Is Hell Real or Simply Annihilation?

by Tony Warren

Hell: n. Theology. [HEB. (she'owl), the hidden] The place or state of the condemned dead]. The unseen abode of condemned spirits of those who have died. [GR. (hades), the unseeing]. The state of the condemned dead. A place where there is no seeing. a state of the dead where they are unaware or unknowing. [(geenna), of hebrew origin, valley of the son of hinnom]. ge-hinnom; used figuratively as a state of punishment for the condemned souls of the dead. [GR. (tar-tar-o'o), lowest abyss of hades]. used to signify eternal punishment of the condemned souls of the dead.


Many are the proponents of the doctrine of, "Death means annihilation," who take these words that are used in scripture to illustrate hell, and claim that they allude to their own theories of annihilation. One of the many problems with this idea is that scripture doesn't exist in a vacuum. All scripture must be taken into consideration when defining doctrine, and it must harmonize when considered together. The most basic of sound hermeneutics is the knowledge that we haven't come to correct doctrine until all scripture has no conflict with all other scriptures. Then, and only then, can we be relatively sure that we have come to the real truth of God's Word. When we do this, we see not only that annihilation cannot be an accurate doctrine, but that it is totally inconsistent and contradictory in most instances. Is this theory more wishful thinking than careful exegesis? It would certainly appear so.

We can certainly understand that by necessity the unsaved must think this way because if they do not, then they must spend the rest of their lives in abject terror of the coming recompense. Either that, or they must turn to God for Salvation, and they love the world far too much to choose that option. Therefore, in order to keep their lifestyle, and retain their peace of mind, they have no choice but to deny the terror, and believe the lie. To not do so would have them spend their lives miserably waiting the day. But sadly, today in some circles, it is the Church itself who is now parroting the line that death is annihilation. This is the result of years of this plague of liberal and humanistic philosophies creeping inside it's walls. It is part of the pestilence of political correctness which has engulfed many Churches. But let us examine this doctrine in the light of what God says, and not under the shadow of what man's idea of fairness and compassion, and man's distorted view of what is a loving God.

The Biblical Realities of Hell
    As in the definitions listed above, the word Hell is used in scripture in two ways. First as the place or state where the souls of the unsaved who have died (first death - death of the body) and are under condemnation of God await in unseen silence, their coming judgment. These are souls separated from the body by death and neither speak, think, nor have conscious existence. In other words, they don't live again or have conscious existence until the judgment day. This is the state of the souls of unsaved men who have died. Consider Psalms, speaking of the dead.

Psalms 31:17

Believers who die go to be with the Lord and they rest not in giving Glory to God and singing praises to His name around the throne. But the unsaved who die have no voice, as they "live not" (do not have conscious existence) until they are raised to judgment at the second resurrection.

Psalms 115:17

That is the destination of the souls of the unsaved. A place where they are unseen, and in silence. Contrast that with the souls of the believers when they leave their body in death, they don't go into this darkness of unseen silence, they immediately go to live and reign in the presence of Christ and praise Him for ever. This is just as Paul under inspiration of God declared,

2nd Corinthians 5:6-8

This is our eternal destination when our souls leave the body (absent from the body) in death. We go to be in the presence of the Lord. Death to the true believer is not a cause for sadness, but for joy. Again, as Paul so magnificently put it,

Philippians 1:21

Gain because we'll finally be at our destination with the Lord! While the souls of the unsaved don't live or have conscious existence being in silence, the souls of those raised in Christ go to Heaven to live with Him! This contrast is again gloriously illustrated in Revelations Chapter 20, where speaking of the souls of the believers who were martyred, it says they lived and reigned with Christ 1000 years. Then it contrasts that with the rest of those who died, saying,

Revelation 20:5

Clearly, there are two dead being spoken of here. The souls of the believers who died going to "live" and reign with Christ, having part in the first resurrection. And that contrasted with the souls of the unbelievers who died who live not again until the 1000 years are up. In other words, until the second Resurrection when these condemned will be raised to stand for judgment. Two destinations for the souls of the dead depending upon their Salvation. That place where the souls of the unsaved go is hell, waiting for Hell! A place or state of non life in silence awaiting the real Hell of eternal punishment after they are raised again (resurrected) to life to stand before God and be sentenced.

