In this chapter we want to look at all three destinies of the wicked that are taught in the usual translations of the Bible. Let's look first at the doctrine of eternal torment which was what I was taught when I was a child. The following set of verses I want you to consider teaches the doctrine of eternal torment. I suppose this has been the generally accepted belief of most Christians through the years. The Bible (that is, the English versions of the Scriptures which is common used) teaching is so obvious and definite: "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43,44); "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt.25:41). "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev.19:20).
"If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name" (Rev.14:9-11); "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rev.20:10).
These and other references, if taken as they read in the above quotations, clearly teach the eternal torment of the wicked. This is the teaching that I was taught as I was growing up. In fact, I used to teach it in no uncertain terms when I first began to preach. But the time came when I began to think a bit more deeply about the nature of God and to study more carefully certain other statements of the Holy Bible, at which time a second set of verses were drawn to my attention.
The following texts seem to teach extermination just as clearly as the preceding verses eternal torment: "Whose fan is in His hand and He will thoroughly purge His floor and gather His wheat into the garner but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt.3:12). "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity and shall cast them into a furnace of fire there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt.13:40-42).
Note that the chaff and tares are burned up--not burned forever. "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt.10:28).
Again, the wicked are to be gotten rid of, just as bad fish are to be thrown away to decay and disappear, as Jesus taught in Matthew 13:47-50. Similarly: "But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not and shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Pet.2:12); "...who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess.1:9); "...even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7).
Please note that Sodom and Gomorrah are not burning today, though their destruction is spoken of as an example of "eternal fire." If the verses above, too, are taken as they read, then the wicked will be exterminated. And, it must be remembered, these verses are just as Biblical as any others.
Still another set of verses, however, seems to clearly teach that all men will ultimately be saved: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16,17). "Love never fails" (1 Cor.13:8). Will God's love for the whole world fail?
"And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa.53:6). "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "For the love of Christ constrains us because we thus judge that if One died for all, therefore all died" (2 Cor.5:14).
"And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:20). "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Myself" (John 12:32).
"Well, then, just as the result of a single transgression is condemnation for all mankind, so also the result of a single deed of righteousness is a life-giving acquittal for all mankind; and if, through the disobedience of one individual (Adam), the mass of mankind were made sinners, so also through the obedience of One (Christ) the mass of mankind will be made righteous" (Rom.5:18,19; Weymouth).
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man (Adam) came death, by man (Jesus) came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor.15:20-22). "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord and all the kindred's of the nations shall worship before Thee" (Psa.22:27). "All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; and shall glorify Thy name" (Psa.86:9).
"Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear" (Isa.45:22,23). "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isa.53:11).
Would God's love, infinite in its reach, be satisfied with just a fraction of those for whom Christ died for? If you paid the purchase price for one hundred acres would you be satisfied with a deed for only one acre?
"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil.2:9-11).
Would a confession wrung out of the lost by compulsion--"writhing in the torments of hell" be to the glory of God and could such tormented souls confess Jesus as Lord? " Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. (1 Cor.12:3).
"Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. Because He hath put all things under His feet. But when He says, all things are put under Him, it is manifest (or revealed) that He is excepted, Who did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be All in all" (1 Cor.15:24-28).
For every verse in the Bible that seems to teach eternal torment or extermination, one can find many verses that teach universal reconciliation. Remember, one text is just as Biblical as another. Unless there is a way to explain them all correctly we will be left with hopeless confusion. Which one of the three sets of verses would you like to be true?