Is Hell Real or Simply Annihilation?

by Tony Warren

Hell: n. Theology. 1. [HEB. (she'owl, the hidden] The place or state of the condemned dead]. The unseen abode of condemned spirits of those who have died. 2. [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. 3. [(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. 4. [GR. (tar-tar-o'o), lowest abyss of hades]. used to signify eternal punishment of the condemned souls of the dead.


There are many proponents of the belief that "Death means annihilation," who take these words that are used in scripture to illustrate hell, and claim that they allude to the theory of annihilation. One of the many problems that I see regarding this is that scripture doesn't exist in a vacuum. In other words, all scripture must be taken into consideration when defining Christian doctrine, and all must be harmonized when considered together. The most basic principle of sound hermeneutics is the knowledge that we haven't come to a correct doctrine until all scripture has no conflict with all other scriptures relating to this issue. 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, I not only see that annihilation doesn't appear to be an accurate doctrine, and it is inconsistent and contradictory to Scripture in most instances. I begin to wonder if this theory is not wishful thinking rather than careful exegesis. It would certainly appear so.

As Christians, we can certainly understand that it is somewhat of a necessity that the unsaved must think this way, primarily because if they do not they must spend the rest of their lives in abject terror of God's coming recompense. The other option is they must turn to God for their salvation from this, and they love the world far too much to choose this option. Therefore, in order to keep their lifestyle, and retain the illusion of peace of mind, they have no choice but to deny the terror, of hell and believe in Annihilation. To not do so would have them spend their entire lives in misery awaiting the day. So this is understandable. However, today in some Christian circles it is the Church itself who is now parroting the belief in simple annihilation after death. I can't help but think that this is the result of years of liberal, humanistic philosophies creeping inside the walls of God's house. A part of the growth of political correctness that has engulfed many long-standing doctrines of the church. But let us examine these beliefs in the light of what God actually says, and not under the shadow of man's carnal idea of fairness and compassion. For mankind often has a distorted and worldly 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 (death of the body) and are under the condemnation of God awaiting in unseen silence their coming judgment. These are souls that are separated from the body by death, and neither speak, are seen, nor have conscience existence. In other words, they don't live (have concience existence) again until the day of judgment (Revelation 20:5). This is the state of the souls of the unsaved who have died and are not seen on this earth again. Consider Psalms, speaking of the dead.

Psalms 31:17

Believers who die go to be with the Lord and give glory to God singing praises to His name around the throne. But the unsaved who die have no voice of praise because they "live not" or do not have conscious existence until they are raised up to live again in the second resurrection unto judgment. Even as is related in Psalms 115.

Psalms 115:17

This [hades] or hell is the destination of the souls of the unsaved who have left their bodes in physical death. It is a place where they are unseen and in silence until the resurrection to judgment. Contrast that with the souls of the believers that depart this earth in physical death. They do not go into the darkness of unseen silence, they immediately go to live and reign in the presence of Christ, where they will praise Him forever. This is just as the apostle Paul (under he inspiration of God) declared of our journey's end:

2nd Corinthians 5:6-8

This is our final destination, the eternal habitation of our souls when we leave the body in death. To be absent from the body in death, is to be present with the Lord in life. This is why death to the true believer is not a cause for sadness, but joy. Again, as Paul so magnificently put it in the letter to the Philippines:

Philippians 1:21

Death is gain because this is when we will finally end our sojourn in this earth to return home to the Lord. So we see that while the souls of the unsaved are in silence unable to live in the sense of having conscious existence after death, the souls of those raised in Christ's first resurrection, go to heaven to live in His presence. This contrast is again gloriously illustrated in Revelations Chapter 20, where speaking of the souls of the believers who were martyred, it says that they "lived" and reigned with Christ a thousand years. This is our resurrection from spiritual death with Christ. Then it contrasts that with "the rest of those who died," saying:

