Annihilation: For what saith the Scripture?
by Dr. Ken Matto
There is an old teaching which has begun to spring up in the Christian community under the guise of "that’s not my God." That teaching is annihilation. Basically it states that when God will judge the unbeliever at the last day at the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20, they will be destroyed completely or annihilated. This means there will be no eternal punishment for their sins. It means after they are found guilty, they will cease to exist. A person, who believed in this teaching, stated that the bodies will burn forever but they will be dead bodies without any knowledge of punishment. We will see if that statement is correct by doing a scripture search.
This teaching is supported by such cult groups as Jehovah Witnesses which deny the existence of hell. So in order to get around the doctrine of hell which is taught in so many places in Scripture, a new teaching was needed and that was annihilation. Their major premise stems from the idea that the result of sin is physical death and once a person is dead, they are dead. Some within this belief system believe that there will be a resurrection and every unbeliever will stand before God and give an account for their life and when they are judged, will be annihilated, never to face any type of judicial penalty for their sins. This is a convenient doctrine for anyone who wants to live a major sinful life on earth without accountability. Can you imagine life on earth with the same type of law? A person is found guilty of a crime and is never punished for it. When investigating a teaching like annihilation, it behooves us to ask a precluding statement. Is physical death the ultimate payment for sin? First, we must examine that teaching before we go on to the essence of the teaching of eternal punishment.
Is Physical Death the Ultimate Payment for Sin?
When dealing with annihilation we must see if the Bible teaches physical death as the final payment for sin. As we start I want us to look at three passages of Scripture which deal with resurrections done by the Lord Jesus Christ and then we must ask a very penetrating question.
(John 11:43-44 KJV) And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. {44} And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
(Luke 7:14-15 KJV) And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. {15} And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
(Mark 5:35, 41-42 KJV) While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue's house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? {41} And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. {42} And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.
The three passages detail for us three individual resurrections of people who died. The question I have concerning these three resurrections is, since they all died physically, were all three raised to a sinless life since all their sins were now paid for. After all, they died physically and if physical death is the penalty for sin, then according to annihilist belief, they all atoned for their own sins, which means there were three perfect, sinless people walking on earth at the time of Christ. Let us look at one Old Testament resurrection while we are on the subject.
(2 Ki 13:21 KJV) And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.
Here was the fourteenth miracle Elisha requested from God before his death (2 Kings 2:9). A man was resurrected upon touching the bones of Elisha. This miracle took place about 800 BC which means that this person, who physically died, also atoned for his own sins before the cross. Now let us attend to the greatest of all physical deaths which affected millions of believers.
(John 19:30 KJV) When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
Now the question of the ages. Did the physical death of the Lord Jesus Christ constitute the full atonement for all those He came to save? Before you answer that question, we have to look at that verse very carefully. Did the Lord Jesus say "It is finished" before He died or after He died? He said it before He died, which means the atonement was almost complete before He physically died, yet Jesus was declaring that it was complete, and that the atonement was on a higher level than mere physical death, then He died and the atonement was completed for all the Elect.  Keep in mind that Jesus was already shedding His blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and under the mocking and scourging from the Roman soldiers.  The atonement was not complete until Jesus declared it was, right before He died.  This in no way diminishes the physical death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now what about the other four resurrections we looked at? Did they atone for themselves by dying physically? What saith the Scripture?
(Rom 3:24 KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
(Gal 2:16 KJV) Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
These two verses (among many) explicitly state that it is impossible for any person to atone for themselves by any type of work, and that word "any" also includes physical death. Therefore, according to the Scriptures atonement for sin cannot be made by physical death. In fact, physical death is either the portal to heaven for the believer or to await the judgment if you are an unbeliever. Salvation is determined on this side of the grave not because of it. If a person can atone for their sins by means of physical death, then indeed, Hell will not need to exist because there will be no one there, except the Devil and His angels. What does the Bible teach about the doctrine of continuing or eternal punishment? Does the Bible endorse annihilation or does it teach a continuing punishment for sin?
The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment
When exploring this most apocalyptic doctrine, I want to break it down into three sub-sections: 1) The Symbol 2) The Parable 3) The Duration. We will see that in the Bible there is no such teaching as the Doctrine of Annihilation. Some groups which hold to this doctrine are: Christian Science, Spiritualism, Jehovah’s Witness, Armstrongism, Mormons, Eastern Mysticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Evolution, and probably a slew of others.
The Symbol - Gehenna
In the New Testament the word "hell" is translated from the Greek word "geenna" or more commonly translated "gehenna" except for eleven places. Gehenna is derived from two Hebrew words, "gay" meaning a valley, and "Hinnom" which is a valley south of Jerusalem named after an unknown person but together it is known as the Valley of Hinnom. To better understand why Jesus used this term, a history of the valley is needed.
During the time when the nation of Israel was divided into two states being the northern and southern kingdom, the Valley of Hinnom was a place where apostate Jews offered their children as burnt offerings to the false god Molech. Molech was the chief deity of the Moabites. (Jeremiah 7:30-31; 19:2-6) Israel was expressly forbidden to worship any foreign god.
(Lev 18:21 KJV) And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Manasseh, a king of Judah was involved in this worship. At the end of the divided kingdom age, Judah went into captivity with the Babylonians and the Valley of Hinnom became a garbage dump that contained all kinds of putrid trash and foul garbage from Jerusalem.
