In this article, we will continue our study on the final fate of the wicked by looking at Acts and the Epistles. The final and eternal outcome of the wicked is death and destruction whereas the final and ultimate outcome of the righteous is everlasting life with Jesus (See: Rom. 1:32; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5; 8:2, 13; 2 Cor. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:10; Ja. 1:15; 5:20; 1 Jn. 3:14; 1 Jn. 5:16; Acts 3:23; 1 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 15:26; 2 Cor. 5:1; Ja. 4:12; Phil. 3:19; Heb. 10:29; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:19; 2 Pet. 2:12; Gal. 6:8; Jude 1:6-7; 1 Jn. 3:15; etc.).
There is nothing at all in Acts and the Epistles that teach any form of eternal conscious torment as being the final fate for the wicked. Instead, Acts and the Epistles teach that the wicked will be destroyed forever.
One of the clearest and most straightforward verses is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9:
“…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
Those who believe in eternal conscious torment as the final fate for the wicked are forced to concede that the destruction, death and perishing, which is constantly spoken of as the final fate of the wicked, will never actually be experienced by the wicked. Yet, the Bible teaches that the wicked will ultimately die the second death, perish and be destroyed forever. The everlasting punishment is being destroyed…forever (Mt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:8-9).
Jude 7 is sometimes used in an attempt to defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. It reads:
“…as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
Some point to the phrase “eternal fire” to explain that the wicked will live forever in the eternal fires of hell. There are several problems with this understanding and I believe, in fact, this verse actually continues to affirm the final destruction of the wicked. The wicked are never described as living forever. It is the fire that is described as being eternal, not the lives of the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the fire of Sodom and Gomorrah no longer exist. In fact, Abraham went back to Sodom and Gomorrah the next morning and only saw smoke. The eternal fire was no more.
The eternal fire had ceased and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed (Gen. 19:26-29). We must let the Bible interrupt itself. Jude 7 defines what it means when it says, “eternal fire.” This “eternal fire” didn’t even last 24 hours, but the results of that fire were eternal, not the fire itself. Eternal fire represented the complete and utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, 2 Peter 2:6 confirms this understanding when Peter said:
“… and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly”.
The example of eternal fire is complete destruction, not eternal conscious torment. If we do not live faithfully, then we too will suffer the “eternal fire” of God (Mt. 18:8; etc.). The everlasting or eternal fire stands for the result of the fire (the destruction that last forever) and not the actual fire itself. When the Bible speaks of something being eternal, it can refer to the process or the result (or both). Context must be the determining factor.
For example, in Hebrews 6:2 the Bible speaks of “eternal judgment.” Are we to assume that the process of judgment will be eternal? Or, is the result of the judgment eternal? If the process of judgment is eternal, then that means that neither the righteous nor the wicked will receive a final judgment since we will forever be in the process of being judged. This is obviously nonsensical. Instead, it is the result of the judgment that is everlasting.
In the same way, it was (and is) the result of the fire that is eternal and not the fire itself. The actual fire of the eternal fire of Sodom and Gomorrah only lasted a few hours, but the result will last forever.
If we reject God’s gift of salvation, then the Bible teaches that we too will suffer the “eternal fire” and will be destroyed forever.
– Kevin Pendergrass
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