Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST010/9 The Final destiny of the Impenitent.


The Final Destiny of the Impenitent.

The final destiny of man as a whole concerns, of course, both the final condition of the righteous and the unrighteous. The question of the righteous, of those who are in Christ, may be left to the next and final section, when consideration will be given to the final consummation of allmthings and the coming of the new heavens and the new earth. 

Before considering this, however, it is necessary to say something about the final state of the impenitent. This is a difficult and solemn subject, and, while we must hold to what we feel to be the teaching of the Scriptures, yet we must never approach the subject easily or with hardness or light-heartedness. The words of Dr. Asbury Lowrey are applicable here,

  • "The simple thought of misery after death strikes with dread. The severity of that misery, to accord with Scripture representations, immeasurably expands the idea of woe, while its absolute eternity is enough to confound the sense and overwhelm with horror. This consideration should suppress trifling, inspire caution, and wake concern. Nothing could be more unnatural and shocking than to make this doctrine a subject of jesting or the theme of vehement or vindictive declamation. Let none touch the question unless, with becoming solemnity, they can treat it as a note of alarm, sounded in the ear of guilty men for the sole purpose of impelling them to take refuge in Christ." (Positive Theology p.269).

(a) Scripture Teaching concerning Elternal Punishment.

It is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion than that Scripture teaches that the impenitent will be banished to a place of utter loss and punishment and that this condition will last forever. It is necessary to consider the basis of this belief.

(i) Terms used in the Scriptures. There are three words which are translated "hell" in the Authorized Version - Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna. As we have seen already Hades refers to death and the grave. Tartarus is only used once and then not as a noun. The passage is 2 Pet.2:4 - "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." 

The word used is a verb meaning "to place or hold captive in Tartarus". Tartarus was the Greek name for the place of punishment of the Titans, who were mythical creatures who fought against the gods. It was supposed to be a place of punishment beneath Hades and seems to have been considered by Peter to be a fit place for the punishment of fallen angels.

Gehenna is the usual word to describe the place of eternal punishment and the only word which should rightly be translated "hell". The word is Hebrew or Aramaic in derivation and comes from "ge" the Hebrew word for "land" or "valley" and "Hinnom" and means "the valley of Hinnom". This was a deep ravine south of Jerusalem "where in Old Testament times the wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh sacrificed their sons in the vicious worship of the false god Moloch (cf. 2 Chron.28:3; 33:6).

Josiah, in his effort to stamp out idolatry, turned it into a place for the burning of refuse and the disposal of unclean corpses (2 Kings 23:10), and it was the place into which the bodies of those slain in the destruction of Jerusalem were thrown (Isa.66:24; Jer.7:32). It became associated in the prophetic writings with the place of judgment and doom (cf.Jer.7:31; 19:6; Isa.31:9). (Exploring Our Christian Faith p.573). 

In the New Testament the word is used to describe the place of eternal punishment. It is used twelve times in all and all but once (James 3:6) it is spoken by our Lord Himself. Two
quotations will be sufficient, "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 end the fire is not quenched".(Mark 9:43-44) . In Luke 1 2: 5 we read, "Fear him which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell." The other references are; Matt,5:22,29,30; Mark 9:45-47.

(ii) The Nature of the Lost Estate. 

The apocalyptic concept of hell and the lurid descriptions which arefound in some literature are completely absent from the Scripture records. The utterances of the New Testament are solemn and terrible, but also restrained. In addition to the passages mentioned above, such passages as Matt.13:41-42; 25:41-46 and John 5:28-29 make it quite clear that our Lord taught that the impenitent and the disobedient had no hope and could only expect eternal punishment and separation from God. 

What the nature of this punishment will be is hard for us to grasp or understand and perhaps it is as well that it is so. We can only go by what the Scriptures say and Wiley's four phrases to describe it sum the matter up as well as it is possible to do so. It is called the second death (Rev.20:14-15; 21:8), Death is the separation of the soul from the body, resulting in the corruption of the body; the second death is the eternal separation of the soul, with its resurrection body, from God. 

There will no longer be any of the mitigating and restraining influences of grace but the "sinner becomes eternally exposed to the corruption of his own soul".

