Friday, December 9, 2011

Eschatology: The Destiny of the Unsaved

              Eschatology, the study of last things, can conjure up different emotions and thoughts causing one to reflect on their mortality. Chief among these reflections both emotionally and intellectually is the eternal abode of the unsaved. This is a crucial question to answer from an apologetic standpoint and Scripture has much to say on the matter.
             Three major views must be kept in mind when referring to the eternal fate of the unsaved. Annihilationism is drawn from the idea that some if not all persons will cease to exist post-mortem.[1] Perhaps the most common assertion is that while humankind was created essentially immortal those who do not fulfill this destiny in the after life will be utterly destroyed. Eternal punishment stands as the most championed position historically by the church, Christ spoke more of hell than any other person.[2] This points to the sentencing of the unregenerate to an eternity separated from the presence of God (Mk. 9:47-48). The third view, Universalism, espouses that all men will eventually be reconciled to God, thus the Atonement is not limited in its efficacy.[3] This doctrine is viewed from the position of maximum tolerance.
            After studying the definitions above the words used to describe these events must be examined. Hades, which is the rendered form of the Hebrew word Sheol in the LXX, has the meaning of grave or hell. This is the place of bodily decay[4], a state in which disembodied souls live until the resurrection at the last day (Jn. 11:24). Sheol and Hades are virtually synonymous.[5] However, Gehenna, originally referring to the Valley of Hinnom where Baal worshipers sacrificed children to Molech (2 Kings 16:3), encapsulates the more common form of eternal hell, as is currently understood. Sheol and Hades refer to an intermediate state while Gehenna refers to everlasting punishment for the wicked following the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).[6]
Though compelling arguments can be made from all sides the clearest definition from Scripture supports the eternality of reward and punishment for humankind (Dan. 12:2)[7]. Matthew 25:46 states, “these shall go away into everlasting punishment…righteous into life eternal.” Both words here can be rendered properly into Greek, aiōn or aiōnion. Strong translates these to mean without beginning and end. How can we deny the eternality of punishment while affirming the eternality of reward? If we hope to be consistent in our theology, we cannot. Paul commented on the state of the damned (2 Thess. 1:9) and in the Gospels Luke mentions the fate of the rich man from Jesus parables (Lk. 16:23). Though pointing ultimately to the result of the unsaved living, this parable can shed light on the state of the unregenerate dead.
            The opposition would point to the cessation of existence implied in Scripture (Rom. 6:23; Jas. 5:20)[8] or inconsistency with eternal punishment from a good God (1 Tim. 2:4).[9] The cross, as they espouse, is the place of universal salvation to which the scope of cannot be limited (2 Cor. 5:9).[10] Lastly, Paul appears to explain that eventually all things will be reconciled to Christ (Col. 1:18). 
            Though the opposition’s defense hinges on misinterpretations there is an emotional element that creeps in. How could a good God send some one to hell? However given libertarian-free will, God would be in contradiction to His nature if He forbid people to freely choose or deny Him. Thus those who choose Him will rest with Him eternally and those who don’t are granted their request, eternal separation from the Creator of the universe (Rev. 20:10). John and Jesus both describe reward and punishment eternally[11], yet to affirm one of the opponent’s views is to deny the veracity of their writings and subsequently Scriptures inerrancy. Lastly, the doctrine of hell stretches beyond three mere words[12], destruction (2 Thess. 1:9), damnation (Matt. 23:33), and fiery-furnace (Matt. 13:42).
            Given eternal punishment, its wise to heed the words of Christ when he commanded us to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). Proselytizing is meaningless if all are eventually saved or if all cease to exist after death. Evangelism then is the greatest endeavor of every believer who once was lost until they heard the saving grace of the gospel.
            The doctrine of eschatology deals largely with the final state of humankind. A proper understanding of eternal punishment on the unregenerate is the goal of the defender of orthodoxy. With the scope of eternal punishment in mind, all other views opposed should be rebuked for inaccuracy. If these views were to hold firm they would negate the gravity of both the cross and resurrection of Christ and the subsequent evangelizing of the post Acts 2 church. We must resist these views and hold to the clearest explanation scripture has to offer, namely the eternal destiny of all people (Dan. 12:2).

