Origins of ‘Preterism’ and ‘Futurism

Is it true that ‘Preterism’ and ‘Futurism’ were Jesuit interpretations of prophecy that were contrived during the counter-reformation? SDA’s and some others (even wickipedia articles) essentially promote that Jesuit scholarship rallied to the Roman cause by providing two plausible alternatives to the historical interpretation of the Protestants. Luis de Alcazar (1554–1630) of Seville, Spain, devised what became known as the “preterist” system of prophetic interpretation, pushing the antichrist as already come. In order to remove the Catholic Church from consideration as the antichrist power, Francisco Ribera (1537–1591) proposed that most of Revelation refers to the distant future just prior to the second coming, the “futurist” system.  

So, are the above statements true? No, that is a lie perpetrated by Seventh-day Adventists and others to stifle investigation through guilt by association. While Alcazar and Ribera championed and popularized those views from the 16th and 17th century, the idea of an antichrist that had already come, and also a future coming anti-Christ was not a new idea among the early church fathers before the reformation. John himself states simultaneously that the “antichrist is coming” and that “now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18; cf. 1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). 

Preterism (moderate) sees most of the prophesises fulfilled in the first few centuries. Historicism teaches that much of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are to be fulfilled over long ages of church history. Futurism views much of the prophecies of Daniel, and Revelation to be yet future.

The early church fathers had differing views on end times. Here are a few samples of early Church views on anti-Christ:

Irenaeus (AD 189) believed in a single future antichrist who will sit in the temple of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 years.

“By means of the events which shall occur in the time of the Antichrist it is shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God, and that although a mere slave, he wishes to be proclaimed as king. For he, being endued with all the power of the devil, shall not come as a righteous king nor as a legitimate king in subjection to God, but as an impious, unjust, and lawless one . . . setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising himself up as the only idol. . . . Moreover [Paul] has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways: that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God [2 Thess. 2:4] . . . in which the enemy shall sit, endeavoring to show himself as Christ” (Against Heresies 5:25:1-2 [A.D. 189]).

“But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months and will sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire” (ibid., 5:30:4).

Hippolytus (AD 200) saw a future Jewish antichrist and a rebuilt temple before the second coming.

“We find it written regarding Antichrist . . . ‘Dan is a lion’s whelp, and he shall leap from Bashan’ [Deut. 33:22]. But that no one may err by supposing that this is said of the Savior, let him attend carefully to the matter. Dan, he says, is a lion’s whelp. And in naming the tribe of Dan, he declared clearly the tribe from which Antichrist is destined to spring. For as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan” (The Antichrist 6 [A.D. 200]). 14).

“Above all, moreover, he will love the nation of the Jews. And with all these [Jews] he will work signs and terrible wonders, false wonders and not true, in order to deceive his impious equals. . . . And after that he will build the temple in Jerusalem and will restore it again speedily and give it over to the Jews” (Discourse on the End of the World 23-25 [A.D. 217]).

Hippolytus separated Daniel’s 70th week from the 69 weeks, and placed the last 7 years before the end of the world (Treatise on Christ and Antichrist 43).

Tertullian (AD 210) believed in a present day “antichrist” and a future coming “antichrist”.

The man of sin, the son of perdition, who must first be revealed before the Lord comes, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; and who is to sit in the temple of God and boast himself as being God. . . . According indeed to our view, he is Antichrist; as it is taught us in both the ancient and the new prophecies, and by the apostle John, who says that ‘already many false prophets have gone out into the world,’ the forerunners of Antichrist, who deny that Christ is come in the flesh, and do not acknowledge Jesus, meaning in God the Creator” (Against Marcion 5:16 [A.D. 210]).

Ephraem of Nisibis (AD 306-373), a major theologian of the early Eastern (Byzantine) Church, writes:

All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.” He describes the imminent rapture, followed by 3½ years of great tribulation under the rule of Antichrist, followed by the coming of Christ, the defeat of Antichrist, and the eternal state. His view includes a parenthesis between the fulfillment of Daniel’s sixty-nine weeks and his seventieth week in Daniel 9:24-27. (source: https://tms.edu/m/tmsj13e.pdf )

Brother Dolcino (AD 1307), a leader of the Apostolic Brethren in northern Italy writes:

The Antichrist was coming into this world within the bounds of the said three and a half years; and after he had come, then he [Dolcino] and his followers would be transferred into Paradise, in which are Enoch and Elijah. And in this way they will be preserved unharmed from the persecution of Antichrist” (source: https://tms.edu/m/tmsj13e.pdf )

Peter Jurieu (1637-1713) was a prominent theologian and apologist in the French Reformed Church. In his work, Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687), he taught that “Christ would come in the air to rapture the saints and return to heaven before the battle of Armageddon. He spoke of a secret rapture prior to His coming in glory and judgement at Armageddon.” (source: https://tms.edu/m/tmsj13e.pdf )

Augustine (AD 354) alluded to Nero as a type of antichrist.

