One of the traditional doctrines of the church is that the lost (the people who are not saved) will suffer everlasting torment in the lake of fire. This article shows that this is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, the lost will be annihilated, which means that they will be put out of existence.
This issue is critical for our understanding of God. The Bible teaches that He loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to save it and that God is love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7). But the doctrine of eternal torment presents Him as the cruelest being in the universe. This doctrine has also caused the church to become arguably the cruelest institution in the world. Over the centuries, for example, the church has killed many people by burning them to death.
But that doctrine is completely contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings. This article shows that the Bible consistently teaches that sinners will die and that only the redeemed will inherit eternal life. The Bible teaches that God will restore joy and peace throughout the universe!
This article is a summary of the four articles in this series:
The case for Annihilation
This section is a summary of the article, Annihilationism.
After God created man (Gen 2:7), God told Adam that he would die if he eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). Man, therefore, after he was created, was not an immortal being.
After man sinned, God drove him out of the garden to prevent him from eating from the tree of life “and live forever” (Gen 3:22). In the context of the creation account, this was a death sentence. Unless something changed, man’s death would be his final end. But something did change:
“God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish,
but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
One profound principle from this verse is that God loves this world so much that He gave “His only begotten Son.” Below, we elaborate on the following two other profound principles from this verse:
- Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will “perish.”
- Whoever believes in Him shall have “eternal life.”
Non-believers will perish.
The Cambridge dictionary explains perish as “to die, especially in an accident or by being killed, or to be destroyed.” The Greek word translated “perish” in John 3:16 is apollumi. Strong’s concordance explains this as “to destroy, destroy utterly.” Consistent with these definitions, the New Testament frequently describes the fate of non-believers as dying or destruction. For example:
“The gate is wide and the way is broad
that leads to destruction …
the gate is small and the way is narrow
that leads to life”
“The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
“Those who do not know God …
will pay the penalty of eternal destruction”
(2 Thess 1:8-9)
“The day of judgment and destruction
of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7);
“When sin is accomplished,
it brings forth death” (James 1:15).
There are so many texts in the New Testament that describe the end of the lost as death or destruction that I found it difficult to limit myself to the five above; one from Jesus, two from Paul, and one each from Peter and James. For other such statements, see Matt 3:12; 10:28; 13:40-42; Rom 1:29-32; 6:16, 21; 8:13; Phil 1:28; 3:18–19; 1 Cor 3:17; 1 Thess 5:2-3; 2 Peter 2:1, 3, 6; and James 4:12; 5:19.
The opposite of eternal life is death.
In many of the examples above, the fate of the lost is described as “death.” That is not the first and temporary death that faces all people. Rather, it is that awful and irreversible death that only sinners will suffer, which Revelation refers to as “the second death” (Rev 20:14; cf. 20:6; 21:8). The contrast between “death” and “eternal life” in these verses indicates that this is the meaning of “death:“
“He who … believes Him who sent Me,
has eternal life, and …
has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
“The wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23).
“Our Saviour Christ Jesus abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).
For other such statements, see Romans 6:16, 21-22; 8:13; 5:21 or Galatians 6:8).
The contrast in these passages between “death” and “eternal life” is quite incompatible with the contrast between eternal life in happiness and eternal life in torment that the traditional doctrine presents.
This article refers to people who teach everlasting torment as traditionalists.
The traditionalist response to such verses is that “destroy” should not be taken literally. However, everywhere else the verb apollumi (destroy) is used in the synoptic Gospels, it always refers to someone literally killing another (e.g., Matt 2:13, Mark 9:22). And, as another example, Peter used the same word to describe the destruction of people during the flood and the destruction of the lost in the end (2 Peter 3:6-7). Literal destruction, therefore, is indicated.
The Bible is literally packed with affirmations that the lost will be destroyed. However, Bible readers have become so accustomed to these statements that we simply don’t notice them anymore. We should allow these texts to say what they say, and not subconsciously edit them out.
Whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.
We have now confirmed the principle from John 3:16 that non-believers will “perish.” We now come to another profound principle from that verse, namely that ONLY believers will inherit eternal life.
Scripture sees immortality as something that belongs to God alone (1 Tim 6:16); NOT something that people already have. Immortality is a gift that God will give only to those who believe in Jesus. For example:
“You (the Father) gave Him (the Son) authority over all flesh,
that to all whom You have given Him,
He may give eternal life” (John 17:2).
“We believe in Him FOR eternal life“ (1 Tim 1:16).
