THE END OF THE WICKED
So soon as ever Lucifer introduced sin into heaven, it was certain, in the righteousness and omnipotence of God, that the day would come when sin would be blotted out of the perfect creation. Inspiration tells us that a time of final reckoning with sin was assured when Satan and a host of the angels with him lifted up the standard of mysterious rebellion against the law and harmony of heaven:
"The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Jude 6.
Punishment for sin is assured. By listening to Satan's temptation, man became involved in sin. Then a divine Saviour was provided, through whom every soul might escape from the kingdom of darkness, and find salvation and life. But it is inevitable that those who refuse the way of life and reject the salvation of God, must finally be involved with Satan and sin in the day when sin is visited.
By Adam's sin, all his posterity inherited a sinful, dying nature. "In Adam all die," the Scripture says. But not a soul in the last day can plead Adam's sin and the inheritance of a fallen nature as an excuse for his own transgressions. By Christ's gift of His life for us, the sinner, with all his weaknesses, may become a partaker of the divine nature, and escape the power of the fleshly nature. By virtue of Christ's death for all, all recover from the death they die in Adam—the first death. All have a resurrection, the unjust as well as the just; and then every one gives account of himself to God, according to his own life and the use he has made of the light given him of God.
The Two Resurrections
The Scriptures emphasize the fact that there are to be two resurrections. Paul, before Felix, declared his belief the same as that of all the prophets,—"that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Acts 24:15.
Jesus declared it in these words:
"The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John 5:28, 29.
The first resurrection is that of the just, at Christ's second coming. It is written of this:
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Rev. 20:6.
After this, the righteous return with Christ to heaven, and remain there during the thousand years. The wicked living at the time of His coming are slain by the consuming glory of His presence; and they, with all the unjust of all the ages, await in the grave the second resurrection, at the end of the thousand years.
"The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Rev. 20:5.
At the end of the thousand years the city of God, with the saved, comes down out of heaven and settles upon the earth.
Then the wicked are raised—the second resurrection. Under Satan's leadership they march up to attack the city of God. How naturally, we infer, may Satan persuade the lost that, after all, he was right when he declared to Adam, "Ye shall not surely die." Here are all his servants of all the ages—living. Why may they not be immortal, beyond the power of God to destroy? The old battle that began in heaven is on again. Satan, the archrebel, marshals his hosts of fallen angels and the myriads of fallen men, his legions stretching wide over the earth.
"They went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." Rev. 20:9.
"This is the second death," the Scripture says. Verse 14. The great day has come when the sinner receives his wages—death—and sin is destroyed.
The Punishment Everlasting
"The wages of sin is death." And the second death is everlasting. There is no resurrection from this death. The Scriptures describe it in terms that affirm utter destruction, resulting in nonexistence.
"Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." 2 Thess. 1:9.
"Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." Mal. 4:1.
"They shall be ashes," the third verse of this chapter says. Every expression possible to language is employed to denote utter destruction, everlasting death. That means nonexistence. Sin and sinners are blotted out. The prophet Obadiah, speaking of the visitation upon the heathen—the unbelieving—in "the day of the Lord," says:
"They shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been." Verse 16.
This is the utter end of sin and all sinners, and of the author of sin. Root and branch they are gone, "as though they had not been." All this is in the description of the last judgment, so fully set forth in the twentieth chapter of Revelation.
"Death and hell [hades, the grave] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." Rev. 20:14. Death and the prison house of death are gone forever. Sin is wiped out of a perfect universe, and not even a trace will remain of the place of the fiery judgment.
"Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be." Ps. 37:10.
The fires of the last day purify the earth, which comes forth in Eden-like beauty. In the whole creation of God there is no sin, no sinner, but all is harmonious again, as before sin entered the universe. The prophet was given a view of this glorious consummation, and the triumph of the Son of God over sin.
"Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Rev. 5:13.
Some Opinions Briefly Considered
The doctrine of the immortality, the indestructibility, of the soul is responsible for the traditional view that the wicked are kept alive in unending misery through all eternity. How different this picture from that which Holy Scripture gives of the second death! Terrible and awful it is, but it results in the utter destruction of sin and sinners, leaving a clean universe. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul came in from pagan philosophy. Herodotus, "the father of history," said:
"The Egyptians ... were also the first to broach the opinion, that the soul of man is immortal."—Book 2, par. 123.
