INTRODUCTION TO THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
Perhaps there is no doctrine in the Holy Scriptures which has engendered such opposition as the teaching that endless punishment is the lot of all those who ultimately leave this world unsaved. While it is no surprise to see atheists and agnostics get upset at this doctrine, it is alarming to see increasingly vocal attacks on it from within the ranks of so-called Evangelicals. The modern assault on this vital doctrine contains little that is new, but recycles old errors and sophistry prevalent in the 19th Century. At that time the error popularly referred to as the "wider hope" was combated effectively by many writers who recognized the danger in any dilution of what the Spirit of God has recorded on the matter, and for many decades the Assemblies have benefited from written legacy of such authors as F. W. Grant, Sir R. Anderson and W. Hoste, whose publications on this topic are well worth re-reading.
It is not the purpose of this article to confer the ‘oxygen of publicity’ on the perpetrators of false doctrine. The aim is rather to survey some of the key Scriptures that validate this doctrine. In learned theology books it comes under the heading of ‘Personal Eschatology’, i.e. the doctrine of the last-things as pertaining to personal destiny – rather than national destiny.
Error on this matter is extremely ancient. Satan is its first promulgator in his speech to Eve contradicting God: "ye shall not surely die". The ante-diluvian civilisation was characterised by a materialistic attitude to God and spiritual things, and mocked at the notions of either reward or punishment in the future.1 In the later Judean kingdom, there was a hedonistic culture reinforced by pseudo prophets who gave falsely reassuring messages of peace and immunity from future punishment.2 Such prophets are warned of eternal shame and disgrace, reminiscent of the closing warning in Revelation chapter 22 about those who would take away from the prophecies of Judgment.
The Sadducees were a very influential sect of the Jews in New Testament times, and pugnaciously rejected all idea of a resurrection. We shall consider this later. When Paul visited Athens in Acts chapter 17, he met a Gentile audience of intelligentsia, some of whom found the truth of future judgment and resurrection a subject of mockery. "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead some mocked" Acts 17.32.
KEY OLD TESTAMENT REFERENCES
In the Old Testament, the teaching concerning death and the afterlife is unmistakable, though the details are somewhat scanty in the earlier books. There is no doubt that the wicked dead are not simply annihilated or put into some kind of soul-sleep. A future judgment awaits them, and that until then they are held in a penal environment, sometimes called "the pit", which is part of Sheol (the Old Testament word for the destination of souls after death, see greater detail below). Old Testament references to prison are to be taken seriously as accurate statements, for this language is approved in the New Testament.3
There is sufficient evidence that the Old Testament believers looked forward to a bodily resurrection, pending which they would be in a place of comfort, and have conscious existence – not soul sleep. Divine warnings against the prohibited practice of necromancy, Deut.18.9-12, represent an important indirect proof that from the earliest existence of Israel, there was a definite belief in the ongoing conscious existence of human beings after death. Annihilation or soul sleep would make such occult practice impossible, and the sad example of King Saul’s consultation with the witch of Endor, 1 Sam.28.7 ff, is a striking proof of the ongoing conscious existence of souls after death.
For the unrighteous, the post-death condition was felt - even by a wicked Gentile - to be horribly different from that of the righteous, as Balaam’s expostulation demonstrates, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" Num.23.10. This exclamation would be trite and meaningless if it were merely a reference to death of the body, which was equally inevitable for the righteous.
The Song of Moses gives a dire threat of future punishment upon the unbelieving section of the nation of Israel, who are described as "a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith".4 Some of the punishment is temporal, but it is important to notice the reference to Hell-fire, which far exceeds the scope of merely earthly retribution. "For a fire is kindled in mine anger and shall burn unto the lowest hell [Sheol]." This is one of the earliest allusions to the idea that Sheol is divided into sections, with divergent conditions pertaining to the righteous and wicked dead.
Isaiah’s prophecy sheds interesting light upon after-death conditions for the unrighteous. The fate of the king of Babylon is given in solemn words; "Hell from beneath is moved for thee, to meet thee at thy coming, it stirreth up the dead for thee ... All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we?" Isa.14.9,10. The individual’s conscious existence; one’s ability to remember and to speak are demonstrated in this passage. It will not do to try and escape the awful reality of this and kindred passages by saying that the language is poetic hyperbole for the grave, for this passage clearly excludes such an evasion. "Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial" declaims the prophet, pointing out; "Thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch … as a carcase trodden under feet" Isa.14.19. So those earlier verses about conditions in Sheol cannot be just some poetical figure of speech for the grave, for the King of Babylon shares Sheol with these others, though unburied. An interesting similar passage about the doom of Tyre declares; "When I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit" Ezek.26.20. Here we note that the pit already has had occupants from time immemorial, predeceasing the time of Ezekiel. It is equally unacceptable to view this passage as merely another reference to the grave.
