In our day, there is a growing movement to deny that the Bible teaches an eternal judgment in Hell. Rather, these people say, the spirit of the wicked is destroyed. This doctrine, annihilationism, was formerly limited to the cults, namely the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, it is now becoming increasingly popular among professing evangelicals, at least in America.
In contrast, Scripture describes the suffering of the wicked in this way:
The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. –Revelation 9:1-6
What John reveals here is that the wicked, in the face of their just suffering for that wickedness, will seek escape from their suffering through death, but death will be denied to them.
Annihilationists will often portray themselves as morally superior to those of us who hold the traditional view of Hell. In addition, they claim that unbelievers are more open to the “Gospel” if they remove the stumblingblock of eternal Hell. It is supposedly contrary to modern sentiments.
I have several problems with that perspective. For one thing, one doesn’t tailor truth to suit the preferences of an enemy of that truth. Reformulating Christianity to suit unbelievers – the same problem I have with many megachurches – is to move it from suiting the preferences of God to suiting His enemies. How can that be considered a good thing? Furthermore, by failing to give the unbeliever the biblical judgment on his unbelief, you deny that unbeliever the necessary information for weighing his situation. Many unbelievers are perfectly content to live as heathens now, just to puff into smoke at death. And that is exactly the pseudo-Gospel that the annihilationist gives him. If he never learns better, then that unbeliever will spend eternity in Hell, but his blood will be on the hands of the annihilationist (Ezekiel 3:18).