by George Sidney Hurd
There is a lot of confusion within the Church as to the actual meaning of “destruction” as the term is used in the Scriptures. Traditionalists understand it, not as one actually being destroyed or as one’s destruction, since to them the destroying or torment, never ends.
Conditionalists believe that it means “annihilation” or the total cessation of one’s existence, much like the secular materialists believe. However, as I hope to demonstrate in this blog, when one looks more closely, they will discover that destruction in Scripture is not a final condition, but rather a necessary process that one must go through in order to afterwards be restored as part of God’s new creation, just as those who believe in a universal restoration have affirmed since the very first centuries of the Church’s history.  This blog is an excerpt from my book, Extermination or Restoration?: A Restorationist’s Response to Annihilationism
The Greek words “apollumi,” “olethros” and “apoleia” are variously translated in the New Testament, depending upon the context. Kittel’s 10 volume work extensively illustrates what the word apollumi can mean, within different contexts. He presents 4 distinct but related meanings found in the New Testament. They can be summarized as follows: 1, “to destroy or kill.” 2, “to lose or suffer loss from.” When apollumi is used in the middle voice it combines meaning 1, “to destroy” with meaning 2, “to lose or suffer loss from” resulting in meaning 3, “to perish” or “to lose one’s life,” and finally, meaning 4, “to be lost.”  Vines similarly defines the word olethros as “ruin or destruction,” and apoleia as “loss of well-being, not of being.” 
We will be considering several verses where these words appear in their contexts, but none of these words by definition speak of cessation of one’s consciousness or total annihilation. In fact, as we will see, their context often precludes such a notion. A good case example is when the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians how they might destroy (apollumi) Jesus (Mark 3:6). Since the Pharisees believed in the conscious state of the dead and the resurrection both of the just and the unjust, by “destroy” they simply meant to kill His body, removing Him from the land of the living. Physical death is not the end of one’s conscious existence. When they crucified Jesus, He did indeed die. However, His body was preserved in the tomb and His soul was not abandoned in Hades, and on the third day He rose from the dead.
Even when apollomi and its cognates are best translated as “destroy” rather than “lose,” they do not primarily refer to the deprivation of life, as “kill” does, even though the subject may indeed die as a result of being destroyed. There are other words that specifically refer to killing someone which better express deprivation of life, such as “slay” (katasphato) (Luke 19:27), “murder” (anaireo) (Luke 22:2), “to kill” (apokteino) (Mt 10:28). But destroying someone does not always mean to kill them. Although the apollumi word group has many shades of meaning, ranging from simply being lost, to actually killing someone, the basic meaning is to deprive something or someone of its intended purpose. For this reason, Vine’s says of apollumi: “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of wellbeing. This is clear from its use, as, e. g., of the marring of wine skins, Luke 5:37; of lost sheep, i. e., lost to the shepherd, (metaphorical of spiritual destitution, Luke 15:4,6, etc.); the lost son, Luke 15:24; of the perishing of food, John 6:27; of gold, 1 Peter 1:7.” 
The Savior of the Lost / Destroyed
One of the many examples where apollumi clearly doesn’t mean death is the case of the Prodigal son. He spent all his inheritance on riotous living and became destitute. When he returned home to his father he was received with the father’s embrace and kisses. His father said: “let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost (apollumi) and is found” (Luke 15:23-24). The son had lost his way and destroyed himself, yet he did not actually die. In the same way, we may speak of someone as either destroying himself or being destroyed in regard to their reputation, their finances, their health, etc. However, by saying that they are destroyed, we don’t mean that they were killed or ceased to exist.
