Question: I appreciate your books. But sometimes you make no sense at all—like your answer in the Q&A section of the Oct. 2005 TBC. You state, "Death is the punishment for sin, not cessation of being." You are contradicting Scripture! Obadiah 16 says, "...and they [the heathen] shall be as though they had not been," and again concerning the devil himself in Ezekiel:28:19, "...and never shalt thou be any more."
If sinners are alive in hellfire forever, then sin itself will also exist forever. Yet in 1 John:3:8 it says, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."
Response: Your mistake is a simple one. You take these verses as applying to existence in eternity, but in the context they clearly apply to temporal existence on earth.
Obadiah is prophesying of the day when the wicked will be destroyed from off the earth. That the wicked never cease to exist, however, is very clear from many scriptures. For example, "...the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments..." (Lk 16:22-24). Although the rich man "died," he has not ceased to exist—nor will he or the rest of the wicked ever cease to exist, as many scriptures declare. "Death and hell [where the rich man now is] were cast into the lake of fire" (Rv 20:14); "and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever" (Rv 14:11); "these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Mt 25:46); "hell...the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mk 9:43-48), etc. For punishment to be "everlasting," those being punished must also exist forever. If the "everlasting punishment" of the wicked is not eternal, then neither is the "everlasting life" promised to believers.
As for the devil, Ezekiel:28:19 does not say he will cease to exist. Consider: "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone...and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rv 20:10). Thus the Lake of Fire must be what Christ called "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:41). For the devil to be punished "for ever and ever," he would have to exist "for ever and ever." Ezekiel:28:19 simply says he will never be allowed on earth again.
Moreover, Christ consigns the "goats on the left" to the same "everlasting fire" as "the devil and his angels." The "lake of fire," by the way, is called "the second death" (Rv 20:14). Those who are in it must, therefore, be "dead." "Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire" (Rv 20:14). Clearly, however, they have not ceased to exist. Christ says "these shall go away into everlasting punishment..." (Mt 25:46), in conscious existence, though "dead."
You also say, "If sinners are alive in hellfire forever, then sin itself will also exist forever. Yet in 1 John:3:8 it says, ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.'"
You lose me here. No one is sinning or doing "the works of the devil" in the Lake of Fire—not even the devil himself! How much more fully could the works of the devil be destroyed than for Christ to confine the devil and all of his followers to the Lake of Fire? Christ put an end to sin by paying its full penalty. Having redeemed those who believe the gospel, Christ will ultimately bring them, transformed, into heaven, where they will never sin again.