Double Jeopardy: Why Raise the Dead, Only to Destroy Them?

Annihilationism and the Resurrection of the Lost1

Double JeopardySome have argued that if the lost will be destroyed, that is, if they are not subjected to eternal misery, then it would be pointless for God to resurrect them. Given the context of physicalism or possibly soul-sleep—which of course not all annihilationists hold to—Arthur W. Pink writes the following: “The absurdity and unscripturalness of Annihilationism are easily exposed. If at death, the sinner passes out of existence, why resurrect him in order to annihilate him again?”2 Consider also what Sinclair B. Ferguson said while preaching at the Desiring God conference for Pastors in 1990. Assuming dualism and conscious punishment in the intermediate state, he argues that the resurrection of the unsaved prior to annihilation “must be viewed as some kind of cynical joke in the heart of this All-Righteous God, that he punishes men and women and then raises them from the dead simply to annihilate them out of all existence.”3

While conditionalism is true, we nevertheless know that there will be a resurrection of both saved and unsaved (Daniel 12.2; John 5.28-29), so then what is the response from conditionalists?

Annihilation of the resurrected lost does make sense.

First and foremost, if the Bible says that there is a resurrection of the unsaved and that they will be destroyed afterwards, then it really doesn’t matter what Pink or Ferguson or anyone else thinks. If the Bible says it, then that is all that matters. The Bible is the word of God so what it says, and not what sounds good to men, is what we ought to be compelled by. As it is written: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55.8-9, NASB).

That said, there are good reasons which even humans can imagine. In the following three-part argument I will explain why it makes sense for God to resurrect the unsaved even if he is going to destroy them. The first part is that for justice to be done the dead cannot just die and disappear. Rather, they must go before God to be declared guilty and condemned. If physicalism or soul-sleep are true, then this alone would explain the need for a resurrection because only at a resurrection could the unsaved stand to face God.

The second part is that it’s imperative that all of the saints be present at the judgment of the wicked. For one thing, the saints must be present to praise God for his righteous judgment against the wicked. For another thing, for all the wrongdoing done against the saints—and surely we have all been the victim of some wrongdoing, although some far more than others—we must be there to see God avenge us, as the Bible promises. It would be impossible for this to occur if the lost were simply judged in the intermediate state upon death. However, upon the resurrection of all people, when everyone is alive and together, this can be accomplished.

The third part is that the lost must be raised bodily and not just left as immaterial souls in order for the whole person to stand before God, as it was the whole person who sinned. Furthermore, a bodily resurrection of the lost followed by their annihilation will show once and for all that God is the ultimate Lord of the universe, the absolute Sovereign over both life and death.

Evidence and defense: Part 1.

Regarding the first part of the argument, one might ask why a grand judgment is important at all. Why can’t they just die and have come what may? The reason it is so important is because there is more to vindication than simply punishment. There needs to be that moment where the judge declares the wicked guilty and the righteous innocent. It’s wired into us, I would even say. Let’s say a murderer, ineligible for the death penalty, drops dead during his trial. Now, isn’t that the best justice of all? What fate is reserved for the most heinous crimes? Death. He was only going to face jail time, but instead he died young, in his prime, and didn’t get years of breathing and ham sandwiches and Friday night movie privileges that he was otherwise going to have. Isn’t that great? Isn’t justice fulfilled?

I’m not sure we’d say it is. The jury never declared him guilty. The judge never banged his gavel, declaring him a murderer and issuing the just sentence. The family of the victim never got to address the killer. Despite ending up with what is actually a worse fate, he never had to face what he did—at least not in his lifetime. If the unsaved never had to even knowingly face God, then one can imagine the gross injustice. Imagine the murderers and child rapists and world dictators who die in their sins, happy and without fear. Some may even die with hope, like the Muslim suicide bomber who murders innocent people as well as himself in order to please Allah and enter paradise. Even though they face the punishment of non-existence, how dreadful if they were to never know it was coming! How horribly unjust if they died in happiness and hope, never having to acknowledge God or their evil, never having to answer for what they did!

