There is a concept that some people believe, that says hell will eventually burn out, and everyone in hell will be completely destroyed, ceasing to exist.
Originally posted 11/1/2004 on bibleforums.org:
The overwhelming majority of Christian scholarship that I have seen rejects the concept of annihilation.
Matthew 25:46 seems to make it pretty clear:
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Commentary from the People’s New Testament:
These things are certain: (1) A separation between the righteous and the wicked takes place at judgment. (2) The righteous inherit the kingdom; the wicked “depart into everlasting fire.” (3) The state of the righteous is “life eternal;” the state of the wicked is “everlasting punishment.” (4) The duration of these two states is the same, exactly the same Greek word being used in each case (aionios). Then if the state of punishment has an end, so has the life.
One other thought, “destruction” does not equal “cease to exist.”
I think we can all agree that we have a spiritual existence (our spirit) and a physical existence (our body). (Then there’s the soul, which is a little more confusing.)
I think we can also agree that both the spiritual and the physical can die, and both can be resurrected. You can’t be resurrected unless you’re dead, so death happens first, then resurrection.
Physical death is fairly straightforward; I think we all understand what it means for our bodies to die. Our physical death on earth is not final. A number of people in the Bible were physically resurrected, but they would still be subject to another physcial death. Then, at the final judgement, there will be one final physical resurrection. The Bible indicates in Acts 24:15 and Revelation 20:13 that both believers and unbelievers who have died will be rejoined (at least temporarily) with their bodies for the judgement. After that point, unbelievers will be physically dead for good, and believers will be physically alive for good.
Spiritual death is a little harder to understand, but from what Paul says in Romans 7:9 (“Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”), it appears that spiritual death has already occured. Since unbelievers are already spiritually dead, it becomes clear that spiritual death does not mean our spirits cease to exist. (Just as physical death does not mean our bodies cease to exist; it just means they’re dead, not alive.) As with physical death, spiritual death doesn’t have to be final. Spiritual resurrection occurs when we give our lives to Christ and He breathes new life into our spirits. We are not granted spiritual life or death at the final judgement. The final judgement will be a confirmation of our current spiritual state. Those who are spiritually dead, will remain dead eternally. With this understanding, eternal death does not necessarily mean obliteration, it simply underscores the finality of death; there are no longer any second chances.