Revelation 20:5

i.e., those resurrected in Christ never die but go immediately to be with the Lord, while the rest of the dead (those not resurrected in Christ) do not live again until after the millennial reign of Christ is over. And why do they live after the completion of this millennial reign? It is because they are raised up in the second resurrection to stand before God's throne and be judged. Clearly, there are two definitions of the dead being spoken of here. The souls of the believers who die going to "live" and reign with Christ forever, because this is the first resurrection. And that is contrasted with the souls of the unbelievers who died and who "live not again" until the thousand years are up. In other words, until they are raised up at that time. Two destinations for the souls of the dead, each depending upon their salvation status. That place where the souls of the unsaved go is called hell or [hades] where they wait to live again at the judgment. This is a place or state of silence in non-life awaiting the judgment. If the death was annihilation, why are the dead raised, and why were they not annihilated upon physical death?

Hell is often used as a synonym for death. The first Death (hades) is this place of silence. The second death (the lake of fire) is reserved for these in hades after their judgment. For example:

Revelation 20:13-14

To be judged (every one) according to their works is not annihilation, it is measured judgment. In other words, those in the death of hades was cast into death of the lake of fire, which is the "Second Death." 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 reservation in darkness of the souls for the death that is the final judgment. The death that is a final separation from God and punishment for sins, and this death is that which causes great torment.

2nd Peter 2:4

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 that is 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 state for the other.

The Relevant Scriptures

Revelation 14:9-11

The fact is, all those who will receive the mark of the beast are the majority of those on the earth who have fallen away from the faith, with only a remnant refusing to worship Him and remaining faithful unto death. God says the end of those who are deceived is that they all shall not only be tormented but that the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever so that they have no rest. Is this the biblical language of annihilation or is it clearly saying there is the continual torment of punishment? The response that I most often hear from proponents of annihilation 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 if one does not harmonize all Scriptures, 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 forever and ever, then that's what God means. That their punishment (whatever it is) is non-ending. No one can turn around and say, "well that just means they're tormented a little while and then annihilated. " Because that would be tortuous of the Scripture that declares diverse degrees of punishment. Likewise, we can't take a verse that says "they have no rest day nor night in this torment," and then claim that it doesn't actually mean that because they fell it means they are tormented a brief period and then they have rest. Yet many have privately interpreted scripture to actually mean that they do have rest from this torment after a period of time. That's not only contradictory, I believe that 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 have gotten anything else done. So they reason the Greek means that his praying was not confined to either the day or night.

I would agree that in this context night and day is not literally night and day, as there is no night or day in heaven. But clearly the principle is there of eternity or something everlasting. i.e., the smoke of their torment goes up forever. Or their worm (of the dead) dieth not "illustrating its everlasting, even though it's not speaking of a literal worm. So like a lot of things, at first glance, one might think that they have a good point with worshipping night and day. Except when we consider a few pertinent facts. They are trying to use one Scripture that is 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 continuity. In other words, it would never denote a final or ultimate cessation of Paul's prayers, or a cessation of these torments as some are desperately attempting to convince us it means. Thus the message is that the apostle Paul was praying on a "continual" basis, and likewise, these marked in Revelation chapter 14 were continuously in torment. In both contexts, this meaning is clearly seen. And so the analogy of annihilation fails miserably because they're trying to make these Greek words mean the torment ended and that the word according to Greek actually means the opposite of what it says. This is the modus operandi of twisting 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 or burning of their torment goes up forever and ever (continuously). Nor is it justified in Corinthians, as the apostle Paul also meant continually and not cessation. So we have forever and ever, and we have continually tormented. So what's really to debate about how long it is? I do not believe that the doctrine of annihilation can ever be Biblically justified.

I believe that the bottom line is this. God has every right to require as much punishment as He wants for the wages of sin, and that man has no right to retort that it is either unfair, or unjustified, or (God Forbid) unrighteous. Sometimes man thinks that he is wiser than God to know what is right and wrong. Which of course "I believe" is what is really at the root of the annihilation doctrine. Man needs to depart from evil, defer to the word of God, and stop looking at things through the lens of his own carnal eyes (Proverbs 3:7) thinking that it's evil or not really right for anyone to be punished that way. No need to rationalize how it's not really going to happen.

