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TEXT: Revelation 19:3
SUBJECT: Doctrine of Hell #6: Annihilationism (Part 2)
Over the last several weeks, we've been examining the Bible Doctrine of Hell. I call it the 'Bible' doctrine because, while the Traditional Doctrine of Hell (mostly) corresponds to the Bible's, the Doctrine of Hell is Biblical! Whether we agree with it or not, like it or not, preach it or not, it is what the Bible teaches, and no one more often-or in more detail than our Lord Jesus Christ.
We started by surveying the witness of the Old Testament to the Doctrine of Hell, then two weeks on the witness of the New Testament, and then it's two Christian rivals: Universalism and Annihilationism. The former means, 'Everyone goes to Heaven'; the latter, that there either (1) Is no Hell at all, or that (2) If there is, it's it not eternal, it's fire eventually burns up the people who go there.
Universalism is fairly easy to rebut; Annihilationism is quite a bit harder. The latter is more plausible; the arguments for it seem more Biblical. But, for all its citings of the Bible, Annihilationism is not Biblical.
That's what I think, at least, and so has (nearly all) the Church Universal, from the days of the New Testament until today. Believing in Eternal Hell, therefore, does not make you an ignorant, red-faced Bible thumper! But only a disciple of Jesus Christ.
THE ARGUMENTS FOR ANNIHILATIONNISM
Last week, we began with the arguments in favor of Annihilationism, using the summary of the devout and brilliant preacher, John RW Stott. He gave four reasons he believed in it (or leaned that way), two of which we covered last time. Now, we'll take up his other two arguments for the belief that Hell means 'going out of existence', either the moment you die or after limited punishment.
The first of which is, the punishment does not fit the crime. To their way of thinking, Eternal Punishment is excessive for sins committed in time. How can God justly punish a man forever for sins he committed over seventy years?
What do we make of this?
On the plus side, we agree that God is just, and that He's not sadistic or over-the-top in His punishments. The famous law reflects His character-
An eye for an eye,
A tooth for a tooth.
Burning a man at the stake for knocking out his neighbor's tooth would be unjust. It might be an effective deterrent, but it wouldn't be right. The punishment doesn't fit the crime. Knocking out a man's tooth is not that serious.
But, is that what God sends people to Hell for? For committing Mickey Mouse sins? Messing up once in a while, not being quite the person he ought to be?
Sin is defined by the Law. The reason I go to jail for breaking into your house and not for 'wearing white after Labor Day' is because the Law says burglary is a crime, but says nothing about bad fashion choices!
How many laws of God are there? Nobody knows, but we do know the two laws that matter most to God. Jesus named them for us-
You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'.
'On these two hang all the Law and prophets'.
If these are the laws that matter most to God, then breaking them must be very, very bad. And here's the thing: nobody, but Christ, has ever obeyed either one time in his life! Therefore, even the nicest people, the kindest, the most religious people deserve Hell. Because, at our best', we are constant and lifelong lawbreakers! Isaiah 1:6-
From the sole of the foot, even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores.
An Eternal Hell is not excessive; because of the nature of the crime, the punishment fits it to a t!
The punishment also fits the crime because of the dignity of the One against whom we commit it. When you think of David's moral lapse, who was the victim? Bathsheba? Her husband? The child who died in infancy? Israel? David himself? The people who were either hurt by learning of it or the ones who celebrated it? All of the above! But, when we turn to Psalm 51, David doesn't mention any of them, but rather-
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done this iniquity in your eyes, that you may be just when you speak and blameless when you judge.
The wickedness of a sin depends both on the sin itself and the One sinned against. If I punched the man who lives next door to me, that would be bad. If I punched my wife, that would be worse.
Then, the punishment of Hell fits the crime because of who commits it. We are totally dependent on God, but every day, we bite the hand that feeds us. Moreover, we should be grateful to the Lord for all His mercies, but what do we do? We use His mercies against Him! I'm an ingrate, so are you; so is everybody!
This is why everybody deserves to go to Hell and to stay there. Forever. The injustice, of Hell, therefore, is a very weak argument, and I'm surprised a man of John Stott's intelligence and learning would fall for it.
His next argument is (somewhat) better. 'Eternal Punishment is inconsistent with the full and final victory of God'. Does the Bible teach that God will have the last word? It does. And that He will set all things right? That, too. But, how can things be right while His enemies are still blaspheming Him in Hell? If they're not completely subdued, the Lord is not fully triumphant. That's the reasoning.
The first thing wrong with this argument is that it is really an argument for Universalism, the belief that every human and demon will finally be saved. Which is plainly contradicted by the Bible.
