IMPORTANT! READ THIS INTRODUCTION FIRST:
This article was written for people who are actually serious about learning what the interpretations of the Bible regarding heaven, hell, judgement, death, and salvation are that most of us in my church hold to. I realize this is a very long article, but it was necessary to make it as long as it is in order to cover every single passage in Scripture I’m aware of that’s relevant to this particular subject (since, if I didn’t, some people would inevitably turn around and say, “But what about this passage?” in order to ignore everything else in the article). I know that it will be tempting for those who are impatient to simply skim the article, or to just search for passages they’re curious to learn our interpretation of, but I wrote this article in such a way that it has to be read in a very specific order. If you read it carefully from beginning to end, you’ll understand what you need to know. But if you get impatient and search for passages you want to know our interpretation of without having read everything that comes before that part of the article, you’ll almost certainly miss a crucial detail you need to know about this topic, and what you find probably won’t make sense anyway, because every point I made was carefully built upon points coming before it in the article. Likewise, it’s very important that you click all the links to the scriptural references — which are the underlined words throughout the article — as you read, or else you’ll definitely misunderstand some of the most important points (for various reasons, not the least of which are copyright concerns, all scriptural references in this article are from the King James Version of the Bible, but you can switch to a translation you prefer when you click the links to the various supporting passages if you aren’t a fan of the way the KJV renders certain things). With all that in mind, please don’t stop partway into the article to try to argue with me, or to complain about a point you disagree with (and I likely will test you to confirm you have indeed read the whole article and clicked all the links before responding to what you have to say). Outside of evangelism, at this point I generally won’t even discuss the doctrines found in this article with someone who hasn’t actually read the whole thing (or at least who isn’t already familiar with all our interpretations of Scripture as I’ve laid them out in this article), since I just don’t have the time or energy to waste arguing with people who aren’t serious about understanding why it is that the people they disagree with believe what they do, and experience has taught me that anyone who won’t carefully read this whole article just isn’t serious about learning what our interpretations of Scripture really are, but rather they simply want to tell us we’re wrong. One of the reasons I wrote this article in the first place was so I wouldn’t have to keep repeating myself over and over again every time this topic came up, and since any thorough discussion of this topic would have to cover all of the points in this article anyway, it saves me time by only having to explain our interpretations of Scripture once — by writing this article — and it also saves you time because you can find all our arguments in one place and don’t have to go back-and-forth with me to learn what I’d just be repeating from this very article anyway. Besides, it will take you far less time to read this whole thing than it took me to write it, so go “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” And now, on to the article.
When considering the meaning of passages in the Bible, it’s very easy to unintentionally read one’s preconceived theological beliefs into a passage (this is what’s known as eisegesis) rather than determining the actual meaning of the text in question through careful study (which is what’s known as exegesis). This generally occurs because one has heard people they trust tell them that certain doctrines are true, and if they assume their teachers can’t be mistaken, they’ll rarely bother to look into the context of the passages they’re told prove these doctrines. This means that when they see certain words in these passages, they’ll just assume the inclusion of these words in the text proves that the doctrines must indeed be correct, and they won’t bother to actually do any study to confirm whether this is actually the case or not. Of course, as the old saying goes, a text read out of context is just a pretext for a proof text, so this often results in people never learning the truth about what these passages really mean. Equally unfortunately, most people will rarely bother to compare these passages to the rest of the Bible either, in order to make sure the doctrines they’ve been taught aren’t contradicting other parts of Scripture. But even when they do try to dig a little deeper, many people also tend to be unaware of the fact that the same word or concept doesn’t always mean the exact same thing every time it’s used in Scripture, and even fewer are familiar with the difference between the absolute and relative perspectives of certain things mentioned in the Bible, and this can lead to all sorts of confusion when trying to interpret the Bible as well. As an example of this important hermeneutical principle, we know from Romans 3:10 that nobody is righteous, and yet Luke 1:5–6 tells us that Zacharias and Elisabeth were both righteous, and the solution to this apparent contradiction is to realize that, from an absolute perspective, no mortal human has ever been truly or completely righteous on their own, but from a relative perspective, meaning compared to other people in this case, some people can be said to be righteous, because they’re more righteous than other people around them. As another example, Ecclesiastes 11:3 tells us that the rain comes from clouds, while 1 Kings 17:14 says that God sends the rain, and we can understand that both of these statements are equally true when we recognize that God is the ultimate origin of rain from an absolute perspective (since all is of God), even while the clouds are the origin of rain from a relative perspective. And so, with all that in mind, I’m going to take you through a number of the passages that are most commonly cited when discussing heaven, hell, judgement, death, and salvation, looking closely at what they actually say, in order to determine what the Bible really teaches about these things, because most of us have been taught some unscriptural ideas about what all of these words mean.
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. — Matthew 18:8–9
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. — Mark 9:43–48
One of the most popular doctrines within modern Christianity is the idea that anyone who doesn’t choose to “get saved” before they die will end up being punished by ending up in an inescapable place called hell (which most believe is also a reference to a place called the lake of fire), and these two parallel passages are among the most commonly quoted in order to prove this doctrine. There are a couple factors here that almost nobody ever considers when reading these two passages, however. First of all, there’s nothing in the text which tells us anyone will actually remain in the hell fire Jesus warned about in those passages. Yes, they say that the fire is “everlasting,” but they don’t say that the time spent in said hell fire will be never-ending, and insisting that these two passages mean any humans will be trapped in said fire without the possibility of ever leaving it requires one to read their doctrinal presuppositions about never-ending punishment into the text. That’s not all, though. Jesus also didn’t say that anyone would even be conscious or suffering while in this hell fire. Of course, the fact that He didn’t say anyone would be conscious or suffering, or would be in there without end, doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be. It simply means we can’t determine these things based on these two passages alone, since they just don’t say one way or the other, but we can look to other passages in Scripture to find out. And this is where the passage in Mark comes in handy, because it gives us the key to finding the answer to this question (the mention of the “undying” worm and unquenchable fire gives it away). You see, these warnings by Jesus were actually referencing a prophecy in Isaiah 66:23-24, which said: “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” Few people who read this prophecy ever seem to notice it, but there’s a word in there which tells us that Jesus wasn’t talking about ghosts who are suffering consciously in an ethereal afterlife realm called “hell.” Why do I say that? Because, in that prophecy, Isaiah wrote about carcases — meaning dead bodies — being consumed by worms and by fire on a physical planet in the future, not about ghosts suffering torment in an afterlife.
Now, yes, it’s technically true that the “worms” won’t die, but that’s because the “worms” there are just a reference to maggots, and maggots are simply larval flies which go through a process known as pupation and grow into adult flies, so they won’t die while still in their larval, “worm” form, but will instead grow up and lay eggs so that there are then more “worms” to consume more of the bodies in this location (and if you think the word “worms” in either Mark or Isaiah refer to something other than actual worms, or maggots, which we already know consume carcases, you’ll have to provide some good scriptural exegesis for whatever it is you’ve decided the word means).
And regardless of whether “the fire that never shall be quenched” can eventually go out on its own when all the dead bodies in it have been completely burned up, it’s only the fire that is said to be “everlasting,” and not the time that any humans remain in it, so it doesn’t matter if some other fuel source happens to keep the fire burning after the corpses have all combusted anyway (although, almost nobody ever uses the word “everlasting” to literally mean “never ending,” even today, but rather almost always uses it figuratively, as hyperbole — think of the candy called an Everlasting Gobstopper, for example, and about whether it never ends when consumed — so there’s good reason to think that this reference to an “everlasting” fire could be just as figurative as the “everlasting” candy’s name is, which means the statement about the fire never being quenched could also be equally as hyperbolic; but either way, it’s still only the fire that is said to be “everlasting,” and not the time that anyone remains in said fire).
Of course, the fact that Jesus was referencing a passage from Isaiah about carcases tells us that these passages also aren’t talking about anyone who is alive or suffering consciously, at least not if we’re taking the passage in Isaiah that Jesus was calling back to in that warning at all literally (and I see no reason not to, especially since there wouldn’t be new moons and sabbaths in the ethereal afterlife realm that most Christians assume this “hell” is referring to, nor would there be anyone with flesh in an afterlife realm, as Isaiah said there would be in the location this punishment takes place in), which means we have no reason to believe that anyone suffers in this particular hell fire at all (since dead bodies don’t have functioning nervous systems). So if there actually is a place called “hell” that people end up in as conscious beings after they die, we can’t look to passages that talk about this particular “hell” to describe or defend its existence. And neither can we look to these passages to prove that anyone will remain in any version of “hell” without end either, since these two passages just don’t claim anything of the sort.
But what was Jesus warning us about, then? Well, He wasn’t warning us about anything, because He wasn’t talking to us to begin with (unless, perhaps, you’re Jewish). His death for our sins, burial, and resurrection on the third day aside, Jesus’ earthly ministry and messages were technically to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” as He told His disciples in Matthew 15:24, and not to Gentiles (yes, He did help certain Gentiles on rare occasion, but that was the exception rather than the rule). This means that, while it technically is possible for the odd Gentile who fears God and does works of righteousness to end up enjoying this type of salvation, as evidenced by Cornelius (and I trust that most of my readers are already aware of this, but for those who aren’t, unless you think being saved in whatever way it is you believe that Jesus saves us today is the exact same sort of salvation that Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples experienced when they were saved from drowning, that it’s the same sort of salvation the Israelites experienced when they were saved from Egyptian slavery, or that women are required to give birth in order to experience that sort of salvation, it should be clear that the words “salvation,” “save,” and “saved” have different meanings in different parts of Scripture, and that there are various different types of salvation), this sort of salvation is still primarily for Jews and other Israelites, and really, basically all of the rewards and judgements Jesus spoke about — including His warnings about hell — not to mention the majority of the other teachings He gave, were essentially only for and about Israelites (with the judgement of the sheep and the goats being one of the only significant exceptions, since He specifically said that one is a judgement of the nations).