This accusation is often leveled at conditionalists, but the biblical teaching is that though the wicked are destroyed, killed in the ultimate sense, no wicked person fades away in peace. Rather, they face the raging fire of God in the ultimate terror. It’s not enough to know that they simply die and are gone forever. In order for there to be that finality, that fulfillment of justice, they need to be there standing before the judge, even if the outcome is ultimately the same.

Evidence and defense: Part 2.

Why is it necessary for all the saved to be around together when God judges the wicked? The reason for this is two-fold. First, God’s people need to witness the judgment so that God is vindicated in front of them and he can receive from them the praise for his justice that he rightfully deserves.

Second, many of the unsaved have committed no end of evil against God’s children. Not only will God be vindicated but so will the righteous. The evil against them will be avenged. A first-century believer in Rome who was burned alive by Nero has every right to be there when Nero and his henchmen stand before God, in fear and terror, as he declares them accursed and throws them into the fire. Because the wicked have sinned against God’s people as well as against God (although such sins are ultimately all against God), it surely matters to God that his people can be vindicated when he judges those who have harmed them.

Now, the claim that the saved should be at the judgment in order for them to rejoice at God’s punishment of the lost may not sound very nice or merciful, and that the saved would desire vengeance against those who have unrepentantly caused them pain may even sound unchristian at first. However, even the most godly and merciful of us know it to be true that in our hearts we desire to see evildoers punished (if they do not turn to God, that is).

Most importantly, the claim that God’s people are to praise God for his condemnation of sinners, especially those who have afflicted his people, is entirely biblical. Both the Old Testament and New Testament contain many passages praising God for his judgment, as well as even comforting the people of God by the fact that those who have harmed them and do not repent will face God’s wrath (Psa 69:24-28; Psa 139:19-22; Psa 143:12; Jeremiah 18:23; Romans 12:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10; Rev 6:10-11; Rev 18:20; Rev 19:1-3).

This is not to say that we should not show kindness to our enemies, pray for them, and tell them the good news so that they might be saved and spared from judgment. Ideally they will come to know God, be forgiven, and brought into the family of God as we are. However, if they do not and instead hate God and his children until the end, the Bible comforts us with the fact that evil will not win, that no one will get away with their cruelty, and that we will be there to praise God for his justice.

From the Old Testament saints, to the Romans, to the Thessalonians, to every one of God’s children who has ever lived and ever will, they are to be there to see God’s judgment, which means that the wicked cannot just be judged at death or cease to exist upon death to never be resurrected.

Evidence and defense: Part 3.

This third point isn’t so much a discussion of what the Bible says; it is largely philosophical and speculative. Then again, the same could be said about the objection against annihilationism that this whole post is responding to; in other words, the objection by Pink and Ferguson and others isn’t about what the Bible says but rather about how the teaching sounds absurd. So, I’m giving reasons why it isn’t absurd.

One good reason why God might raise the wicked bodily and not just leave them as souls before destroying them at the judgment is that only if they are raised bodily can the wicked people stand before God as whole persons. God would therefore be judging the whole person, not their souls. I would imagine that many traditionalists would make this point when asked why God would resurrect the wicked dead just to torment them as he is said to have already been doing before the judgment. The whole person, body, soul, and spirit, can only stand before God if there is a bodily resurrection. The wicked as whole people sinned against God usually using their bodies, so why should not the whole person be judged?

Not only does this have the sort of ceremonial importance of being the whole person, it also will demonstrate once and for all to the mockers of God that he is the absolute sovereign over life and death. When they lived, they gave him no credit. When they faced death, they gave him no honor. To both give them life again, and to then take it in every sense will show his power in its fullest.

Regarding Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Comments About A “Cynical Joke”

As mentioned earlier, Ferguson said that to resurrect the damned just to destroy them would amount to a “cynical joke” on the part of God. He also adds, “There is something in it that is altogether out of keeping with everything that Scripture says about the utter integrity of God and his dealings with men and women.”4 Well, that idea may not sit well with Ferguson but that doesn’t mean it isn’t biblical. I wish he would go more in depth and explain how exactly that amounts to a “cynical joke.” The condemned might lament their being resurrected, but so what? Indeed, it will be terrible for the lost, but there is nothing unjust about it. God does not lie to them in doing so. He does not give them anything worse than they deserve in doing so. There is no lack of integrity. Where does that claim even come from? Does God somehow owe it to the wicked to not destroy them if he resurrects them? And whatever the intermediate state is like, how on earth would it be in anyway more upright for God to raise them to torture them for ever and ever as Ferguson suggests?

