One of three explanations for the
the eternal destiny of the wicked

by Jay Hess

There are three views within the conservative evangelical Christian community that describe the ultimate destiny for the wicked:

  1. Eternal Separation - This is probably the most popular view. It holds that the wicked will spend eternity separated away from God and the Kingdom in a dark and gloomy place called "hell." Additionally it may be that each person will experience total isolation, being separated from even other inhabitants of hell. This condition is eternal and unpleasant. Those who hold this view should consider what it means to be separated from God if God is Omnipresent (everywhere).
  2. Eternal Suffering - This view was the dominant view at one time and may still well be depending on the religious community surveyed. It is believed that the wicked will spend eternity in hell, also called the "lake of fire." The wicked are tormented there and suffer for eternity. Some who hold this view would say this occurs  away from God and the Kingdom, while others would say that since God is Omnipresent, the wicked are never truly outside of God's presence.
  3. Eternal Smoke - This view is held by only a minority of persons, including a few conservative Bible scholars. Some holding the aforementioned views consider this concept to be a heresy. Unlike those views, this one claims the wicked do not suffer eternally but are ultimately burned up or destroyed in hell. Some adherents would say the reference to being "burned up" is only a metaphor and does not indicate any suffering at all while others hold that this refers to a very unpleasant destructive process. The final condition is illustrated as resulting in a corpse or smoke and is permanent, everlasting. Sometimes this view is called "Annihilationism" because the wicked are essentially annihilated or destroyed. Other variations of this belief are called "Conditional Immortality" or simply "Conditionalism" meaning that immortality is a gift that only some receive, it is conditional upon their being accepted by God into His kingdom. Therefore those who do not receive the gift of immortality are destroyed.
Below is a tabular representation of these three views with the key differences noted. Although there are variations within each of these three views, I have chosen three representative views that I think are the most defensible:
The characteristics of hell and where the three views agree and disagree: Eternal 
Does hell exist? Yes Yes Yes
Is hell eternal, forever? Yes Yes Yes
Do the fire and worm that are in hell (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) continue forever? Yes Yes Yes
Do those who are finally sent to Hell experience unpleasantness? Yes Yes Yes
Do the demonic inhabitants of Hell experience unpleasantness forever? Yes Yes Yes
Is the cause of the suffering primarily a result of being outside the Kingdom and away from God's glory? Yes No Yes
Is the cause of suffering a result of the processes that are in hell (fire and worm)? No Yes Yes
Do the human inhabitants consciously respond to the punishment forever? Yes Yes No

Who believes in Annihilationism or one of its variations?

In the list below are some who embrace this view or comfortably tolerate it. Naturally, while this may be true at the moment this list is written and posted, they could change or even recant their view. I do not promise that at the very moment you read this, this list is absolutely current. The following evangelical Bible scholars and commentators have expressed a similar belief in one form or another: Note that the Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in "Annihilationism" as described above. They believe that at death both the righteous (including the apostles) and the wicked cease to exist. There is no future event where the wicked (either body or spirit) are sent anywhere or anything happens to them.

The following article attempts to explain one particular definition of Annihilationism:

We will consider several verses that speak of hell, the final judgment, darkness and fire. They are presented in a specific order for a reason, to propose a possible interpretation.
Matthew 23:33 33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Matthew 12:24-32 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." . . . 28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. . . . 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
 The above implies that the Pharisees who blasphemed will never be forgiven. The punishment is permanent, never ending.
Matthew 24:50,51 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 8:11-12 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 22:13 13 Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 25:30 and throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Revelation 22:15 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Jude 1:12,13 12 These men are . . . twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. 
The above 6 references imply there is a place called 'outside' that is a place of darkness where there is weeping and the wicked are cut into pieces.
Matthew 25:41,46 41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.' ... 46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment
Revelation 19:20, 
20 But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Luke 12:4,5 "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear; fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him." 
Matthew 10:28 "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." 
Isaiah 66:22-24 22 "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. 23 from one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. 24 "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."
Mark 9:43-48
Matthew 5:29,30
Matthew 18:9
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where  " 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
The above 6 references imply that after the wicked are killed they are thrown into the fire that had been prepared for the devil. 

It appears possible that there is a sequence of punishment, the wicked are sent to the outside darkness. Later they are thrown into the lake of fire. Whether this is possible would be determined by the meaning of Jude 1:13. If the wickde are to inhabit the dark outside place forever, then it does not appear there is a sequence to the punishment. Then we are not to read too much into Luke 12:5 "after He has killed..." However if Jude is only stating that the place is an eternal place reserved for the wicked, then it may be that it is a step on the way to a place of light, the lake of fire.

Are the wicked resurrected, body and soul?
What happens to them after that?

The wicked are resurrected:
"14 But this I admit to you . . . 15 having a hope in God, . . . that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." — Acts 24:14,15
Next, see Jesus' words at . . .
Matthew 10:28 

"And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell ." (Greek - Gehenna).

Luke 12:4,5

"And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear; fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him." (Greek - Gehenna).

What can be learned from comparing Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:4,5?

