These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)
Lord Jesus taught that hell is a place of suffering–not temporary suffering, but suffering forever. Today a growing number of Christians have embraced what is called annihilationism. This is the idea that when a non-Christian dies, God immediately judges and then destroys him. The reasoning goes, “How could a loving, righteous God take any delight in tormenting unbelievers forever and ever?” Certainly the idea of annihilating unbelievers takes a little bit of the sting out of hell. If you miss heaven, at least you are going to be put out of your misery. But is that what the Bible teaches?
Those who believe in annihilationism point to the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Or Matthew 10:28, which says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The words “perish” and “destroy” in these verses seem to indicate that unbelievers cease to exist. And yet when you look at those words even in the English language, they do not always mean instantaneous destruction. For example, you could say, “The hikers perished from starvation.” Does that mean they died instantly when they missed a meal? No, starvation occurs over a period of time. Or if you said, “The sun destroyed the wood deck on our patio,” does that mean the sun completely ruins the wood within a matter of minutes? No, that kind of destruction takes a long period of time. When you look at Scripture, you will discover that there is no instantaneous destruction of unbelievers. They go on forever, just as believers live on forever. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said unbelievers “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The word “aionas,” which is translated “forever and ever,” is used to described heaven in Revelation 22:5, and it is also used to describe the fate of unbelievers in Revelation 20. They are tormented forever and ever. To me this is the worst thing about hell. If you die without Christ and go to hell, once you have spent ten billion years there, you will not have lessened by one second the time you have left to spend there. That is the awful truth about hell.
But just as hell is a place of eternal suffering, heaven is a place of eternal joy. In John 14:2-3, Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” The word for “place” in Greek refers to a specific location. Heaven is a real place, and Jesus is there right now preparing a future residence for those who trust in Him.