“Some think that the Apostle Paul referred to the Roman empire, and that he was unwilling to use language more explicit, lest he should incur the calumnious charge of wishing ill to the empire which it was hoped would be eternal; so that in saying, ‘For the mystery of iniquity doth already work,‘ he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist” (The City of God on II Thessalonians 2:7, XX.19.3).

Commodian (AD 260), a Christian poet, writes of the Antichrist, when Nero will return from hell:

“Then, doubtless, the world shall be finished when he shall appear. He himself shall divide the globe into three ruling powers, when, moreover, Nero shall be raised up from hell, Elias shall first come to seal the beloved ones; at which things the region of Africa and the northern nation, the whole earth on all sides, for seven years shall tremble. But Elias shall occupy the half of the time, Nero shall occupy half. Then the whore Babylon, being reduced to ashes, its embers shall thence advance to Jerusalem; and the Latin conqueror shall then say, I am Christ, whom ye always pray to; and, indeed, the original ones who were deceived combine to praise him. He does many wonders, since his is the false prophet” (Instructions, XLI).

Irenaeus (AD 189), a church father comments on the number of the Beast, warned against “making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved” (Against Heresies, V.30.3).

He understood John’s vision to have occurred “almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign“, a tradition repeated by Eusebius (AD314) in his Ecclesiastical History (III.18.3) and by the church fathers (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, The Rich Man’s Salvation, XLII; Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, X.11; Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, IX; Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History, II.31)—which is to say, sometime before AD 96, when the emperor was assassinated and just a few years before John himself died of old age, having been banished to the island of Patmos, where Revelation was written. Source: University of Chicago/paper

Jerome (4th Century), in his Commentary on the Book of Daniel, expressed this idea:

And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity. (Source: https://www.tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_daniel_02_text.htm)

John Calvin did not write a commentary on Revelation, but in his Commentary on Daniel, he identifies the little horn of Daniel 7 as Roman Caesar’s:

“It is sufficiently clear, therefore, that this exhibition ought to be referred to the first advent of Christ. I have no doubt that the little horn relates to Julius Caesar and the other Caesars who succeeded him, namely, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and others” 

(Source: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/daniel/7.htm)

In Calvin’s Institutes, the little horn is Antiochus:

“In another passage, the Spirit, portraying him in the person of Antiochus, says that his reign would be with great swelling words of vanity” (Dan. 7:25). Source: (Calvin’s Institutes IV:7:25)

Calvin also accused the Pope of being the Antichrist not based on Daniel 7 or 8, but because of his “tyranny,” “destruction of the truth,” “corruption of the worship of God,” “breaking of His ordinances,” and the “dispersion of the order of His Church.”

Martin Luther, who had grave reservations about Revelation as a canonical book, subscribed to historicist ideas in his later years and found resources for an anti-Catholic message in the Bible. Martin Luther was probably unaware of the previous attacks on the papacy when, in 1517, he drafted his 95 Theses. However, for Martin Luther, the popes were not only the antichrist. For him, popes were the “spirit” of antichrist, while the “Turks” (Muslims) were the flesh. In reading Daniel 8, Luther also saw Antiochus Epiphanes as the forerunner of the great antichrist.

In the first few centuries of the Church, the Roman Caesars from Nero to Diocletian became “antichrists,” and Rome was “Babylon.” Some also saw a future literal anti-Christ, and rebuilt temple (all this before the arrival of Papacy).

Yet, centuries later, with the arrival of Muhammad, the idea of antichrist took on a distinctly Muslim flavor.

John of Damascus (6th century) wrote in his Against Heresies about the “deceptive error of the Ishmaelites, the forerunner of the antichrist.” 

As early as 634 A.D., in The Doctrine of Jacob, a Jewish merchant from Palestine who had converted to Christianity laments over the Arab invasions. He writes: “What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens? He replied, groaning deeply: “He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword.” Truly they are the works of anarchy being committed today and I fear the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist.