And just as the punishment referred to as hell will be “experienced” by certain dead people right here on earth, the salvation Jesus spoke about is also to be experienced right here on earth, in the kingdom of heaven (even if it might not be experienced until after one has been resurrected from the dead). Now, the fact that it’s called the kingdom of heaven has confused generations of people, leading many Christians to assume it’s a reference to an afterlife location called heaven, and others to believe it’s instead referring to a spiritual state within themselves, based on the way the KJV renders Jesus’ statement that “the kingdom of God is within you” (which they interpret that way largely because they’ve misunderstood a handful of other statements by Jesus — not seeming to realize that He generally spoke in ways that kept the masses from fully understanding what He was getting at when they were around, purposely doing so to keep them from converting and experiencing the sort of salvation He spoke about because it wasn’t meant for them, which also confirms that this is not about the same sort of salvation Paul generally wrote about — which has forced them to descend into contradiction and even outright absurdity in their interpretations of large portions of Scripture, as I’ll demonstrate in parts of this article). This passage really shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning the kingdom is literally “inside our bodies,” though, since Jesus said that specifically to the Pharisees, and it doesn’t appear that they were saved when He said that to them, which means it makes far more sense to interpret this as Jesus telling His audience that the kingdom had been present within the midst of the people He was speaking to — in the Person of its Messiah and future King — for as long as He remained amongst them in Israel. In fact, that the term “the kingdom of heaven” is really just a reference to the kingdom of God being ready to come fully into effect on the earth, specifically in Israel, is made quite clear in many places throughout the Bible. First of all, we know that Jesus’ primary message was about the coming of the kingdom and how to get to live in it when it begins fully, and we also know that Jesus’ messages were simply confirming “the promises made unto the fathers” (which were primarily promises for the circumcision, meaning for Israelites), as Paul wrote in Romans 15:8, and since Israelites were promised they’d get to dwell in the land God gave to their fathers (meaning the land of Canaan, now known as the land of Israel), as prophesied in the book of Ezekiel (and really all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, meaning the books of the Bible generally referred to as the “Old Testament”), this tells us that the kingdom will have to be located in Israel. The fact that the kingdom of Israel will have some pretty clear geographical boundaries on the earth (and not in heaven, or even “in our hearts,” or whichever organs in our bodies some people think the kingdom exists inside) when the promises God made to Israel are finally completely fulfilled, from the Mediterranean Sea on the west to the Jordan on the east, with the northern boundary at Hamath, and the southern boundary at Kadesh (we’re told that it will contain a new temple with some pretty specific dimensions at that time as well, with a part of those dimensions carved out for priests from the tribe of the Levites, who are Israelites, not Gentiles, and I trust that nobody believes we have tiny Levites living inside of us either, which would have to be the case if the kingdom and its temple were literally within our bodies), also confirms that the kingdom is going to be on earth, specifically within those borders that will make up the nation of Israel in the future, rather than somewhere else.
We can also know that Israel has to be where the kingdom will be located in the future because Jesus taught His disciples about the things pertaining to the kingdom during the 40-day period between His resurrection and His ascension up to heaven, and yet, just before He ascended to heaven, when His disciples asked Him if He’d be bringing the kingdom to Israel at that time, Jesus didn’t correct them on their apparently confused question by asking them, “Did I not just spend 40 days explaining that the kingdom will be in heaven?”, or even, “Did I not just spend 40 days explaining that the kingdom began when I was raised from the dead, and that you’re already living in it, or, rather, that it already exists within your bodies?”, but rather just said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power,” which means He not only didn’t tell them that the kingdom was already fully in effect, He also didn’t correct their understanding that the kingdom was going to be located specifically in Israel, which are things they should have really already understood if He’d actually just spent all that time explaining what the kingdom was really about, and that it wasn’t going to simply be located in Israel, anyway.
That’s not all, though. Jesus explained that angels “shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” in his explanation of the parable of the wheat at the tares. Now think about this carefully. If the kingdom of heaven is an afterlife location which people go to when they die, as most Christians assume, and only those who are saved can go to heaven, as most Christians also assume, this passage would make no sense, because the angels can’t “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity” if these people are not already in the kingdom at the time of the judgement (and this doesn’t happen as each individual sinner dies, as some might try to claim in order to fit these facts into their assumptions about what the kingdom is, since the parable makes it clear that everyone involved “grew up” together in the same place, meaning on earth, and also that the judgement would involve everyone being judged together at this time as well, at “the end of the world,” as Jesus is recorded as putting it in the KJV, so this can’t refer to each sinner being judged in heaven immediately after each of their individual deaths). If “the kingdom” was a reference to the heavenly afterlife most Christians believe the saved end up in, they’d have to already be saved, not to mention dead, which means this parable would be telling us that some people will become sinners in heaven some time after they die, and then be cast out of heaven into hell, presuming the “furnace of fire” actually is a reference to hell (although, if it is, this means they’d have to be resurrected from the dead at that time as well, only to die almost immediately again, since we know that the hell Jesus warned about will be on earth and will be inhabited by corpses). Or, if the kingdom was literally inside our bodies instead, it would mean that angels would have to pull tiny human sinners residing in the “kingdom” out of our bodies and cast them into some sort of literal furnace, leaving us behind. Since neither of those interpretations make any kind of sense whatsoever (not to mention since Jesus outright said in His explanation of the parable that the “field” refers to the world, not to heaven, or even to our bodies), it should be pretty clear by now that the type of salvation Jesus and His disciples taught about during His earthly ministry primarily involved certain descendants of Isaac dwelling in the land of Israel and reigning over the earth and its people as “kings and priests” (presuming they’re included in Israel’s first resurrection, or are “overcomers” and survive the Tribulation) during the thousand-year period of time that the kingdom of heaven exists in the land of Israel, thus fulfilling a prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures (and it seems unlikely that there would be any Israelite priests on the New Earth, since there presumably won’t be any need for them to be priests with no physical temple in the New Jerusalem, so this salvation seems to specifically be referring to the thousand years that the kingdom exists in Israel, although it’s true that, until John wrote the book of Revelation, nobody would have known how long this type of salvation would last, and it’s also true that anyone who experiences this type of salvation will get to go on to live in the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, but at that point the specific type of salvation Jesus was teaching about would technically have come to an end), as well as finally being able to keep the Mosaic law perfectly because the New Covenant will have finally come fully into effect for the house of Israel and the house of Judah (and since Gentiles don’t have an old covenant of any sort to be replaced with by something new, because they weren’t given any covenants to begin with, it should be pretty clear that the New Covenant is for the members of the house of Israel and the house of Judah, as Jeremiah stated, rather than for Gentiles who aren’t descendants of either of those houses), after the believing Israelites who aren’t living there at the time have been returned from their exile back to the land of Israel, having finally been redeemed out from among the nations they were living in. And since the prophecies God gave concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah are without repentance, we know that these promises will indeed be fulfilled exactly in the manner they were promised to be fulfilled in.
The method of getting to enjoy this kind of salvation isn’t what most Christians have assumed either, though. This isn’t the type of salvation which Paul taught isn’t based on works, but rather, in addition to having to believe that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah (or Christ), as well as the Son of God, this sort of salvation also requires a number of other things too. For example, it requires repentance of one’s sins (as opposed to the type of repentance Paul wrote about, which simply referred to changing one’s mind about who, or rather Who, could actually save his readers), as well as other works that include baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ (and there are multiple other types of baptisms when it comes to this type of salvation too, including baptism with — or in — the Holy Spirit, as well as with fire, among others), following the commandments Jesus taught His disciples during His earthly ministry, which includes the commandments within the Mosaic law, doing whatever it takes to be extremely righteous and to avoid sinning (which is presumably what Jesus meant when He told His audience to amputate body parts in order to avoid hell and enter the kingdom), and then confessing one’s sins if they slip up and do end up sinning (not to mention also forgiving others who sinned against them). In addition, they’re not only required to turn from pride and be extremely humble, as well as having to make sure they’re both meek and poor in spirit, they also can’t be greedy or selfish (these sorts of warnings against the rich are given all throughout the Bible, and since rich people can “accept Jesus as their personal saviour,” or even believe that Christ died for our sins, just as easily as poor people can, it should be obvious that being generous with one’s wealth to the point of possibly even becoming impoverished is required to enter the kingdom, at least as far as this type of salvation goes), and they do also have to endure to the end (of one’s life or of the period commonly known as the Tribulation, whichever comes first) as well (there are other requirements mentioned elsewhere in Scripture too, but I think you get the idea, which is that this is not the same type of salvation Paul primarily taught about). I know that most Christians reading this will want to insist that these required works are all meant to be interpreted as being the fruit of one’s faith, but there’s absolutely zero indication in any of those passages that they aren’t meant to be interpreted literally. Nobody listening to Jesus could have possibly interpreted any of His statements that way, since salvation by grace through faith apart from works wasn’t ever taught prior to Paul doing so, which means there’s no good reason to assume these weren’t being mentioned as actual requirements for salvation rather than just as evidence of one’s salvation, at least not without reading one’s preconceived doctrinal bias that there’s only one type of salvation into Scripture (which anyone with a concordance can tell you isn’t the case anyway), so anyone who is being honest with the text will admit that works are required for this type of salvation (it’s interesting how many Christians insist on interpreting the parts of Scripture which seem to be meant to be interpreted literally in a figurative manner, all the while criticizing us for not interpreting the parts that make more sense to be interpreted figuratively in a literal manner, but they have no choice if they want to continue believing that their doctrinal assumptions are correct). And so, while not everybody will experience this sort of salvation because, based on what Jesus said, not everyone will get to live in the kingdom of heaven during the time it exists in Israel, one day even Gentiles other than Cornelius and members of his house will be saved in this way because of Israelites and their rise to prominence in the future.
