Hell: Eternal Torment or Annihilation?
The teaching that has troubled and perplexed the human conscience over the centuries is the traditional view and teaching of hell as the place where the lost suffer conscious punishment in body and soul for all eternity.
What has troubled many is the prospect that one day a vast number of people will be consigned to a everlasting torment of hell this traditional teaching in Sunday keeping churches has been disturbing and distressing to many Christians and non christians.
The question that must be asked is do impenitent sinners suffer conscious punishment in for all eternity, or are they annihilated by God in the second death after suffering a temporary punishment? To put it differently: Does hellfire torment the lost eternally or consume them permanently?
The traditional view of hell from the majority of the churches today that has dominated Christian thinking is the view that affirms that immediately after death the disembodied souls of impenitent sinners descend into hell, where they suffer torment throughout all eternity.
When did such a horrible false belief in the non ending torment of the lost by Hell fire, enter the Christian Church?
A survey of the writings of the early Church Fathers, suggest that this belief was gradually adopted beginning from the latter part of the second century, that is, at approximately the same time as the belief in the immortality of the soul. Passing references to the punishment of the wicked in “everlasting fire,” are found in the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Lactantius, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Augustine, to name a few.
The Early Church Fathers Speak on Hell,” www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/3543/Hell.htm.
The writer who exercised the greatest influence in defining the Catholic doctrine of hellfire, is Augustine (354-430), the Bishop of Hippo. Augustine’s false teaching on eternal torment in hell became the standard teaching of the Catholic Church to this very day.
Augustine taught that the torment in Hell is endless “The torments of he lost” will be “perpetual” and “unintermited. Augustine taught Hell is endless, because the lost are ‘not permitted to die.” For them ‘death itself dies not.”11 The lost are flung into an eternal fire “where they will be tortured for ever and ever.”
For an excellent survey of Augustine’s view of Hell, see see George Hunsinger, “Hellfire and Damnation: Four Ancient and Modern Views, The Scottish Journal of Theology 51 # 4 (1998), pp. 406-434. Augustine, The Enchridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, ed. Henry Paolucci, 1961, p. 97
Did Jesus Teach Eternal Torment?
The traditional view and teaching of the churches today is,that Christ affirm there will be a punishment of eternal torment for the wicked. For example they use bibles passages like (Matt 25:41, 46) which Christ speaks of the separation that takes place at His coming between the saved and the unsaved. He will welcome the faithful into His kingdom , but will reject the wicked, saying: “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”.
The majority of churches attach so much importance to the ending of the passage of (Matt 25:46) because of the combination of eternal punishment and eternal fire but what Sunday keeping churches fail to understand is, Christ’s concern in this parable is not to define the nature of either eternal life or of eternal death, but simply to affirm that there are two destinies.
The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable, but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. The fire is “eternal not because of its endless duration, but because of its complete consumption and annihilation of the wicked.
Eternal often refers to the permanence of the result rather than the continuation of a process. For example, Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah underwent “a punishment of eternal fire.
The proper meaning of eternal fire in this case that destroyed the two cities is eternal, not because of its duration but because of its permanent results.
It is evident that there’s no fire still burning in the two ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah so the fire of the final punishment Jesus spoke about is eternal” not because it lasts forever, but because, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorra, it causes the complete and permanent destruction of the wicked, a condition which lasts forever.
In (Matt 25:46) we can not read into the text what is not there What Jesus said is that both the life and the punishment would be eternal, but he did not in that passage define the nature of either. The majority of church denominations read “eternal punishment” as “eternal punishing.”
When the adjective aionios meaning ‘everlasting’ is used in Greek with nouns of action it has reference to the result of the action, not the process. The lost will not be passing through a process of punishment for ever but will be punished once and for all with eternal results.
Punishment of Eternal Destruction.
To support this correct understanding of (Matt 25:46) more evidence is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, where Paul, speaking of those who reject the Gospel, says: “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”36 It is obvious that the destruction of the wicked cannot be eternal in its duration, because it is difficult to imagine an eternal, inconclusive process of destruction it wouldn’t make sense. Destruction presupposes annihilation.