“Christ Jesus … has destroyed death and has
brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:9-10)
For other such statements, see also John 10:28; Rom 2:5-8; 6:23; 1 Cor 15:42, 50, 53, 54; Gal 6:8; 1 John 5:11; Titus 1:2; 3:7 and 1 Tim 6:12. Only God’s people will receive eternal life. The tragic consequence is that a person who rejects Christ will not receive immortality, but die the second death which God warned Adam about.
Traditionalists may agree that people do not have inherent (essential) immortality independent of God. However, based on texts that seem to teach everlasting torment, traditionalists argue that God will keep sinners in existence endlessly to punish them, as per the Belgic Confession:
“The evil ones … shall be made immortal – but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire” (Belgic Confession; article 37).
But this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches, for the Bible makes it clear that sinners will be put out of existence and that only the saved will receive immortality. Therefore, the traditional interpretations of verses that seem to teach everlasting torment must be wrong, as discussed below.
The Biblical vision of eternity
Above, two broad biblical themes that support annihilationism have been presented, namely:
- The lost will be destroyed, and
- Immortality is available but ONLY through Christ.
The current section presents a third theme in support of annihilationism, namely that a time will come when evil will NOT exist anywhere in the universe:
“The fullness of the times, that is,
the summing up of all things in Christ,
things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph 1:10)
“Then comes the end,
when He hands over the kingdom to the God …
so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:24, 28).
In Revelation 21, God promises:
In “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1),
He will “will wipe away every tear.”
“There will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain;
the first things have passed away.” (Rev 20:4)
When God is “all in all,” His enemies will no longer exist.
Perversely, instead of a glorious universal kingdom unblemished by any stain, defenders of the doctrine of everlasting torment teach that creation will forever be divided into an ugly dualism of happiness and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12) as multitudes suffer endlessly.
It’s not clear how heaven could ever truly be happy if it co-exists alongside an eternal hell. How could we enjoy our new existence when we know that fellow human beings — and perhaps even our loved ones — are being tormented with no hope that the pain will ever stop?
The central revelation of God in the New Testament is that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). How could a loving God keep the damned in existence for the sole purpose of torturing them?
The third angel warns of permanent destruction.
This section is a summary of the article: The warning of the third angel.
Above, we presented the case for annihilationism. The remainder of the article discusses the evidence for everlasting torment.
The warning of the third angel in Revelation 14:9-11 is one of the Bible passages that are most frequently used to justify the teaching of everlasting torment.
At the time when the image of the beast kills people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16), God, through His people on earth, sends three powerful messages to the people of the world, symbolized as three angels (Rev 14:6, 8, 9). The third angel (Rev 14:9) warns that any person who accepts the mark of the beast:
“Will drink of the wine of the wrath of God,
… and he will be TORMENTED with fire and brimstone
in the presence of … the Lamb.
And the smoke of their torment
goes up FOREVER AND EVER;
they have no rest day and night”
The only thing that is described as eternal in these verses is the rising smoke. Traditionalists argue that, if “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever,” then the lost must burn forever. We object as follows to this interpretation:
Revelation is a symbolic book.
First, the book of Revelation is replete with symbolism. For example, in the third angel’s message, God’s wrath is symbolized as wine that people will have to drink, and Jesus is symbolized as a Lamb. We should, therefore, expect that other aspects of the third angel’s warning are also symbolic.
Tormented in the presence of the Lamb
Second, the worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of … the Lamb” (Rev 14:10). Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous. The fact that the lost “will be tormented … in the presence of … the Lamb,” implies that they will not be tormented forever.
Language of the judgment on Edom
Third, the warning of the third angel contains one of the strongest allusions in Revelation to the Old Testament, namely to the prophecy against Edom (Isaiah 34:9-10). Both the third angel and the prophecy against Edom predict:
- With fire and brimstone,
- Causing smoke to rise forever.
But the prophecy against Edom interprets its own symbols as extinction, namely that Edom “will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever.”
Babylon’s smoke goes up forever.
Fourth, as stated, the only thing that is eternal in the third angel’s message is the rising smoke, but the smoke of the harlot Babylon also “goes up for ever and ever” (Rev 19:3). Babylon symbolizes false religion that has ruled over the kings of the world of all ages (Rev 17:3, 18). (See the article series on Babylon.) Although “the smoke from her goes up for ever and ever,” she will NOT be tormented forever because:
- False religion is not a personal being that can be tormented.
- Revelation states explicitly that Babylon will be completely and utterly destroyed (Rev 18:21; 17:16).