This dump became an excellent symbol for Hell since there were literal fires burning continuously and must have emanated a nauseating odor. With this short foundational understanding of the history of gehenna, let us look at the words of Christ on this subject. We will examine each verse individually to gain a better view of this awful and real place. I will focus on the words which deal directly with hell.
We find the word "geenna" in the following 12 verses: Matt. 5:22; 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. The word is always a noun which means a person, place, or thing.
The Parable
(Luke 16:19-31 KJV) There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: {20} And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, {21} And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. {22} And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; {23} And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. {24} And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. {25} But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. {26} And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. {27} Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: {28} For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. {29} Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. {30} And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. {31} And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Here we read one of the most famous parables in the Bible. It speaks of the rich man who represents those of the world and Lazarus (which means help of God) represents the believers who are the outcasts and the offscouring of the earth. (1 Cor 4:13 KJV) "Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." The word "offscouring" actually means "scum." We see that the rich man was stating that he was in real torment in the flame. Here is an accurate description of Hell. The rich man had all his faculties and a knowledge of his life on earth as we see he mentions his five brothers. The true believer will be in bliss while those who do not become saved will be tormented consciously in flame for all eternity.
The Duration
Here is the essence of this study and I want to focus on this section more intently than I did on the symbol and parable. The Doctrine of Annihilation is totally antithetical to the Bible’s teaching on the eternal duration of punishment. We will see this clearly as we look at some Scriptures which reveal everlasting punishment instead of instant annihilation.
(Mat 18:8 KJV) Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
Here the Bible is very clear that the fire will be everlasting. "pur to aiwnion" (pur to aionion) which translated means "the eternal fire." The punishment will be eternal.
(Mat 25:41 KJV) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
This verse is teaching the same thing which Matthew 18:8 is teaching with the same Greek words, an eternal fire.
(Mat 25:46 KJV) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
This verse teaches the same truth except there is a different word used instead of fire and it is the word ""kolasis" which means a judicial penalty, punishment, or chastisement. It used in 1 John 4:18 where it is translated "torment." If a person is annihilated or ceases to exist, then how could they experience an eternal punishment.
(2 Th 1:9 KJV) Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
This almost seems like an oxymoron for how can one be destroyed eternally? However, this is a word which is defined by the context in which it is used. The term is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." The term for destruction is "oleqron" (olethron) which means a "destruction, ruin, or death." So there is no conflict in using this word because in 1 Thess. 5:3, the destruction is sudden but in 2 Thess 1:9 the destruction lasts eternally. The first, destruction is on earth but the second destruction is in Hell.
(Mark 3:29 KJV) But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
The words here may also be translated "eternal judgment." This shows that the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit carries with it the penalty of eternality under judgment.
(Jude 1:7 KJV) Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Here we see a great example of what the fires of hell are going to be like. All those who are not found in Christ will suffer eternal fire. Sodom and Gomorrha showed us that God’s judgment will be swift but the penalty He prescribes will be eternal which was prefigured by the fires which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha.
(Mat 8:29 KJV) And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
This is an interesting verse. The demons knew who Christ was and are definitely cognizant of the fact they will face torment after they are thrown into hell on the last day. Notice the phrase "before the time" because they know the time is coming when they shall be cast into hell eternally.
(Rev 14:11 KJV) And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
Now here is a passage which states explicitly that their torment will be suffered forever. The word torment is "basanismos" (basanismos) which means torture or torment and is peculiar to the Book of Revelation. Now if a person is annihilated and ceases to exist, then how would that person suffer torment for eternity? The answer is simple, it cannot. If something does not exist or ceases to exist then they simply cannot experience anything good or bad.
(Mark 9:43-48 KJV) And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: {44} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. {45} And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: {46} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. {47} And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: {48} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Here are some of the most ominous verses in Scripture which teach that anyone unsaved will be cast into hell’s fire and that fire will never be quenched. The word is "sbennumi" (sbennumi) which means "to extinguish, suppress or subdue." This fire will never be subdued or lessened.
Notice also the verses speak of a worm. Jesus is speaking of the worm in context of the Gehenna garbage dump in which human bodies were sometimes thrown into. The term "worm " may also be translated maggots and the Gehenna fires gave the maggots an unending source of food. So the sinner in hell also gives the fire an unending source of fuel since it will take all eternity to pay for their sins and this is why the fire can never go out. The worm could have two possible definitions or maybe more but I would like to offer two. Keep in mind that whatever this worm is, it will never die which means it is eternal and not annihilated.
1) Everyone who is cast into hell will have all the lusts and desires they had on earth, but will never be able to have them fulfilled. For example, if a person consistently lusts after sex, they may have the strongest desire for sex in hell but that craving will never be satisfied.
2) They will have full recall of all the times they heard the gospel and mocked and rejected it. This worm might be the recollections of those mockings and rejections. The lusts and recollections will eat away at a person as a lion eats its prey. Remember how fully cognizant the rich man was in hell, his senses and his recall were not diminished in the least.
We have looked at a sufficient amount of Scripture which completely refutes the idea that there will be annihilation after judgment. The truth of Scripture reveals that after the Great White Throne judgment the unbeliever will be required by penalty of God’s law to pay for their own sins in an eternity in hell and that hell will be a real place of torment away from the presence of the Lord. If you are reading this and you are relying on no eternal punishment because your leaders have told you this, then they have lied to you.