The phrase "...and they have no rest day nor night," does not equate to "they have rest in the death of annihilation." No, the second death is described as a lake of fire, not annihilation. And yet many will tell us that 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. That is adding to the passage because God's word says nothing about anyone having temporary torment in the lake of fire. Those are their own interpretations, not something God's word says. God's word says that the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, illustrating a continual burning, but a temporary burning of destruction. God didn't say it goes up just as long as the soul lasts and then will cease. It goes up forever and ever, just as we are in the presence of God forever and ever. This is the very same "forever and ever." It seems to be humanistic reasoning that makes some cry, "..unfair, because that wouldn't be right to punish anyone forever and ever." They simply don't comprehend the uncleanness and seriousness of sin (Proverbs 16:2) to a holy God. Are we to follow God's word alone, or follow our own humanistic reasoning of what seems right in our own eyes? The answer should be obvious. Moreover, there are so many other Scriptures that appear to make the idea of annihilation null and void.

Luke 12:4-5

Read this carefully and see that this makes no sense at all if death is simply annihilation. Here God is telling us that mankind has no need to fear anyone who can kill (annihilate or destroy) the body by causing them physical death, but what he should fear is God who "after" He has taken you in death has the power to cast into Hell. Clearly, the judgment of God is not just physical destruction. Mankind needs to fear another death, which is the second death in the lake of fire. That is what mankind should fear. Ask yourself this thoughtful question. Why would mankind have to fear God if Hell was no more than the same death or annihilation that wicked man can bring about in murder? If death was simply annihilation, then there is no need for anyone to fear God, for most people think that anyway. There is no fear in annihilation, you simply cease to exist, which so many wicked actually desire and believe anyway. In what sense is ceasing to exist punishment for sin? God says for some sins it was better if you were never born. How is that punishment for sin? The fear of man should be in God's judgment after physical death, the punishment that takes place after we leave this earth (Hebrews 9:27). This scripture tells us that there must be a "fearful" judgment after the death of the body. This is what the unsaved men of the world should fear, not annihilation. Or as God put it so well:

Hebrews 10:31

The fear is that the wrath of God is upon them, and it is not to give them what they will want (annihilation) when standing before 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 gritting of teeth as the smoke of burning goes up forever is the language of continual torment, not the language of annihilation. We cannot simply ignore all these scriptures because it is more palatable in today's anti-hell, politically correct society to do so. These Scriptures all tell the same story, and it's not that people simply will be destroyed or cease to not exist.

Matthew 23:14

Clearly and without reservation, the very fact that there is a greater and lesser damnation, proves conclusively that the judgment of death is not annihilation, but a real punishment meted out in varying 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 also says the dead were delivered to be judged. Were they delivered up from death to stand before God only to be placed right back where they "lived not again" in death? This makes no sense.

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 the 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 before Jesus' death on the cross and thus has no final bearing on the subject at hand. This argument is not validated because it's a Parable. This is a Proverb told in the language of the people and used by Christ to teach a lesson. It is not a historical or real-life event that had previously taken place. Just as Christ taught the Proverb of the Vineyard, or the fig tree, or of the two sons. It presents no problem because it is a parable illustrating a lesson. It is teaching that the torment is real and prolonged, that he time for repentance is now in this life, and that the methodology is to hear the Bible (Moses and the Prophets), else you will not hear. No one is cast into the second death of the lake of fire until after the end when the books are opened at the Judgment throne of God, so how could it be a problem or a past event? If anything, it teaches that there is no annihilation, there is stark abject torment wherein the unsaved must suffer. So how anyone could use this story to try and support annihilation is hard to fathom. It seems to illustrate just the opposite.

If one's conclusions are wrong, it's generally because one's assumptions are wrong. For assumption is the mother of errors. God is showing us in Lazarus how awful the torment of hell will be, and how continual it is, and how there is no help for those who are 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 (For Jesus Christ did). This is in no way talking about an actual thing that had previously 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. So no one has stood before God to be Judged for good and wickedness that they could have already been cast into the lake of fire yet, as that occurs at the last day, this second resurrection. Martha understood the resurrection, but she missed that the first resurrection is in Christ. Christ, and thus those raised up with Him, are the First Resurrection. As His answer to Martha's comment was that, "I AM the Resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me shall never die." And then He raised up 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 has no power.