Hell is the synonym for death. The first Death (Hell) is this place of silence. The second death (Hell) is the lake of fire! One is reserved for the other, and at judgment will be cast into the other. For example,

Revelation 20:13-14

In other words, death was cast into death, and Hell into Hell. And so when we think of hell, though we often think of the final Hell (lake of fire), we must keep in mind that there is a hell of reserving for the Hell which is judgment. A separation from God and punishment for sins which will cause great torment. Just as there is a death for the unsaved, which is merely a reserving for the second death of judgment.

2nd Peter 2:4

So you see, this is a Hell just as surely as the Hell that Jesus spoke about in the parable of lazarus of flames and torment. One hell reserved for the final judgment Hell. For one hell is a synonym for death, and of those under condemnation. All the scriptures lead to the same un-escapable conclusion. That the Judgment or punishment of Hell is not annihilation, but the wrath of God poured out on the wicked in punishment. So let us not be confused by death and hell being used in two different ways. They are synonymous with one being the reserved end, for the other.

The Pertinent Scriptures

Revelation 14:9-11

The fact is, all these who will receive the mark of the beast are the majority of those on the earth, with only a remnant refusing to worship Him. God says these all shall be tormented, and that the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night. Is this the biblical language of annihilation, or is it clearly saying there is continual punishment here? The response I most often hear is that, "one can take any one or two verses on virtually any topic and come up with a point of view that is out of harmony with the rest of scripture." That is most certainly true, but what one cannot do is to take one or two passages, and say they're not true or that they don't really mean what they say. In other words, no one can make scripture not say what it says. If scripture says the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, then that's what God means. No one can turn around and say, "well that just means they're tormented a little while." Because that would be tortuous of scripture. Likewise, we can't take a verse which says, "they have no rest day nor night in this torment," and then claim that it doesn't really mean that, it means they are tormented a brief period and then have rest. Yet many have privately interpret scripture to actually mean that they do have rest from this torment after awhile. That's not only contradictory, it is blatant wresting of what is written.

I was told by some annihilationists that the passage in Revelation 14:11 was dubious because the Greek there cannot literally mean all day and all night. As support, they put forth the argument that it is the same Greek Paul used when he said he prayed day and night, and we know he didn't or else he wouldn't get anything else done. So they reason the Greek means that his praying was not confined to either the day or night.

Like a lot of things, at first glance, one might think that they have a good point. Except when we consider a few pertinent facts. They are trying to use one scripture denoting an ongoing event, to negate another scripture denoting an ongoing event. While I'll readily grant you that this phrase wouldn't always denote literally not resting at all (as in the case of Paul), it does most certainly denote continually. In other words, it would never denote a final or ultimate cessation of Paul's prayers, or a cessation of these torments as these people are desperately trying to make it mean. i.e., Paul was praying on a "continual" basis and likewise these marked in Revelation chapter 14 were continuously in torment. In both contexts, this is clearly seen. And so the analogy fails miserably because they're trying to make these Greek words mean the torment finally stopped, and the word actually means the opposite of what it says. This is the essence or wresting scripture. And of course this handling of the text can neither be justified in the Greek, nor in the context of the passage, which of course is the fact that the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever (continuously). Nor is it justified in corinthians as Paul also meant continually, not cessation. So we have for ever and ever, and we have continually tormented. What's to debate? But we never have a lack of people trying to rationalize away what scripture say in order to hold to personal interpretations of it. But it can never be Biblically justified.

The bottom line is, God has every right to require as much punishment as He wants for the wages of sin, and man has no right to say it's either unfair, or unjustified, or (God Forbid) unrighteous. Which of course is what is really at the root of this "annihilation" or "death in death" doctrine. Man, in his own eyes, thinks that it's not really right for anyone to be punished thusly, and so he rationalizes how it's not really going to happen.

"..and they have no rest day nor night", does not equate to, "they have rest" or "soon they will have rest". Yet many say nothing in the passage says how long that punishment will be, only that while it is on-going there is no guarantee of rest from it." But in truth, that is adding to the passage, because God's Word says nothing about anyone having torment as long as it lasts. Those are their own interpretation, not God's Word. The Christian view should be that God means what He says! God's Word says the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever. God didn't say it goes up just as long as the burning lasts, and then will cease. It goes up for ever and ever, just as we are in the presence of God for ever and ever. The very same for ever and ever. But Theologians in their humanistic reasoning retorts, "..unfair, because that wouldn't be right to punish men for ever and ever." They simply don't comprehend the seriousness of sin. Are we to follow God's Word alone, or humanistic reasoning of what is right in our own eyes? The answer should be obvious, but sadly it is rationalized away.