Apollumi is used in reference to that which is lost to its owner but is nevertheless alive. For example, Jesus compared the lost sinners – all of whom He loves, to lost sheep:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses (apollumi) one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost (apollumi) until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ (apollumi)” (Luke 15:4-6)
Obviously, Jesus here isn’t saying that the shepherd called a celebration over having found His dead sheep! The parable of the lost sheep is one of a series of five parables which Jesus told in response to the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was befriending sinners:
“Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
The parables are: 1) the Lost Sheep, 2) the Lost Coin 3) the Lost Son or Prodigal 4) the Unjust Steward and 5) the Rich Man and Lazarus, all of which are in some way directed against the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who despised the lost sinners. In the first three parables, Jesus repeats the word apollumi 8 times, and in each instance, He is revealing His heart towards the lost sinners for whom He came to save, and for that reason was befriending them. Jesus elsewhere stated His mission when He invited Himself into the home of a despised tax collector named Zacchaeus, saying:
“for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save (sozo) that which was lost (apollumi).” (Luke 19:10)
I believe that both the Traditionalist and the Annihilationists alike need a new, fresh revelation of the heart and mission of God in sending His Son to the world of lost humanity. I believe that Jesus would say to some, just as He said to the “sons of thunder”: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy (apollumi) men’s lives but to save (sozo) them.” (Luke 9:55-56)
By erroneously applying Plato’s concept of eternity to the Scripture’s use of the time-words olam, aion y aionios - understanding them as “eternal” rather than “eonian” or “age during,” as the biblical authors obviously understood them,  both Traditionalists and Annihilationists fail to see that God’s determinative plan for the ages is to save and not to destroy. They fail to see that ultimately Christ will indeed fulfill His mission to save all those who are lost. By insisting that He will finally fail to find and save the majority of the lost, they end up presenting Jesus as proportionately saving the one sheep and giving up on the 99 to perpetual perdition (“lostness”).
Quite to the contrary, Jesus said that He would leave the 99 in safety “and go after the one which is lost until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). Jesus didn’t say: “until it either finds its way back or gets found or dies” as is traditionally taught. He said: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (lit. drag) all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32)  It is not until the last lost sheep has been found and the last knee has bowed in submission to Him that He will cease seeking and saving the lost. At that time there will not be even one lost soul because He will have drawn all unto Himself, resulting in God becoming all in all (1Cor 15:28).
God doesn’t become all in all by redefining “all” to mean only “a few,” as the Traditionalists do; nor by exterminating the lost, as the Annihilationists claim He will do, but rather by seeking and saving the lost (apollumi). Perdition and destruction are not eternal. It may be eonian for some, but it cannot be eternal because Christ is committed to fulfilling His mission to seek and save all the lost, down to the very last lost sheep.
Many now walk the broad path leading to destruction or perdition (apoleia). For them the loss will be great. They will be excluded from the glory of His presence, consigned to an eonian destruction, being hurt by the second death - receiving their part in the lake of fire.  Nevertheless, the destruction is not perpetual but eonian. They will each be judged according to their works, receiving their part or portion in the purifying lake of fire, not getting out until they have fulfilled their part: Some will receive few stripes and others many, but no one will receive perpetual stripes as traditionally taught (Matt 5:26; Luke 12:47,59). 
So, even though it be by fire, Christ will ultimately save even those who chose the broad way to perdition. In Luke’s parallel gospel we see that - even as the gates are never closed in the New Jerusalem and those who are outside are invited to wash their robes so as to be granted entrance, in the same manner Jesus says in Luke’s account that after a time of separation and exclusion, “they will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first (protos), and there are first who will be last (eschatos)” (Luke 13:29,30 cf. Rev 21:25; 22:14,17). Even though some will enter first, such as the prostitutes and tax collectors, while others like the self-righteous Pharisees will be, eschatologically speaking, last to enter, in the end there will only be one flock and one shepherd - not because Christ will have annihilated the lost, but because He will persist in seeking and saving the lost until the last lost sheep has entered safe and sound into the fold (John 10:16).
In fact, the realization that we are lost or destroyed (apollumi) is a prerequisite to being saved. That is why, when the Pharisees asked the Disciples of Christ: “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus responded: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matt 9:12-13). I believe that Traditionalists and Annihilationists would do well to pause and meditate upon these words because they reveal so clearly the Lord’s heart towards the lost.
