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The Punishment of the Wicked
Everlasting bliss for the righteous, and eternal punishment for the ungodly,
are plainly taught in the Scriptures. That God should reward His people with
eternal life, and mete out just retribution to the wicked for their evil deeds,
appears to most men as reasonable and equitable, and in harmony with both the
love and the justice of God.
The fate of the unrighteous is likewise emphasized in many places in Holy Writ. There will surely be punishment, according to the Word, and there will also be degrees of punishment. And this punishment, moreover, will not be remedial, but punitive and final.
I. Punishment Yet Future, Not Now Going On
It is commonly believed that at death the righteous go immediately to heaven,
and the wicked forthwith to hell, where they are punished. There are persons,
how ever, who believe that the wicked are punished in this life for their sins.
They argue that when a man is cast into prison, or perhaps is executed on the
gallows, he is then suffering punishment for his iniquities. In a way this is
true, but not strictly so. That he thus suffers, there can be no doubt, but
such suffering is not primarily the penalty for his sins. He suffers in this
life the penalty for his crimes. The state punishes for infraction of human
laws, but its punishments are meted out for crimes, not sins. Sin is
infringement of the divine law, the Decalogue, the commandments of God. And God
will be the judge, and will mete out punishment according to His justice.
Neither evil angels nor wicked men are now receiving final punishment for their transgressions. Such punishments are still future. In the days when Jesus was on earth, the devils asked Him, "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matt. 8:29). Evil angels are "reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4), or "unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). Concerning the wicked we read that God reserves "the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Peter 2:9)
II. What Constitutes the Punishment of the Wicked?
The only safe and reliable source of information on this question is, of
course, the Word of God. No dictums from tradition, from the writings of
heathen authors, or even from the apocryphal writings of either the Hebrews or
the early Christians, whether expressed in prose or in verse, should influence
us in this matter. Unless the contentions expressed are based upon the
authoritative Word of God they should have no weight with us. We therefore note
some of the expressions used by the Lord in this connection. We read that as
the final penalty for their transgressions and their rejection of the Son of
And in this verse a unique contrast is drawn. Life is promised to the righteous; death to the unrighteous.
Over and over again death is emphasized as
the punishment of the wicked. Sinners are declared "worthy of death"
(Rom. 1:32); the end of sin is death (Rom. 6:21); and "sin, when it is
finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15). In ancient days God in His
love and mercy pleaded with Israel through His servants the prophets. Time
after time His appeal was, "Why will ye die, O house of Israel? . . . I
have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth" (Eze. 18:31, 32).
4. The Wicked Will Be Burned Up..—This also is a strong expression, and is
used on many occasions. Malachi speaks of the day when the wicked shall be
burned up (Mal. 4:1). Matthew writes of their being bound "in bundles to
burn them" (Matt. 13:30), and mentions also that "the tares are
gathered and burned" (verse 40). Peter declares that "the earth also
and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10). We read
of the final destination of the unrighteous as being in "the lake of
fire" (Rev. 20:15), and this the revelator calls "the second
death" (Rev. 21: 8).
III. Figures and Similes Illustrate Fate of Wicked
Not only in language clear and plain does the Lord reveal to man the fate of the ungodly, but He has sought to bring this truth home to us in familiar illustrations, figures of speech, and various similes. Observe:
The Wicked Are Likened to Combustible Materials.—The psalmist likens the wicked to
something he saw repeatedly in the Temple of ancient days—"The enemies of
the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs" (Ps. 37:20). Furthermore, the
ungodly are likened to "the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Ps.
1:4). Isaiah says that "the whirlwind shall take them away as
stubble" (Isa. 40:24). And Malachi also declared that in that day the
wicked "shall be stubble" (Mal. 4:1).
it was "the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7). This could not mean fire that would be eternally burning, for the cities are not burning today. Rather, this fire would be eternal in its results.
IV. The Terms "Everlasting" and "Eternal"
These words are not used in the Old Testament in relation to the fate of the
wicked; they are found, however, in the New Testament in the following texts:
"Depart . . . ye cursed, into everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41);
"and these shall go away into everlasting punishment" (Matt. 25:46);
"punished with everlasting destruction" (2 Thess. 1:9); "in
danger of eternal damnation" (Mark 3:29); "suffering the vengeance of
eternal fire" (Jude 7). In each instance, whether translated
"everlasting" or "eternal," the words are from the Greek
aionios. For instance, in Matthew 25:46, the "everlasting" (aionios)
punishment is contrasted with "eternal" (aionios) life in the same
That this is so, can be seen in the use of the word "eternal" in
other relationships. We read of eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12) and of eternal judgment (Heb. 6:2). Surely this does not
mean redemption going on through all eternity, or an unending work of judgment.
No! The work of redemption is complete and eternal in its results. The same
will be true of the judgment. The same principle applies concerning
"eternal damnation" (Mark 3:29), "eternal fire" (Jude 7),
"eternal punishment" (Matt. 25:46, R.S.V.)..
V. The Expressions "Forever" and "Forever and Ever"
These expressions are found many times in Holy Scripture. In the Old Testament
they are in the main from the Hebrew olam, which is translated quite often by
the word "everlasting." It does have several other renderings,
however, such as "ancient time," "old time,"
"beginning of the world," et cetera.
In the New Testament the words "for ever," et cetera, came from the Greek eis tous aionas ton aionion, literally, "to the ages of the ages," and is uniformly rendered "for ever and ever."
The limitation in the use of these terms will be seen by the following: The Passover was to be observed forever (Ex. 12:17), the slave to serve his master forever (Ex. 21:6), the child Samuel to abide in the tabernacle forever (1 Sam. 1:22), Jonah to be in the belly of the great fish forever (Jonah 2:6), and leprosy to cleave to Gehazi and his seed forever (2 Kings 5:27). Clarke, in his Commentary, has well said:
appears absurd; the denunciation took place in the posterity of Gehazi till it should become extinct, and under the influence of this disorder this must soon have taken place. The for ever implies as long as any of his posterity should remain: This is the import of the word, leolam. It takes in the whole extent or duration of the thing to which it is applied. The for ever of Gehazi was till his posterity became extinct.
We find that the same limitation in meaning applies in the New Testament also,
to the Greek words aion and aionios—Philemon was counseled to receive
Onesimus "for ever" (Philemon 15).
This had a local application in days of long ago; and undoubtedly it will have a second application in the great conflagration of the last days. But think of its application in the days of Israel. What a picture of absolute destruction—brimstone and burning pitch, burning so fiercely it could not be quenched! The smoke ascended, and the divine record is that it ascended "for ever." But note that this unquenchable fire
ended in waste and desolation. Who would contend that the fire is still burning? What we behold here is a picture of absolute, complete destruction. So shall it be in the day of the executive judgment, when the wicked are destroyed. "They shall be destroyed for ever" (Ps. 92:7).
VI. Reasons for Rejecting Eternal Torment
We reject the doctrine of eternal torment for the following major reasons:
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