What is annihilationism? Is it biblical?

Annihilationism is the teaching that those who die apart from Christ will simply cease to exist. It is the belief that unbelievers will be "wiped out" or "annihilated" sometime after death. In other words, unbelievers will not experience eternal punishment in a literal hell, but will simply vanish (or have their souls extinguished) instead.

The idea that unbelievers will not experience eternal punishment is attractive to many, yet the Bible offers no support for this belief. On the contrary, the Bible offers clear examples that only two alternatives exist upon death—eternity with God in glory or an eternity of suffering and separation from Him.

One clear example is found near the end of the Bible in Revelation 20:12-15:

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Here, it is clear that the option for those whose names were "not found in the book of life" (those who did not believe in and belong to Christ) was the punishment of the lake of fire.

What will this lake of fire be like? Verse 10 of this same chapter notes, "the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." Scripture indicates the devil, beast, and false prophet will also be in this lake of fire. Further, the torment will last for eternity. Just as heaven will offer eternal joy for the believer, this lake of fire will offer eternal torment for unbelievers. Additional support for this view is found in Matthew 25:46 where Jesus Himself taught, "And these [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life"

Luke 16:19-31 also answers the question of what happens to the unbeliever after death between now and the final lake of fire described in Revelation 20. There we find that a certain rich man had died as an unbeliever and was "in torment" (Luke 16:23). Jesus made it clear that the afterlife offers two options and that both heaven and hell are eternal.

While this may be a difficult teaching, the encouraging alternative is that God has made a way for people to escape eternal torment and experience the joy of eternity with Christ. It is not based on our human efforts but upon God's grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). God loves the world so much that he provided an escape so that those who believe will not have to perish (John 3:16). Jesus' sacrifice for our sins has provided mankind a way to heaven (John 14:6).

Related Truth:

Is there really an afterlife?

What happens after death?

Is reincarnation biblical?

What is the intermediate state?

When will the resurrection occur?

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Truth about Eternity

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