And while Paul did sometimes teach about the same sort of salvation that Jesus and His disciples were proclaiming (especially when he’s recorded as preaching to Jews in the book of Acts, as well as when he discusses the salvation of Israel in his epistles), most of the time he was either simply referring to being quickened (which refers to having our mortal bodies be made immortal, being given life beyond the reach of death, which means being incapable of dying, as well as never being subject to the corruption and the humiliation of mortality ever again, which is something that will only happen to certain people who experience the sort of salvation that Jesus taught about during His earthly ministry, at least at the time they’re experiencing it — specifically those who are raised from the dead at the resurrection of the just — with those who are still living at the time they begin enjoying “everlasting life” in the kingdom of heaven not being given true immortality at that point, since those who are resurrected after Jesus returns will be like the angels and will no longer marry or reproduce, and if everyone who was given “everlasting life” was quickened right then, there wouldn’t be anyone left to fulfill the prophecies of righteous Israelites not only growing old but also having children in the kingdom, as well as later on the New Earth), and finally being made truly sinless because of that immortality (which is what salvation will eventually be from a physical perspective for those who experience the salvation Paul wrote about from an absolute perspective), or to experiencing that particular salvation (immortality and sinlessness) before anyone else, while reigning with Christ in the heavens (which is what the salvation Paul wrote about is from a relative perspective, at least in part, and which can only be experienced by someone who has been quickened, as I’ll explain a little later), since the citizenship of those he wrote to is in heaven rather than in the land of Israel where the citizenship of the people Jesus preached to is located. Those of us who get to enjoy this sort of salvation are simply those who truly understand what it means — and also truly believe — that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day (at least from a relative perspective; the salvation Paul wrote about technically applies to all humanity from an absolute perspective, and everyone will eventually experience this salvation from a physical perspective in the future as well, although “every man in his own order,” but I’ll get into all that later in the article as well, and am simply referring this salvation from a relative perspective for now — and if this all seems confusing, please read on, because it will become more clear as you do). This obviously isn’t something that anyone to whom Jesus and His disciples preached during His earthly ministry could have believed since, at the time they were preaching to the inhabitants of Israel, not even Jesus’ disciples understood that He was going to die, which means this isn’t something that Jesus’ audience members had to believe is true in order to avoid the type of hell He was warning about, because otherwise Jesus and His disciples spent three years preaching basically useless messages, considering this would mean they didn’t once explain how to actually be saved from said hell fire, and people like Zacchaeus couldn’t have actually been saved, despite what Jesus said in Luke 19:8–9. In fact, even Jesus’ disciples couldn’t have been considered to be saved until after His death and resurrection — contrary to what Luke 10:20 seems to imply — if it were a belief which was required in order to avoid this particular hell, since not even they believed He was going to die or be resurrected until after they saw it all finally happen. This also means that Jesus’ death wasn’t something people prior to His crucifixion were looking forward to for their salvation, because despite His death being foretold in the prophecies of both Jesus and certain “Old Testament” prophets, there’s no scriptural basis for believing that anybody actually was looking forward in time in faith for His death to take place to save any of them, so this common assertion has absolutely no scriptural merit either (and if people could be saved prior to Christ’s death by simply believing that He’s Israel’s Messiah and the Son of God, along with performing the requisite works, of course, without having to believe that His death was for our sins, there’s no good reason that I can think of to assume it couldn’t still be possible to experience the sort of salvation Jesus and His disciples taught about that way either, especially since many of His teachings about this sort of salvation and how one experiences it are connected with the future Tribulation).
Just to add some further details about the type of salvation Paul taught to the nations, unlike the requirements for experiencing the salvation that Jesus and His disciples taught about, this kind of salvation is entirely apart from any works of any kind. In fact, even if we don’t do any works at all, we can still be justified, which means that faith without works is not dead for us. In addition, something few are aware of is that baptism for those who enjoy this sort of salvation isn’t in water, since there is only one sort of immersion, or baptism, for us, which is immersion by the Holy Spirit, into the body of Christ, including into what He experienced in His body, such as His death — as opposed to the various different types of baptisms for Israel that I already mentioned, some of which involved water and some of which didn’t, telling us that not all baptisms end up getting someone wet — and so this baptism, or immersion, is quite dry for us, and happens to us entirely passively at the moment we believe and are saved. And while forgiving others is still something God would like us to do, it isn’t required for salvation for us the way it is for Israel since we aren’t under the Mosaic law or required to do good works in order to be saved when it comes to our type of salvation (even though, yes, God will still end up having most members of the body of Christ do good works, but we aren’t required to do so in order to be saved), the way Israelites are when it comes to their type of salvation (or the way other Gentiles are if they also want to experience the sort of salvation Jesus and His disciples spoke about), and, in fact, we can be saved right now despite the fact that Israel is not yet a light to the Gentiles as they one day will need to be for Gentiles to be led to salvation.
The differences between those various forms of salvation also tells us how important it is that one doesn’t confuse the people referred to as the body of Christ with the people called the Israel of God (the words “and upon” in Galatians 6:16 mean there are two separate groups of people being wished peace and mercy by Paul in that verse; there’s no reason to think that Paul was actually saying, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and, oh yeah, these people are also called the Israel of God, by the way,” especially in light of everything else he’d just finished teaching in that epistle, not to mention everything we’ve just gone over about the kingdom of heaven and the different types of salvation, which means there are two separate groups being written about there: the first group being “as many as walk according to this rule,” referring to members of the body of Christ, and the second group being those known as “the Israel of God”), or else they’re likely to misunderstand not only which teachings in the Bible apply specifically to them (and no, not every teaching or command in the Bible applies to everyone, unless you believe you also need to build an ark), but how they receive their type of salvation as well.
And so, with all that being said, what was Jesus warning about here? Well, He was warning His Jewish audience about the possibility of missing out on enjoying “everlasting life” for a thousand years in Israel (and the fact that this “everlasting life” only lasts for a thousand years confirms that the word “everlasting” in the KJV and other less literal translations can be just as much of a figurative term in the Bible as it is for us today, not necessarily literally meaning “never ending” or “without end,” but rather sometimes being used as hyperbole to refer to a long period of time with a definite end in those versions), pointing out that they might instead end up as a corpse in a valley outside Jerusalem, known as the valley of the son of Hinnom (more often referred to today as Gehenna), to be burned up and devoured by worms in rather than being buried under the ground as all Israelites would prefer to be the way they’re interred (although, because Israel largely didn’t accept Jesus as their Messiah and as the Son of God, the kingdom coming fully into effect at that time has been delayed, so His warnings are now more applicable to the generation of Israelites who will be alive at the time of the Tribulation, with it turning out that Jesus’ audience was more at risk of ending up in “hell” after the Great White Throne Judgement instead, presuming this “hell” and the lake of fire are the same thing, of course, but nobody Jesus spoke to could have known their salvation would be put on hold prior to Paul revealing it was being removed from them, at least until the final Gentile enters the body of Christ, at which point the prophecies about Israel’s salvation will begin coming into effect again, and, in fact, will finally be fulfilled).
It’s important to remember that Jesus wasn’t speaking English, so when He gave these warnings, His listeners didn’t hear the English word “hell” come out of His mouth (which is a word with uncertain etymology, but it basically just means “hole,” or “a place where something is hidden or unseen,” to put it really simply, and has absolutely no inherent meaning of “torture chamber” at all, even though that’s how it’s come to be used by most people today), but rather literally heard Him say “the valley of Hinnom” in their own language (translated as “hell” in most less literal English Bible versions such as the KJV at least partly because a valley is a sort of long depression, or elongated, uncovered hole, in the ground), which they would have — or at least should have — known is going to be a place of future judgement, and those who understood Scripture would have realized that Jesus was connecting the warning of judgement in the book of Jeremiah to the warning about corpses in the book of Isaiah, letting them know where Isaiah’s prophecy would take place (at least prior to the creation of the New Earth). I should also say, some people claim that Jews refer to the valley of Hinnom in a figurative manner to speak of a realm in which people will be tormented consciously after they die, so as to support their argument that Jesus was using this particular “hell” as a warning about what those who don’t get saved before they die will experience while dead, but there are a couple problems with using this argument. First, whether or not the valley of Hinnom was actually sometimes used figuratively to refer to a negative afterlife realm during Jesus’ time on earth, there’s nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures to indicate it should be used that way, so to claim Jesus meant it that way wouldn’t be an argument based on exegesis of Scripture so much as it would be an argument based on extrabiblical Jewish mythology, which isn’t something anyone should be basing their theology on, nor does it seem like something that the One who corrected people for teaching extrabiblical theological concepts as truth by saying things like “have ye not read…?” and “it is written…” would do. And secondly, we already know that the only humans who end up spending time in this particular “hell” will be corpses, which means it has to be referring to that actual valley in Israel, so it really wouldn’t matter if some Jews in Jesus’ time were ignoring the Hebrew Scriptures and referring to the valley figuratively in that manner anyway, since this fact tells us that Jesus wouldn’t have meant it that way at all.