We so easily forget that we also were at one time lost sinners who are now saved only because Jesus sought us out and saved us. We usually would admit that we are no more deserving of being rescued than the rest of the lost. Why then should we think that He saved us, yet will not save the rest, knowing that He is not a respecter of persons? In reality, the Pharisees, who were satisfied with their own righteousness, were passed over by Jesus because He didn’t come to call those who still think they are righteous but rather lost sinners who have come to sense their lost state and need of being saved.
That is why Jesus said to the Pharisees: “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Matt 21:31). It is not that they will never enter but that those who early recognize they are lost sinners in need of a Savior will enter before them. Jesus is seeking the lost in order to save them, but those who think they are not lost and needy will be passed over - just like the Pharisees, until such a time as they should be willing to receive Him as Savior.
It is not that Jesus has difficulty finding the lost, but rather He waits until they are ripe for salvation. Upon arriving in the Colombian Amazon, I discovered many delicious tropical fruits that I had never known before. But I had to learn to distinguish between those which were ripe and those that needed to remain on the tree for more time before harvesting. I pulled some off the tree thinking they would ripen on the shelf, but they rotted before ripening because they were not yet ready to be picked. In much the same manner, the Lord waits until each individual is ready to receive salvation before drawing them unto Himself and saving them.
Although God has determined that all will be saved, He has never saved anyone against their will. Nevertheless, we not only tend to underestimate the dimensions of His endless love, but also His ability to work in mankind to eventually will and to do His own good pleasure. Those who think that some can willfully reject God forever underestimate the irresistibility of His love and His power and the means which He has available to persuade and convince. God has sworn that all will be saved, bowing the knee to Him and taking an oath, saying: “Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength” (Isa 45:22-24). And in His time, it shall be just as He has declared.
In Christ all will be made alive when it is their time
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed (katargeo) is death. 27 For ‘He has put (subjected ‘Gr. hupotaso’) all things under His feet.’ But when He says ‘all things are put (hupotaso) under Him,’ it is evident that He who put (hupotaso) all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject (hupotaso) to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject (hupotaso) to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (1Cor 15:22-28)
Here we see that the same all who die in Adam will be made alive in Christ, but not all at once, rather each in his own order. Each individual will be made alive when it is his own time. Some, such as the harlots and tax collectors, who are quick to see their need receive Him now and are purified as gold is purified with fire and salt in this age, becoming part of the assembly of the first-fruits or “those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
Others, like the self-righteous Pharisees or the Prodigal’s elder brother, may hold out for ages before finally bowing the knee, confessing Him as Lord. That is why Luke said that, upon hearing Paul’s preaching, all who were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48). The word “appointed” (tasso) means, “arranged in an orderly manner.” The idea expressed is that we do not believe until it is our appointed time – a time which only God knows, when one has been previously prepared by Him to receive the gospel of salvation.
Paul, speaking about the order of those being made alive, first mentions those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then he says, “then comes the end” (v.24). The word translated “end” is telos which means: “end, conclusion, fulfillment or final result.” I think that perhaps the best way to understand “the end,” telos in this context is, “then comes the fulfillment.” In other words, it speaks of the fulfillment of the declaration that all will be made alive in Christ, and not just those that are Christ’s at His coming. The saying “each in his own order” could be understood as meaning that, after the glorification of those who are Christ’s in His coming and those made alive in the second resurrection, it will thereafter be each in his own order. In other words, each individual will be made alive when it is his time.
Jesus will reign forever and ever, (eis ton aiona tou aionos) lit. “in the ages of the ages.” (Heb 1:8). That the phrase eis ton aiona tou aionos is not referring to Plato’s concept of eternity is evident here in 1Corinthians 15:25-28, where it says that Christ will reign “til” or “until” He has destroyed every enemy and brought all into subjection to Himself. “Until” is not synonymous with “forever and ever” - even in Greek! Then, when all have become subjected to Him, death - the last enemy, will have been destroyed – not by annihilation but by all having been saved and made alive in Christ (v.22). God does not destroy death by killing, tormenting forever, or annihilating, but rather by making all alive.
