It has long been our understanding that if someone is destroyed by Jehovah God at Armageddon, there is no hope of a resurrection. This teaching is partly based on the interpretation of a couple of texts, and partly on a line of deductive reasoning. The Scriptures in question are 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 and Matthew 25:31-46. As for the line of deductive reasoning, it was long understood that if someone were killed by Jehovah, then a resurrection would be inconsistent with God’s righteous judgment. It didn’t seem logical that God would destroy someone directly only to resurrect him later. However, this line of reasoning has been quietly abandoned in light of our understanding of the account of Korah’s destruction. Korah was killed by Jehovah, yet went into Sheol from which all will be resurrected. (w05 5/1 p. 15 Par. 10; John 5:28)
The fact is that no line of deductive reasoning, whether it brings us to condemn all those who die at Armageddon to eternal death, or permits us to believe some might be resurrected, is the basis for anything other than speculation. We can form no doctrine nor belief on such a theoretical foundation; for how can we presume to know the mind of God on the matter? There are just far too many variables in our limited understanding of human nature and divine justice for us to be sure about anything regarding the judgment of God.
Therefore, we can only speak categorically on the subject if we have some clear instruction from God’s inspired Word. That is where 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 and Matthew 25:31-46 come in, supposedly.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10
This one seems fairly conclusive if we are trying to prove that those killed at Armageddon will never be resurrected, for it says:
(2 Thessalonians 1:9) “. . .These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength,”
It is clear from this text that there will be those who die the second death, “everlasting destruction”, at Armageddon. However, does this mean that everyone who dies at Armageddon gets this punishment?
Who are these “very ones”? Verse 6 says:
(2 Thessalonians 1:6-8) . . .This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for YOU, 7 but, to YOU who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels 8 in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.
To help us clarify who these ones are, there is an additional clue in the context.
(2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) 9 But the lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents 10 and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved. 11 So that is why God lets an operation of error go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, 12 in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.
It is clear from this—and our publications concur—that the lawless one originates within the congregation. In the first century, much of the persecution came from the Jews. Paul’s letters make this clear. The Jews were Jehovah’s flock. In our day, it comes principally from Christendom. Christendom, like apostate Jerusalem, is still Jehovah’s flock. (We say “not any more”, because they were judged back in 1918 and rejected, but we can’t prove that happened then, neither from historical evidence, nor from Scripture.) This follows in line with what Paul wrote the Thessalonians, for the ones receiving this divine retribution do not ‘obey the good news about the Christ.’ One has to be in the congregation of God to know the good news in the first place. One cannot be accused of disobeying a command one has never heard nor been given. Some poor shepherd in Tibet can hardly be accused of disobeying the good news and therefore condemned to eternal death, can he? There are so many segments of society that have never even heard the good news.
In addition, this death sentence is an act of justified vengeance upon those making tribulation on us. It is payment in kind. Unless the Tibetan shepherd has made tribulation on us, it would be so unjust to kill him eternally in retribution.
We have come out with the idea of “community responsibility” to help explain away what would otherwise be considered an injustice, but it hasn’t helped. Why? Because that is man’s reasoning, not God’s.
It would therefore appear that this text is referring to a subset of humanity, not all the billions who currently walk the earth.
This is the parable of the sheep and the goats. Since only two groups are mentioned, it is easy to assume this is talking about everyone alive on earth at Armageddon. However, that may be looking at the problem simplistically.
Consider, the parable is of a shepherd separating his flock. Why would Jesus use this analogy if he were wanting to explain something about the judgment on the whole world? Are the Hindus, Shintos, Buddhists or Muslims, his flock?
In the parable, the goats are condemned to everlasting destruction because they failed to offer any succor to ‘the least of Jesus’ brothers’.
(Matthew 25:46) . . .And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”
Initially, he condemns them for failing to come to his aid, but they counter with the objection that they never saw him in need, implying that his judgment is unjust because it requires something of them they were never given the opportunity to provide. He counters with the idea that his brothers’ need was his need. A valid counter as long as they cannot come back to him and say the same about his brothers. What if they never saw any of them in need? Could he still justly hold them responsible for not helping out? Of course not. So we return to our Tibetan shepherd who’s never even seen one of Jesus’ brothers in his life. Should he die eternally—no hope of a resurrection—because he happened to be born in the wrong place? From a human point of view, we’d have to consider him an acceptable loss—collateral damage, if you will. But Jehovah isn’t limited in power as we are. His mercies are over all his works. (Ps 145:9)
There is one other thing about the parable of the sheep and goats. When does it apply? We say just before Armageddon. Perhaps that is true. But we also understand there is a thousand-year-long day of judgment. Jesus is the judge of that day. Is he referring to Judgment Day in his parable or to a period of time just prior to Armageddon?
Things are not clear enough for us to get all dogmatic about this. One would think that if eternal destruction were the result of dying at Armageddon, the Bible would have been clear about that. It is a matter of life and death, after all; so why leave us in the dark about it?
Will the unrighteous die at Armageddon? Yes, the Bible is clear on that. Will the righteous survive? Again, yes, because the Bible is clear on that too. Will there be a resurrection of the unrighteous? Yes, the Bible clearly says so. Will those killed at Armageddon be part of that resurrection? Here, the Scriptures are unclear. This must be so for a reason. Something to do with human frailty I would imagine, but that’s only a guess.
In short, let’s just worry about getting the preaching work done and caring for the spirituality of those near and dear and not pretend to know about things Jehovah has kept in his own jurisdiction.