Everyone Jesus spoke to desperately wanted to enjoy living in Israel when the kingdom of heaven finally begins there, and the idea that Jesus’ audience members might be dead during that thousand-year time period, or that they might even have ended up weeping and gnashing their teeth because they’d been forced to live in figuratively “darker” parts of the world instead, if the kingdom had fully begun while they were still alive, would have been a grave threat for them indeed. The fact that Jesus said many will be coming from the east and the west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven also confirms that the kingdom of heaven will be on earth, after those patriarchs have been resurrected from the dead, rather than up in heaven itself, as does the fact that one could “enter into the kingdom of God with one eye,” as Jesus stated. And the “outer darkness” can’t be referring to hell, at least not the hell we’re discussing now, because that particular hell will be within the borders of the kingdom of heaven since it will be in a valley inside Israel, so it makes sense that being cast into the outer darkness would simply refer to being exiled from Israel, if one happens to be alive at that time, and missing out on getting to live in the kingdom of heaven during those thousand years. However, for those who are somehow still sceptical, if Jesus was trying to get all of the above across, I’d like you to tell me what He would have needed to have said differently in order to convince you of this.
Before moving on, though, I also need to ask, if we’re to believe that encountering a fiery judgement means being tortured, or even just punished, without end, why did Jesus then wrap up this warning with a statement that “every one shall be salted with fire” in the very next verse, and why do so many of the references to fiery judgements throughout the Hebrew Scriptures refer to fire purifying Israel and making things right, and never to any Israelites being tortured without end in said fire, as well? (And the odd passage which could theoretically be interpreted as referencing individuals being burned up don’t say they’ll be suffering, but rather that there won’t be any part of them left after the fiery judgement is complete, also contradicting the most popular doctrine of salvation.)
But still, if this “hell” is a reference to the lake of fire, as most Christians believe it to be, wouldn’t that mean the people who end up in it will have to be suffering in it without end, contrary to what Isaiah wrote? I mean, the Bible says that unrighteous sinners will be tortured consciously in the lake of fire, and that none of them can ever leave that location, doesn’t it? Well, let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the lake of fire to determine whether that’s actually the case or not.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. — Revelation 20:7–10
This is the only passage in the Bible which suggests that anyone will suffer without end in a location specifically referred to by name as the lake of fire, and I trust you noticed that it’s only the devil, the beast, and the false prophet who are said to be tormented there “for ever and ever” (and if “everlasting” can sometimes be a figurative expression, it stands to reason that similar terms such as “for ever and ever” very well could be as well, which it likely is based on the fact that, just like that other word, “for ever” is also almost never used literally in everyday speech either, but is almost always used hyperbolically — if I were to say, “That meeting lasted for ever,” would you assume the meeting was still ongoing, for example, and that it would never end?). Yes, Revelation 20:15 does say that “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” too, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t say these people will remain in it “for ever,” or even that they’ll be alive while they’re in it (much less that they’ll be suffering), and to insist, without strong exegetical proof, that the mortal humans who are cast into it will “not surely die” as they normally would when set on fire, but that they’ll somehow remain alive, even though there’s nothing in the text which even implies this will happen, is the epitome of eisegesis. This also means that “the beast” and “the false prophet” in this passage can’t be references to humans, since the humans who will go by those titles will be cast alive into the lake of fire, which means the lake of fire is going to exist here on earth, not in another dimension that ghosts exist in, and there’s nothing anywhere in the Bible to indicate that the humans who will go by these titles will be immortal (which they couldn’t be anyway, since immortality for humans is always connected with salvation in Scripture), so the reference to “the beast” and “the false prophet” who are being tormented in the lake of fire pretty much have to be talking about the spirits who possessed them rather than talking about the actual humans who will also go by those titles (presuming “the beast” and “the false prophet” who deceive the world during the Tribulation aren’t simply spiritual beings the whole time, and that no humans will actually go by those titles at all). Simply put, presuming there are humans who will go by those titles, they’ll be cast alive into the lake of fire, at which point they’ll die and burn up, leaving behind only the evil spirits who empowered them during the Tribulation, to be bound to the lake of fire for a very long time, similar to the way other spirits are currently bound in another version of “hell” (and if they’re simply spiritual beings the whole time, with no possessed humans involved, then they themselves will be cast alive into the lake of fire).
This also means that if the warnings by Jesus about the hell we covered were a reference to the future location of the lake of fire (which I actually agree that those passages were indeed referring to), since Isaiah told us that only dead bodies would be spending time in there (at least as far as its human inhabitants go), we can say with quite some certainty that no humans in the lake of fire will be alive or suffering in there, at least not for any longer than it takes for someone to die after being set on fire (and this would fit perfectly with what we know anyway; the lake of fire is called the second death for a reason — if the “second death” could somehow be interpreted as being a reference to some form of torture, with one’s supposed “spiritual death,” whatever that means, actually being a prior “death” to this one, it should actually be called the “third death” since basically everybody who ends up there will have also died physically at some point prior to experiencing this fate, and if one’s “first death” is actually a reference to their biological death prior to being physically resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement, the second death would just be more of the same as the first death, which is biological death — which tells us there’s no good reason at all to interpret the “second death” as referring to being tortured in fire, but rather that it should simply be interpreted as meaning to literally die a second time in said fire).
As for why I personally believe that the lake of fire will be located in the valley of the son of Hinnom in Israel (at least during the thousand-year period of time that the kingdom of heaven exists in Israel), there are a couple reasons. The first is because I’ve noticed that the passage almost immediately prior to the reference in Isaiah to the “undying” worms and unquenchable fire is a statement that implies this will take place at least partly on the New Earth, and it seems unlikely that there would be two places for burning corpses on the New Earth (a place called “hell” and a place called the lake of fire) after the Great White Throne Judgement takes place. And similarly, we know that “the beast” and “the false prophet” will be cast into the lake of fire at the end of the Tribulation, and the similar point that it seems unlikely there would be two places for burning corpses in the kingdom of heaven when it’s located in Israel on our current planet would apply here too, and so it does make sense that the valley referred to as “hell” in the KJV will indeed be the future location of the lake of fire.
Before moving on, however, I should also point out that, in addition to the fact that we have no basis for believing any humans will be conscious or suffering in the lake of fire, or even for believing they’ll never be resurrected from their second death to go live on the New Earth (which is also not a reference to an afterlife state, since nobody going to live on the New Earth will die a second time the way those cast into the lake of fire will, but is just a reference to a whole new planet earth to replace ours after our current planet is destroyed) at some point, there’s good reason to believe that not every human judged at the Great White Throne will even end up in the lake of fire to begin with. This might sound odd to some Christians, but John’s statement about those whose names aren’t written in the book of life ending up in the lake of fire would seem to be entirely unnecessary if there weren’t going to also be some people judged at that time whose names are written in the book of life, especially if the judgement itself were going to prove that they deserved to end up in the lake of fire, as most Christians assume will happen. And remember, this judgement isn’t about whether one has “gotten saved” or not (although those who are saved will get to avoid it, of course). Instead, John tells us in Revelation that the judgement people will face at the Great White Throne is going to be solely about their works (this also means that they’ll be judged based on whether their evil acts “outweighed” their good deeds rather than whether their actions were sinful or not, since not only are “evil” and “sin” two entirely different things — unless you believe that animals can sin— but also because all sin was taken care of some 2,000 years ago by Christ), and that only “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Most Christians will claim that “the unbelieving” being the second category of people who are said to end up there proves that anyone who doesn’t “get saved” before they die will end up in the lake of fire, but since John said this judgement is based on works, if “the unbelieving” referred to those who didn’t “get saved,” it would also mean that believing is a work, which I doubt most Christians agree is the case. The fact that “the unbelieving” is the second category rather than the first — in a list of different categories of people who end up there — also tells us just how unlikely it is that John was simply referring to those who didn’t choose to “get saved” before they die, since if everyone who fails to “get saved” is guaranteed to end up in the lake of fire, the rest of the list would seem to be entirely unnecessary to begin with (although it’s true that, while those in the body of Christ can’t lose their salvation, those Israelites who are given the sort of salvation Jesus and His disciples preached about while He walked the earth do seem to be able to lose their type of salvation, so perhaps the rest of the list technically applies strictly to them, but either way, “the unbelieving” can’t simply refer to those who didn’t get saved prior to their death, because otherwise it wouldn’t even need to be included on the list to begin with, since it would go without saying based on the fact that they were being judged at the Great White Throne in the first place, and the rest of the list would then be quite redundant). The fact that he also says “all liars” will end up in the lake of fire, when every single human who has made it to the age where they can communicate has lied at some point in their life, also makes the rest of the list entirely superfluous, I should add, if it means that everyone who has ever told a lie will end up in the lake of fire, as most Christians claim (it stands to reason that this simply refers to those who make a lifestyle out of habitual lying, such as politicians and religious teachers, for example, since otherwise the rest of the list just wouldn’t have been necessary at all). And so, I would suggest that it’s probably only the worst of the worst who will end up in the lake of fire, with everyone else, likely including most of your loved ones, continuing on to live on the New Earth, even if not in immortal bodies (at least to begin with). But don’t worry, this interpretation isn’t teaching salvation by works for those who might get to avoid the lake of fire after being judged at the Great White Throne, at least not as far as the sort of salvation Paul taught about goes, because those who would avoid the lake of fire at this judgement wouldn’t actually get saved at that time, since A) they missed out on the salvation which involved living in Israel during the thousand years, and B) they aren’t going to be quickened when they go live on the New Earth — at least not right away — so this isn’t the sort of salvation which Paul taught isn’t by works, because that particular salvation is all about being quickened. All that being said, even if everyone who gets judged at the Great White Throne does end up in the lake of fire, we already know that it’s only the spiritual beings known as the devil, the beast, and the false prophet who are said to remain in the lake of fire “for ever and ever,” or who are said to be tormented in it, so there’s no reason to believe that any human whose name isn’t written in the book of life will be alive or suffering in the lake of fire, or even that they can’t ever eventually be resurrected from their second death the way they were from their first death, and then go on to live on the New Earth (whether in a quickened body or otherwise).