Another eyewitness to the initial Arab attacks was Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In 634 A.D., Bethlehem had already fallen to the Arab invaders, so he was forced to give his Nativity sermon in Jerusalem. His most detailed description of the Muslim invasion came in his Epiphany sermon, in probably 636 A.D., a dire moment, as the Arab army had surrounded Jerusalem itself. He spoke of the “God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets.” Jerusalem fell in 637 A.D., and in due course they established Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, meant to forever cement the idea that Islam had supplanted Christianity and Judaism, even in the very heart of the Judeo-Christian world.

Peter the Venerable (12 the century), saw Muhammad as the precursor to the Antichrist (source: Wikipedia).

During the 13th century, works by scholars such as Peter PascualRiccoldo da Monte di Croce, and Ramon Llull, depicted Muhammad as an Antichrist while Islam was shown to be a Christian heresy (source: Wikipedia).

Kenneth Setton (an American historian) wrote that Muhammad was frequently calumniated and made a subject of legends taught by preachers as fact. For example, in order to show that Muhammad was the anti-Christ, it was asserted that Muhammad died not in the year 632 but in the year 666 – the number of the beast – in another variation on the theme the number “666” was also used to represent the period of time Muslims would hold sway of the land (source: Wikipedia).

Islam undoubtedly punctuated Martin Luther’s wholehearted belief that he was living amidst the Last Days, so Martin Luther wrote, “The pope is Antichrist, so the Turk (Muslims) is the very devil … both shall go down to hell”.

Luther was not the first to attribute antichrist characteristics to the papacy. Back in 991, Bishop Arnulf of Orleans, applies that title to papacy. 

Luther and others went on to identify the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church as the “Antichrist” and “Whore of Babylon” during the Protestant reformation. This was the central conflict of Luther and the reformers of the Protestant Reformation. Hence, Protestantism redirected and divided the views of the antichrist away from where it had been for the first centuries. After Luther, for many centuries until the middle of the 19th century, the dominant view in the church was the Historicist school of thought which was held by such people as John Knox, William Tyndale, Isaac Newton, and many others. Today, SDA’s champion the historicist view, continuing with much of the ideas held by the Protestant reformers.

Now, was John Calvin influenced by Jesuits for writing that the little horn of Daniel 7 refers to Caesars? Were the early church fathers influenced by Jesuits for holding a flavor of preterist and futurist ideas of antichrist? Far from it. As you can see, the SDAs and others who propagate that preterist and futurist ideas of antichrist (in opposition to Popes being the antichrist) were a Jesuit invention in the 16th century is utterly false. Preterist ideas were more common than futurist ideas, but they were nothing knew among several early church believers.

Preterism traces its roots back to the second century, and there have been many prominent preterists (partial or moderate) since long before the Jesuit order was born. Historicism, which also had a long history on the periphery, only gained prominence during the Reformation as Protestant leaders “discovered” the papacy on the pages of almost every evil power in Daniel and Revelation, as they believed they lived in the very last days of apostasy. Apparently contrived from an anti-Catholic mindset rather than a critical evaluation of the facts, and good exegesis, Historicism’s fortunes waned as anti-Catholic fervor died down. Its highly subjective (such arbitrarily picking of dates to pinpoint fulfillments) and controversial nature led many to question if it was not based more on wishful thinking rather than actual fact. Due to its nebulous interpretation method and the fact that John’s original readers could not have understood the book of Revelation in a historicist manner, the historicist view is not widely held today. As historicism came to be viewed as unreliable because of having so many differing variations on interpreting the same symbols, and following the very public humiliation of the October 22, 1844, Great Disappointment, there was widespread abandonment of historicist view among protestants. Futurism’s more literalist approach gained favor among Christian denominations there after. Futurism (with varying degrees) has arisen to prominence over the past two centuries, and Preterism (partial, moderate, etc.) has also been making inroads.

While we do not side with any particular camp, the bottom line is, regarding antichrists, there are many antichrist spirits that have gone out into the world (1 John 2:18), and so will there be many coming through out the church age.

Interestingly, the only place in the New Testament where the word “antichrist” appears is in the Johannine Epistles, not in Revelation. Nowhere in Revelation is the “beast” ever called “antichrist”. In his first epistle John emphatically states (1 John 2:18) that we may know this is the last hour because of the existence and activity of many antichrists. He says: “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (2:18).