The Immediate Context
Fifth, the third angel’s warning of “the wrath of God” (Rev 14:10) is followed in chapter 14 by the outpouring of God’s wrath at Christ’s return (Rev 14:14). At that time, “the great wine press of the wrath of God” (Rev 14:19) “was trodden … and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle” (Rev 14:20). Since a warning of wrath is closely followed by a description of the execution of wrath at Christ’s return, the context requires that the warning refers to Christ’s return.
The Seven Last Plagues
Sixth, the seven last plagues are “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished” (Rev 15:1). This implies that the wrath of God, about which the third angel warned (Rev 14:10), will be “finished” when the seven last plagues are finished. Since the seven last plagues conclude with Christ’s return (see the explanation in the detailed article), when He will put the lost to death (Rev 19:21), the wrath of God, which the third angel warns about, will be concluded with Christ’s return. It will not continue forever.
Read superficially, the third angel’s message does seem to talk about everlasting torment, but the following indicates that, actually, it teaches annihilation:
- They are tormented in the presence of the Lamb.
- This warning uses language from the destruction of Edom.
- The smoke of false religion also goes up forever.
- God’s wrath is finished with Christ’s return.
The Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10)
This is a summary of the article: The lake of fire.
The description of the lake of fire in Revelation 20:10 is also one of the main arguments for everlasting torment:
“And the devil who deceived them
was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone,
where the beast and the false prophet are also;
and they will be TORMENTED day and night
FOREVER AND EVER” (Rev 20:10, NASB).
This verse has all the necessary elements for the traditional doctrine of everlasting torment – the lake of fire, conscious suffering, and eternal duration. And, only a few verses later, the lost are also thrown into the lake of fire:
“If anyone’s name was not found
written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).
However, once one understands the meaning of the symbols, Revelation 20:10 is a symbolic description of annihilation:
Revelation is a book of symbols.
First, as already stated above, Revelation is replete with symbols. Examples from Revelation 20:10 are that the beast, which is tormented in the lake of fire, has seven heads and ten horns and comes up out of the sea (Rev 13:1). And the false prophet, which is tormented with it, is also a beast but it comes “up out of the earth” and has “two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11). (See the explanations of the beast and the false prophet below.) Given the symbolic nature of Revelation, any literal interpretation is probably wrong.
Death itself is annihilated in the Lake of Fire.
Second, at the end of Revelation 20, after the final judgment (Rev 20:11-12), death itself is also “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). Revelation 21:4 explains this as that “there will no longer be any death.” If throwing death into the lake of fire symbolizes the annihilation of death, then all things thrown into the lake of fire are annihilated.
The Lake of Fire is the Second Death.
Third, the lake of fire is twice explicitly explained as “the second death:”
“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14).
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable …
their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
Referring to this death as the second death means that it is different from the first death. Some people have died twice (e.g., Lazarus in John 11:44 and the little girl in Mark 5:41) but they did not die the second death.
All dead people will be resurrected from the first death (Rev 20:5; John 5:28-29). It is only after the final great judgment (Rev 20:11, 12) that the lost are “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15), which is the second death. This is the final and irreversible death.
The Beast is not a personal being.
Fourth, the beast is not a person. It comes up out of the sea and has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 13:1). Both its seven heads and ten horns are explained as “kings” (Rev 17:10, 12). Revelation 13:2 says that the beast receives something from a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a dragon. These are the four beasts of Daniel 7. Revelation 13:2, therefore, identifies the beast as a continuation of the beasts of Daniel. And Daniel’s beasts are also explained as kingdoms that exist on earth (Dan 7:17, 23). Interpreters right across the theological spectrum agree that the beast of Revelation is not a personal being that can be tormented, but a kingdom, a “system:”
- Reformed preterist Kenneth Gentry sees the beast as representing Rome, with Nero Caesar in particular as its representative.
- Dispensationalist/futurist John Walvoord sees it as the revived Roman Empire in the last days.
- Idealist Sam Hamstra sees the beast as representing “the spirit and empires of the world.
- The current website interprets the beast as the eleventh horn of Daniel 7, which is the Antichrist in the Book of Daniel, and which is the church of the middle ages.
For a discussion of the identity of the beasts, heads, and horns, see:
The False Prophet is also not a person.
Fifth. the false prophet is also a beast, namely the “beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11). To see that they are the same, compare Revelation 13:12 and 19:20. The false prophet, therefore, is also not a personal entity.
“Since the beast and the false prophet are figures for systems rather than individual persons, the permanent destruction of evil is evidently meant” (F.F. Bruce, “Revelation,” in The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, 1708.). Neither of them will exist forever, nor could they suffer conscious, sensible pain.