Before moving on to look at the rest of the passages which most people assume teach never-ending torment (or at least never-ending punishment), some Christians reading this will already be thinking that, if the “everlasting life” Jesus spoke about just refers to getting to live in Israel for a thousand years, wouldn’t this mean we won’t actually have lives that never end? That isn’t the best conclusion to draw from this fact, however, since we don’t actually need verses about “everlasting life” to tell us we’ll eventually be in a state where we’ll never die to begin with, because it isn’t figurative verses about “everlasting life” (or “life eternal”) that promise us this anyway, but rather it’s verses about our impending immortality which teach us this fact (and not all Israelites will be made immortal at the time they experience “everlasting life,” as we’ve already covered, but will have to wait until a future time for their quickening to occur). Of course, this makes particular sense when we consider the fact that Jesus said having “life eternal” figuratively means “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,” which tells us that the term “life eternal” isn’t inherently referring to never dying anyway (at least for those He was ministering to during His time walking the earth). This is also backed up by the fact that “eternal” is almost never used literally by anyone anyway, since the word “eternal” literally means “without beginning or end,” and hence can basically only ever be used literally to refer to God. At the end of the day, though, while almost no Christian seems to consciously realize it, most of them are already interpreting “everlasting life” and “life eternal” in a qualitative, figurative manner rather than in a quantitative, literal manner, since most of them believe that all humans continue to live on without end after they die anyway, which means being given “everlasting life” isn’t required to have a life that never ends, at least according to the theology of most Christians, and hence it can’t actually mean to never die, if they’re correct. Think about it, if we’re already “eternal” beings, as most Christians believe we are (all the while ignoring the fact that “eternal” literally means “without beginning” just as much as it means “without end”), then “life eternal” or “everlasting life” can’t be talking about how long we continue to exist, since we’re all going to continue existing without end regardless of whether we have “life eternal” or not, according to the most common viewpoint. And so, almost every Christian already interprets terms like “life eternal” and “everlasting life” in a qualitative, figurative sense, and understands that it’s actually connected with salvation rather than simply referring to how long one continues to exist (even if they haven’t fully realized it until right now).
Of course, the fact that we still have to “put on immortality” in order to fully experience the salvation Paul wrote about means we’re not inherently immortal or “eternal” beings (in fact, Paul is clear that Christ Jesus is the only human to currently have immortality — no, I don’t believe this passage was talking about the Father, since otherwise it would seem to mean that Christ Himself, as well as the angels and other spiritual beings, could die at this point, so it appears it has to be a passage about a human and how that human is the only human who is currently immortal), but few Christians ever really stop to think about these facts particularly deeply, and so they just assume we are inherently “eternal” and immortal, even if it’s just our souls which are naturally immortal for some reason. The simple truth, though, is that immortality isn’t something we’re born with; we have to be given immortality, and it won’t be truly given to any of us until a very specific time in the future, which is all the proof one should need that no human can possibly suffer in the lake of fire without end, as the following points should make clear:
- Immortality for humans is always connected with salvation in Scripture (only those who are finally experiencing salvation physically — in living bodies, with most of them having been resurrected from the dead first — will have “put on immortality,” or will have been made immortal).
- Those who are resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement haven’t been saved (from a relative perspective, at least), so they are raised as regular, mortal, biological humans.
- Mortal humans who are set on fire burn up and die.
- There’s absolutely nothing in Scripture that tells us God will keep resurrecting people in the lake of fire so they can die over and over again after they’ve died a second time (which would make the lake of fire also the third and fourth and fifth deaths, and so-on-and-so-forth, rather than just the second death), and to insist that He will is quite clearly eisegesis, since there’s just nothing in the text that even implies it.
- Hence, nobody can be said to suffer in the lake of fire any longer than it takes to burn up and die one time, at least not without reading one’s assumptions into Scripture, especially considering the fact that there are no passages which actually say that any humans will suffer consciously in the lake of fire, but rather that only carcases will exist there as far as humans go.
But even if humans can’t suffer in the “hell” which is the lake of fire, if we’re “eternal” beings, as most Christians assume, we must still be able to suffer in a version of “hell” which the unsaved experience after they die, right? This is what most Christians believe, anyway. And because of this, while “ye shall not surely die” might be the first recorded lie the devil told, it’s now being taught as truth by many people in the Christian religion who are trying to convince us that death isn’t actually death at all, but is instead actually life (“eternal life” even), and that it’s even a friend bringing us to finally be with the Lord rather than an enemy that needs to be destroyed. Based on all the sermons where I’ve heard preachers say things like, “When your heart stops beating, you won’t actually die; instead, you’ll pass on to the next stage of your life, the place where you’ll spend the rest of eternity, and the location you’ll end up in from that point onward depends on whether or not you choose to accept Christ before you pass on to that final destination,” it’s clear they’ve forgotten that nobody remains dead, since there’s still a resurrection of the dead in the future, prior to the Great White Throne Judgement. But in addition to this, it also demonstrates that they’re unaware of the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures tell us the dead know nothing, meaning they aren’t conscious at all (many Christians will do all sorts of theological and mental gymnastics trying to prove that these assertions made in Ecclesiastes don’t literally mean what they say, but there had been no passages in Scripture prior to those which said the dead are conscious, so there’s no basis for the idea that anyone who read these statements at the time they were written could have possibly understood that the writer instead meant the dead actually do have knowledge; although, for those who still believe in the immortality of the soul, if Solomon was trying to get across to us that the dead don’t have knowledge, I’d like you to tell me what he would have needed to have written differently there in order to convince you he actually did mean that they indeed don’t have knowledge). Even in the Greek Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible that are generally referred to as the “New Testament”), death is compared to sleep, not to being awake in an afterlife existence (the book of Acts didn’t say Stephen died and went to heaven, for example; while his spirit was returned to God — not as a conscious being, though, since our spirit is just the breath of life that generates a conscious soul while in a body and isn’t conscious itself, since it’s actually our soul that is our consciousness, and spirits and souls aren’t the same thing — the book of Acts says that he himself went to sleep, not that he remained awake), outside of one very misunderstood story in the book of Luke, which I’ll discuss shortly.
Scripture says that David and others fell asleep — referring to their actual persons being asleep or unconscious in death — not that just their bodies decayed while they themselves remained conscious (when Scripture speaks of a person dying, it doesn’t just say their body died while they themselves continued to live; instead, it says that they themselves have died, and that the location of their very person is now “in the grave” or “in the dust,” in the very same place that everyone ends up, including all animals as well, in fact, and there’s no scriptural basis for reading these verses in any other way, at least not that I’m aware of). Similarly, bodily resurrection is likewise compared to waking up from sleep in Scripture, and not to a person remaining awake in an afterlife, before being returned to their body to continue to be awake.
It’s important to remember that consciousness, at least for biological beings such as humans, can cease to exist, since one can be rendered unconscious, either by going to sleep, by fainting, or by being knocked out (and when someone is unconscious, they are no longer conscious, meaning they are no longer aware of themselves and their surroundings, which means their consciousness has temporarily ceased to exist, which is something I can’t believe I have to explain, but somehow many people I’ve discussed this with seem to miss this fact, so here we are), and if we can lose our consciousness under those common circumstances, with it ceasing to exist while we’re alive (which means we aren’t in a never-ending state of consciousness), there’s no reason to believe it could return after we die without a living and active brain to bring it back into existence the way our brains do when we wake up from sleep and regain consciousness. To make this really clear, let’s say that somebody was sleeping, and hence had no consciousness existing at that point (and before someone brings up REM sleep and dreaming, the subconscious processes of a physical brain that cause us to dream while asleep aren’t the same thing as the consciousness we have while we’re awake, nor is there any reason to believe the neurological processes that generate dreams can occur without a living, biological brain; and one doesn’t dream the whole time they’re asleep anyway — in fact, we only dream about 20% of the time we’re asleep at night, so for approximately one third of our lives we aren’t conscious at all), or was even knocked unconscious with a hard object. If they were to suddenly die right then while unconscious (and this hypothetical person is not in a state of REM sleep, and hence isn’t dreaming in this scenario, just to remove any doubt), would their consciousness just snap back into existence at the point of their death? There’s absolutely no reason to think it would, and the idea that death can recreate a consciousness that had stopped existing (as would be the case if this happened) really makes no sense at all.
