God has always prophesied and warned the wicked of the consequences of their sins, the ultimate results of which, are destruction and annihilation (see Isa. 34:1-10; Jer. 25:13-38; Mal. 4:1-3; Lu. 3:9; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). In the past there have been many partial fulfillments of these prophecies and warnings, such as the 120 years, that Noah preached about the destruction of the world and the fate of those who refused to enter the ark; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the desolation of Egypt before and after the exodus; the destruction of the people of Canaan (who had filled up their cup of iniquity) etc. etc. These all are types for the final antitypical fulfillment, at the end of the millennium. At this time the wicked of all ages are resurrected – Satan is loosed from his chains – the wicked try to capture the New Jerusalem – fire comes down and utterly destroys them – the wicked are annihilated, never to return – their smoke goes up for ever and ever.
Before, one can understand the annihilation of the wicked, one needs to understand the biblical definition of ‘death.’ In the Bible the word ‘death’ is used to describe three different types of death, or stages, or conditions of death. These are; spiritual death, physical death and the second death.
What did Jesus mean when He said: “Let the dead bury the dead” (Matt. 8:22). What did the father of the prodigal son mean when he said: “Thy brother was dead, and is alive again?” (Lu. 15:32).
The disciples noticed, that the people did not understand, when Jesus spoke to them – they barely understood themselves – they were perplexed by this. They thought they knew what the problem was, Jesus always spoke to the people in parables (see Matt. 13:3, 34; Jn. 16:29). Therefore, they came to Jesus and sought an explanation:
Then the disciples came to Him and asked, “Why do You speak to the crowds in parables?” Jesus replied to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has [spiritual wisdom because he is receptive to God’s word], to him more will be given, and he will be richly and abundantly supplied; but whoever does not have [spiritual wisdom because he has devalued God’s word], even what he has will be taken away from him. This is the reason I speak to the crowds in parables: because while [having the power of] seeing they do not see, and while [having the power of] hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand and grasp [spiritual things]. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will hear and keep on hearing, but never understand; And you will look and keep on looking, but never comprehend; For this nation’s heart has grown hard, And with their ears they hardly hear,
And they have [tightly] closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart, and turn [to Me]
And I would heal them [spiritually].’
Matt.13:10-15. Amplified Bible.
Jesus explained, that the reason He spoke in parables, was because the people, in large part were spiritually dead. To be spiritually dead means, that the people were reaping what they had sowed. They were reaping the results of living lives of sin and rebellion. They had hard hearts and stiff-necks, which is the result of resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 7:51-54). This is why, the one thing, that Jesus said more often that anything else was: “Let him who has ears to hear let him hear.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “He who allows the Holy Spirit to speak to him, will understand my words.” This is why the dead can bury the dead and the prodigal son, can be both dead and alive. When the prodigal son left his father’s house, for the sins of the world, he died. But he died spiritually, not literally. Therefore, when he returned to his father’s house he was ‘born again’ and he came back to a spiritual life.
Jesus always emphasised, that He had come, so that the human race might have life (see Matt. 20:28; Jn. 1:4; 3:36; 5:24-40; 6:27-58; 10:10, 11). It is a mistake to limit His meaning to eternal life. In the first instance Jesus wants to give us spiritual life. Spiritual life is the essential precursor to eternal life. Those who refuse the invitation to be born again, by the Holy Spirit, belong to the congregation of the dead. They are physically alive, but spiritually, they are dead:
The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead. Prov. 21:16; cf. Jn. 6:53; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:6; Rev. 3:1.
Not all are “dead in trespass and sins” (Eph. 2:1). The promise is that the Holy Spirit will ‘quicken’ (give life), to us. This is what Jesus promised His disciples. After answering their question, about why He spoke to the people in parables – after describing the appalling spiritual condition of the people, He encouraged them by saying the same spiritual lack did not apply to them:
But blessed [spiritually aware, and favored by God] are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, many prophets and righteous men [who were honorable and in right standing with God] longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Matt. 13:16, 17. Amplified Bible.
What did Jesus mean when He said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (Jn. 8:51). On this occasion Jesus was speaking to a crowd of Jews and his disciples – these people are now all dead. Therefore, these words of Jesus do not make sense. However, they make complete sense, depending on how one defines death. The Bible defines physical death as being a ‘sleep.’ It is called a ‘sleep’ because all whoever lived on this earth and ‘died’ will eventually ‘awaken’ from their ‘sleep’ – there will be a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the wicked. Jesus taught that what we commonly call ‘death’ is really a period of unconscious ‘sleep.’