Furthermore, a similar problem arises if eternal torment is true. Death is the enemy of God and man. The lost are raised from the dead and made immortal. Men throughout time have dreamt of being able to be immortal. The curse is reversed. Yet all this, which appears so good, would be done for their harm so that they could be tortured in hell. Might the damned not then lament, “This is a cruel joke! Why would you raise us from the dead just to torture us?” In fact, if the souls of the lost are being tormented before the resurrection, then it’s even worse. Might they not then lament the above as well as, “Why did you pause our suffering to give us immortal bodies? Why did you make us think, for a moment, that we were like the saved, crowned in joy and glory, only so we could suffer again? We wanted to live forever, but not like this!” If anything, that sounds more like a cynical joke. It doesn’t matter though, because what is biblical is what is biblical, no matter what I or Ferguson say.

Conclusion

Why is there a resurrection of the lost if God will just destroy them? I cannot say for certain, but I can say that it is biblical. Beyond that, it makes sense that God would raise the lost to be judged at one time when all of us are there to see it and glorify him for it. Perhaps there are other reasons that people can come up with that make equally good sense. What makes the most sense is this: what matters is what God reveals in his word, so if it teaches that the lost will be resurrected and destroyed (which it does), then that is that.

  1. Adapted from The Bible Teaches Annihlationism by Joseph Dear []
  2. Pink, A. W. Eternal Punishment (1940), 13. []
  3. Ferguson, Sinclair B. “Universalism and the reality of eternal punishment: The biblical basis of the doctrine of eternal punishment.” Preached at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, January 29, 1990. []
  4. Ibid. []
Criticisms
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  • Andrew Patrick

    In addition to the “closure” argument above, I think your analysis missed something obvious. To continue your analogy of the courtroom, where the accused stands trial before a judge, to be informed of his crimes and the nature of the law, there is a very important reason why the person must be present, conscious, and in sound mind for the trial. The accused is given a chance to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” and this can have a great effect on the procedure and sentencing.
    .
    Psa 51:17 KJV(17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
    .
    Does God ever despise or reject genuine repentance? And considering that this judgment is the resurrection of the damned (and not the saints who were raised one thousand years earlier) I think it is worth some notice that the language of Revelation indicates that some of these people might have the heart to plead “guilty” and to throw themselves upon the mercy of the court.
    .
    Rev 20:15 KJV(15) And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
    If whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire, it logically follows that those who were written into the book of life were not cast into the lake of fire, and are among those who may enter into the holy city and drink of the living waters, for whomever thirsts.
    .
    Although it would be impossible for the dead to repent while they are dead, I would also point out that when the dead are raised to life, by definition they are not dead (at least for the time being.) Is your God a being that is willing to grant mercy in response to sincere repentance when someone throws themselves upon the hope of his goodness upon admitting that they were indeed guilty and require salvation? (The key word here is sincere… )
    .
    If the wicked shall be raised to judgment, it would make sense that they would be conscious and aware of their surroundings, not merely breathing in a vegetative state. If they are truly conscious, then there will be two types of people in that judgment of damnation, the sheep and the goats. The sheep did not claim to be innocent, but the goats declared themselves righteous (see Matthew 25:32-46). The parable is not talking about the resurrection of the saints, but the judgment at the end of the world when all the nations stand before God, as in Revelation 20:11-15 (read the parable of the sheep and goats with this in mind.) Since the saints were already raised at Christ’s return, who is being separated here? Not the saints, but the rest of the dead (mentioned in Revelation 20:5).
    .
    Eze 33:11 KJV(11) Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
    .
    That, I believe, is the most important reason why the wicked are raised to judgment. Otherwise, why bother to raise someone if they have already been given an immutable sentence? The dead could stay dead and closure could be provided by a divine narrative, and public execution no longer has a preventative effect on others when everyone is being summoned to the same judgment once and for all. This is the only reason that that would require the resurrection of the wicked.

