Hell: Eternal Destruction

We are continuing our series on the most unpopular doctrine of hell:

2nd Thessalonians 1:5-10 (CSB) It is clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, 6 since it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels, 8 when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength 10 on that day when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed.

Unfortunately, critics often erroneously suggest that Paul never teaches about hell, which would only be true if you only do a cursory search for the word “hell” in his writings, but his teachings here clearly demonstrate otherwise.

Paul’s doctrine on the judgment of God appeals to Old Testament passages about hell:

Psalm 79:6 (CSB) Pour out your wrath on the nations that don’t acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that don’t call on your name.

Isaiah 66:14-15 (CSB) Look, the LORD will come with fire— his chariots are like the whirlwind— to execute his anger with fury and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For the LORD will execute judgment on all people with his fiery sword, and many will be slain by the LORD.

The apostle Paul warns that Jesus will return for judgment against the ungodly to take revenge with flaming fire against those who rejected God.

Their punishment is the terrible penalty of “eternal destruction” from the presence of the Lord, who is the “giver of everything good and perfect” (James 1:17), even to the wicked who hate Him (Matthew 5:45). Yet in judgment the wicked will no longer receive the benefis of God’s grace and they will suffer eternal separation from the presence of the Lord; every grace that has given sweetness and happiness to their lives, all the light that has illumined their days will go out and they will be handed over to the wrath of God and complete darkness.
At this point it is necessary to addres the use of the word “destruction” (GK – ὄλεθρος, “olethros”) and whether or not it carries any tones of annihilation with it.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis:

Only Paul in the New Testament uses the noun ὄλεθρος.

In every case it refers to divine judgment.

In 1 Thess 5:3 the word refers to eschatalogical destruction suddenly breaking upon those falsely trusting in apparent “peace and safety”; it will surprise people “as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

In 1 Tim 6:9 the term is combined with ἀπώλεια to describe the end of those who are greedy for wealth. They, of course, are only one group among the ungodly, who will all suffer ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον, “eternal destruction,” understood as exclusion “from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess 1:9; cf. Ps 37:17).

Vol. 3; pp. 487

R. L. Thomas writes:

ὄλεθρος does not refer to annihilation, which cannot be “everlasting” (Hendriksen, p. 160). The word in LXX and NT usages never has this meaning but rather turns on the thought of separation from God and loss of everything worthwhile in life. Just as endless life belongs to Christians, endless destruction belongs to those opposed to Christ (Matt 25:41, 46).

The consequences of permanent separation from God come out forcibly in the phrase “from the presence of the Lord” (cf. Isa 2:10, LXX). Banishment from the Lord’s presence is what Jesus taught about punishment (Matt 7:23; 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Luke 13:27). Words cannot adequately express the misery of this condition. On the other hand, those in Christ can anticipate the very opposite: “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess 4:17).

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 313).

Pauline doctrine prefers to refer to hell as “eternal destrution”, emphasizing our unending separation from God and the loss of everything good and worthwhile in life.  Those who reject Christ enter an agonizing state of soul-ruin described by paul in v.6 as “affliction” to the lost and “vengeance with flaming fire” in v.8 against thoe who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There is no backdoor to redemption in hell; it is eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord.

Philippians 3:18-19 (CSB) For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things

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