Future punishment is a doctrine explicitly stated in the following passage which parallels most strikingly with the events foretold more fully in Revelation chapter 20; "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high and the kings of the earth upon the earth. They shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited" Isa.24.22.
Another prophecy about the fate of a future wicked ruler known as "the king" (taken rightly to be a prophecy of Antichrist’s doom) tells us "For Tophet is ordained of old; yea for the king it is prepared; He hath made it deep and large, the pile thereof is fire and much wood, the breath of the Lord like a stream of brimstone doth kindle it" Isa.30.33.5 This is the earliest reference to what in the New Testament we know as the "Lake of Fire".
These three prophetic references in Isaiah chapters 14, 24 and 30 concern future wicked leaders. But what of ordinary people? The fate of rank and file followers of wicked leaders is not omitted. The future lament of Israel’s ungodly majority is vividly recorded. This relates to the time of upheaval when the covenant with Antichrist will turn out to have been a sham and a futile refuge of lies.6 "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Isa.33.14. The old-style Gospel preachers had frequent recourse to this and similar passages with a marked solemnising effect. It warns that there will be no escape and that the burning is endless - a prospect that is frightening to contemplate. From these passages we see that the followers of Antichrist share his awful destiny forever, a fact that is repeated more explicitly in the New Testament.7
The last major Old Testament passage for consideration is Dan.12.1-3. Here is the clearest kind of explanation of the future of the righteous and wicked. Both experience bodily resurrection, and both enter a condition that is eternal. While the righteous shall have everlasting life, for the wicked there is shame and everlasting contempt. The "contempt" alludes to the revulsion and loathsome condition of the wicked eternally, and is the same word as "abhorring" in Isa.66.24 - in fact Dan.12.3 is probably a direct allusion. The irreversibility of this awful doom reminds us of the individual’s condition being permanent, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he that is filthy let him be filthy still" Rev.22.11. In the eternal state there will be no improvement or transformation.
KEY BIBLE WORDS RELATED TO HELL
Moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament gives the reader an opportunity to consider the main words that are used for the destiny of unsaved people after death.
Sheol is the main term used in the Old Testament. The Biblical data concerning it should be consulted using Wigram’s Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance, as it is sometimes unhelpfully rendered ‘grave’ in English Bible translations. In the Septuagint Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament, Sheol is not translated as ‘grave’ nor is the Hebrew word for ‘grave’ translated as ‘Hades’.8 Sheol is somewhere that is reached by going down.9 It was the common destiny of all the deceased. Yet there are indications that within the overall realm of Sheol there was diversity of conditions for the righteous as opposed to the wicked dead. The fire of God’s anger is linked with the "lowest Sheol", Deut.32.22. The righteous and wicked are seen at the resurrection as being totally distinct in Daniel 12.1,2, strongly inferring that if the eternal destiny is marked by such huge distinction, there would surely be similar distinction in the intermediate state (Sheol). Such distinction is revealed in Isaiah chapter 57 where we learn concerning the death of the righteous, v.2, "He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness". Not so the wicked, for the same chapter informs us, v.21, "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked". Closely linked with Sheol is the term ‘destruction’ (Abaddon), which is such an important term that it is repeated in both Hebrew and Greek together in Revelation chapter 9, where it appears as a personification of the angel of the Bottomless Pit (Abyss). It is associated in Job 31.12 with a punitive fire.10 It is beyond the scope of this article to pursue further details of the divergence of the righteous and wicked within Sheol.
Hades is the Greek word used in the LXX translation for Sheol, and is the word in the New Testament (occurring 11 times) that is usually translated as hell. Hades is where the Rich Man in Luke chapter 16 found himself upon death, and there sinners remain until death and hell (hades) are finally cast into the Lake of Fire after the Great White Throne judgment in Revelation chapter 20, a new and eternally permanent state of affairs known as the Second Death. Hades is thus the abode of the lost in the "intermediate state"(see below).