    • wtanksleyjr

      Andrew,
      If “sincere repentance” is enough, then why does Hebrews bother to explain Esau’s tearful seeking of repentance? Could it be that “tearful seeking” isn’t “sincere” enough? But if so, what on earth does “sincere” mean?

      Also, note that while you’re correct that the Matt 25 parable does describe the judgement on the Last Day, your claim that it does not touch on the resurrection of the saved does not follow — according to Christian doctrine, the two are directly linked, as death is destroyed according to the Revelation after the Judgement, while death’s utter defeat follows the resurrection of the saints according to 1 Cor 15. And Paul testifies before a king in Acts 24:15 that there will be a resurrection of both the just and unjust. The conclusion is clear — there is only one resurrection of the just, there is only one resurrection of the damned, and they are in fact the same event, and for eschatological purposes the judgement is part of the event, so that the death of death takes place as a direct consequence of the two together.

      -Wm

  • While Andrew makes a good argument, I do think that there comes a point prior to the “handing down of the sentence” where it is too late for the damned to repent. Philippians 2:11 says that at one point, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Since universalism is not true, it stands to reason that some will, as Justin Martyr put it, “repent, when it profits them not”. Now, I suppose it is possible that said confession will happen after the sentence is handed down, but wouldn’t these people then be weeping and gnashing their teeth in shame instead at this point? It would make sense that this happens before instead.

    • Peter Grice

      Indeed. Assuming it’s permissible to take the typology this far, Hebrews 12:17 is instructive:

      “For you know that even afterward, when he [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.”

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  • This objection goes back at least as far as Tertullian:

    Else would it be most absurd if the flesh, having been raised up again, is to be slain in hell for the express purpose of bringing it to an end, which is what would happen to it if it were not raised up again: in such a case it will be reconstituted with intent to terminate the existence of a thing which has already attained to non-existence.

    From “On the Resurrection of the Flesh,” 35

  • Tom Torbeyns

    I never thought about us seeing the death of the wicked, very interesting and it looks Scriptural (Revelation and to some Christians the book of Wisdom), to say the least.

    I like the following Idea:
    “Furthermore, a similar problem arises if eternal torment is true. Death is the enemy of God and man. The lost are raised from the dead and made immortal. Men throughout time have dreamt of being able to be immortal. The curse is reversed. Yet all this, which appears so good, would be done for their harm so that they could be tortured in hell. Might the damned not then lament, “This is a cruel joke! Why would you raise us from the dead just to torture us?” In fact, if the souls of the lost are being tormented before the resurrection, then it’s even worse. Might they not then lament the above as well as, “Why did you pause our suffering to give us immortal bodies? Why did you make us think, for a moment, that we were like the saved, crowned in joy and glory, only so we could suffer again? We wanted to live forever, but not like this!” If anything, that sounds more like a cynical joke. It doesn’t matter though, because what is biblical is what is biblical, no matter what I or Ferguson say.”

    Sometimes the article is a bit repetitive and “in our hearts we desire to see evildoers punished (if they do not turn to God, that is)” can seem to mean you enjoy the death of the wicked. I would love it if universalism, with degrees in Heaven would be true (although conditionalism seems the Biblical one to me). I think we should love them (as you write thereafter).

  • JaelJM

    I think it’s interesting to note that this argument is easy to reverse. I don’t know for sure, but it feels like most traditionalists would believe in an intermediate state of torment. So then the question could be posed: why would God allow the wicked to be tormented, resurrect them to a body, just to send them back to be tormented? Unless you have traditionalists who believe in soul sleep, this argument makes no sense.