The Beast will be destroyed.
This is explicitly stated in Revelation:
“The beast that you saw …
go to destruction” (Rev 17:8).
“The beast … goes to destruction” (Rev 17:11).
We also see this in Daniel 7. As stated, the beast in Revelation is a continuation of the beasts in Daniel 7 (cf. Rev 13:2). The most important character in Daniel 7 is the eleventh horn that grows out of the fourth beast: Most of the chapter is dedicated to this evil power (cf. Dan 7:25). However, a time will come when it will be “annihilated and destroyed forever” (Dan 7:26). Since this horn is the successor of the fourth beast, when it is “annihilated and destroyed forever,” the same applies to the fourth beast itself.
To make the link to Revelation’s beast even stronger, another article shows that the evil eleventh horn is the beast of Revelation. In other words, since the horn will be “annihilated and destroyed forever,” the beast of Revelation will be annihilated.
We also see in Daniel 2 that the beast will be annihilated. That chapter describes the same four kingdoms as in Daniel 7 and confirms that, once Christ has returned, “not a trace of them was found” (Dan 2:35). God’s kingdom “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (Dan 2:44).
Again we discover that, what superficially seems to be evidence for everlasting torment, actually is evidence for annihilation, for death itself and the systems symbolized by the beast and the false prophet are annihilated in the lake of fire. Describing this lake as the second death also implies annihilation.
The devil is cast into the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet (Rev 20:10). He is a personal being and could suffer everlasting torment. But if impersonal or corporate entities, such as death, the beast, and the false prophet, can be thrown into the lake of fire to be annihilated, then, when Satan is thrown into that lake, he is also annihilated.
But why does the apocalypse use such awful symbols? I propose that Revelation states that the lost will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” because the utter annihilation of people, who have been created in God’s image, is a truly horrifying concept; both for God and His people. Just think of the people around you. Every one of them is a miracle created by God. To lose even one person is an eternal tragedy. For that reason, God paints a truly frightening picture of the end of the people who accept the mark of the beast.
Other evidence for Everlasting Torment
This section is a summary of the article, Eternal Torment. It shows that the other arguments for everlasting torment are equally weak.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived in splendor and a beggar named Lazarus who lay at his gate, covered with sores (Luke 16:19-20). Both men died. The rich man was “in agony in this flame” (Luke 16:22-23). This parable is often but mistakenly used to support the doctrine of eternal torment;
Firstly, this is a parable and the purpose of a parable is to convey a single message. In this parable, the message is, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The details of the parables are not to be taken literally.
Secondly, it is important to note that the rich man is “in hades” (Luke 16:23). Hades is the temporary holding place where the dead are kept until the final destruction (cf. Rev 20:14). In other words, this parable says nothing about hell; the place of the ultimate destruction of the lost (Matt 10:28).
This is possibly the most powerful argument for everlasting torment, namely that the Bible describes the state of the lost with phrases such as “eternal punishment” and “the eternal fire.” For example, Jesus said:
“Then He will also say to those on His left,
‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire …
These will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:41, 46).
However, for the following reasons, this also does not prove eternal torment:
Jude uses “Sodom and Gomorrah” as “an example” of “the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7). In other words, Sodom and Gomorrah serve as “an example” of the “eternal fire” about which Christ warned. But the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah has gone out long ago.
Paul wrote that “those who do not know God … will pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:8-9). This explains what type of “eternal punishment” Jesus warned about, namely destruction.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
These verses are often used in debates around eternal torment. Therefore, let us consider them more closely:
“When the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven …
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God …
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction,
away from the presence of the Lord“
Traditionalists argue that, since destruction cannot be an “eternal” process, the destruction here cannot be literal. However, this is a weak argument because “eternal” describes the consequence of the literal action of destruction.
Traditionalists also attempt to show that the destruction is not literal by using the NIV which translates this verse as “eternal destruction, and shut out from the presence of the Lord,” as if the “and shut out from the presence of the Lord” is a second thing which these people must suffer, which would require their continued existence.
But this is simply a wrong translation, reflecting the theology of the translators. There are no words in the Greek of this verse that can be translated as “and shut out.” Young’s Literal Translation, for example, simply reads, “destruction age-during — from the face of the Lord” (Biblehub). In other words, these people will be removed from the presence of the Lord BY being destroyed with everlasting destruction.
Daniel 12:2 also has a phrase that contains the word “eternal” and that is used to justify eternal torment:
“Many of those who sleep
in the dust of the ground will awake,
these to everlasting life,
but the others to disgrace
and everlasting contempt” (NASB).
