Chapter 25 - The Destiny of the Wicked

The subject of the final destiny of those who persist in a life of wickedness has not been left to the mere opinions of men, but is a matter of revelation in the Christian Scriptures. Furthermore, our knowledge of the manner of God’s dealings with sinful men in the past would lead us to conclude that at some time or other justice will be meted out to the guilty violators of his law.

They Will Be Punished

There is now in the world a large amount of perverse teaching and sentimental talk against the Bible doctrine of the punishment of the wicked. Hear the word of the Lord: “And it shall come to pass at that time that I will … punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil” (Zeph. 1:12). This is the false doctrine spread broadcast today—that if the Lord does not do good to the sinner, he will at least not do him evil; therefore, men presume on his mercy and go forward in their sins, heaping up “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:56).

The argument that God is too good to punish men does not alter the matter. God is good, but his goodness is harmonious with his justice; and justice demands the execution of law against wrongdoers. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Rom. 11:22). The goodness of God is manifested specially toward those “who continue in his goodness.” “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (Nah. 1:7).

Every verse of Psalm 136 contains the words “his mercy endureth forever”; but an examination shows that it is toward his own people that his mercy is everlasting. The same psalm shows that while God was manifesting his mercy toward Israel he at the same time “smote Egypt,” “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,” and “smote great kings” in the wilderness. The love of God, therefore, demands the eternal separation of the wicked from the righteous—not love for the wicked, but love for his own people. He even threatened the wrongdoers in Israel: “I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). Again he says, “I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity” (Isa. 13:11).

While God is a God of love, it must be remembered that love is only one of his attributes. Justice is one of his attributes as truly as is love. Since God is a perfect being, we must expect to find in him the perfect and harmonious expression of all his attributes, and no manifestation of his attributes in any way reflects upon his character, but simply exhibits his character as it really is.

Degrees of Punishment

The Bible also teaches that there will be degrees of punishment. Paul says that in the day of judgment God will “render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6). Men become doubly responsible by the light which they receive. Jesus says, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). “That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13). Christ said to Pilate, “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (John 19:11).

Since our sins are estimated in accordance with the light received, our punishment also will be regulated accordingly. For this reason Peter says concerning backsliders, “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment” (II Pet. 2:21). “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.… Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?” (Heb. 10:26, 29). The greater the light and knowledge possessed, the greater the responsibility. (See Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14.)

From the foregoing texts we see that men will be rewarded “according to their works,” that some will receive a “sorer punishment” and “greater damnation” than others, and that it will be “more tolerable” for some people than it will be for others. But all these degrees will be in accordance with the light received and rejected.

Not Annihilation

It is a favorite theory with some that the wicked will simply be blotted out of existence at the day of judgment. But the scriptural facts just shown—that at the day of judgment the wicked will be rewarded “according to their works,” that some will receive “greater damnation” and “sorer punishment” than others—utterly disprove that theory; for in the case of annihilation all would receive the same punishment.

There are a few texts of Scripture that speak of men in this world as passing away and being no more, which is very true of earthly things; but there is no New Testament text referring to the state of men after the judgment in which it is even hinted that men will come to an end and be no more.

Malachi 4:1 is brought forward as proving annihilation: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” This day of burning, however, does not refer to the future state beyond the judgment at all, but was to meet its fulfillment in the day when “the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings,” which day was to be ushered in by the coming of Elijah (vss. 2-5). This Elijah was John the Baptist, as the following passages show: Luke 1:13-17; Matthew 11:13-14; 17:10-13.

The work of Christ in the gospel dispensation is represented as a work of fire. (See Mal. 3:1-6; Isa. 4:3-5; 9:5-7; 33:14; Matt. 3:10-11.)

The language of Malachi 4:1 is metaphorical. The fire is no more literal than the wicked people are stubble. Both fire and stubble are simply figures of speech, as are the fire, soap, gold, and silver of Malachi 3:2-3. None of them apply to the future state, as can easily be seen.

Future Punishment Will Be in Hell

“Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (Luke 12:5). “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17). From these texts we see that hell is a place. But it is also a place of fire. “The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:49-50).

The punishment of the wicked is represented not only as in “fire,” but also as in “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30). Literally speaking, these two are contrary to each other; hence, we do not suppose that the fire will be natural or literal fire. In all probability the expression is figurative, the same as the fire, stubble, and silver mentioned in Malachi 4:1; 3:2-3. But if fire is the symbol, how terrible the reality must be!

Yes, hell is a most terrible place—a prepared place. Prepared for whom? “Prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). It was not made for man. Fallen angels and demons are held in reserve until the day of judgment, when they will be cast into it. “And the angels which kept not their first estate … he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). The demons know of their coming doom; therefore, those in the devil-possessed men cried out, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29). But while hell was not prepared for men, yet if men choose to serve the devil, they will share his fate, for “the wicked shall be turned into hell” (Ps. 9:17). “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (23:33). Hell is an actual place; its punishment will be real.

Everlasting Punishment

I shall now proceed to bring forward the different expressions used in the Bible to describe the punishment of the wicked in hell, also the duration of that punishment. Some people think that most of these various expressions are only symbolic. But even so, their symbolic character in no wise lessens the force of their application. According to Paul, the things of paradise are of such an exalted character that it is “not possible for a man to utter” them in ordinary human language (II Cor. 12:4, margin); therefore, wherever the things of that future world are described they are of necessity symbolical, objects of this world chosen to represent them.