  • Roy

    One issue you do not appear to cover is that they are only cast into the fire if their name does not appear in the lamb’s book of life. If they are unsaved, then their names will not appear in the lamb’s book of life anyway. Why then would John even mention the point? My view is that the unsaved dead (most of humanity who have ever lived) undergo a period of judgement after they are resurrected. A final judgement is pronounced upon them depending on their deeds. This reasoning is also based on the premise that no amount of works will get you saved. It has to be faith in Christ alone (followed by those good works). How will these individuals then ever get to the point of being in the lamb’s book of life if their fate is already sealed? I believe that the good news is that they do have an opportunity to accept Christ. This would include all the billions who have perhaps never heard the name of Christ, didn’t know about salvation, aborted babies, children who were murdered or died young for one reason or another. On another point, (assuming the above is incorrect) if the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is to be taken literally, then it would seem that those who are saved will be able to see the eternal torment of all of these people, young babies, members of their own families forever and ever. And even if we cannot, we will know that they are in torment. Will that not prove to be a torment for those who have been saved as well, knowing their loved ones are being toasted in hellfire? I recently put this point to a man who runs a face-book page about hellfire and torment. Surprisingly, he admitted that somehow God would find a way out for those people. You can probably tell that I am not convinced about the doctrine of eternal torment. If God is anything, He is just and the scales of His justice are very balanced. Eternal torment (forever) does not appear to be a fair judgement for a mere lifetime (say 70 years) of sin. In my view, Second death means death, not hanging around being toasted forever. These days we speak a lot about proportionality and the punishment fitting the crime. However, when it comes to speaking of God meting out His justice, we don’t think twice about assigning to God a disproportionate and unfair judgement, which eternal torment surely is. I often wonder whether the doctrine of eternal torment entered Christian theology from Greek mythology and we have just not been able to dislodge it ever since as it is so firmly embedded in our doctrines?

  • David Nix

    I think it might be easier to understand if you have the correct view of Death and Hell. Death means you don’t have a body. Theoretical physicists have finally realized that the universe may simply be a hologram. Being alive means you have a way of interacting with others and the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and change. Hell is a place forever set apart from God. That alone makes it Hell. Those who are sent there have refused to change even though they know good from evil. So, they must spend forever with the knowledge that they chose that place and the condition they are in. God does not send anyone to Hell, people send themselves by their own thoughts and deeds.
    If you read compiled accounts of near death and out of body experiences and simply take them at face value, most match the Bible. Being in the presence of God is perfect, safe and “home.”
    Being separated from that forever is the worst kind of hopeless. Many of the NDE and OBE accounts state that before we were born we made an agreement with God about what we would do with our life here. The awareness of that agreement has been removed so the life we have here is a fair test of your character. If you do what is right even when it is not politically correct or easy or safe, and acknowledge that God alone is “good” and Jesus paid the penalty for any evil you did in this life, then you have proved yourself worthy of God granting you a place of eternal peace and happiness in His presence.
    This life is in part God’s way of dealing with moral issues, so they will never be dealt with again. Everyone who spends eternity with God will have the same mind about right and wrong. They live with God because God forgave them and they accepted His forgiveness.
    The rest are cast into a place where they cannot escape and cause harm ever again.
    I suspect that God does not annihilate anyone, but those souls in Hell have no body and no way to make one for themselves. Being alive and aware in Hell with no hope of leaving is far worse than ceasing to exist.

  • Martha Sandino

    Well, it’s very interesting that you point out to the nature of our innate, “hard-wired” desire for a proper court case.
    But the judgment you describe here would be like one that takes place in North Korea, or is otherwise called a Kangeroo Court. What is the point of judgement if there’s no chance to discuss? That’s called a sentencing. Is that what you think Scriptures point to?
    Sometimes is called KATAKRIMA, but sometimes it’s KRIMA. Krima is not a sentencing, is it?

    IF the Queen of the South gets to opine during the judgement, then why wouldn’t I? What about witnesses? In God’s just rules of judgement to His People, there is to be a fair trial, in the daylight, with witnesses.

    If She gets to testify, then can I be a witness for my mother, or brother? What is there in God’s word that would prevent that? I would petition the THRONE based on His Own Word for a chance to plead the case. I have Paressia and freedom to approach the Throne. His Mercy endures forever. Love covers a multitude of sins. I certainly would fight for them (assuming my doctrine and faith afford me the gift of eternal life).

    I would also plead for Judas, because he did have intense remorse, he repented before his religious leaders, and he did believe that Jesus was the Christ. There’s a lot of people I would fight for. Wouldn’t you?

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