But, of more importance, it assumes two things that are not true. (1) That God intends to save everyone, in the sense that He tries to, but they won't let Him; and (2) only the saved can praise and glorify God.
Is God a failure? Has He done His best to get everyone into Heaven, only to see some falling short of it? No. Certainly, He's not trying to save the devil and his angels because (1) In Christ, He didn't assume their nature (Hebrews 2:16), and, besides, (2) He prepared the Lake of Fire for them (Matthew 25:41).
Is thanking God for our salvation the only way He can be praised? Or might the very damnation of His enemies also be to His glory? Pharaoh never praised God on his own will, but Moses and Paul both say God--
For this very purpose raised him up, to show His power in him and that His Name be declared through all the earth (Romans 9:17).
When we go to Revelation we see that, God's Eternal Victory over His Enemies, rather than being regretted in Heaven as a 'necessary evil' is, in fact, celebrated as a Good Thing, a holy and almighty act worthy of the Lamb!
Allelujia! The Lord God omnipotent reigns.
.was not sung, so much, in honor of God Saving sinners, but of Judging them! It was not triggered by the incense of the True Temple, but rather by the rising of the smoke from Hell, Revelation 19:3.
John RW Stott was far smarter than I am, much better informed, and holier, but he wasn't as well-informed as the Son of God or Holier than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As a doctrine, Annihilationism is far better than Universalism, but it's still a bad thing and can only produce bad things.
Sanctify them by Thy truth;
Thy word is truth.
The best argument for the annihilation of the lost is also the strongest one, and I can't imagine why Stott doesn't use it. Because, as far as I've read, every other serious advocate of the doctrine does. It's called Conditional Immortality.
(The term itself is not as precise as it ought to be, because-in the Bible-Immortality is applied only to the body. The Bible knows nothing of an Immortal Soul. That's Plato's idea).
But that's a quibble. What it means is clear enough: man is not naturally immortal; we don't necessarily survive death, in body or soul. In other words, Eternal Life is a gift, which unbelievers don't receive, and so, when they die, they're as dead as the ant you stepped on this morning. This is the argument that convinced the great commentator Philip Hughes and many others.
There are two major problems with this view:
Firstly, it uses the word, life ambiguously. It thinks of the redeemed as alive after death and the damned also alive after death. Thus, by Life they mean 'continued existence'. But this is not what the Bible means by Eternal Life!
In the Bible, Eternal Life is knowing and joying in God and in the One He sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). It's true that Eternal Life has no end, but the emphasis is not on the quantity of that life, but the Quality. Nobody says the damned in Hell have that kind of Life!
The 'gift' the lost receive is not really a gift at all; it's-
The wages of sin.
.which is death and The Second Death.
I think this reasoning is sound. But even if it's not-if I'm as dumb as a stick-Daniel and Jesus are not. And, however they square it with the basis of human immortality, here's what they said about it, Daniel 12:2-
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
I'm pretty sure this refers to the General Resurrection at the End of the World, but if, by chance it doesn't, John 5:28-29 most certainly does-
The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice, and come forth-those who have done good to the Resurrection of Life, and those who have done evil, to the Resurrection of Condemnation.
I don't believe any doctrine should be judged by the fools and ignoramuses who hold to it. I'm an unabashed Calvinist, but I wouldn't want to be judged by the idiocies or distortions of some Calvinists I know, only too well!
Here's the thing: No one I mentioned today or last week is a fool (except one). Most of them were brilliant and trained theologians, and one of the laymen is the greatest Christian writer of the 20th Century, my beloved CS Lewis.
But for all their genius, all their learning, devotion and usefulness, they were wrong on this point! The Traditional Doctrine of Hell is also the Biblical Doctrine of Hell. And that is not Annihilation, but something much worse: Conscious Eternal Torment. For all who die outside of Christ.
Including the people you know, love, and live with. How this appalling truth ought to touch our hearts with pity for those dear people who are on their way to Hell as I speak, and if they end up there, they'll never get out. If Jesus can cry over a city's Temporal Destruction, we can cry for the Eternal Destruction that awaits our parents, children, spouse, best friends, even the nice people who sit next to you in the pew, but don't believe.
If it should touch our hearts, the Doctrine of Hell ought to also stimulate our actions; it ought to get us out there talking to people, warning them, and presenting Christ to them by word and example. Not because 'He works for me', but because-
There is salvation (from Hell) in none other.
Let us take the doctrine of Hell more seriously than we have in the past; and let's feel, and speak, and act as if we believe it. Amen.
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