Gehenna and the Lake of Fire
Gehenna is another word for hell that occurs 12 times in the New Testament. Apart from a single reference in Jms.3.6, it is only spoken of by the Lord Jesus Himself in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is the Greek rendering of a shortened form of the Hebrew name "Valley of Hinnom." The valley of the sons of Hinnom (also known as Tophet) was on the outskirts of ancient Jerusalem and became notorious as the centre of depraved idolatry and human sacrifice to Moloch (see Jer.7.31) initially under the evil king Ahaz, until those vile ceremonies were extirpated by Josiah. "He defiled Tophet which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom that no man might make his son or daughter pass through the fire to Molech" 2 Kgs.23.10. The notion of defilement and fire was ever afterwards associated with that place which became the municipal rubbish tip for Jerusalem. Gehenna however was never used as an ‘address’ or place-name in Jerusalem. It always referred to the final destiny of the wicked. From what the Lord Jesus Christ said about it, the wicked go there as the outcome of the final judgment, Matt.23.33. The body goes there as well as soul —unlike Hades, so the wicked dead are resurrected prior to going into Gehenna, Matt.10.28 and Mk.9.42-49.
Conditions there are terrible and frightening. "Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" is descriptive of the torment that is to be endured. The horror of this is augmented by its permanence. Here is punishment without remediation. The Lake of Fire mentioned in Revelation, is the same as Gehenna, the ultimate destiny of all unsaved. The Beast and the False Prophet are taken and cast there alive at the final battle of the Tribulation, Rev.19.20. After the Millennial reign of Christ on the earth ends and the great rebellion of Gog and Magog is crushed, the Devil is "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" Rev.20.10. For over a thousand years the beast and false prophet undergo the torment of the Lake of Fire, before Satan joins them. This is a striking example of the preservation of the wicked dead in Lake of Fire conditions. It has aptly been said "Could not the God who preserved Shadrach and his friends in the furnace at Babylon intervene and prevent these two wicked men from being consumed?" The words, "every one shall be salted with fire" seem to contain an ominous intimation of this.11 The worshippers of the beast are also destined to this punishment described in Rev.14.10,11, "the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God ... and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb: 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." All the unsaved dead will appear before the Great White Throne, Rev.20.11-15, and undergo individual judgment. The one common determinant of their doom is the fact that they are not found written in the Lamb’s book of life. They are thus cast into the lake of fire. The awesome finality of this is sealed by the pronouncement, "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" Rev.20.14. Universalists, annihilationists and other false teachers balk at the everlasting duration and finality of this outcome for the wicked. They try to force the words for eternal or everlasting to yield some definition that means temporary. They struggle to make the words for destroy, destruction, or perish to mean cessation of existence. All such reasoning unmasks a fundamental rebellion at accepting the words of the Lord Jesus as being truthful and factual, and qualifies for the dire warnings in Revelation against those who attempt to "take away from the words of the book of this prophecy" Rev.22.19. There is not space here to show how futile and deceitful such word-twisting exercises are. The excellent works of Sir Robert Anderson and Mr William Hoste exposing the folly of such pseudo-scholarship should be consulted for further details11, 12.
Another reference to Gehenna is the "outer darkness" mentioned in Matt.8.12; 22.13; 25.30. In each of these three occurrences it is followed with the expression "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth". This is the same eternal darkness mentioned by Peter and Jude in 2 Pet.2.17 and Jude 13. It emphasises the horror of being totally cut off from God’s blessings. The synonym for Gehenna in Matt.13.42,50 is the "furnace of fire". Note vv.49,50, "So it shall be at the end of the world, the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." This separation of the wicked from among the just is expanded upon in our Lord’s prophecy of the judgment of the living nations, Matt.25.31-46. It appears that at that judgment the wicked depart directly into Gehenna. The expression is very solemn, "these shall go away into everlasting punishment" v.46. It seems to imply an infinite recession into ever-greater distance from God and all the blessings of heaven. The various references to "weeping and gnashing of teeth" or "wailing and gnashing of teeth" remind us of the sorrow and pain associated with Gehenna. However, the behaviour of Stephen’s accusers who gnashed upon him with their teeth, Acts 7.54, suggests also that savage anger is expressed, especially by those who would fain have enjoyed the blessings of the Kingdom, but find themselves thrust out.