Traditionalists argue that, for the lost to experience “disgrace and everlasting contempt,” requires that they will always exist and be aware of their condition. However, Isaiah 66 shows that it is those who will receive “everlasting life” who will think of the lost with contempt. In Isaiah 66:
- “Those slain by the LORD shall be many” (Isa 66:16).
- Then, the saved “will … look on the corpses of the men … and they will be an abhorrence (same word as “contempt” in Daniel 2:2) to all” (Isa 66:24).
Their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.
Jesus also said:
“It is better for you to enter life crippled,
than … to go … into the unquenchable fire,
[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE,
AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]”
(Mark 9:43-44; cf. Matt 18:8-9).
This also does not prove eternal torment:
Firstly, in this warning, Jesus contrasted “life” with “the unquenchable fire,” which implies that “the unquenchable fire” is death.
Secondly, and much more importantly, Jesus here quoted the key phrase, “THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED” directly from Isaiah 66:24, which refers to corpses, and not to conscious eternal torment:
“Then they will … look on the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched.”
When people attempt to destroy corpses by fire, a portion of the body might remain due to a lack of fuel. And due to dry conditions, corpses sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed. That “their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched” (Isa 66:24) means that these bodies will be completely consumed. There is no suggestion in Isaiah 66 of eternal torment. Rather, it supports annihilation. Since Jesus quoted from these verses, that is how we should understand His words.
The Unquenchable Fire
In Mark 9, as quoted above, Jesus also referred to “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). An “unquenchable fire” is not one that will never go out. For example, in Ezekiel 20:47-48, “the blazing flame will not be quenched” but will “consume every green tree in you.” In other words, an unquenchable fire is one that is not quenched until it has fully consumed the object being burnt. In other words, “the unquenchable fire” also implies annihilation.
I would like to classify the arguments in this article as follows:
Evidence Supporting Annihilation
- Man, after he was created, was not an immortal being.
- After man sinned, God denied him access to the tree of life.
- The NT frequently states that the lost will be destroyed.
- Only believers will inherit eternal life.
- In eternity, God will be all in all.
- The third angel (Rev 14:9-11) teaches annihilation.
- The lake of fire (Rev 20:10) also symbolizes extinction.
Once one understands the meanings of the symbols, the passages from Revelation support annihilation rather than eternal torment.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus speaks about hades, and not about Gehenna; the place where souls are destroyed (Matt 10:28).
The eternal fire, eternal punishment, everlasting contempt, “their worm does not die, the fire is not quenched,” and the unquenchable fire does seem to support eternal torment when read superficially, but when one considers the Old Testament background and explanations of these passages in the New Testament, these statements can also be interpreted as evidence for annihilation. For this reason, I regard these statements as neutral in this debate.
This means that I find no evidence in the Bible for everlasting torment.
Origin and Consequences
The idea of eternal torment results from the concept that man has an immortal soul.
At the time when non-Jews were first allowed to become Christians without first becoming Jewish proselytes (See Early Church History), it was generally accepted in the Hellenistic (Greek) philosophical tradition that people have immortal souls. Although this view is foreign to Judaism, with the influx of Gentiles, this was one of the Hellenistic ideas that crept into the church and became one of the traditional teachings of the church
Since it was thought that people have immortal souls, the church had to develop an understanding of what will happen to the immortal souls of the lost in eternity. To solve this question, the isolated texts that seem to support eternal torment provided a solution. Thus, the dominant view of hell (Gehenna), throughout Church history, is that the lost will suffer unending torment.
But behind this, we must see Satan’s hand. Continuing his first lie to the human race; “You surely will not die!” (Gen 3:4), Satan managed to convince the church that God will keep people alive for all eternity with the sole purpose of tormenting them. This presents God as the cruelest being that we are able to conceive; retaliating on his foes with an unmitigated, insatiable vengeance.
Added to that, some propose that God decides who will suffer eternal torture in hell, irrespective of what kind of people they are, and they call it the doctrine of God’s grace! How the church has become corrupted!
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,
she who has made all the nations drink
of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (Rev 14:8).
See, Babylon the great.)
But this deception is not without its consequences:
Firstly, how does one put your faith (trust) in such a god? Many people have become rebels due to the teaching of eternal torment.
Secondly, since man becomes like the god he worships, this teaching has helped Satan to convert the bride of Christ into the antichrist. Over the centuries, the church has killed millions of God’s true people, namely those people who resist the church’s blasphemous teachings.