Another scripture which makes the idea of annihilation null and void is Luke chapter 12.

Luke 12:4-5

Here God is telling us man has no need to fear anyone who can kill the body, but what he should fear is God who "after" He has killed, has the power to cast men into Hell. That is what man needs to fear. Why would man have to fear God if Hell was no more than the same death which man can bring? A Supposed annihilation. There is no fear in annihilation, you simply cease to exist. The fear is in God's judgment in the after life, after death. This scripture tells us that there must be a "fearful" judgment after the death of the body, which the unsaved men of the world should fear. Or as God put it so well (and as annihilationists ignore),

Hebrews 10:31

The wrath of God is upon them, and it is not to give them what they will want (annihilation) when standing before the fearful God, it is to give them what God's justice demands, and what His Holy Word has declared. The end of the world will bring this final judgment in the wrath of God, and God speaks about how the wicked will be severed from the just and how they will be tormented in the fire.

Matthew 13:41-42

Screaming and grinding of teeth is the language of people being tormented, not the language of annihilation. We cannot simply ignore all these scriptures simply because it's palatable in today's anti-hell politically correct society to do so. They all tell the same story, and it's not that people simply will be destroyed or made to not exist.

Matthew 23:14

Clearly and without reservation, the very fact that there is greater and lessor damnation, proves conclusively that the judgment is not annihilation, but a real punishment meted out in degrees, "according to their works." Revelation Chapter 20 illustrates the very same principle as it says death and hell delivered up the dead and they were judged "according to their works." Also note it says deliver up those in death to judge them. But to place them right back in death or where they live not again makes no sense. And so again the scriptures bear out this truth.

Often the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus is brought up as presenting a problem for the Christians who believe the torment of Hell is reserved for those under judgment of God. They say obviously this isn't about the final judgment, since the rich man still has brothers living on earth, and in fact, it must be prior to Jesus' death on the cross and thus has no final bearing on the subject at hand.

But again, this is not a justifiable argument, as it's a Parable. A Proverb! It's not a historical or real life event that happened already. It's a proverb told in the language of the people, just as the Proverb of the Vineyard or the fig tree or the two sons. It presents no problem, because it is a parable. There is no casting into the Hell which is the second death until after the Judgment throne of God, so how could it be a past event or a problem? We know that Satan is a defeated foe by the cross of Christ, yet his judgment is after Christ returns. Then is he cast into the lake of fire, it wasn't a past event. Likewise, the dead aren't cast into the hell which is the second death when they die. They are merely in Hell which is the state of the dead, in unseen and unseeing silence, the place where they are unaware (hades) or have not conscious existence, living not again until they are raised from that dead to stand for judgment at the Last day! They are raised up at the second resurrection and judged, and only then are they cast into the second death, which is the lake of fire. This parable of Lazarus and the rich man is giving us a picture, a look into just what Hell (the second death) will be like. In point of fact, far from giving their argument strength, it weakens it. Because obviously whether they think it's before or after, there is no annihilation, there is stark abject torment! And how anyone could use this story to try and support annihilation is hard to even fathom.

If one's conclusions are wrong, it's generally because one's assumptions are wrong. Assumption is the mother of errors. God is showing us in Lazarus how awful hell will be, and how continual it is, and how there is no help for those cast into it, and how if people don't accept scriptures (signified by the words, "Moses and the Prophets") then they won't believe even if one rose from the dead to tell them (Jesus). This is in no way talking about a actual thing that had happened, for no one has been Judged to be cast into that Hell as yet! Judgment is at the last day.

John 11:24

Martha understood perfectly that there was a resurrection at the last day. No one has stood before God to be Judged for good and wickedness that they could be cast into Hell yet, that occurs at the last day at this second Resurrection. But Christ, and those raised up with Him are the First Resurrection. As He told Martha, "I AM the Resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me shall never die". And He raised Lazarus to illustrate that those who believed in Him would be the firstfruits, raised up in Him that they shall never die (the second death). On these, the second death have no part (rev 20).

Likewise, when we study and learn the parable of Lazarus in Hell, then we can understand it's truth. Just like the other event of martha's brother Lazarus, and his Resurrection from the dead, we understand what can only be the First Resurrection in Christ. The scriptures tell of the Hell of eternal punishment, and it's awfulness. And Jesus illustrates how many will not receive it, even though one rose from the dead (The 1st Resurrection) to bring them this knowledge to them! And thus is that language in the parable of Lazarus in Hell.

