Annihilationism (pronounced an-eye-ill-LAY-shun-ism) denies the Bible's teaching about eternal condemnation. Some groups teach that sinners will be annihilated after death and cease to exist, rather than suffering eternal punishment in the lake of fire. What does the Bible teach?

Annihilationism is the theory that human beings cease to exist after death, a theory Seventh Day Adventism holds in common with the Jehovah’s Witness cult and some others. Pure annihilationism teaches that we are all like the animals and have no immortality. When we are dead, that is the end for everyone.

A variation on this notion is what is called conditional immortality. It says that only those who are saved are immortal. That God grants sinners immortality when they are saved–the other side of the coin being that the unsaved are annihilated at death, and there is for them no eternal punishment in hell. Comforting as these theories may be to some, neither of them is in keeping with the teaching of God’s Word.

Not only the saved, but also the unsaved will be raised bodily from the dead in the day of resurrection (Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:25-29). At that time, the unsaved will be judged at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-12), and condemned to eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Jesus describes this as a place of “everlasting fire” originally prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), and a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48). This same fate not only awaits the unsaved of the Old Testament era and the Church Age, but also those who worship the antichrist (the “beast”) during the coming Tribulation (Rev. 14:11).

While I would hesitate to use it as clear proof, there is another passage that relates to this issue. It is Jesus’ account of the destiny of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Some commentators see it as another of Jesus’ parables, a made-up story. If that were the case, it would not be wise to use it as evidence for what occurs after death. However, there are indications this is not a parable, but rather a true account. Jesus actually names individuals involved–Lazarus and Abraham, which He did not do in any parable He told. (The rich man is traditionally called Dives [DYE-vees], but this is simply Latin for rich.) Jesus quotes Abraham several times (vs. 25-26, 29, 31). If it is merely a made-up story, we put Jesus in a position of telling people Abraham said things he never actually said–which would be a falsehood!

The significance of the account is that it graphically describes the rich man in a place of torment after death (vs. 22-24). The place is called Hades in Greek, Sheol in Hebrew. Before the cross, the departed saints were kept nearby in a place of comfort and blessing called by Jesus “Abraham’s bosom” (vs. 22) with “a great gulf” between them and the unsaved (vs. 26). (Since Calvary, believers go immediately into the presence of the glorified Christ–Lk. 23:42-43; Phil. 1:21, 23; II Cor. 5:8.)

Relevant to our discussion at this point, Hades continues to be the temporary abode of the wicked dead until the last judgment at the Great White Throne. (Thus some have been there already for thousands of years.) Three times the text speaks of the rich man being in “torment” (vs. 23, 24, 28). Two Greek words are used for this with similar meanings connoting intense pain, torture and sorrow. The rich man is fully aware of all that is happening to him and desperately regretful. He wishes he could keep his brothers from the same fate (vs. 28). There is certainly no annihilation for him.

Some claim the “second death” of which Scripture speaks means those who experience it cease to exist. But there is no biblical warrant to interpret the term that way. The second death is the point at which the sinner is condemned to eternal separation from God in a place of everlasting punishment (Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8). The individual’s ongoing existence in the lake of fire is illustrated by the fate of the antichrist (the “beast”) and his false prophet–both human beings, by the way. They will be cast into the fire at the beginning of the Kingdom Age (Rev. 19:20), and will still be there a thousand years later (Rev. 20:10).