Revelation 20:6

This is what Martha didn't understand about the first resurrection, which is in Christ everlasting. That the second resurrection was for "the rest of the dead." Likewise, when we study and learn the parable of Lazarus in Hell, then we can understand its truth. Just like the event of Martha's brother Lazarus, and his Resurrection from the dead, we understand what can only be the faith of the First Resurrection in Christ. The one resurrection that keeps mankind from the torment of the lake of fire of awful eternal punishment. In the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus Christ illustrates how many will not receive it, even if one rose from the dead (The 1st Resurrection) to bring this revelation to them.

Why would God speak of a place or state of everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41) to torment the souls of the unsaved, if the fire was only temporarily because (according to annihilationists) they would 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 meant was 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? I believe that these ideas of extinction are tortuous to the very scriptures that they are said to be a part of. Not only in Revelation where the worm of the dead (maggot) never dies, but God shows the same picture all throughout the scriptures.

Mark 9:43-46

This would certainly be curious language for a "second death means annihilation" doctrine. This death is a picture of a forever burning death where the worm of the corpse never dies. The worm doesn't die 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 that burning and torment doesn't cease. i.e., the smoke of that burning never ceases as the body never gets burned up. The smoke of it continues to rise. How much clearer does God have to say this. All rationalization aside, it is apparent that Jesus Christ was very clear on the matter. We cannot attempt to redefine words and phrases or misapply the Greek in order to justify our own personal feelings that hell is too harsh.

Matthew 25:46

That word punishment is the Greek word [kolasis] meaning infliction or punishment, and it is qualified as being eternal. Here we have Christ say once again in very plain and unambiguous language that far from being annihilation, it is eternal or everlasting punishment. And by the way, that Greek word translated everlasting is [aionios], meaning lasting forever, as something perpetual. It is the exact same word in that verse that is translated eternal [aionios] speaking of the everlasting life of the righteous. And so if Christians are going to twist God's word here to mean in the Greek the punishment is really temporary, then they'll also have to open the huge can-o-worms and make it say the same thing in that same context of our life everlasting being temporary. This is obvious because they're the exact same Greek word in the exact same verse in the exact same application of where the wicked and righteous are going and for how long. As any faithful student of the Bible knows, inconsistency is the hallmark of error. But these are the problems that man gets into when He doesn't want to accept what is written and chooses to judge by what "seems" right in his own eyes. But to abandon counsel of God to believe whatever we think is good has been the error of the ages.

Proverbs 12:15

What God's word said about everlasting life and everlasting torment is true and we should harken to it. The wicked are punished with everlasting punishment, and the believers are rewarded with everlasting life. 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. particularly under the guise of mercy, compassion, love or grace. Which is often nothing more than our 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 either the punishment or the horribleness of Hell. Here are just a few of the scriptures that speak of the very real punishment of Hell. Read them and see if it honestly sounds like annihilation to you.

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 "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 that 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), I believe that we do a great injustice to the word of God. Indeed we are then not bringing the full counsel of God. I do think accuarcy is very important and indeed it very well may be a matter of life and death. ...who knows? Should we give comfort to someone who thinks they can sin to their heart's content because all they'll be is annihilated? We do know we are commanded (not suggested) to keep the word of God faithfully as our fathers did, and unfortunately I believe that the church today is not only "not" doing that, they are corrupting it by redefining love, inventing feel-good theories, and producing self-willed doctrines and ideas that can only be called carnal. The church seems to be falling away from its rock, its first love, and its root, to emotions, compromise, and modernistic humanism. Destined to rush headlong into cultural, political, and societal correctness. Yet he who sows the wind, shall surely reap the whirlwind. I Believe annihilation is not Biblical, and if that's not important, then what is?


Copyright ©1998 Tony Warren
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Created 6/22/98 / Last Modified 09/25/19
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