Note well that the entire period between the first and second comings of Jesus is called either the “last hour” as well as the “last days”. See Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pt. 1:20 (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11). Thus the “last hour” in 1 John 2:18 is not a reference to the final days preceding Christ’s return but a reference to the entire church age in which we now live.

For John, “antichrist” is anyone “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22), or anyone “who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). The term “antichrist” is a combination of anti (against or instead of) and christos (Messiah, Christ).

We would be agreeable to say that the spirit of antichrist has revealed itself in Antiochus Epiphanes, Julius Caesar, Nero Caesar, and the papacy— and many others like Islam. This is consistent with the beliefs of the Reformers such as Calvin, and Luther, and the early church fathers, who applied the antichrist figure to more than one individual unlike what SDA’s try to portray! Besides, we believe the beast and Babylon powers of Revelation goes beyond Caesars and Popes as outlined in our Revelation commentary. See:

1) Our verse-by-verse complete Daniel Commentary

2) Our verse-by-verse complete Revelation Commentary

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Truth about the Year-Day Principle

1) There are many instances in Bible prophecy where a day means a day and a year means a year. The Bible prophesied that Abraham’s children would be afflicted for 400 years (Gen 15:13) and that the Jews would be in captivity for 70 years (Daniel 9:1-2). Jonah prophesied Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4), which did not equate to 40 years. In Genesis 6:3 God prophesied there would be a period of 120 years before the flood, which did not equate to 43,200 years. Here, days are days and years are years. Then to apply a year-day principle is arbitrary.

2) Adventist and others primarily build the case for the year-day principle from Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:4. However, no year day prophetic principle is established in Numbers 14:34: 

In accordance with the number of days that you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall suffer the punishment for your guilt a year, that is, forty years, and you will know My opposition“. 

Numbers 14:34 deals with a divine sentence: just as you explored the land for 40 days and were unfaithful to me, now you will roam the desert for 40 years. There is no prophecy in this passage, or symbolic vision, or symbolic time period. Both data are literal spans of time.

3) The same is true in Ezekiel 4:4-5:

For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their wrongdoing, 390 days; so you shall bear the wrongdoing of the house of Israel. After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year”. 

Again, there is no symbolic vision involved here, no symbolic time period, no prophecy. The relationship between the 390 days of witnessing by Ezekiel and the 390 years of Israel’s sin is typological/literal, not symbolic. One literal period stands as the literal type of the other: a period of sin by Israel is a type of God’s forbearance. The prophet’s lying down for 40 days is a type of Judah’s 40 years of transgression.

Don Neufeld, a theologian, and an associate editor for the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary wrote in Adventist Review:

“Some have felt that Num. 14:34 and Eze. 4:6 establish the year-day principle as needing to be applied to all time prophecies. But a careful examination of these passages shows that the principle is applied only to specific cases and that there is no general statement in these passages suggesting that a universal principle is set forth. In fact, Seventh-day Adventists do not apply the principle consistently to all time prophecies. For example, the length of the millennium is stated in Revelation 20:3, 5, 7 as being ―a thousand years. This is accepted literally. If the year-day principle were applied, the length would be 360, 000 years. (Source: This Generation Shall Not Pass, in Adventist Review, April 5, Washington D.C,: Review and Herald Publication Association, also quoted in Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14: the Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment, Cassellbury, FL.: Euangelion Press, 1980, pp.85-87.)

Seventh-day Adventists do not apply the principle consistently! 

4) The “seventy weeks” of Daniel 9 cannot prove the year-day principle either, because the expression is actually “seventy ‘sevens“‘ (Dan. 9:24). We know that Daniel 9 is talking about “weeks of years,” not “weeks of days,” but this knowledge comes from the context.

5) The formula “a day for a year” was not used by the New Testament, nor by the early Christians. It was first suggested by a medieval Jewish scholar, and only later adopted by some Christian expositors. It reached its zenith of acceptability in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

6) There is no way any sensible Christian who desire to handle Scriptures carefully could apply a day-year principle to Daniel 8:14, because in Daniel 8:14, the Hebrew for evening and mornings is ‘ereb-boqer’. It is not the usual Hebrew word, yom for day. So, where exactly is the biblical key that, in prophecy, “one evening plus one morning” equals one year rule? Don’t we, as creationists, insist that the presence of the words “evening and morning” in Genesis 1 implies 24-hour days? Who gave SDAs the right to use evening to morning = 1 year rule when God has not even specified such a rule? If God wanted to say 2300 years, he would have said it so like He does elsewhere in Bible prophecy. 