Why would God speak of a place or state of everlasting fire to torment the souls of the unsaved, if the fire was only temporarily as (according to annihilationists) they'd soon be destroyed or made extinct? Why does God speak of the wicked as having two hands to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched if what He really means is that it shall be quenched or that they'll just be there temporarily? Why tell us the fire will never be quenched if this is the case? These ideas are tortuous to the very scriptures they're purporting to be a part of. Not only in Revelation where their worm (maggot) dieth not, but God shows the same picture all through out scripture.

Mark 9:43-46

Curious language for a death in annihilation doctrine, wouldn't you say? This death is a picture of a forever living death where the worms (maggots) never cease to eat away at one in torment. The maggot dies not because the body of their abode is ever present. This fire is a ever lasting fire where the flames burn at one continually and the smoke of their torment continually goes up for ever and ever because likewise he never gets burned up. He keep burning that the smoke keeps going up. How much clearer does God have to say it. All rationalizations aside, it is apparent that Jesus Christ was very clear on the matter. We cannot attempt to redefine words and phrases in the Greek just to justify our beliefs.

Matthew 25:46

Now there we have Jesus say it once again in very plain unambiguous language. And by the way, that Greek word there translated eternal [aionios], is the the exact same word there translated everlasting [aionios]. And so if these Theologians are going to wrest God's Word here to mean that in the Greek the punishment is really temporary, then they'll also have to open the huge can-o-worms and make it say there our life everlasting is temporary also. Because they're the exact same Greek word in the exact same application. As any faithful student of the Bible knows, inconsistency is the hallmark of error. But these are the problems which man gets into when He doesn't want to keep God's Word faithfully and wants to judge by what "seems" right in his own eyes. But to abandon counsel of God to believe whatever we think is good is the error of the ages.

Proverbs 12:15

What God's Word said is true and we should harken to it. The wicked are punished with everlasting Punishment, and the Believers are rewarded with everlasting Life with Christ. If one is on-going, then so is the other. Else we have confusion. It's so much simpler and God glorifying when we receive what is written, rather than try and amend it and make it say something else, under the guise of compassion, love or consideration. Which is nothing more than humanism, or as God calls it, doing what is right in our own eyes rather than harkening to His counsel.

The Bible is not silent on the punishment of Hell, nor of the horribleness of it. It's just that man in his arrogance doesn't really like what God has to say about it. Here are just a few of the scriptures which speak of the punishment of Hell. Read them and see if it honestly sounds like annihilation to you. On the contrary, it's vividly clear.

The Biblical Realities of the Judgment of Hell!
Matthew 5:22 "council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire".
Matthew 8:12 " Mt 8:12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth".
Matthew 10:28 "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell".
Matthew 13:42 "And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth".
Matthew 13:50 "And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth".
Matthew 18:9 "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire".
Matthew 22:13 "Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth".
Matthew 23:14 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation".
Matthew 23:33 "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?".
Matthew 25:30 "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth".
Matthew 25:41 "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:".
Matthew 25:46 "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal".
Mark 3:29 "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:".
Mark 9:43 "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:".
Mark 9:44 "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched".
Mark 9:45 "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:".
Mark 9:46 " Mr 9:46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.".
Mark 9:47 "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:".
Mark 9:48 "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched".
Mark 12:40 "Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation".
Luke 12:5 "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him".
Luke 16:23 "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom".
Luke 16:24 "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".
Luke 16:25 "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".
Luke 16:28 "For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment".
Luke 20:47 "Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation".
John 5:29 "And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation".
Revelation 14:11 "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".

In closing, let me say many Christians have told me, "if we never agree, so what? This isn't a matter of life or death (no pun intended)". But who says it's not? For when we minimize or emasculate Hell (which is the politically correct thing to do these days) we do an injustice to the Word of God. Indeed we are then not bringing the full counsel of God. And I do think it's very important, and indeed may be a matter of life and death. ..who knows? But we do know we are commanded (not suggested) to Keep the Word of God faithfully, as our fathers did, and the Church today is not doing that! It has fallen away from it's first love to modernism and humanism and political correctness. But he who sows the wind, shall indeed reap the world wind. If that's not important, then what is!


Copyright ©1998 Tony Warren
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Created 6/22/98 / Last Modified 12/19/00
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