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Question 139

Q: I’ve heard a growing number of pastors and Bible teachers talking about the destruction of unsaved souls.

They say that these people/souls will be destroyed in hell—they won’t be in eternal conscious punishment. John 3:16 says that anyone who believes in Him will not perish, that is, be destroyed or annihilated. Pastor Lutzer, what do you teach?

Asked by: William


A: Well William, indeed, many books have been written about this and some have taken the position that you have outlined.

However, when you look at the word “perish,” or the word “destroyed,” think of the statement that Jesus made about fearing “Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” “Destroy” or “perish” don’t mean annihilation and if we had enough time, we could prove that biblically.

Furthermore, there are passages of Scripture such as Matthew 25:46 where it says that there are some who go to eternal life and others who go into eternal punishment—note that the word “eternal” is used in both instances.

And, of course, there’s the book of Revelation, where it talks about the “smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). And so I really do think that even though universalism or annihilationism, as it is called, is an argument that all of us would like to be able to accept, but I don’t think it stands the biblical test.

Now if you say that God is unjust to punish those people eternally, well, I suppose we’re going to have to leave that to Him. Because only He knows the seriousness of sin, only He knows how we have violated His laws, only He knows ultimately how those who reject Him are eternally guilty and they must bear their own sin.

But here’s good news for every single person in the world: if you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, the punishment which is supposed to fall upon you and upon me is punishment that Jesus received—He bore our hell on the cross—and when we trust Him as Savior, the Bible says we shall not come into condemnation. That is good news indeed. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul says in Romans 8:1.

So I’m giving you a very somber answer to your question, but it’s an answer filled with hope—a hope that we can indeed trust Christ so that hell won’t be our destination.

Scripture references

  • Matthew 25:46
  • John 3:16
  • Romans 8:1
  • Revelation 14:11
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