See also:

1) Our verse-by-verse complete Daniel Commentary

2) Our verse-by-verse complete Revelation Commentary

Hell is real but what about its duration?

Several Christian scholars—including F. F. Bruce, Michael Green, John Stott, John W. Wenham, Clark Pinnock, to name a few—have voiced opposition to the traditional view of hell: that is eternal conscious punishment. Does the punishing of the wicked last forever? The Bible can be interpreted in different ways on that. Some verses suggest eternal suffering (eternal conscious punishment), while others suggest a limited duration (annihilation). But either way, hell is real.

A) Here are a sample of passages that use language that seem to suggest finality in the end of the wicked.

1. Wicked: perish

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” (John 3:16).

2. Wicked: destruction

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Romans 9:22).

Whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

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” (Matt. 10:28).

3. Wicked: death

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

4. Wicked: burned

So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:40).

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned(John 15:6).

“For this reason, in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong” (Revelation 18:8).

5. Wicked: uprooted, cut down

But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matt. 5:13).

“And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ (Luke 13:7).


6. Wicked: Day of Judgement for the wicked like days of Noah, Lot.

“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man: 27 people were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, and they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, and they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be just the same [what people were doing as well as the destruction to come on them?] on the day that the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:25-30).

B) Here are a sample of passages that use language that suggests eternal suffering for the wicked.

1. Wicked: Everlasting Contempt vs. Righteous: Everlasting Life

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)

2. Wicked: Eternal fire

It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8).

3. Wicked: Eternal punishment vs. Righteous: Eternal life

“Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . .  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.(Matthew 25:41,46).

4. Wicked: Fire is not extinguished

In Mark 9:43, Jesus spoke about those who might go into hell, where the fire never goes out. “And if your eye is causing you to sin, throw it away; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mark 9:48).

5. Wicked: Everlasting destruction

Regarding those who were persecuting the church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

6. Wicked: Utter darkness reserved forever

“[These people are] wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever(Jude 13).

7. Wicked: Smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever

“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:11).

8. Wicked: Tormented day and night forever and ever

“And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. . . . Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10, 14-15).

C) Some observations

1. So, some verses imply that the suffering of the wicked in Hell is final, while other verses indicate the suffering is eternal.

2. The imagery of “fire” in hell, we must acknowledge that it carries a metaphor, and thus not press the terms to prove something about it that were never intended to communicate. Just think of hell in the New Testament being described at one time as “utter darkness” and at another time as “a lake of fire”. How do these two coexist if they are strictly literal? Yet the punishment on the wicked is real. Yet the question remains, is it unending suffering or finite suffering.

3. Some portray hell with all the horrors of literal fire, roasting, torture, etc., and then represent that this is just what orthodox churches believe. But no one believes or teaches such things. Material things of earth are used to represent spiritual things of Hell. Hence, it is fire in one place, outer darkness in another. We do not claim to know exactly what it will be, only that it will be a fearful state of punishment.

4. What is it that is eternal or unending: the act of punishing unbelievers, or the effect of their punishment? Does the ascending smoke of their torment point to the unending conscious experience of suffering they endure? Or does it signify a lasting, irreversible effect of their punishment in which they are annihilated? 

5. The idea of “destruction” (oletheros) in Scriptures may not necessarily mean “cease to exist.” If I were to say that “My car was destroyed in a crash last week,” no one understands that to mean that the car ceases to exist. They understand it to mean that the car was completely ruined and lost to me because of the accident. That is the sense in which the Greek term oletheros is sometimes used. For example, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction(1Tim. 6:9). Those who suffer destruction are destroyed. But it does not necessarily follow that those who suffer destruction cease to exist. So, “destruction” can have a meaning of ruin or loss, not necessarily end to existence. 

6. Can the idea of sinning against God — and not only in a moment but for one’s whole lifetime — not merit eternal damnation when one sin justly plunged the world into death and darkness? Is not the nature of the punishment not come from how long you offend dignity, but from how high the dignity is that you offended? The Old Testament penalty for rejecting Moses was death, but anyone who deliberately rejects Jesus deserves a greater punishment. “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:28-29).