The Bible consistently calls, what we commonly understand to be ‘death’ a ‘sleep,’ Jesus Himself taught His disciples that death was sleep in the famous raising of Lazarus from his ‘sleep.’ He said to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (Jn. 11:11). The disciples understood Jesus to mean that Lazarus was resting and recovering from his illness. Therefore, in order for, the disciples to understand what He was saying Jesus spoke plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (Jn. 11:14). In other words, Jesus was using the Biblical definition of physical ‘death’ as a ‘sleep,’ but because the disciples did not know the Biblical definition of physical death, He resorted to the common (but incorrect) understanding of death. There are many instances of the Bible calling physical death a ‘sleep’ such as,” Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3); cf. Deut. 31:16; 2 Sam. 7:12; 1 Kings 1:21; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 9:24; 1 Cor. 15:51; Eph. 5:14; 1 Thess. 4:14.
The Second Death
What did Jesus mean when He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (Jn. 8:51). Since the time Jesus said this, millions of people, have kept the sayings of Jesus, and millions have died. Therefore, Jesus must have meant something other than what we commonly understand to be death. What did Jesus mean, when speaking about Lazarus, He said, “This sickness is not unto death” (Jn. 11:4). But Lazarus did die. Therefore, Jesus must have meant something other than what we commonly understand to be death. In both these cases, Jesus is not speaking about what we commonly understand as death, He is speaking about the second death.
All those who die the physical death, sleep in their graves until the resurrection. There are two categories of people sleeping in their graves. There are the wheat and the tares; the sheep and the goats; the good fish and the bad fish; the wise virgins and the foolish virgins; the saved and the wicked. The saved are raised from their ‘sleep’ at the second coming of Christ. The wicked are raised at the end of the millennium. The saved go to Heaven, the wicked go to the lake of fire – in the lake of fire the wicked suffer the second death:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Rev. 20:12-15.
When the wicked dead are resurrected, Satan is loosed and he deceives the wicked yet again. He convinces them that their numbers are so great that they can capture the New Jerusalem:
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And 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. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Rev. 20:7-10.
The term ‘for ever and ever’ means annihilation. When it is stated that “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11), it means that they burn until there is nothing left to burn and the smoke of them goes up, never to return. In other words, they are eliminated, they are annihilated for ever – they will never exist again (for the antitypes see, 2 Chron. 34:25; Isa. 33:14; 34:10; 66:24; Jer. 4:4; 7:20. 17:27). Jesus spoke about annihilation when He said:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt. 10:28.
Jesus said that body and soul will be destroyed – it is destroyed in hell – hell is the lake of fire – this is where the wicked are destroyed forever. There is more Biblical evidence for annihilation, such as, “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed” (Ex. 22:12); cf. Job 20:4-9; Ps. 94:23; Isa. 13:9; Mal. 4:1-3; 2 Pet. 2:12 [For a fuller presentation about the state of the dead, hell and the non-immortality of the soul, see Appendix ]
The Executive Judgment
The wicked are cast into the lake of fire and annihilated because of the executive judgment. The executive judgment determines guilt and determines the appropriate sentence. God has stated that He will not acquit the guilty – He will not be mocked – the wicked will ‘reap what they have sown’ (see Ex. 34:7; Job 10:14; Nahum 1:3; Gal. 6:7). All who have ever lived will obtain a reward – a reward for righteousness or a reward for wickedness:
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Matt. 16:27.
… we receive the due reward of our deeds… Lu. 23:41.
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 1 Cor. 3:13, 14.
…shall perish in their own corruption. And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness… 2 Pet. 2:12, 13.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Rev. 22:12.
Throughout the ages, many have questioned and wondered about God’s methods, His mercy and His justice (see Job. 11:7; Ps. 44:24; 73:11; Eccl. 11:5; Rom. 11:33) Scripture says that, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” – “…righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne” – “Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments” (Ps. 145:17; 97:2; 119:137). Nevertheless, throughout the ages, many have questioned the righteousness, ways and judgments of God. It is at the end and under the auspices of the executive judgment, that all relevant questions about God’s dealings with mankind are answered and settled in God’s favor. Even the wicked acknowledge the righteousness of their condemnation and punishment. All knees bend and all heads bow before the throne of God, in fulfillment of the Word of God:
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: hat at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:9-11.