Secondly, it is outer darkness (Matt.8:12 22:13; 25:30). It is a darkness "terminated by no succeeding day".

Thirdly, it is positive punishment. This is made clear by such expressions as "furnace of fire", "wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt.13:42): "flaming fire"(2 Thess.1:7-8), However figurative these terms may be thought to be, there can be no escaping the idea of pain and suffering. 

Lastly, it is banishment from God (MatG.25:41). This is hinted at in the eternal death mentioned above. God is the author of all good, of all delight, of all love, and banishment from Him is the loss of all this. It is the final separation from all possibility of good, love, blessedness, comfort and real satisfaction.

One other question needs to be faced. Is this state of punishment eternal, is it the final destiny of the impenitent? Again a candid and unprejudiced reading of the New Testament can hardly come to any other conclusion than that the writers believed in the fact that the state of hell goes on forever. The only way in which the matter can be argued otherwise is by introducing humanitarian arguments, based on human feelings rather than on the teaching of the Scriptures. 

One argument against eternal punishment has been based on the meaning of the word, (aionios). It is said that by derivation it means "age-long". It does indeed come
from the word for "age" ( - aion), but we cannot depend merely on derivation. Our word "eternal" comes from the Latin word for "age", but it has come to mean "eternal" in the sense of "for ever". Another point which needs to be noticed is that the word is only used seven times to refer to future punishment, but it is used some fifty one times to refer to eternal blessedness. 

Also there is more then one occasion where the word is used in one sentence for eternal life and in the following one for eternal punishment. If the eternal life is truly for ever, then it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the eternal punishment is also.

(b) Other Theories concerning the fiiial Destiny of Man.

Only three theories need to be mentioned and then only briefly as the answer to each is, for the most part, given above.

(i) Universalism.

Quite apart from the fact that the Bible never suggests that all will be saved in the end., this theory has some serious ethical faults. Exploring Our Christian Faith has a good passage on this - "If all are finally saved without regard to their actions in this life, ultimate moral distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil are either completely obliterated or seriously blurred." 

There follows a quotation from C.S.Lewis's book "The Great Divorce" concerning attempts to wed heaven and hell. He says "The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable 'either - or'; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. 

This belief I take to be a disastrous error. You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand or your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind." (p.v.). 

The Bible supports this. There are some consequences which are unchangeable. Some
sins are unpardonable (Matt.12:32); there is a "sin unto death"(1 John 5:16) there is a point of no return (Heb.6:4-6; 12:14-17); there is an impassable gulf (Luke 16:26); some people would have been better never to have been born. (Matt.26:24).

(ii) Conditional Immortality.

This teaching holds that immortality and eternal life is only for those who are in Christ and born again. The rest are annihilated. The problem here is the same as has been mentioned
above. The very passages often which promise eternal life to those who believe, at the same time warn of eternal punishment or damnation for those who do not believe, how can you differentiate?

(iii) Annihilationism.

This is really a more liberal form of the above. It holds that all are annihilated at death and that there is no after life whatever. This certainly cannot stand the test of Scripture.

(c) Conclusion.

This is no easy subject just because the fact of men and women etrnally lost hardly bears thinking of. It has to be faced, however, and though our hearts may shrink from it, if we have a right conception of sin and if we read the Bible with an unprejudiced mind, we can hardly escape the fact that there is no hope but "only a certain fearful looking for of judgment", for those who finally die impenitent and without faith.

Perhaps the following quotation from Roger Nicole may fittingly bring the subject to a close "Admittedly, the doctrine of hell is the darkest subject on the pages of Scripture, but it provides the necessary background to an understanding of the true gravity of sin, of the magnitude of the human soul, of the depth of Christ's redeeming work, of the power of divine grace which plucks man out of the abyss like firebrands, of the urgency of the Goepel call, and of the supreme importance of the ministry of preaching and of missions. 

It is an integral and vital element of our Christian faith." (The Punishment of the Wicked, Christian Theology Today, vol.2 No.18 p.15). There the matter has to close but with one final word, "The New Testament has but one good thing to say about hell, and that is no one need be lost there. Any who are finally lost will be lost in spite of all the Gospel
and Christ can do to prevent that end." (Exploring Our Christian Faith p.570).

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