But getting back to Scripture, it’s also important to remember that the first time those in the body of Christ are said to meet the Lord is going to be in the air in our newly quickened bodies (while living members of the Israel of God will do so at the Second Coming, and dead members of the Israel of God will do so at the resurrection of the just, 75 days after the Tribulation ends — and please compare the numbers in Daniel 12:11–13 to the numbers in Revelation 13:5 if you aren’t familiar with the 75 day difference between the Second Coming and the resurrection of the just, because this is an important difference that proves the quickening of the body of Christ takes place prior to the Second Coming, or at least prior to the resurrection of the just), which is the point from when we’re said to finally “ever be with the Lord” (and not from a previous point such as our physical death, which would be when those in the body of Christ actually began to “ever be with the Lord” if the immortality of the soul were true). In fact, the blessed hope we’re told to comfort one another with isn’t that the dead get to live happily with the Lord as ghosts in another dimension called heaven, but is rather the expectation that the dead in Christ will eventually be resurrected, and that all of us in the body of Christ (both those still living and those newly resurrected) will then be quickened and caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, which is when we’ll finally be in the heavens. (And the reference to “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” in verse 14 is just talking about the spirits of the dead members of the body of Christ that had “returned to God” now coming back to rejoin their bodies, and isn’t meant to imply that they were already enjoying being “ever with the Lord” in heaven, since our spirits aren’t actually conscious — it’s our souls that are our consciousness, generated by a brain in a body which is being kept alive by our spirit, and our soul can’t exist so long as our spirit is not residing within our physical body, keeping our brain alive.) It’s important to remember that the reason Paul even brought this up to begin with was to comfort those who had lost loved ones to death. If the immortality of the soul were true, he would have instead needed to have written something more along the lines of, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus are with Him now, enjoying the bliss of heaven, which is where you’ll go to ever be with the Lord when you sleep as well. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Of course, Paul also makes it quite clear that the immortality of the soul can’t be true when he wrote, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” as well as when he talked about all the dangers he faced while evangelizing, and pointed out that there would be no reason for him to do so if there were no resurrection from the dead, because if there was no resurrection then nobody could be saved, in which case he might as well just go live life without worrying about evangelizing. This wouldn’t be true if those who are saved go to another dimension called heaven when they die. The fact that we don’t is why he could make that claim: because without the physical resurrection we would have absolutely no hope at all, since we would cease to exist for good (we wouldn’t even have the hope of continuing on as ghosts in another dimension called “heaven” with God, since those who died in Christ would have “perished,” meaning no longer existing at all, and having no chance of ever existing again either, according to this passage), which was basically the entire reason Paul wrote that chapter in his first epistle to the Corinthians to begin with.
In addition, we know that not only has David himself not gone to heaven, at least not as of the time Peter made that speech recorded in the book of Acts (which was after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, which means we also have no reason to believe he’s ended up there since then), but that nobody other than Christ Himself had either as of the time John wrote that assertion in his commentary in the book of John, which was also after Jesus ascended into heaven (Jesus’ “red letters” quote should really end at verse 12 based on the fact that verse 13 says the Son of man was in heaven at that point, which we know Jesus wasn’t at the time He had that discussion with Nicodemus, so everything from verse 13 to 21 presumably had to have been John’s personal commentary on the topic, written after Jesus had left the earth; it’s important to remember that the book of John was a theology book rather than a history book and, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, used historical quotes of Jesus to prove theological points instead of primarily being a historical record in and of itself the way the three Synoptic Gospels were, and that John often added his own commentary to the book, even though this commentary would have indeed been inspired), so it seems pretty obvious that heaven is only for those who have been quickened, and isn’t for those who are currently dead.
In fact, if people were to remain conscious after death, God would cease to be their God while they waited for their physical resurrection, since He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, which would make things strange for people in the supposed afterlife if they no longer had a God (although, if the immortality of the soul were true, that would be a good explanation as to why the dead do not praise God, or even remember that He exists, since He’d no longer be their God while they were still dead). Strangely enough, though, some Christians actually try to use this statement to support their view that the dead remain conscious, mistakenly thinking that Jesus’ statement meant the dead aren’t actually dead, but are actually alive. If they just took the time to examine the context of the whole passage, however, they’d discover that it was really about how the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a physical resurrection in the future, were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about who a hypothetical person would be married to after being resurrected from the dead during the impending kingdom in the next “world” (referring to the next age, when the kingdom of heaven begins in Israel; the word “world,” at least in the KJV, doesn’t always mean “planet” or “earth,” but in many cases, including this one, is a synonym for “age,” meaning “a long period of time with a definite end,” although it can sometimes also refer figuratively to the zeitgeist — meaning the specific “spirit” — of a particular age) here on earth. They weren’t asking about a ghost in an afterlife dimension and whether or not she’d have to be polygamous in that imaginary realm, but were asking their question about her various marriages in order to make the idea of resurrection seem ridiculous. However, Jesus corrected them by not only pointing out that those who are resurrected from the dead at the beginning of that “world”/age (referring to the thousand year kingdom of heaven) will be immortal like the angels and hence will not be married anymore at that time (because procreation, which was normally done by married people in Israel, isn’t something immortal beings are meant to do), but also by using the fact that the Lord could not legitimately claim the title of “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” as Moses revealed Him to be, if the dead weren’t going to be physically resurrected someday, because He’s technically not the God of those who are currently dead, but is rather actually only the God of the living (Jesus was using prolepsis in that statement — which is a figure of speech meaning “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished,” and is something God also does when He calls what is not yet as though it already were — in order to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will definitely be resurrected someday, because otherwise that statement about them would have been a lie since it would mean they’ll never exist again).
The passage just can’t be read as saying they were actually still alive at that time. Verse 37 (“…that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush…”) makes it very clear that Jesus is talking about the fact that these three patriarchs would eventually be physically resurrected, not that they’re actually still alive in another dimension (He didn’t say, “that the dead are living in another dimension”; He said, “that the dead are raised,” referring to a future resurrection). Jesus’ whole point is that, if they aren’t going to be raised from the dead to live again, God could not be said to be their God, because He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. If they were actually still alive in some afterlife dimension, God would have still been their God from a literal perspective rather than just a proleptic perspective at that time (and they could still thank and praise Him, contrary to what the book of Psalms says), but Jesus’ whole point was that, without a physical resurrection, He couldn’t be their God, since they’d be dead and would never exist again. Because they will be resurrected, however, God actually can be said to be their God, even if only from a proleptic perspective at present.
There’s just no way to read verses 37 and 38 as meaning anything other than Jesus saying that those who have “gone to sleep” are indeed dead and gone until their resurrection, because the only way that Moses’ statement about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could possibly be used as proof of the resurrection of the dead is if the three of them have ceased to live for the time being. If the three of them are actually still alive in an afterlife dimension somewhere, and if Jesus’ statement about God being the God of the living rather than the God of the dead was actually Him trying to prove the idea that God is still their God because they’re actually still alive somewhere, then the resurrection of the dead would be entirely unnecessary for God to be their God, and Jesus’ argument couldn’t possibly help prove a future resurrection at all, which means they have to no longer exist as conscious beings for now or else Jesus’ entire argument proves nothing. (Of course, the parallel telling of this discussion in Matthew 22 makes it even more obvious, since Jesus is recorded in that book as saying, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” making it even more clear that this statement about God not being the God of the dead, but of the living, is entirely about the resurrection; when Jesus said, “the living,” He could only have been referring to living in a physical body in the future, as this particular rendition of the discussion makes clear.)
And speaking of dead “Old Testament” saints, some people also try to use the appearance of Moses and Elijah on “the Mount of Transfiguration” to try to argue that the dead are conscious. But aside from the fact that this would make Jesus guilty of the sin of necromancy if He was talking to the ghosts of these two dead men (and Jesus never sinned, so it’s clear that this couldn’t have been what was happening there), we know that this was simply a vision to fulfill the prophecy made immediately before this passage, because Matthew 17:9 outright tells us that it was simply a vision.
And before someone tries to use Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor to prove the immortality of the soul, whatever the witch saw (remember, Saul didn’t see anything here), she described it as “gods ascending out of the earth,” so this was far more likely to have been a spiritual being of some sort than actually being Samuel (although the way this sort of thing was performed back then, from what I’ve been led to understand, involved a witch looking into a pit and pretending to speak to the dead in the pit, so I suppose it’s possible that God temporarily resurrected Samuel from the dead in that pit, but that wouldn’t prove the immortality of the soul either since he wouldn’t have been dead while in that pit).
Those aren’t the only passages they misuse, though, to try to prove the immortality of the soul. For example, many like to also claim that Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Aside from the fact that this isn’t actually what Paul said at all (his actual words were, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord”), if you look at the context of what he said in the previous verses, and also remember that a physical resurrection in an immortal, glorified body is what Paul was, and the living members of the body of Christ currently are (or at least should be), looking forward to, you can see that he was figuratively comparing our current mortal bodies to earthly houses, and saying that he was looking forward to no longer being “at home” in his mortal body, but instead wanted to be at home in his glorified “house not made with hands.” When Paul talked about “houses” and “homes” in these verses, as well as when he referred to being clothed there, he was talking about physical bodies, with the “house not made with hands” being a reference to his future immortal body, not to him existing as a ghost in another dimension after he dies. And so, when he wrote that he was “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord,” he couldn’t possibly have been talking about hoping he’d die so he would be with Jesus, since he specifically wrote in verses 3 and 4 that he was not hoping for death at all (when he wrote that he wasn’t looking to be “naked” or “unclothed”), but rather that he was hoping to be given an immortal body, or to be “clothed upon” (“with our house which is from heaven,” as he explained in verse 2) so that “mortality might be swallowed up of life,” confirming that this whole passage is about mortal bodies vs immortal bodies rather than about existing as ghosts in an ethereal afterlife dimension, and that he simply meant he was looking forward to trading in his mortal body for his future immortal body, which won’t happen until we’re caught up together to meet the Lord in the air (at least for those of us in the body of Christ).