Evidently, they passed the doctrine on to the Greeks. Its origin was in the words of Satan in Eden, "Ye shall not surely die." The pagans had their nether world of spirits, or their transmigration of souls with its ceaseless round from body to body, and the Roman Catholics their purgatory with its purifying fires. From these sources and not from the Word of God, the traditional view has come into modern Christendom, representing the Lord as unable or unwilling to end sin, but keeping the sinner alive throughout eternity, to suffer torture that can bring no remedy. The Scripture teaching is far otherwise. However, there are certain Scripture phrases that emphasize the severity of the punishment of sin, which are often taken as supporting the doctrine of never-ending conscious torment.
1. "Forever and Ever."—In Rev. 20:10 it is said that the devil and his chief agencies "shall be tormented day and night forever and ever." The phrase emphasizes the surety of their utter destruction.
"Forever" means age-lasting, or life-lasting—so long as a thing exists by its nature. Thus in Ex. 21:6 the servant who loved his master and did not wish to leave his service was to have his ear pierced, "and he shall serve him forever," that is, without release as long as he lives. So the fiery judgment of that last day holds the wicked until life ends; there is no release until life is consumed.
2. "Everlasting Punishment."—"These shall go away into everlasting punishment." Matt. 25:46. It is everlasting punishment, not everlasting punishing. The punishment is everlasting death—"who shall be punished with everlasting destruction." 2 Thess. 1:9.
The truth of the utter destruction of sinners is awful enough, but it commends itself to every thought of justice and mercy; for sin must be cleansed from a perfect universe. But the unscriptural view of everlasting conscious torment that never reaches the point of full punishment, is unthinkable. Yet it is urged as a doctrine, and contended for as vital to Christianity.
The following description is taken from a book written for children, entitled "The Sight of Hell." It is printed in Dublin—for children.
"Little child, if you go to hell, there will be a devil at your side to strike you. He will go on striking you every day, forever and ever, without ever stopping. The first stroke will make your body as bad as Job's, covered from head to foot with sores and ulcers. The second stroke will make your body twice as bad as the body of Job.... How then will your body be after the devil has been striking it every moment for a hundred million years without stopping?"—Quoted in the London Present Truth, April 30, 1914.
What a relief to turn from this to the Bible doctrine of the "everlasting destruction" of the second death, terrible though it be!
3. "Everlasting Fire," "Eternal Fire," "Unquenchable Fire."—All these expressions are used in describing the fiery judgment upon sin and sinners. The effect of the fire is everlasting and eternal, and by a common usage in language the adjective that describes the effect is applied to the agent by which the effect is wrought.
A specific example of everlasting fire in the punishment of evil is given in Scripture. Sodom and Gomorrah, those wicked "cities of the plain," were destroyed by a rain of fire from heaven. These cities, Inspiration says, "are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Jude 7. The fire was everlasting, eternal, in its effects. The cities of the plain were everlastingly consumed. But the fire went out when the destruction was complete. Unquenchable fire is fire that cannot be quenched. It consumes utterly, until nothing is left; then it goes out of its own accord.
4. "Where Their Worm Dieth Not."—Jesus warned of the certain destruction of sin and sinners in the fire of Gehenna; for this is the word translated "hell" in Mark 9:43.
Hades, which is often translated "hell," is the grave, not the place of punishment. Gehenna, here used of the place of punishment, was the name of the valley where the refuse of Jerusalem was cast for burning. The map of Jerusalem, in any ordinary Bible with maps, shows just outside the southern wall a gorge marked "Valley of Hinnom" (Gehenna). It was here that the people, in the olden times, had sacrificed their children to Moloch.
"In order to put an end to these abominations, Josiah polluted it with human bones and other corruptions. 2 Kings 23:10, 13, 14."—Hastings's "Dictionary of the Bible."
Here the fires consumed the refuse, and the fire and worms utterly destroyed the carcasses of beasts flung into the place of destruction. It was regarded as a place accursed, and the smoldering fires became symbolical of the fires of the judgment.
The use of this illustration, instead of arguing that the wicked are never destroyed but always live, conveys the opposite idea. What went into the fires of Gehenna was utterly consumed, nothing being left. This was used by Christ as a figure illustrative of the utter destruction of the unrepentant sinner in the day of visitation.
This must suffice. The positive teaching of Holy Scripture is that sin and sinners will be blotted out of existence. There will be a clean universe again when the great controversy between Christ and Satan is ended.