The term ‘intermediate state’ is used to refer to the condition of the soul after death, but prior to resurrection. When a person dies the term ‘sleep’ is used. This term only applies to the body. The soul does not sleep, in spite of the labours of numerous false teachers to establish that delusive opinion. The conscious existence of the soul between death and resurrection is taught in both Old and New Testaments as the various texts cited demonstrate. The single most revealing passage on the intermediate state is Luke chapter 16, (see below). The testimony of Jude’s epistle is very striking. There is detailed information about the fate of those who were troubling the believers to whom Jude wrote, and against whom they were to contend earnestly. "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" Jude 4. The condemnation is outlined in the rest of the epistle, as successive examples of God’s punishment of evildoers in the Old Testament are mentioned. It is important to notice that in the first trio of examples, there is an eternal aspect to "this condemnation" in two of the cases, i.e. "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. 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" vv.6, 7. Later verses give more characteristics of these dangerous individuals "to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever".
Enoch’s prophecy shows that the ante-diluvian patriarch was given a special revelation about "the judgment of the great day". It would consist of the Lord coming "with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." v.15. This cannot simply refer to those future sinners who will be alive on earth at the time of the Lord’s return to earth. All sinners down the ages who have committed ungodly deeds and spoken hard speeches, will not only be judged, but convinced in the process (compare Phil.2.10, "every knee shall bow … and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord …"). It thus follows that Enoch’s prophecy presupposes the continued existence of sinners until this time of judgment. God will execute judgment "upon all" and death will be no obstacle to achieving this.
Peter tells us that the Lord knoweth how, "to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" 2 Pet.2.9. Note that the phrase "to be punished" is present tense. It means that right now, throughout the whole duration of the intermediate state until the day of judgment, the unrighteous are undergoing continuous Divine punishment.
THE TEACHING OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
The teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ on our subject is surely pivotal and of the highest authority for all who purport to be Christian. We shall study the four Gospels in vain for any hint of succour for the varied deniers of eternal punishment. Some of the strongest language ever uttered on the subject came from His lips. The very title of this chapter, "Eternal Punishment" is derived from the words of our Lord at the close of the Olivet Discourse, "these shall go away into everlasting punishment" Matt.25.46. The narrative of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Lk.16.19-31, affords a unique glimpse into the state of things after death. Many claim that this account is a parable and thus attempt to evade its force. Others more subtly affirm that "the language is parabolic" – though without ever offering a definition of what is meant by "parabolic language". For all who are simple enough to accept that the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ are identified as such in the Gospel record, it suffices to observe that there is nothing in Luke chapter 16 to tell us that this story is other than a sober narrative of facts. Furthermore, it behoves us to have the humility to accept that the Lord Jesus means exactly what He says. Quasi-rationalistic questioning like, "What kind of water do spirits drink?" will nurture a spirit of scepticism rather than faith. We should be profoundly grateful that the Lord Himself has seen fit to grant to us the degree of information that He has, and endeavour with the obedience of faith to assimilate what has been revealed in His Holy Word. When one encounters this kind of gratuitous human curiosity, it is instructive to recall the Sadducees’ question about resurrection. The Lord Jesus didn’t answer the Sadducees according to the detail of their contrived question, but tells them that they "do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God" Matt.22.29; Mk.12.24. What the Lord Jesus says next is very solemn. He adduces a proof of the continued existence and future resurrection of long deceased persons by quoting from Moses’ experience at the burning bush. God’s self-revelation to Moses as the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is explained by the fact that "God is not a god of the dead but of the living, for all live unto Him" Lk.20.38.13 It is striking that the Lord Jesus singles out this incident to make this refutation of Sadduceeism. When Moses saw the burning bush, he trembled. Why was it such a "great sight"? The astonishing, the frightening thing was that this ordinary desert shrub was aflame and continuing to burn without being consumed. It was so different to what would naturally happen. "The crackling of thorns under a pot" Eccl.7.6, implies a rapid surge of flame and then a few sparse embers with nothing else remaining. That is what would have been expected. But Moses being a spiritually attuned man as well as probably the most accomplished savant of his generation (as pertaining to human science and scholarship, Acts 7.22) was gripped and awe-struck by the fact that this bush could so violate all the laws of Chemistry, Biology and Physics and remain unconsumed by the fire. How can the phenomenon be explained? The answer lies in the power of God. That’s the great factor of which the Sadducees were wilfully ignorant. And the Lord’s specific mention of the burning bush would serve as a potent reminder to His Jewish audience and all subsequent sceptics that God who demonstrated His wondrous power to preserve a desert shrub while burning can easily solve the conundrum of how the fire of Gehenna and the Lake of Fire can burn the lost for ever without them ‘burning out’.