This is similar to the way they misuse Paul’s quote that, for him specifically at that particular time (it’s important to note that this verse isn’t talking about believers in general, but was about Paul’s unenviable circumstances at the time he wrote these words), “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” to try to prove that he believed his death would bring him immediately to be with Christ in heaven, once again ignoring the context of the verses before these words, not to mention the verses after them as well, and the context of the surrounding verses make it pretty obvious that the “gain” Paul was referring to there would be a gain to the furtherance of the message he was preaching while in bonds, which his martyrdom would surely accomplish (the idea that the “gain” referred to going to heaven as a ghost is reading one’s presuppositions about the immortality of the soul into the passage). I’ll admit, verses 22 and 23 in the KJV aren’t the easiest for people today to understand (17th-century English isn’t something 21st-century people always find easy to grasp), and some people will assume that by, “yet what I shall choose I wot not,” Paul meant he hadn’t yet decided which option he was going to select, as if it was up to him. But whether he lived or died wasn’t actually up to him at all — it was up to the Roman government. Literally all Paul was saying there is that he wasn’t going to let it be known whether he’d personally rather continue living as a prisoner in bonds, which seemed to be helping the word to be spread more boldly, or whether he’d prefer to die and let his martyrdom help the cause even more than his state as a prisoner was doing, and that he was pretty much “stuck between a rock and a hard place” either way (which is basically all that “in a strait betwixt two” means in modern day colloquialism), since his only options at that point appeared to be equally undesirable for him as an individual, which is why he then went on to say that he’d prefer a third option over either of the seemingly available two options, which was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” because if Christ were to come for His body while Paul was still alive, he wouldn’t have to suffer through either of the two likely options, but would instead get to depart the earth without dying, to “ever be with the Lord” in the heavens in an immortal body, which is a far superior option to living as a prisoner in a mortal body or to being put to death. He couldn’t possibly have been referring to dying and being with Christ in an afterlife when he wrote, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ,” since he’d just finished telling his readers that he wasn’t going to say whether he’d rather live or die, and that neither of the two likely options were particularly desirable. Now, some Bible translations make it look like he simply couldn’t decide whether he’d prefer to live or die, but he outright said that his desire was “to depart,” so those translations don’t actually make any sense if “to depart” meant “to die.” Besides, he’d already told the Corinthians that he didn’t want to be “unclothed,” meaning he didn’t want to die, but instead wanted to be “clothed upon” with the immortal body that he’ll only receive when he’s quickened, so either way, the traditional interpretation of this verse just doesn’t work. Bottom line, there’s just no excuse for interpreting it in a way that contradicts the rest of Scripture, which the teaching that Paul would live on after his death and “ever be with the Lord” from that point rather than from the time the body of Christ is caught up together to meet the Lord in the air does in spades. It’s easy to get confused about verses like this if you ignore the context (of both the surrounding verses, and of Scripture as a whole), but once someone comes to realize the truth that death is actually death, and that “ye shall not surely die” is a satanic lie, they can then begin to interpret these passages in ways that are consistent with the rest of Scripture.
Christians don’t only misquote Paul in order to try to prove the immortality of the soul, however. Many also misquote Jesus as well, making Him out to have said, “If you die in your sins, whither I go, you cannot come.” This isn’t what Jesus said at all, though. He actually said, “I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.” This was a proclamation of fact, not an if/then proposition, as many misunderstand it to be (it helps to notice the plural “ye” in Jesus’ statement, since He was talking to, and about, the unbelieving Pharisees at the time, prophesying that all those Pharisees hearing that statement would indeed die in their sins and miss out on “eternal life” when He returns). Now, yes, in a follow-up statement, He did say, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” but aside from what I already pointed out (that the Pharisees to whom Jesus made the first prophetic statement would die in their sins), this doesn’t help prove the immortality of the soul either. All it proves is that certain people would die in their sins.
Likewise, they misread passages such as Revelation 6:9–11 to defend the idea of the immortality of the soul as well, but if this passage were meant to be read literally it would mean that martyred ghosts are all trapped underneath an altar rather than enjoying life in heaven, and that these ghosts can wear physical clothing. This passage is obviously meant to be interpreted symbolically, with the “souls” of the martyrs no more literally talking to God than Abel’s soul was talking to God from the dirt in Genesis 4:9–10 (which would have been just as unusual a place for a soul to reside, if the immortality of the soul were true, as it would be for a soul to reside underneath an altar until its resurrection), especially when taking everything else we’ve just covered into consideration.
Some also attempt to argue that the reference to the Gospel having been preached to them that are dead, as 1 Peter 4:6 mentions, means the dead must be conscious. At this point it should go without saying, based on all the passages we’ve already looked at, that there’s no question the dead are unconscious, so any passages one brings up to try to argue that they remain conscious have to be interpreted in light of the facts we’ve already covered, which means that the people mentioned in this passage who had the Gospel preached to them had to have still been physically alive at the time it was preached to them, meaning the Gospel was preached to them, and they then died at a later point.
However, the main passage they try to use to defend the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. This passage uses the word “hell” in the KJV (although many English Bible translations use the word “hades” instead), but it’s obviously about a whole other “hell” than the one where the lake of fire will be located, since that one is going to be a physical place in an actual valley here on earth, and this one appears to refer to an afterlife realm of some sort, which means it doesn’t seem like much about that “hell” can be applied to this one, and vice versa (although there actually is a small connection one can make between the two, which I’ll explain shortly). And so, even if this passage were meant to be taken literally, it couldn’t be used to prove never-ending torment the way some Christians try to use it, since Revelation 20:13 tells us that anyone who is in this version of “hell” will eventually leave it when they’re resurrected from the dead so they can be judged at the Great White Throne, and then possibly cast into the version of “hell” known as the lake of fire to die a second time, and since this particular “hell” is also said to be cast into the lake of fire, according to Revelation 20:14 (possibly referring figuratively to being the only place people will die, or at least the only place where the dead will be located, from then on), and because something can’t be cast into itself, figuratively or otherwise, we know that this “hell” and the lake of fire can’t possibly be the same thing.
At the end of the day, though, all the passages we’ve already covered make it quite clear that the dead can’t be conscious, which means there’s absolutely no way Jesus could have possibly meant for this story to have been interpreted literally, at least not without contradicting the rest of the Bible (not to mention basic common sense about how consciousness works, as we’ve also already discussed), since to do so would mean the rich man and Lazarus actually were alive while dead, contrary to what all the passages we just looked at say. Besides, unless one believes that Lazarus was sitting inside Abraham’s chest, that there’s actually physical water and fire that ghosts can interact with (not to mention gravity that they’re subject to, somehow keeping them from floating over a chasm even though there’s no matter there to be affected by gravity) in this supposed afterlife dimension which Jesus is apparently unveiling to Israelites for the first time (remember, no passage of Scripture prior to Luke 16 had ever revealed such an afterlife — in fact, until Jesus told this story, anyone who based their theology entirely upon what the Scripture which was available to them at that time said would assume nobody is even conscious when they’re dead, as we’ve already learned — and, as I mentioned when I discussed the supposedly figurative usage of the valley of Hinnom, it seems extremely unlikely that the Person who corrected people for teaching extrabiblical theological concepts by saying things like “have ye not read…?” and “it is written…” would suddenly turn around and teach a concept of an afterlife that is not only found nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, but which also seems to contradict everything the Hebrew Scriptures said about the state of the dead, as well as what he told the Sadducees about the state of the dead a few chapters later, as we’ve already discussed), they’re already not interpreting this story particularly literally. Not to mention, if we did take it literally, we’d have to believe that the rich all go to a place called hell when they die, while the poor all get saved, since there’s literally zero indication in this story that Lazarus was a believer. The reason Jesus said Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” seemed to be entirely because of his suffering as a beggar, not because He’d accepted Christ as his Saviour or anything like that — and likewise, the reason the rich man was said to be suffering in “hell” was because he got to enjoy good things during his life, not because of sin, or even because he rejected Jesus (there was no indication in the story that either Lazarus or the rich man had ever even heard of Jesus). The fact of the matter is, no Christians actually believe any of that, which means they’re already basically interpreting the story entirely figuratively to begin with, so they should really just finally acknowledge that it’s 100% figurative, since they already read it that way anyway (even if they haven’t realized until now that they’re doing so), meant to convey a message that had nothing to do with an afterlife at all, and everything to do with potentially missing out on getting to enjoy life in the kingdom of God when it begins in Israel, just like most of Jesus’ other warnings were about, especially in light of everything else we’ve covered about the state of the dead. Jesus was basically just letting his audience know that the kingdom of God would be taken from the religious leadership in Israel, meaning the covetous Pharisees who were listening to him tell this story, as well as the chief priests, which the purple and fine linen on the rich man tells us he represented in this story, and that it will be given to other, “lesser” Israelites — meaning Jesus’ “lowly” disciples, along with other Israelites who are among “the least of these,” currently scattered among the Gentiles, possibly not even realizing they’re actually Israelites — who will form “a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” in the land of Israel at the time they’re resurrected from the dead at the resurrection of the just, or if they’ve “endured to the end” and survived the Tribulation, especially if they’re among the 144,000 Israelites spread among the nations who will be sealed at that time (and the fact that some Israelites will miss out on enjoying life in the kingdom at that time is the connection between the two “hells” I mentioned earlier, since this is a story meant to convey that the religious leaders will miss out on enjoying life in the kingdom when it begins in Israel, with ending up dead in the “hell” known as the lake of fire for a time being at least one of the possible things that will keep them from it). Please note that I’m not insisting this is a parable, however (even though it almost certainly is one), because if I did, some Christians would argue that it can’t be a parable based on the fact that Jesus mentioned someone by name in the story, and because He’d never done so in any other parables before. And while this is a really weak argument, rather than get into that whole debate I’ll just say, since we know that basically nothing Jesus said in this passage can be read literally anyway, parable or not, it’s still entirely figurative, and leave it at that.