7. Jesus spoke of an eternal (not finite) sin, the sin against the Holy Sprit (Mark 3:29), a sin that “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). Should not, eternal sin, result in eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9), eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), and eternal fire (Matthew 25:41)?  “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (Revelation 22:10–11). Does this text indicate, while the heart of righteous will show the desire to continue do the right thing for eternity, will not the ungodly continue to spiral in evil in eternal sin, and so be punished with unending punishment?

8. When the last book of the Bible (Revelation) describes the flames of hell, it does not speak of a destruction that ends, but says the lost “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev. 14:10–11). However, “death and Hades” (Revelation 20:14) are thrown into the fire as well, which is capable of torment; and, of course, “death and hades” are symbolic imagery. So, should Revelation be interpreted literally when it says God lives “forever and ever” (Revelation 10:6), but not when torments go up “forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11)?

9. In Matthew 25:46, aiōnios, the word for eternal means the same thing both in “eternal punishment” and “eternal life”: they are equally everlasting.

10. Does ‘eternal’ mean forever? In the New Testament, eternal means “agelong,” with the context defining the age. Then is there a usage of “punishment of eternal fire” that is not describing an unending fire burning for eternity. What about this passage. “And angels who did not keep their own domain but abandoned their proper dwelling place, these He has kept [present indicative] in eternal restraints under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire…(Jude 1:6-7).

At Sodom and Gomorrah, God set an example of what happens to immoral people: He reduced them to ashes by His eternal fire. Jude says it was “exhibited” on earth, not in hades or hell. How are they an example? They are an example “in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” But what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? God rained fire and brimstone (i.e. sulfur) on the city, burning everything to the ground and killing everyone. Now why would Jude use the term “eternal fire” to refer to a fire that did not burn for eternity? Was the eternal fire eternal in its consequences, and not its duration?

Alternatively , Jude 1:6 and 7 says the angels are presently being kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the final judgement. These angels must be conscious because, in Luke 20:36, Jesus said that angels don’t die. Then in verse 7, Jude says that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who went after strange flesh in a similar to those angels (Jude 6) are presently an example in undergoing punishment of eternal fire. Does this mean both angels and the wicked (in some intermediate state) of Sodom and Gomorrah are presently undergoing some sort of punishment, and hence is an example of future punishment?

11. When God creates a new heavens and new earth, God says, all the “former things have passed away”, of which death, crying, pain are said to pass away as well (Revelation 21:4). Is this only limited to the world of the righteous or the entire “new creation”?

Conclusion

  • If the way “punishment of eternal fire” used by Jude 1:7 is an example of how the wicked will suffer just as Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by fire, then from all texts that speaks of punishment by eternal fire for the wicked, it may be reasonably supported that the fire is eternal in its consequences, not its duration. If this is not the case, then ‘eternal’ must be unending. Now if it is the latter:
  • If the argument against an “unending” punishment is that it unjust of God to punish sinners eternally for temporal sins, it is presumptuous for human beings to tell God what is just and unjust. We would do better to determine from His Holy Word what He deems just and unjust.

  • If the argument against an “unending” punishment is that God and His saints would never enjoy heaven if they knew loved ones and friends were forever in hell. This is the same argument that universalists use to insist that God will finally save every human being.

Conclusion

  • In Matthew 25:46, aiōnios means the same thing both in “eternal punishment” and “eternal life”: they are equally everlasting. However, it is not necessary that here “‘punishment’ and ‘life’ are two continuing states having to do with conscious individuals. Since “eternal redemption” in Hebrews 9:12 does not imply an everlasting process of redeeming, eternal punishment need not imply everlasting process of punishing. The adjective aiōnios makes life and punishment parallel in duration, but the judicial context makes them mutually exclusive in nature: only the righteous will be granted eternal life. The fate of the lost is therefore “the second death” forever—eternal capital punishment. And as Augustine noted, capital punishment is inflicted quickly, but its duration greatly exceeds that of one’s crimes, being measured in how long one remains dead.1
  • Hell is real. While some scriptures certainly appear to teach eternal unending punishment view (which is derided by many annihilationist), and I am open to that view, I lean towards the eternal capital punishment view (the more famously known as annihilation, which is derided by many traditionalists). The wicked will be punished in hell fire at the end of age for an unspecified time and will be no more, because “the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In any case, we can trust that God is just in His punishment of the wicked whatever the duration of it is.

See: What happens when you die