The Panoramic Evidence
In any trial that leads to a guilty verdict, it is always incumbent upon the prosecution, to provide the evidence for the quilt. God has the evidence and He shows it to all the assembled wicked, outside the New Jerusalem and to the saints inside the New Jerusalem. This is the reason why every knee kneels and every head bows, because God shows them the evidence. As the wicked are assembled around the New Jerusalem, God show them the history of the great controversy from the beginning to the end. In addition, each and every one of the wicked, sees their own individual role, in a panoramic display:
Above the throne is revealed the cross; and like a panoramic view appear the scenes of Adam’s temptation and fall, and the successive steps in the great plan of redemption. The Saviour’s lowly birth; His early life of simplicity and obedience; His baptism in Jordan; the fast and temptation in the wilderness; His public ministry, unfolding to men heaven’s most precious blessings; the days crowded with deeds of love and mercy, the nights of prayer and watching in the solitude of the mountains; the plottings of envy, hate, and malice which repaid His benefits; the awful mysterious agony in Gethsemane, beneath the crushing weight of the sins of the whole world; His betrayal into the hands of the murderous mob; the fearful events of that night of horror: the unresisting prisoner, forsaken by His best-loved disciples, rudely hurried through the streets of Jerusalem; the Son of God exultingly displayed before Annas, arraigned in the high priest’s palace, in the judgment hall of Pilate, before the cowardly and cruel Herod, mocked, insulted, tortured, and condemned to die—all are vividly portrayed.
And now before the swaying multitude are revealed the final scenes: the patient Sufferer treading the path to Calvary; the Prince of heaven hanging upon the cross; the haughty priests and the jeering rabble deriding His expiring agony; the supernatural darkness; the heaving earth, the rent rocks, the open graves, marking the moment when the world’s Redeemer yielded up His life.
The awful spectacle appears just as it was. Satan, his angels, and his subjects have no power to turn from the picture of their own work. Each actor recalls the part which he performed. Herod, who slew the innocent children of Bethlehem that he might destroy the King of Israel; the base Herodias, upon whose guilty soul rests the blood of John the Baptist; the weak, time-serving Pilate; the mocking soldiers; the priests and rulers and the maddened throng who cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children”—all behold the enormity of their guilt. They vainly seek to hide from the divine majesty of His countenance, outshining the glory of the sun, while the redeemed cast their crowns at the Saviour’s feet, exclaiming, “He died for me!” Ellen White, The Story of Redemption, pp. 423, 424.
At the end of the panoramic display all are convinced of their guilt and that the sentence against them is just and correct. Then fire falls down upon them and creates the lake of fire. Scripture states that all will be tried by fire:
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 1 Cor. 3:11-15.
Many unbelievers say, “If I could see God, I would believe.” God in His mercy does not reveal Himself, in such a manner because, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). God and sin cannot exist in the same location – the fire that accompanies God will consume the sin and all those attached to it – therefore whenever human beings come into the presence of God, they will be ‘tried by fire.’ The righteous were tried by fire, when they stood before the throne of God, on the sea of glass mingled with fire (see Rev. 15:2) They survived and were saved because they were, “without sin before the throne of God” (Rev. 14:5). The wicked are also tried by fire, before the throne of God, but they do not survive, they are before the throne of God with their unforgiven sins – therefore they are inundated by the fire, stemming from the presence of God, but they do not survive – they are annihilated.
[Note: If the Jews had fulfilled the role that God had planned for them, there would have been an Armageddon style battle on the mountains of Israel and all the wicked host would have been destroyed there. This prophesied event never happened, but it serves as the type for the antitypical Armageddon at the second coming of Christ and the annihilation of the wicked at the end of the millennium. See Ezekiel chapters 38, 39; Isa. 66:15-24].
God said to Adam and Eve if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “dying you shall die” (Gen. 2:17, Robert Young’s Literal Translation). As a result, Adam and Eve suffered the first phase of death – spiritual death. They had sinned and the consequences of sin are separation from God:
…your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. Isa. 59:2.
Because Satan sinned, he was cast out of heaven – because Adam and Eve sinned they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. This is the beginning of death – it is the beginning of death because the connection to the sustenance of life is severed (see Jn. 1:4; 5:40; 6:27-68; Col. 1:17). This severance to the source of life is symbolized by the severance of access to the tree of life, in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, the path Adam and Eve had chosen was “dying you shall die.” Ultimately, the path they had chosen would lead directly to the second death. But God has created an alternative path:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Matt: 7:13.
All who choose the narrow road, can escape the second death via the physical death of sleeping in the dust of the earth, until the first resurrection. However all those who choose to stay on the broad road are destroyed:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Matt. 7:13.
The broad road leads to destruction. Those who choose to stay on the broad road also sleep in the dust, but they are resurrected in the second resurrection. And the destruction they experience is annihilation in the lake of fire.