  1. ) The above translation (from the New American Standard) uses the word "hell" but the Greek word is Gehenna.
  2. ) The body and soul are distinct entities.
  3. ) The soul is more valuable than the body.
  4. To say that one should not fear those who can act against the body but to only fear the One who can act against the soul implies that the soul is more valuable.
  5. ) "Those who kill the body" is probably a reference to evil men. (Who else?)
  6. ) This warning includes the killing of the soul.
  7. ) The result of killing the soul is more than simply the separation of the body and soul.
  8. Killing the body, as here described in Matthew 10:28 does not necessarily imply the soul is also killed. The killing of the soul is brought about only by the One who can do that. Killing the body leads to death but not the death of the soul. When the body is killed, body and soul are separated but the body alone is dead. Since the soul is already separated from the body, what could be meant by killing the soul which is "more" (Luke 12:4)? Evidently killing the soul requires an additional action.
  9. ) The prospect of the soul being "destroyed" in Gehenna is fearsome to those in Jesus' audience.
  10. Both accounts make it clear that there is "One" who is to be feared because He can cast more than just the body into Gehenna.
  11. ) In these texts killing the soul implies an action that eventually leads to making it non-functional.
  12. ) The soul can be "destroyed" if cast into hell.
  13. ) The destruction of the soul is more than just killing the soul.
  14. ) Men cannot destroy the soul.
  15. ) God is the "One" who has both the ability and the authority to do this.
  16. ) This prospect is real.
  17. ) Although the body and soul are distinct, they both encounter the same destiny in Gehenna, destruction.
  18. ) Destroying the soul in Matthew does not refer to "torment" as used in the New Testament.

Can a non-functional non-feeling person be "punished"?

Consider this text from Isaiah. For the moment, as an experiment, read it just for what it says, what it describes. After reading it ask yourself: does this describe a punishment of any kind? Is there a punishment here? If so, search for words describing the response from the person, evidence that the victim is experiencing the punishment. . . . There is none. There is an everlasting punishment here but no one consciously experiences it.

One may wonder if a non-feeling, non-functional body is beaten, how can it be said to be a punishment? Can you punish a rock or piece of wood? Is it not commonly understood that a punishment must be experienced, felt? If that is so, then Isaiah does not mention any punishment at all because corpses feel no pain.

Three things are here shown to be eternal: (1) Life for the righteous, (2) fire and (3) maggots for the wicked. The wicked are described only as corpses with no hint of functionality. There is no suffering  in view either for the body or the soul/spirit. If suffering were a significant part of the punishment for the wicked why are there no words describing it? It would be reasonable to assume that the corpses were brought to that state by a painful process but that is not directly stated. Any experience of pain does not seem to be an important part of the message. These corpses are observed while in the process of being burned and eaten by maggots. If this is the eternal state, with this image frozen in time, then the wicked remain unmoving, nonfunctioning corpses for all eternity. However, if we follow a natural assumption, that both the fire and the maggot are consuming forces, we could conclude that the corpses will eventually be consumed even though the fire will never be quenched and the maggot will never die.

Now note that in Mark 9 Jesus quotes the above reference in Isaiah:

Did Jesus mean for the audience to take this as a punishment? In quoting Isaiah, Jesus does not add any new imagery as to the final destiny of the wicked, there is no mention of any suffering. If this is punishment, then it is a punishment where pain is no where indicated but can only be assumed as part of preceding events. The maggot and the fire are eternal but no mention of anything else. From a knowledge of natural physical science we might have expected that for a fire to be eternal the fuel must also be eternal. But something supernatural is happening here. God can miraculously sustain the fire eternally without the fuel being eternal.

But is not fire associated with pain instead of being consumed? Note these verses where the primary attribute of fire is shown to be the power to consume rather than to cause pain:  James 5:3; Hebrews 10:27; 12:29;  Deuteronomy 4:24; 9:3; Isaiah 33:14.

The Greek word Katakaio in the Old Testament Septuagint and the New Testament

In the opening verses of Isaiah (1:28,31) it says sinners shall be crushed and come to their end and they shall be burned up and the fire will not be quenched. This parallels the closing of the book in Isaiah 66:22-24. In verse 31, in the Greek Septuagint (LXX, the Greek text used by Greek speaking Jews and early Christians), we see the Greek word katakaio. This same Greek word appears elsewhere:

Other occurrences of katakaio: Old Testament animal sacrifices are burned up and consumed:

. . . continuing with examining what else will happen to the wicked . . .

Matthew 24:51 — The wicked will weep, gnash their teeth and be cut into pieces.

Revelation 20:15; 21:8 — The wicked will be thrown into the lake of fire, the second death. Evidently the first death is a crushed body, the second death is a crushed soul/spirit.

Indications of annihilation in the lake of fire:

Is there any Bible verse that says humans will suffer eternally?
Can something that is unfeeling be tormented?

Can a non-feeling rock or piece of wood be tormented? The original meaning of the Greek word for ‘torment' (basanos, basanizo, basanismos) was to strike a rock with a touchstone to see if it was gold. This word also appears in Matthew 14:24 where an unfeeling wooden boat is 'tormented' or battered. So yes, a non-feeling rock or piece of wood can be tormented, at least in the Greek usage of this word, without violating the meaning and usage of the term. This implies that other unfeeling things like corpses can be 'tormented.'

Can Hell be both dark and fiery causing suffering that is both eternal and finite?

Scientists have developed theories about cosmic objects they call "black holes." These are small but massive objects filled with light and heat. However, because these objects are so massive, gravity prevents anything, even light, from escaping. So to the observer, these objects appear to be absolutely black. Further, it is believed that, relative to the outside, the passage of time is slowed down to near zero. Persons thrown inside would be surrounded by heat and then crushed, annihilated. But from the outside this final event could not be observed. Instead the last painful moments prior to their annihilation would appear to be stretched to eternity. So from one viewpoint this painful and crushing process appears eternal, from another, it is finite. This is not to suggest that 'black holes' are indeed the Biblical hell, but if there are things in the physical universe that can have these attributes, can there be something similar in the spiritual realm?