There are two questions here that need to be discussed. First, does the Bible teach that the souls of evil people will cease to exist? Second, does the word “destroy” as used in Matthew 10:28 imply the idea or concept of complete and utter annihilation? I would like to answer the last question first.
The basic answer to this question is to take up a word study of the word “destroy” in the New Testament. The word is a translation of the Greek word “apollumi” and is used some ninety times in the Greek New Testament. The basic meaning of the word is to utterly destroy, or to perish. However, the word is sometimes used to mean something that is simply lost. It is the word used in Matthew 10:39 where Jesus says, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” So in this sense it can mean something that is abandoned for another purpose. The word can also refer to physical death. Jesus used it in this way in Matthew 26:52 where he said to Peter, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” The disciples also used it in this way when they were on the sea of Galilee and a great storm came up, they said, “Lord save us, we perish” (Matthew 8:25). But the word is also many times translated simply “lost.” In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables. We refer to these as the parables of the lost and found. The first is about a man who loses a sheep and goes into the wilderness to find it. The second is about a woman who loses a coin and then finds it. The third is the story of the prodigal son. Concerning that son, the father says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24). So the word can be to refer to a situation where one is not utterly annihilated.
The second part of this question is this: does the Bible teach that souls of evil people will cease to exist when their life is over? This is a little more complicated question than the previous one. First, there are some scriptural objections that can be raised to this concept that we will consider. However, there are second some questions regarding justice that we need to consider.
First, the Bible teaches plainly that the departed souls of evil beings will be preserved in eternity. We read in 2 Peter 2:4 that God did not spare the angels that sinned, but put them into chains of darkness reserved unto judgment. We read in Revelation 14:11 regarding those that worshipped the beast and were punished “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” How could they not have any rest if they were unconscious through all of this? We read in Matthew 9:43 and 45 that it contains a “fire that shall never be quenched.” Why would we have this language if it were mere unconsciousness forever? Fire is a symbol of suffering and torment, not of relief. Five times in Matthew and Luke the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is used. This hardly sounds like the activity of unconscious people. In Mark 9:44, 46, and 48 we have the phrase “where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.” This is a picture of decay and destruction, but not of a complete ending of consciousness. Matthew 25:46 Jesus talks about the goats who failed to minister to Him. He says of them that they would go away unto everlasting punishment. How could they know punishment if they were not conscious to experience it? Finally, in 2 Peter 2:20-22 Peter says concerning those Christians that fell away that it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known it and turned away. How can this be possible if all wicked souls will just be extinguished? It doesn’t seem like they would know one way or the other that their punishment was worse than the others if they were all just annihilated. So the scriptures do teach an unending conscious torment for those who are not obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Second, there is something to be said in regard to the justice of God if the souls of evil individuals are merely extinguished after death. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 we read, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” This is God’s vengeance upon those who disobeyed Him. How could he render vengeance on someone who is not conscious? Would that be just? This is God’s punishment. What kind of punishment is being unconscious? Would that be just? Even our court system today recognizes that punishment is not punishment unless someone is aware of the punishment that they are receiving. In Hebrews 10:30, 31 we read, “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Again we ask the question how can God take vengeance on those if they are not conscious? How can it be a “fearful” thing if there is no one there to experience the punishment? In fact, there are people today who embrace this concept that we will no longer experience anything–to them, death is relief from being conscious during trying times in their life. Death is a relief from having to deal with the problems of life. Death is a relief from the disease and pain that we suffer while in this life. An unconscious death would mean that Hitler and all the other evil men who ever lived on the earth would walk away free from having to pay for their crimes. An unconscious death is no punishment at all. Friends, in order for God to be just to all men, hell has to be a place of unending conscious torment–and you really don’t want to go there. Won’t you repent today?