James, the Lord’s brother, wrote, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save (sozo) and destroy (apollymi)… (Jas. 4:12). This is a major theme of Scripture, but what does it mean? As I have stated in the past, both salvation and destruction are continuums. They are a range of ideas juxtaposed to each other. Destruction occurs as a result of the wrath of God. We should want to be saved from the consequences of God’s wrath. God’s wrath is defined as God’s righteous judgment directed toward rebellious humans in this life, and it includes significant consequences in the next life.
However, contrary to many, I believe that God’s wrath has a very definite purpose. God’s wrath will play a major role in bringing about a new state of existence in God’s creation. Specifically, as stated in Philippians, “at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). Every knee bowing is the anticipated End-state. Yes, it is hard for humanity to imagine such a dramatically new state of existence, but Paul explained that God has the power to subdue all things to Himself (Phil. 3:21). Most believers are incapable of imagining such a dramatically different reality.
God’s powers of destruction will be directed against both believers and unbelievers. As shown below, God’s wrath is directed against human pride and arrogance.
The Lord watches over those who love Him, but He will destroy the wicked (Ps. 145:20). The wicked are hostile to God. The humble respect God and accept His sovereign rule over their lives. If we refuse to listen to God, we will be destroyed by God (Jer. 12:17). So, what will God destroy? God will destroy all pride and arrogance (Jer. 13:9). At Proverbs 16:18, we read, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” At Proverbs 18:12, we read, “Before destruction the heart of a person is haughty, but humility goes before honor.”
David declared that God “will not endure [the] one who has a haughty look and arrogant heart” (Ps. 101:5). Instead, God says, “My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with Me; [the] one who walks in a blameless way is [the] one who will serve Me” (Ps. 101:6). At Proverbs 1:32, we read, “The faithlessness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.” In contrast we read, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perversity of the treacherous will destroy them (Prov. 11:3). God will destroy all human pride and arrogance (Jer. 13:9). And as King Nebuchadnezzar said, God “is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Dan. 4:37).
Faithful Christians can receive opposition and persecution from both believers and unbelievers. This was true for the Apostle Paul, and it will be true for all faithful believers, to include the Philippians. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and this too, from God.
Paul was not alarmed by his many opponents. His opponents included believers and unbelievers. Paul’s confidence was a sign of destruction (apoleia) to his opponents, whether believers or unbelievers. Destruction is something that can impact us in this life and the next. However, as I have explained in several previous blogposts, I do not believe that the “Lake of Fire” is a literal image. The phrase “Lake of Fire” is used only in the Book of Revelation, which is apocalyptic literature. The Book of Revelation used other-worldly images to explain spiritual realities. The “Lake of Fire” is simply a synonym for the wrath of God. It should not be over-literalized.
In contrast to a literal Lake of Fire, humanity’s future state is every knee bowing before God. At Isaiah 45:23, we read, “I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” And at Romans 14:11, we read, “…EVERY TONGUE WILL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” At Psalm 150:6, we read, “Everything that has breath shall praise the Lord.” There will be definite consequences for disobedience and rebellion, but in my opinion, the End-state is not a literal “Lake of Fire” for the disobedient and rebellious. I came to this conclusion after meditating on such verses for many years. Of course, everyone must come to his or her own conclusion.
In a similar way to the Book of Revelation, Jesus used figurative language to teach spiritual realities. However, in contrast to the Book of Revelation, Jesus often used everyday circumstances, events, and things (as opposed to other-worldly images) to explain spiritual realities. For example, Jesus used the Valley of Hinnom as symbolic for someone being in a place subject to God’s wrath and destruction (Mark 9:43-47). The Valley of Hinnom was located adjacent to and southeast of Jerusalem. It was used as a trash dump. There, one could find burning and rotting trash, debris, dead animals, and even dead criminals. The Valley of Hinnom was a place of smoldering fires. Additionally, in Israel’s past, disobedient individuals had offered child sacrifices to false gods in the Valley of Hinnom. Jesus referred to the Valley of Hinnom as “Gehenna” or geenna. The New Testament used the Greek word geenna on 12 occasions. Jesus was the speaker on 11 occasions, and James (the brother of Jesus) was the speaker on one occasion. On each occasion, geenna was used figuratively. Being thrown into Gehenna was symbolic for being in a place subject to God’s wrath and destruction. In my opinion, Gehenna is not a synonym for Sheol (or Hades, the underworld). Jesus used the idea of being thrown into Gehenna as being the opposite of life in the Kingdom of God (Mark 9:47).