[1]             R. Nicole, “Annihilationism.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 64.
[2]             L.L. Morris, “Eternal Punishment.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 395.
[3]             J.R. Root, “Universalism.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1232.
[4]             W.A. Van Gemeren, “Sheol.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1099.

[5]             J.A. Motyer, “Hades.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 532.

[6]             V. Cruz, “Gehenna.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 480.
[7]             Morris, 395.
[8]             Nicole, 64.
[9]             Morris, 396.
[10]             Ibid, 396.
[11]             Nicole, 64.
[12]             R.P. Lightner, “Hell.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 548.


  1. What up homey!!!!

    OK, if I were a theologian, and I totally am, I would defend universal salvation, which is distinct from universalism (Jesus-saves-everyone versus anything-can-save-you).

    I think there is actually much better scriptural support Hell being reformative and temporary than Hell being retributive and eternal.

    Aiōn is used about 400 times in LXX, commonly used to translate the Hebrew word olam. Many occurences of olam make little sense interpreted as eternal. For example:

    * Jonah was in the fish "forever" until he left three days later (Jon 1:17, 2:6)
    * A moabite is forbidden to enter the Lord's congregation "forever" until the 10th generation. (De 23:3)
    * Mountains are "eternal" until they are scattered. (Hab 3:6)
    * A slave serves his master "eternally" until death ends his servitude (Ex 21:6)
    * Circumcision was an "eternal" covenant until the new covenant came. (Ge 19:9-13, 1Co 7:19, Ga 5:6)

    Many more examples. And aion in the NT:
    * What will be the sign of the end of eternity? (Mt 24:3)
    * The sons of this "eternity" marry. (Lu 20:34)
    * Since "eternity" began. (Jn 9:32, Ac 3:21)
    * Deliver us from this present evil "eternity". (Ga1:4)
    * Wise in this "eternity". (1Co 3:18)

    Olam/aoin are properly interpreted as "age" in these passages, not eternity. And the English "eon", which means dang long but not eternal, derives from "aion".

    So, at the least I'd say it isn't clear which side is hinging on misinterpretations.

    Then there are the many passages attesting to ALL being saved, such as
    * For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1Co 15:22)
    * Do not... be ignorant of this mystery... blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come... He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them.
    * ... who is the savior of all men, ESPECIALLY of those who believe. (1Ti 4:9-10)
    * Who will have all men saved (1Ti 2:1-6)
    * ... will draw all men to myself (Jn 12:31-32)
    * Fear not, I.. have the keys of Hell and of Death. (Re 1:17-18)
    * ... until the times of restoration of all things (Ac 3:21)

    Countless more verses speak to an overarching theme of the complete triumph of love through Jesus. If only a small fraction of mankind receives Jesus' salvation, it's not a great triumph.

    I think the greatest testimony against Hell is written in the hearts of loving Christians. I've heard it said several times in small group, "that would be so cool if God let my friend **** into Heaven. I think he would." And most Christians won't hesitate to say they'd never wish hell on their worst enemy. What's the source of this compassion?

    And I do believe the age old argument still holds; how could a loving God send people to burn in Hell forever? There's a pretty big difference between loving people and burning them alive, right? No textual argument has yet to convince me otherwise. My imperfect human love has chosen not to burn people alive, but perfect love DOES burn people alive?

  2. Thanks for the comment my dude. It is impossible to fully defend this position within the context/brevity of an 800 word essay for school.

    I wish to respond to your comments so let me do so at another time, work is calling. Will post again very soon, thanks brotha!

  3. Cool! Looks like a lot of good stuff here, I'll be browsing around.