sound like God is involved in Hell and is getting His kicks out of actively inflicting pain and torment on people. “Torture” is word that necessarily offends us, and detracts from the real issue: punishment, condemnation… that is willfully chosen by each person who rejects God.
Of course to call God the “master torturer” also implies that God is down in Hell doing the torturing Himself. I don’t believe that my friend thinks that, but his use of unBiblical, inflammatory words (“torture”) is meant to draw human emotion into a Biblical doctrinal consideration. To insert “torture” into the equation is much like crying “abuse” because someone hurt your feelings. That specific WORD introduces emotions and considerations that otherwise are not present.
Why not just accept the Bible for what it says, with questioning, and without adding terms or conclusions that are absent? The says punishment, eternal, separation, condemnation, torment, forever, etc. Throwing in the word “torture” and making God the “master torturer” simply is inserting human misgivings and our finiteness which is unable to grasp eternal ANYTHING… hell and torment just happen to be even HARDER to grasp.
We don’t question eternal reward or heaven because of Scriptures plain language… why question the plain language of hell? Simply accept what it says: eternal torment, fire, punishment, condemnation and separation and accept that God has declared this to be so, and given every man a chance to avoid it.
How much is Christ’s sacrifice diminished when we call God a “torturer” rather than accepting it is man’s choice to deny Christ, and the punishment fits the rejection. God gave His only Son in brutal sacrifice, placing the weight of all sin on Him…. And now we will diminish that by saying people will simply be annihilated rather than receiving the ultimate punishment for rejecting the ultimate Gift?
Annihilation, like it or not, allows people to say “big deal, if I just end up non-existent, then I don’t really care”. Annihilation, it cannot be denied, seriously diminishes the value of Christ’s atoning work and offers a THIRD option to salvation: Heaven, hell or non-existence.
It puzzles me that someone who is so honest with Scripture diminishes one of the most important motivations, doctrines and aspects of God’s plan, God’s choice, and God’s gift to mankind.
My friend finishes with:
- What manner of punishment will be meted out to the ungodly and for how long? I wish I could give an adequate answer to that question. I cannot.
Why? The Bible answers clearly the both the manner and the duration. My response to him was:
A place of torment. Lu 16:23. manner
- Destruction from the presence of God. 2Th 1:9. Manner and how long
- Everlasting punishment. Mt 25:46. how long
- Everlasting fire. Mt 25:41. how long
- Everlasting burnings. Isa 33:14. how long
- A furnace of fire. Mt 13:42,50. Manner
- A lake of fire. Re 20:15. Manner
- Fire and brimstone. Re 14:10. Manner
- Unquenchable fire. Mt 3:12. how long
- Devouring fire. Isa 33:14. Manner
- Punishment of, is eternal. Isa 33:14; Re 20:10. how long
- The body suffers in. Mt 5:29; 10:28. Manner
- The soul suffers in. Mt 10:28. Manner
Folks, I understand that is monumentally difficult, indeed impossible, for us to comprehend eternal punishment. It is equally as impossible for us to understand why God created us in the first place knowing that we would sin, and He would have to take human form and die an agonizing death on our behalf, only to rejected by the vast majority of people He died for.
Annihilationism introduces a third salvation option:
Reward, punishment or non-existence.
What’s NOT hard to understand, is that Annihilationism (the teaching that man will be punished for a while or cease to exist, or some combination of that) has the following results:
- Diminishes the scope and value of Jesus’ atoning death and sacrifice
- Introduces a third option to salvation: heaven, hell or non-existence
- Is more akin to the Catholic teaching of purgatory (temporary punishment then release from that punishment)
- Denies the overwhelming and undeniable teaching that the human spirit is eternal in either state (reward or punishment)
Let the Bible speak. Where is it scary, difficult, unfathomable or offensive, simply accept God’s Word at face value like we do on the parts that FEEL GOOD. It would take a lot of interpretive gymnastics to make this something that it does not clearly say (yes, there are plenty of teachers how there who do just that); consider in context:
Matthew 25:46 (NKJV) And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
So eternal life means perpetual eternal heavenly reward, but eternal punishment means temporary punishment then annihilation? While we cannot fathom eternal punishment, it is illogical, inconsistent and ignoring plain Scripture to make our offended sensibilities or our inability to fathom eternal [whatever] the standard of interpretation.
I know there are lots of people who write copious amounts of words that explain this basic truth away and make it say, not say, or mean something different… but taking the Scripture at face value, in context, consistent with all of God’s plan, not the traditions, creeds and doctrine of men, you can come to only one conclusion: hell is real, eternal punishment and condemnation that men willfully choose.
To teach otherwise introduces a third option to the Gospel, and it’s results.
Lord God, help us to know to accept the Bible even when it is hard. Help us to know that You have told us about Hell for one reason: to give us a way to avoid it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?