Also, here it is important to note that the only things which are said to be “destroyed” are abstract entities such as opposing governments and the last enemy – death. Here, the word translated “destruction” is not a cognate of apollumi. It is katargeo which, according to Strong’s means: “to be (render) entirely idle (useless).” Death will once and for all be put out of commission and Jesus Christ will be the uncontested Lord of lords. Paul says of all moral beings that they will become subjected to Him (hupotaso). That it is a voluntary subjection and not an obligated one is evident, seeing that the same word (hupotaso) is also used of Christ, when He in turn subjects Himself to the Father that God may become all in all.
It is also obvious that the subjection will be voluntary since otherwise God could not be said to be all in all. Annihilationists try to get around this by saying that “all” here means “all survivors,” since, according to them, all who do not comply will have been forever exterminated. However, in the context we see that God becomes all in all by all having been brought into subjection to Christ and being made alive in Him – not by killing off or annihilating the opposition. It doesn’t simply mean “all who remain” but all who have died in Adam since the fall (v.22). God’s glory is magnified – not by annihilating His enemies, but by conquering them by the power of His love, to the praise of the glory of His grace.
“Say to God, ‘how awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power your enemies shall submit themselves to You. 4 All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.” (Ps 66:3-4) 
Destruction is the Prelude to Salvation
Many fail to see that death or destruction is a necessary prelude to one’s being saved and restored. Being raised in a very religious family, I would have never come to see my lost condition if I hadn’t gone into the far country, destroying my life on drugs. Only then, in my lost and hopeless state, I finally cried out to the Lord and He saved me. Some are so obstinately self-righteous or self-sufficient that they will have to be consigned to eonian destruction before finally coming to an end of themselves and calling out to the Lord for salvation, finding their righteousness only in Him. God’s destruction is in order to restore – not annihilate. He kills but only in order to make alive with His eternal life:
“You turn man to destruction, and say, ‘return, O children of men.” (Ps 90:3)
- That is His way with all the children of men – first destruction, then restoration.
“Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” (Deut 32:39)
- No one can stay His hand: His purifying fire is unquenchable until it has accomplished its purpose, but He only kills in order to make alive, He only wounds in order to become our healer.
“Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. 2 After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hos 6:1-2)
- As James says, we need to see “the end intended by (of) the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11)  “Whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” (Heb 12:6)
When it comes to God’s plan for the ages, we tend to be too shortsighted and fail to see the end of the Lord. All too often we look at God’s judgments and His condemnation of the unrepentant to death and destruction as though it were the final tragic outcome of God’s frustrated will for the majority of mankind, when in reality it is His means of bringing them to an end of themselves so that they will finally look to Him for salvation, just as it was for each of us. We fail to understand that when God’s judgments are in the earth - that is when the earth-dwellers learn righteousness (Isa 26:9). Thanks be to God that we came to an end of ourselves in this life so as not to be hurt by the second death, but as Paul says, He is not only the Savior of those who believe now but He is the Savior of the whole world:
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. 10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach.” (1Tim 4:9-11, c.f. 1John 2:2; John 4:42)
Is this universal gospel the same gospel you labor and suffer reproach to proclaim, or do you hold fast to the “good news / bad news gospel” of the salvation of the few, with the eternal perdition or destruction of the majority of lost humanity?
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Copyright © 1972-1989 By Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 See my blog: https://www.triumphofmercy.com/blog/the-duration-of-punishment-5-of-8
 The word “peoples” is not in the Greek text but was added by the translators, allowing Calvinists to say it only refers to “all peoples” or “people groups”.
 For a consideration of the nature and purpose of the lake of fire, see my blog: https://www.triumphofmercy.com/blog/sulfur-salt-and-the-refiners-fire
 See my blog: https://www.triumphofmercy.com/blog/the-duration-of-punishment-5-of-8
 The word for “submit” in this verse normally refers to a feigned submission. However, there are no words in Hebrew which express true, voluntary submission. Here it is the context itself which determines its meaning as true submission and adoration in spite of its normal meaning, since feigned submission would never result in His enemies worshipping and praising Him.
 “intended by” was added by translators, leaving open the possibility that the Lord’s end or final goal may not be achieved. It simply reads “the end of the Lord.”