It is small wonder that the Apostle Paul loses patience with those who cavil at the reality of future resurrection and ask, "How are the dead raised up and with what body do they come?" 1 Cor.15.35. A sharp rebuke, "Thou fool" is how the reply begins, v.36. As to the matter of how a person can experience bodily sensations in the absence of the body (which is a staple objection of sceptics and rationalists) we need not feel obliged to explain, but would point to the fact that the Apostle Paul when caught up into the third heaven had experiences for which the body is usually required. However, he was unable to determine whether in fact he was in the body or out of the body, 2 Cor.12.1-5. So clearly Paul had no difficulty believing that sensory experiences are entirely possible though absent from the body. That should decide the matter for any conservative Bible-believer. From the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus the following facts are evident. Both righteous and unrighteous (the saved and the lost) after death remain conscious. The saved are comforted and the lost are tormented. The destination is irreversible, no transfers are possible. Fire ("this flame") is an instrument of the torment. No alleviation of the torment is on offer, though piteously solicited. Speech and discussion are possible across the "great gulf fixed". The faculty of memory is preserved as to persons on earth alive (his brothers) and dead (Lazarus). When the importance of the Holy Scriptures is discussed the Rich Man denies the sufficiency or supremacy of God’s Word for converting his brothers, "And he said, Nay, father Abraham" v.30. This illustrates the fact that sinners’ wrongful thoughts about divine things persist on the other side of death. Change of mind (repentance) doesn’t occur in the abode of the lost. Should the reader be unsaved, may this consideration move you to believe God’s Word now concerning the only remedy for your sin and its penalty. There is no escape for any who neglect so great salvation – see Heb.2.1-4.
JUDGMENT AND ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
The passages already discussed show that there is a very close link between the eternal destiny of the wicked and the judgment of God. God’s judgment is an extensive subject in its own right and can here only be briefly touched upon. God is absolutely righteous, and we are not at liberty to obtrude our vain curiosity into the issue. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? The sinner will have nothing to say in his own defence. He will acknowledge that he is convinced entirely that God is right and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Ecclesiastes concludes with the statement that, "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" Eccl.12.14. Paul, in the context of the inexcusability of the Gentiles, speaks of the day when "God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel" Rom.2.16. This is most likely an allusion to Eccl.12.14. Paul discussed "judgment to come" with Felix, a hardened Roman official, who trembled before him, Acts 24.25. He warned the sceptical Athenian elite of the fact that God has "appointed a day in the which He will judge the world by that Man whom He hath ordained ..." Acts 17.31.
LINKS WITH OTHER DOCTRINES
Many Bible doctrines are affected by error respecting the doctrine of Eternal Punishment. E. W. Rogers pointed out key problems that objectors must face regarding the doctrine of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. "We ask the Annihilationist: was our Lord Jesus annihilated when He died? For verily He was man. We ask the Universalist: If all men ultimately will be saved, why then did Christ die at all? What made his death imperative?"14 The infinite value of the Atonement to God is impugned when the doctrine of Eternal Punishment is denied. "There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries … Of how much sorer punishment … shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" Heb.10.26-29. The doctrine of Justification by faith (see Chapter 4 of this book) is closely linked with the other outworkings of God’s righteousness, e.g. in final judgment. Those who are saved, "shall not come into condemnation; [judgment] but is [have already] passed from death unto life ... He that believeth on Him is not condemned: [judged] but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God." As regards the unbeliever, "the wrath of God abideth on him" Jn.5.24; 3.18; 3.36. So the future experience of the eternal wrath of God upon the unbelieving sinner is merely a continuation of what is already his position on earth. Thank God however, that the Gospel lets us know that is possible for those who were once "children of wrath even as others" to be saved from that position and be brought into the dignity of being fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God.
