Are those punished with “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1: 9) exterminated in the “second death” of Rev. 20: 14?
There is no thought anywhere in the Scriptures of annihilation, extermination or a cessation of existence for man. Death, whether the first or the second, involves change and in the latter case, finality. We read “This is the second death, [even] the lake of fire” (Rev. 20: 14; see also Rev. 21: 8). This is the final place of torment, the “eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25: 41) but which will be the ultimate destination also of unbelieving mankind. Significantly, the Lord Jesus Himself spoke about hell, the lake of fire, more than any other. He described it as a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9: 48, see also Is. 66: 24). It is thus for ever and ever—eternal.
English has a single noun eternity and a single adjective eternal. NT Greek had no such facility. To express such thoughts, Greek had to use variations of the word age (aion). The phrase “for the ages of ages” (Rev. 20: 10) describing the torment of the lake of fire, is word for word and letter for letter (ais tous aionas ton aionon) identical to that in Rev. 4: 9 which speaks of “him that sits upon the throne, who lives to the ages of ages” (my emphasis). As God is eternal, so is hell.
The word destruction and the corresponding verb destroy are the English translations of the Greek words apoleia (destruction) and apollumi (destroy). These words demand different English translations depending on the context. Examples are destruction (see Matt. 7:13; Acts 8: 20), perdition (see 2 Thess. 2: 3; Heb. 10: 39), waste (see Mark 14: 4), destroy (see Matt. 2: 13; Mark 2: 22), perish (see Luke 13: 3; John 3: 16) and lost (see Matt. 10: 39; Luke 15: 4, 6, 8, 24). In Luke 15 you could hardly say that the lost sheep, the lost coin or the lost son was destroyed! What then is the sense of the Greek?
In Rom 9: 22 we read of “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (apoleia)” where the word vessels is employed as a figure. When a vessel is destroyed, the pieces that formed it are still all there but it ceases to exist as a vessel. It can no longer serve the purpose for which the potter created it. Its condition has radically changed and it is ruined as a vessel, no longer being able to hold any substance. Thus in Luke 15 the sheep, the coin and the son all continued to exist but there was a change in the state of each: the shepherd was deprived of his sheep, the woman of her coin and the father of the company of his son. The Greek always involves a change of state or circumstance. There is no thought whatsoever in the Greek of annihilation or extermination. The word apollumi (destroy) is used for physical death in such Scriptures as Matt. 2: 13; 12: 14 etc. The person involved does not cease to exist but the spirit and body are separated (see James 2: 26) and both continue in a new state. The same verb apollumi is often translated perish as in “Work not [for] the food which perishes” (John 6: 27). What was bread and food one day may be stale the next. It is lost as food to the eater and is thus wasted. The constituent parts do not cease to exist but simply change their form so that collectively they no longer provide food for man. The disciples used the noun apoleia, translated as waste when the woman anointed the Lord with precious ointment (see Matt. 26: 8; Mark 14: 4). Their thought was that it might have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. They wrongly considered it wasted on the Lord. Bearing all this mind, what then is the sense of the word destruction in 2 Thess 1: 8?
All that God ever does is for His own glory. The 24 elders in Revelation 4 say “Thou art worthy, O our Lord and [our] God, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and they have been created” (v 11). Man was created to glorify God by doing His will. This was seen in perfection in “the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5: 7) of the One who said “I am come down from heaven, not that I should do my will, but the will of him that has sent me” (John 6: 38) and who told the Father “I have glorified thee on the earth” (John 17: 4). The first man, however, is marred by sin and “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3: 4—the refusal to be subject to the divine will—and thus “fitted for destruction” (Rom. 9: 22), that is, ruined for the purpose for which he was created. There is no thought that this destruction means cessation of existence. However, God is “not willing that any should perish (apollumi)” (2 Pet. 3: 9), for the Lord said it “is the will of my Father” that through faith in Him man should have “life eternal” (John 6: 40) and not be subject to the second death.