I hear different opinions concerning the final destruction of the wicked. Is it true that God will not destroy them, but that they will self-destruct?
I tend to avoid answering this question because any answer tends to lead to debates, and I am not interested in debating. But since the question seems to be raised more often, let me begin by saying that only one Person experienced the second death—Jesus Christ. I will approach the topic through His experience, keeping in mind that although His experience was that of the wicked, it was also significantly different.
1. The Problem: Some people believe that sin destroys itself, meaning that sin brings with itself specific results and consequences that destroy the sinner. That is often the case. But the final extinction of sin, sinners, and evil powers is something different. In that case God is described as being directly and personally involved. For some this is a problem because God is described as inflicting death on human beings, some of whom will apparently suffer more than others. For them, it would be better to suggest that sinners destroy themselves. I accept the biblical statement: “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Rev. 20:9, NIV). I recognize that I do not comprehend the details of that most strange, divine action.
2. Jesus Died the Death of the Wicked:It would be difficult to deny that God the Father was directly involved in the death of Jesus. The Bible assigns the death of Jesus to the Father, the Son Himself, and to Roman and Jewish authorities.
The fact that the Father could have saved Jesus from dying but did not means that the death of Jesus was willed by the Father, that is to say it corresponded to His divine intention for His Son (John 12:27, 28). Jesus drank from the cup of God’s judgment (Matt. 26:39). The Father did not spare Him (Rom. 8:32), but handed Him over to death (chap. 4:25).
Jesus said He would lay down His own life, and that no one had power to take it from Him (John 10:17, 18). Jesus voluntarily gave up His life (Mark 10:45; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25).
Humans were also involved in the death of the Son of God (Luke 18:32; 22:3; Mark 15:15). The Father, the Son, and humans were directly involved in the death of the Son of God. The experience of Jesus was slightly different from what will happen to the wicked. But in both cases the individual and God will be involved.
3. Jesus Suffered: No one questions that Jesus Christ suffered intensely on the cross. The suffering was physical, but above all it was spiritual: He experienced divine abandonment such as no other human will ever experience (Matt. 27:46). He bore the sins of the world. The wicked will receive their reward according to their personal works (Rev. 20:13). This is not self-inflicted pain or pain inflicted on them by Satan. God will personally give them what they chose as their final destiny in life—eternal death.
4. Jesus Gave up His Life: It was necessary for Jesus to die as the Sin-bearer. He accepted the righteous and just will of the Father for Him. On the cross, He suffered up to the moment He voluntarily gave up His life to the Father. Since His death was part of the saving plan, He endured suffering for a particular period of time and at the appropriate moment gave up His life while shouting, “It is finished!”
In the case of the wicked, their destruction is preceded by their own recognition that they deserve to die. They will bow down and proclaim that indeed Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11). Yet, the wicked will struggle to voluntarily give up their lives to the Creator. Let me suggest that the intensity of their suffering may be directly related to their unwillingness to give up their lives, which is in turn related to their selfishness. That attitude may lengthen their suffering and allow each one to experience judgment according to their works. Once they give up their lives, God’s justice is vindicated and their existence is erased forever. Then the conflict between good and evil will be over.
Did that help? (Oops, I ended with a question!).