DENIAL OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
It is noteworthy that whenever the truth of eternal reward and punishment is downgraded or denied there is a corresponding upsurge in overt manifestations of sin and rebellion against God, resulting in a marked increase in the corruption and depravity of the society concerned. This was the case in the days of Noah, and will again be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. Scoffers today may be perhaps more subtle in their denigration of the doctrine than Lamech’s lyrics, but the effects of such mockery of God are horrendous, and the judgment of God is sure. 2 Peter chapters 2-3 and Jude should be read carefully to remind oneself of the importance of this. The characteristics of our own day with rulers that "call evil good, and good evil" Isa.5.20, are a close match with the moral conditions that pertained in the decadent close of the Judean Kingdom - which are denounced by the Old Testament prophets while projecting their prophecies straight onto the Tribulation period. Contemporary conditions match what the Lord Jesus said would precede his return to earth, Matthew chapter 24, and are a constant burden of New Testament prophecy.15
VIGILANCE AGAINST ERROR IS NEEDED
We need not be astonished that there is wholesale defection from truth once respected and treasured among "evangelicals", but must be alert for spread of the contagion into companies of Christians who may have hitherto felt some sense of complacency that they were insulated against such evil developments. The growing climate of sentimentalism with regard to doctrine and Biblical interpretation has already seen novel and dubious views of Divine sovereignty gain widespread acceptance.16 Human-centred feeling has already spawned the idea that there will be a second chance after the Rapture for people who have neglected so great salvation under the present dispensation of grace, to embrace the Gospel again and withstand the Antichrist during the Tribulation – despite the clear warning to the contrary in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.17 Once man-centred thinking is given credence in the realm of theology, objections to the doctrine of eternal punishment will arise based on mischievous appeals to the incompatibility of such a horrendous doctrine with the truth that "God is Love". "I cannot see that endless punishment is either loving or just … It is a doctrine which I do not know how to preach without negating the loveliness and glory of God."18 This quote is typical of the emotive tones of objectors. In the XVIIth century, Francis Turretin aptly labelled such thinkers as "preposterously merciful".19 We do well to purge our minds of humanistic presuppositions and heed the wise admonitions of Elihu, "Far be it from God that He should do wickedness; and from the Almighty that He should commit iniquity, for the work of a man shall He render unto him and cause every man to find according to his ways." Again, "I … will ascribe righteousness to my maker" and in acknowledgement of the total poverty of human intellect to analyse or evaluate God, he says "Teach us what we shall say unto Him, for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness" Job 34.10,11; 36.3; 37.19.
May we, as bearers of Christian testimony, be enabled to preserve doctrinal purity concerning this sobering subject, whose solemnity should make us renew praise and gratitude to God for deliverance from such a fearful end, and stimulate Gospel activity to bring others into the benefit of so great salvation.
1. Gen.4.19-24; Job 22.15-17.
2. Jer.23.17, 38-40.
3. "Spirits in prison" are mentioned in 1 Pet 3.19.
4. Deut.32.20 (compare the consequences for "the fearful and the unbelieving" of the sin of unbelief in Rev 21:8. These two passages are the first and last Scripture references to ‘fire’ as a means of punishing the wicked dead: in both passages unbelief is a key characteristic of those so punished).
5. See W. Kelly’s Lectures on Isaiah, in loco.
6. Compare Isa.28.15-18 with ch.33.7-14. The threatened doom of the "hypocrites" is again seen in the Gehenna conditions depicted by the Lord Jesus in Matt.24.51.
7. Matt.25.46; 2 Thess.2.10-12; Rev.20.
8. Robert Morey "Death and the Afterlife" (ch.3) 1984, Bethany House Publishers.
9. Korah et al went down alive into Sheol. Num.16.33 and Jude 11 use the word "perished" to describe this fate.
10. This punitive fire that burns to destruction (Abbadon) is something that is over and above the punishment of the earthly judicial process outlined in the previous verse (Job 31.11).
11. W. Hoste "Beyond the Grave" in The Collected Writings of William Hoste, Vol.2 Prophetic, J Ritchie 1999.
12. Sir R. Anderson "Human Destiny" in Assembly Writers Library, Gospel Tract Publications.
13. Note that the word ‘live’ is present tense, not merely future "will live". There is no loophole here for Conditional Immortality or soul sleep.
14. Believers Magazine, Sept 2005.
15. 1 Thess 5, 2Pet 3, Jude.
16. Denial of individual election, and acceptance of Molinism – a Jesuit-derived philosophical hypothesis that attempts -- to the satisfaction of human reason-- to reconcile Divine sovereignty with man’s freewill.
17. The highly successful "Left Behind" books and films are based on this unscriptural premise.
18. An annihilationist writer critiqued in "Johathan Edwards and Hell" by Chris Morgan, 2004: Christian Focus Publications.
19. Twentieth Topic, Question Seven in Francis Turretin, "Institutes of Elecnctic Theology" 1997:P&R Publishing