In Paul’s second mention of destruction (apoleia) in his letter to the Philippians, Paul specifically warned believers about their potential destruction. At Philippians 3:17, it should be noted that Paul referred to his audience as believers (calling them “brothers”). Paul wrote,
Brothers and sisters, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I have often told you, and now tell you even as I weep, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction [apoleia], whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who have their minds on earthly things.
(Phil. 3: 17-19)
Please note that believers can fall away from their walk of faith. They can become enemies of the cross of Christ. This condition of the soul is most often referred to as apostasy. It is easy for our appetites to become more important than our service and obedience to Christ. When our appetites become more important than our obedience, we are ruled by our lusts (inordinate desire). In fact, our appetites become our gods. Under such circumstances, we pursue a glory that will only amount to shame at the judgment seat of Christ. It should be understood that we shall all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
In closing, I want to make my position very clear. If a human dies without believing that Jesus is the Christ, he or she will most likely go to Sheol (or Hades) and wait for the resurrection of all. Before the death of Jesus Christ, Sheol was the destiny of all humanity (Gen. 37:35, 42:38; Ps. 89:48). Some were in a compartment in Sheol called Abaddon, which means “destruction or ruin” (Job 26:5-6; Pro. 27:20; Ps. 88:11). On the other hand, if a human believes in Christ during his or her life on earth, he or she will go to Heaven after death, where Christ is located (2 Cor 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23). However, in the future there will be a resurrection of both believers and unbelievers (John 5:28-29). Additionally, as to the resurrection of all, there will be distinctions between the obedient and disobedient (John 5:28-29). Jesus called one type of resurrection a “resurrection of life,” and He called the other a “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). The obedient and faithful are a minority, who enter the Kingdom of God by the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14). As previously stated, the Kingdom of God is both a present spiritual reality and a future political reality. Further, those that both believed and remained faithful in this life will receive superior and fantastic blessings as compared to the rest of humanity in the next life. They will rule with Christ (Psalm 49:14; 2 Tim. 2:12). The reader might recall that it has always been God’s intent from the beginning for humanity to rule with God (Gen. 1:26).
Finally, the reader may want me to describe in more concrete and specific detail what the disobedient believer or unbeliever will look like or be like in the End-state. Additionally, the reader may want me to provide more concrete and specific details as to what God has promised for the faithful and obedient believer. I do not believe that God has provided us with much specific information. We are left with a general outline of information, such as the faithful and obedient obtaining a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35), more glory or a more glorious body (Rom 2:10, 8:18, 9:23; 1 Cor. 15:41-43; 2 Cor. 4:17; Col. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:10), more honor (Rom. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:7), more praise (1 Pet. 1:7), greater joy (1 Pet. 4:13; Matt. 5:12; Luke 6:23, 10:20), and ruling with Christ (Ps. 49:14; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:27). As Jesus said to those persecuted for their faith, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12). Paul prayed that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened so that we would know “what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). Additionally, we are told of special awards and recognitions for the faithful and obedient like the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8), the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10), the crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4), and of having one’s name recorded in the Book of Life (Phil. 4:3; Rev.3:5; 20:15). All of the above point to and hint of fantastic blessings to be rewarded to obedient and faithful believers in the End-state. As to the disobedient and unfaithful, there is even less specific information provided by Scripture, but it seems clear that there will be a tremendous loss of blessings for them.
The featured artwork on this page is titled “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” by John Martin, 1852. Courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Destruction_of_Sodom_and_Gomorrah
 “G1067 – geenna – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1067/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.
 “H11 – ‘ăḇadôn – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h11/nasb20/wlc/0-1/>.