The only way the punishment of the wicked could be inflicted eternally is if God resurrected them with immortal life so that they would be indestructible. But according to the Scripture, only God possesses immortality in Himself (1 Tim 1:17; 6:16). He gives immortality as the gift of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:10).
In the best known text of the Bible, we are told that those who do not “believe in him” will “perish [apoletai],” instead of receiving “eternal life” (John 3:16). The ultimate fate of the lost is destruction by eternal fire and not punishment by eternal torment. The notion of the eternal torment of the wicked can only be defended by accepting the Greek view of the immortality and indestructibility of the soul, a concept which is foreign to Scripture.
Let’s take a look at two more references that have to do with Jesus teaching of Hell fire in (Matt 18:8, 9) Jesus says it is better to cut off a foot or a hand or pluck out an eye that causes a person to sin than to “be thrown into eternal fire . . . be thrown into the hell [gehenna] of fire”.
The same saying is found in Mark, where Jesus three times says that it is better to cut off the offending organ than “to go to hell [gehenna], to the unquenchable fire . . . to be thrown into hell [gehenna], where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 47-48).
Viewing Christ’s allusions to hell–gehenna, we should first note that none of them indicates that hell–gehenna is a place of unending torment. What is eternal or unquenchable is not the punishment, but the fire. The fundamental problem with the popular interpretation of Evangelicals today in reference to the verses mentioned is to assumes first that“being thrown into hell” means everlasting torment.
The fact that Jesus clearly speaks of God destroying both the soul (the breath of life) and body in hell shows that hell is the place where sinners are ultimately destroyed and not eternally tormented.
The Wages of Sin Is Death.
“The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4, 20); “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) Death in the Bible is the cessation of life not the separation of the soul from the body. Death, as we know it, would indeed be the cessation of our existence were it not for the fact of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:18).
What’s very important to understand is that the resurrection turns death into a sleep, from being the final end of life into being a temporary sleep. But there is no resurrection from the second death it is the final cessation of life.
It is crucial for us to understand the meaning of the second death this phrase occurs four times only in Revelation. The first reference is found in Revelation 2:11: “He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.” Here “the second death” is differentiated from the physical death that every human being experiences. The implication is that the saved who receive eternal life, will not experience eternal death.
The second reference to “the second death” occurs in Revelation 20:6, in the context of the first resurrection of the saints at the beginning of the millennium: “Over such the second death has no power.” Again, the implication is that the resurrected saints will not experience the second death, that is, the punishment of eternal death, obviously because they will be raised to immortal life.
The third and the fourth references are in Revelation 20:14 and 21:8, where the second death is identified with the lake of fire into which the devil, the beast, the false prophet, Death, Hades, and all evildoers are thrown. In these instances, the lake of fire is the second death in the sense that it accomplishes the eternal death and destruction of sin and sinners.
The traditional view of Sunday keeping churches fails to provide a rational explanation for the justice of God in inflicting endless divine retribution upon unbelievers for sins they committed during the space of a short life. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the Biblical revelation of divine love, holiness and justice.
How can the traditional false view of hell from churches today that turn God into a cruel, sadistic torturer for all eternity be legitimately reconciled with the nature of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ? Does God have two faces? Is He boundlessly merciful on one side and insatiably cruel on the other? Can God love sinners so much as He sent His beloved Son to save them, and yet hate impenitent sinners so much that He subjects them to unending cruel torment? Can we legitimately praise God for His goodness, if He torments sinners throughout the ages of eternity?
If traditional view of hell is that eternal torment presupposes an eternal existence of a cosmic dualism. Heaven and hell, happiness and pain, good and evil would continue to exist forever alongside each other. It is impossible to reconcile this view with the prophetic vision of the new world in which there shall be no more “mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). How could crying and pain be forgotten if the agony and anguish of the lost were at sight distance, as in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)?
The purpose of the plan of salvation is ultimately to eradicate the presence of sin and un- repented sinners from this world. It is only if sinners, Satan, and the devils ultimately are consumed in the lake of fire and experience the extinction of the second death, that we truly can say that Christ’s redemptive mission has been an unqualified victory.
The purpose of this study is to help sincere people recover the true Biblical view of human nature and destiny, and thus dispel the spiritual darkness perpetrated by centuries of false teachings.This is the challenge of Advent Messenger Church church to fulfill this holy work by divine grace.
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