1. “Everlasting punishment.” The Lord has reserved the “unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (II Pet. 2:9). They are worthy of a “sorer punishment” than death without mercy (Heb. 10:28-29). “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46).

2. Eternal “death.” “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The death here mentioned is not that natural death which comes to good and bad alike, nor is it that spiritual death which is the direct result of sin, but it is an eternal state, for it is contrasted with eternal life. Natural death, as we have shown, is not the end of the soul’s conscious existence, but is simply that state in which the human spirit is separated from the body. So also spiritual death is not the cessation of conscious existence, but is simply that state in this world in which the soul is separated from its normal condition of communion and fellowship with God. (See Ezek. 18:20; Isa. 59:1-2; I Tim. 5:6; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; John 17:3.) In like manner the eternal death of the soul is not the end of its conscious existence (which would be contrary to all the other statements and symbols), but is simply its eternal separation from God. Natural death is something repulsive; men shrink from it and seek to evade it. It is chosen—with all its repulsiveness, with all its horrors—to represent that future state of separation from God—eternal death. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

3. Everlasting “darkness.” “God … delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (II Pet. 2:4). According to the parable of Christ, the wicked “shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). What a fearful thought! To be placed in utter darkness is one of the worst punishments inflicted upon men in this world. A dungeon experience is generally sufficient to break the will of the most stubborn, rebellious criminal. Such is the figure of future punishment. How terrible, then, the reality must be! But this is not all. Instead of being an experience of short duration, as imprisonment in a dungeon, it will be forever. “To whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever” (II Pet. 2:17). “The blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13). Is there not one ray of future hope for the wicked man? “When he dieth he shall carry nothing away.… He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light” (Ps. 49:17, 19).

4. “Eternal damnation.” “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). “Ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matt. 23:14). “Is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29).

5. “Everlasting destruction.” This word, as applied to the wicked signifies not the end of their conscious existence, but their utter misery and ruin. The word is thus used in the Bible over and over again. (For examples, see Exod. 10:7; Prov. 11:9; 18:7; Eccles. 7:16; Hos. 4:6; 13:9; Gal. 1:13.) “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them … and they shall not escape” (I Thess. 5:3). “Whose end is destruction” (Phil. 3:19). All the sinner’s plans and hopes, with his own noble self that God created for his own glory, are forever blighted and go down into everlasting misery and ruin—destruction. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (II Thess. 1:9). This everlasting destruction is not the end of conscious existence, but eternal banishment from the “presence of the Lord.”

6. “Everlasting fire.” “Shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:22). It is “in flaming fire” that the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven against wrongdoers (II Thess. 1:7-9). It is called “a furnace of fire”: “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42); a “lake of fire”: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whore-mongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8), “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). It will be never ending: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41); “Are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

Reader, be not deceived by the false doctrines of men. Obey the Word of God and “flee from the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7).

This Truth Forever Sealed

There is no way under heaven to evade the force of this multitude of Scripture passages describing the fearful fate of the ungodly. They apply to the wicked and to time beyond the judgment. If literal, the punishment they depict is terrible; if symbolic, it is worse. The language describes a future state of everlasting punishment—of conscious pain, suffering, torment, and wretchedness in hell. It either means what it says, or it does not. If it does not mean all this, then why do the Bible writers speak thus? and if they really intended to teach such a doctrine as this, what words, comparisons, and descriptions could they have employed to set it forth other than the very ones they did employ? Ponder well this question. They have well-nigh exhausted the language in this respect.

Notice, also, that the very same words that are employed to measure the endless duration of all that is good and holy are used to set forth the duration of the punishment of the wicked in hell. I will call attention briefly to some of these words and their use in the Bible.

1. “Forever.” “The Lord shall endure forever” (Ps. 9:7). “The Lord shall reign forever” (146:10). “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” (119:89). “The word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).

Now let us look at the other side. “God shall likewise destroy thee forever” (Ps. 52:5). “If thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever” (I Chron. 28:9). “To whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever” (II Pet. 2:17). “The blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13). The very same word that measures the duration of God’s word, of Christ’s reign, yea, of his very existence, is the word used to measure the time during which the wicked will be “cast off” and banished in “the blackness of darkness.”

2. “Forever and ever.” “The Lord shall reign forever and ever” (Exod. 15:18). The saints shall “possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Dan. 7:18). “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Heb. 1:8). The righteous shall shine “as the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).

Now turn to the other side: “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11). “Shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10). As long as the Lord himself shall reign and his throne in heaven stand, as long as the righteous shall “shine as the stars” in their heavenly home, just so long the wicked shall suffer the torments of hell—”forever and ever.”

3. “Everlasting.” “Everlasting God” (Isa. 40:28). “Everlasting Father” (9:6). “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance” (Ps. 112:6).

The other side: “Reserved in everlasting chains under darkness” (Jude 6). “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (II Thess. 1:9). “Everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8). “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (25:46).

4. “Eternal.” “Eternal God” (Deut. 33:27). “Unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible” (I Tim. 1:17). “Eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). “Eternal Spirit” (9:14). “The righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46).

The other side: “Eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:2). “In danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29). “Sodom and Gomorrah … are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

The very same words throughout that are used to measure the reign of the righteous in heaven, even the very continuation of God himself and heaven’s throne, are used to describe the duration of the punishment of the wicked in hell. In Matthew 25, where the final reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked after the judgment are set forth, the same word is used for each in the same verse.

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