(From Chapter Seven (Part 1A – The Final State): The Judgment of God from Life, Death and Destiny)
What Jesus accomplished on the cross was “a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people”.1 And this was through His death “once for all”,2 certainly not through any committal to everlasting torment! All this then, the redemptive core of the Christian Gospel, can only be true, if in fact “the wages of sin is death”, not everlasting suffering!
In both Testaments, the destiny of the godless is repeatedly defined, by means of the most emphatic terms at the writers’ disposal, as destruction. Not only do the words themselves signify literal destruction, but the contexts often place that interpretation beyond dispute.
(a) The Old Testament. A standard modern lexicon, here, is that of W. L. Holladay, based on the German work of Koehler and Baumgartner. That is the source of the definitions given in quotation marks in the following survey.3
To begin with, there is the Hebrew word kalah: “to complete, finish: destroy, exterminate; use up, exhaust, bring to an end”. It is translated “consume” in Isaiah 1:28 and Ps. 59:13. The Psalmist leaves no doubt as to the outcome envisaged: “Consume them until they are no more”! A seminal Old Testament passage on Judgment Day is Zephaniah chapter 1. In Zeph. 1:18, we find that, on that Day of the Lord, “a full, a terrible end will he make (kalah) of all the inhabitants of the earth.”
The word translated “consume” in Ps. 104:35 is a different verb, but the meaning is equally certain. The word is tamam: “to be finished, completed, used up, spent, gone, annihilated”. The context puts the point beyond doubt: the wicked will “be no more”:
Let sinners be consumed (tamam) from the earth
and let the wicked be no more.
Another verb is machah: “to wipe out, destroy”. It is used of what happened to the victims of the Flood, in Gen. 6:7, 7:4. Psalm 9:5-6 uses it of the final destiny of the wicked: “You (God) have blotted out (machah) their name forever and ever.”
In Psalm 92:7, as in Psalm 145:20, the root word is shamach: “to exterminate”: “they are doomed to destruction (i.e. extermination) forever”. Yes, the word “forever” is used here, but it is very clear that it is the effect of the destruction, not the process of destroying, that lasts forever. This is a vital point of interpretation, as we shall see when we come to II Thessalonians 1:9. Psalm 52:5 teaches the same thing by means of yet another verb, nathats: “to tear down, break up, demolish”: “But God will break you down forever.”
However, the most common verb of all in this connection is ‘abhadh: “to become lost (property, etc.), perish, be ruined; destroy, exterminate.” This is what happens to burned up idols (II Kings 19:18)! Some 40 times it is used of ordinary death and killing. For example, Esther 9:6 says: “In the citadel of Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people.” And this word is often used of the end of the wicked: e.g. Judges 5:31, Ps. 1:6, Ps. 9:5. Psalm 73:27 says:
Indeed, those who are far from you will perish (abhadh);
you put an end to those who are false to you.
Note how the second line serves to define the meaning in this context: “destroy” means “put an end to”. Similarly, vivid associated similes in Job 20:7-8 and Ps. 68:2 leave absolutely no doubt what is meant. Job 20:7:
they will perish forever like their own dung;
those who have seen them will say, “Where are they?”
Notice again the use of “forever” to refer to the effect, not the process, of destruction. Isaiah 41:11-12:
those who strive against you (God)
shall be as nothing and shall perish (abhadh).
Notice what is the effect of being destroyed, or perishing, according to this verse: it is to “be as nothing”.
It is amazing how often the claim is made, by advocates of eternal torment, that Scripture never refers exactly to the annihilation of the wicked. This is simply not true. We have already quoted Ps. 59:13, Ps. 104:35 and Is. 41:12. What of Proverbs 10:25 (“the wicked are no more”) and Obadiah 16 (“they…shall be as though they had never been”)? And what do the similes in Hosea 13:3 mean, but extinction?
Therefore they shall be like the morning mist
or like the dew that goes away early,
like chaff that swirls from the threshing floor
or like smoke from a window.
As Hughes observes: “What God has brought into being he can also destroy.”