Eternal punishment or annihilation?
The Bible tells us that we are all sinners. Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to atone for our sins, and anyone who repents and puts his faith in him will be forgiven and receive eternal life. After this life is over we will be with Christ for all eternity. But this is the fate of all who fail to do this.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
The lake of fire is the final destination for all whose sins have not been forgiven. This is something that anyone who believes the Bible accepts. But what happens to them after they are in the lake? There are different opinions about this. Some people think they suffer there forever; others think they are annihilated.
Here is something the Bible says that is often overlooked when this issue is discussed.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Those under the earth must be those who have been condemned to Hell. Obviously if they are annihilated they couldn’t bow to Jesus or confess him as Lord. This proves that Hell is a place of eternal punishment, not a place where those who go cease to exist.
This answers our question but it bring up another one. It isn’t surprising that those in Heaven and earth will one day bow to Jesus and confess him as Lord but why would those in Hell honor the one who has sentenced them to a punishment that will never end? The answer is found in this statement, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.” Before being sentenced to the lake of fire each of them will see God. The prophet Isaiah once had a vision of God. This is his experience.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
Isaiah was a prophet of God. Before he had this vision he had already given the prophecies found in the first five chapters of his book. Yet the sight of God’s holiness made him realize he was only a sinner. If he felt this way, what would be the reaction of someone who had never even tried to serve God?
God is the source of prefect light. When we stand in his presence we will see God as he really is and we will see ourselves as we are. In our present lives we are living in darkness and Satan tries to blind us the the truth. God has given us light through the Bible, but many reject it and even those of us who accept the light are still prevented by our sinful natures from comprehending it fully.
One result is that many believe that eternal punishment is more than our sins deserve and some even think that God is cruel and vindictive. When we die all of these misconceptions will be stripped away. Those who die in their sins will recognize that God is just and that they deserve the punishment they are about to experience. Those whose sins have been forgiven will for the first time understand the full extent of God’s love in sending his Son to die for us.