What does it mean “their worm does not die”?

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By BibleAsk Team


“Their Worm Does Not Die” – Symbolic

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”.

Mark 9:47, 48

The Bible clearly teaches that Hell is not forever. https://bibleask.org/is-hell-forever/.

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with everlasting, or eternal, fire (Jude 7), and that fire turned them “into ashes” as a warning to “those that after should live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6). We know that these cities are not burning today. The fire went out after everything was burned up.

Likewise, the everlasting hell fire will go out after it has turned the wicked to ashes (Malachi 4:3). The effects of the fire are everlasting, but not the burning itself. So, obviously the phrase “their worm does not die” is symbolic in its meaning.

Some believe that the undying worm is a symbol of a soul which cannot die. But there is nothing in the word skōlēx, “worm,” that backs the popular explanation equating “worm” with “soul” (Isaiah 66:24). And this fact is recognized by almost all Bible commentators.

A worm is a symbol for complete destruction. In Mark 9: 43 “life” is set forth in contrast with “the fire that never shall be quenched.” In Romans 6:23 and many other scriptures, “life” stands in contrast with “death.” In John 3:16 the contrast is between “everlasting life” and “perishing.”

Therefore, it is obvious that Jesus in Mark 9:47 intends the same contrast. “The fire that shall never be quenched” stands in parallel to “‘their worm does not die.” Maggots can’t exist in the presence of fire. Therefore, the meaning of the word worm is clearly symbolic.

The Biblical Doctrine of Annihilationism

Annihilationism, a theological perspective that posits the final destruction of the wicked rather than eternal conscious torment, finds its roots in biblical teachings on divine judgment, immortality, and the fate of the unrepentant. This perspective challenges views of the never ending hellfire and raises profound questions about the nature of God’s justice and mercy.

I. Conditional Immortality: Central to annihilationism is the concept of conditional immortality, which asserts that immortality is not inherent to human beings but is granted by God as a gift to the righteous. Those who reject God’s offer of salvation face the consequence of final destruction, ceasing to exist rather than enduring eternal suffering.

  • Romans 6:23 (NKJV) – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 (NKJV) – “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.'”

II. Destruction of the Wicked: Annihilationism emphasizes biblical passages that depict the fate of the wicked as destruction rather than eternal torment in fire. These passages speak of the annihilation of the ungodly, the perishability of the wicked, and the ultimate eradication of evil from existence.

  • Matthew 10:28 (NKJV) – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
  • Philippians 3:19 (NKJV) – “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.”

III. The Lake of Fire: The imagery of the lake of fire, often associated with eternal punishment, is reinterpreted within annihilationism as representing the final destruction of the wicked rather than eternal torment in fire. This interpretation emphasizes the purifying and consuming nature of divine judgment.

  • Revelation 20:14-15 (NKJV) – “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
  • Revelation 21:8 (NKJV) – “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

IV. Parable of Christ: Annihilationism finds support in the parable used by Jesus and biblical writers to illustrate divine judgment and the fate of the wicked. These narratives emphasize themes of separation, destruction, and the contrast between eternal life and final death.

  • Matthew 13:40-42 (NKJV) – “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

V. Reconciliation and Restoration: Annihilationism emphasizes God’s redemptive purposes and ultimate victory over evil, culminating in the reconciliation and restoration of creation. The final destruction of the wicked is viewed as a necessary step toward the establishment of God’s kingdom and the renewal of all things.

  • Colossians 1:19-20 (NKJV) – “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

VI. Conclusion: The biblical foundation for annihilationism rests upon key passages that emphasize conditional immortality, the destruction of the wicked, and the imagery of the lake of fire as symbolic of final destruction rather than eternal torment. Annihilationism presents a coherent theological framework rooted in biblical teachings on divine judgment and the nature of God’s mercy and justice.

Through diligent study and discernment, believers can gain deeper insights into the biblical support for annihilationism and its implications for Christian faith and practice. As we seek to understand the mysteries of divine judgment, may we embrace the overarching truth of God’s love and His redemptive purposes for all creation.

For a Bible study on the fate of the wicked, check: https://bibleask.org/bible-answers/114-fate-of-the-transgressor/

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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