So, rather than going to literal afterlife realms called heaven or hell after we die, Scripture instead tells us that death is a return. The body returns to the dust (meaning to the ground), the soul returns to “hell” (the phrase “is turned into” in Psalms 9:17 in the KJV is simply a poetic expression meaning “is returned to,” telling us that one’s soul returns to some place or state referred to as “hell” in the KJV; this verse just tells us that our consciousness returns to the nonexistence from whence it came, which is all that most of the passages in the KJV which talk about people going to a place called “hell” after they die are referring to — and before someone brings up the fact that this verse is talking about “the wicked,” keep in mind that it still tells us they’ll return to “hell,” which means they had to have come from there to begin with, so regardless of who this particular verse is talking about, it still means that the “hell” the dead end up in can’t be what most Christians assume it is because it means they’ve already “been there” before, figuratively speaking, meaning they didn’t exist at one time, and will return to that state of nonexistence again in the future, with their soul, meaning their consciousness, being “hidden or unseen” at that point, which is why it’s said that one’s soul is in “hell” when one dies), and the spirit returns to God who created it (although not as a conscious entity, since our spirits aren’t conscious on their own without a body; soul, or feeling and consciousness, is an emergent property of combining a spirit with a body, just like combining the colours yellow and blue creates the colour green — the spirit is our “breath of life,” but it doesn’t experience consciousness when it’s not inside a physical body).
This presents quite a dilemma for the popular view, of course. If the soul of a dead person were existing consciously in an actual place called hell and the spirit were with God, would the soul of an unsaved person suffer in a fiery location while the spirit enjoyed being with God in heaven? Remember, Scripture doesn’t discriminate between “saved” and “unsaved” spirits when it says they return to God upon death (to claim that only the saved spirits return to God is to read one’s presuppositions into the text). And what does that say about us if our spirit and soul can go to separate places but are both conscious (are we made up of two conscious beings that can be split up when we die, yet only one will be punished for sin in hell while the other is in heaven with God)? This is just one more reason why the traditional view makes no sense. Instead, it’s better to believe what Scripture actually says: that souls can actually die. On top of that, if those who are saved (relatively speaking) “go to heaven” as soon as they die, then death isn’t really an enemy to be defeated (and, really, destroyed) at all, as Paul told us it is, but is instead actually an ally finally bringing us to God (and causing us to “ever be with the Lord” before the time Paul said this would actually occur), with our eventual resurrection just being icing on the cake rather than being the actual cake itself that it’s supposed to be (the resurrection and quickening of our human bodies has become nothing more than a small side note in most of Christendom, when it’s what we’re actually supposed to be looking forward to).
There’s an even more important reason to reject the idea of the immortality of the soul, however, and that’s the fact that one can’t join the body of Christ while truly believing in the doctrine. You see, when Paul explained what it was that his readers believed when they were saved (and hence were immersed into the body of Christ), he wrote that not only did they come to believe that Christ died for our sins, but also that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day. Now, every Christian out there will claim to agree that these words are true, but few of them actually understand what they mean, and can you really believe something you don’t understand? Yes, all of us who call ourselves Bible believers agree that the words “Christ died for our sins” and “He was buried” are true, but how many of us actually agree that “He was buried”? Most believe that His body was buried, but they also believe that He Himself went somewhere else altogether (most believe He went to another dimension called hell for those three days, even if it was in a part known as “Abraham’s bosom,” as a conscious being, although others believe He just went to a place called “paradise,” presumably referring to an afterlife dimension called “heaven,” rather than to hell). The problem is, Paul didn’t say that only Christ’s body died, he said, “Christ died”; and he didn’t say that only Christ’s body was buried while He Himself went somewhere else, he said, “He was buried,” which means that He Himself was placed in the tomb, not that He Himself went somewhere else while His body was placed in the tomb (“He was buried” is a passive statement as far as Christ’s person goes, so even if you believe that Christ Himself actually ended up in the tomb temporarily as a ghost, the wording of that passage can’t be interpreted to mean He followed His body to the tomb from the cross as a ghost, then went somewhere else from there after His body was buried, or even just remained in the tomb as a ghost for three days, because the way it’s worded tells us He had no involvement in being buried at all, other than passively having it happen to Him; so unless his pallbearers also had some sort of mystical object they used to drag Him into the tomb as a ghost after He died — which wouldn’t fit with what John 19:30 says, since it says He “gave up the ghost,” not that He became a ghost — it can’t legitimately be said that “He was buried” unless He was His body and nothing more at that point). Paul didn’t just randomly include the words “He was buried” in this passage for no reason (all Scripture is inspired by God, and every word God inspired to be written down is meant to be there, which means every word is there for a reason, rather than just being arbitrarily thrown in there by the human writer as would be the case if those who believe in the immortality of the soul were correct). If Christ’s (and not just His body’s) burial wasn’t a crucial part of what Paul said his readers believed when they were saved, he would have just written that “Christ died for our sins and rose the third day,” and left those particular words about His burial out altogether, since mentioning that fact would have then been entirely superfluous (not to mention deceptive, at least to anyone who takes the words written there seriously). There’s a reason that Paul included the words “He was buried” as something he claimed those who experience the sort of salvation he wrote about have to believe, and the reason is that we have to believe (which means we have to first understand) what those specific words actually mean. (And for anyone who might still be sceptical, if Paul was trying to tell us it’s important to believe that Christ actually did lose consciousness when He died — just as He would have every time He went to sleep, unless you believe He remained aware of Himself and His surroundings when He slept as well — and that He Himself was buried rather than just His body while He went elsewhere, I’d like you to tell me what Paul would have needed to have written differently there in order to convince you of this.)
And before someone tries to protest, saying that Jesus had the power to resurrect Himself, which means He must have been conscious, pointing out Jesus’ claim in John 10:18 that He had power to take His life again, the word “power” here just refers to the sort of right that someone in authority has to have an action they wish to be completed actually be performed. Just because a king is said to have the power to tax the citizens of his country doesn’t mean he personally goes to every single citizen of the country and forces them to give him the money directly; it just means that he has the legal authority to expect they’ll pay their taxes. Likewise, Pilate had the “power” to crucify Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he physically performed the actual crucifixion himself, but instead had his soldiers do the actual deed under his legal authority (and so what Jesus said just meant: “I have the right to lay [my life] down, and I have the right to receive it again,” and He did receive it again, when He was woken from His sleep by His Father). Likewise, when Jesus said in John 2:19 that He would raise His body three days after His death, it’s important to remember the fact that “He was buried,” and that any passage we read about His resurrection has to be interpreted in such a way that it doesn’t contradict this crucial part of what Paul said his readers believed when they were saved, which means that Jesus could only be referring to raising His body in the sense of getting up off the slab in the tomb after His God and Father resurrected Him from the dead (which is Who the Bible says actually raised Him from the dead anyway). The context of this passage wasn’t about His ability to resurrect Himself to begin with; if you read the whole passage, you’ll see that it was simply about how the fact that He wouldn’t remain dead would be a sign to the people who heard Him.
Of course, some will now ask, “But doesn’t 1 Peter 3:19 say that Jesus preached to spirits in prison while He was dead?” Well, no, it doesn’t. He didn’t preach to the spirits until after His body was quickened (which obviously couldn’t happen until after He was resurrected from the dead), as we can see from the verse before that one. But regardless, Peter said He was preaching to spirits, not to souls of dead humans. Since the spirits of dead humans return to God in heaven (just as Jesus’ spirit did when He died, unlike His soul, which instead was said to have figuratively gone to “hell”), the spirits He was preaching to couldn’t have been humans, which means they must have instead been spiritual beings, exactly as Peter said they were. They weren’t the spirits of humans, but rather were the spiritual beings who sinned in Noah’s time by breeding with humans (and creating the giants who became mighty men of renown, also sometimes referred to as the Nephilim), and who were then locked up in yet another “hell” from the ones we’ve already discussed (this one sometimes also referred to as “Tartarus” in some Bible translations), because of their sin. Besides, all passages have to be interpreted in light of Christ’s burial anyway, so it goes without saying that any attempts to argue that Jesus was actually conscious while He was dead are nonstarters because of that fact alone, and that any passages we think might imply He was actually still alive have to be interpreted accordingly.
But is it really so important that we should care what Paul meant when he wrote that Christ died and was buried? Well, yes, very much so! It’s only when we realize that Christ actually died and was buried that we can truly appreciate His faith in going to the cross. You see, He knew that, unless His Father resurrected Him, He would have remained dead, and, as Paul explained in Romans 3:21–23, this is the faith that ultimately saves us: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ [not “by faith in Jesus Christ”; this is all about Christ’s faith, not our own] unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” Unfortunately, because most Christians don’t actually believe that Christ truly died for our sins and actually was buried, instead believing that only His body did and was while He Himself lived on and went somewhere else altogether, none of these particular Christians can be said to have been baptized into the body of Christ yet, since they haven’t truly believed what Paul said those who experience the sort of salvation he wrote about will believe at the time they’re saved (at least from a relative perspective).
All of the above should really be all the proof anyone needs that the doctrine of never-ending torment can’t possibly be true, since A) the dead aren’t conscious, and hence can’t suffer without end in the “hell” they end up in, and B) those humans who end up in the lake of fire will also be dead, making them impervious to any suffering as well, which means that any of the “proof texts” you’ve been told teach this doctrine have to mean something else altogether. Still, if hell isn’t a “place” where “unsaved” humans exist consciously after they die, then what about heaven? What and where is it, and how do people go there? Nearly everyone who believes in God has asked these questions at some point in their lives, but the answers they’re normally given are generally vague guesses or unscriptural assumptions, unfortunately, or are simply statements insisting that we can’t know for sure. The truth, however, is that Scripture actually answers these questions for us, and the answer is so simple that I can actually show you heaven right now (or at least part of it). How? Well, let’s take a look at some of the passages of Scripture which tell us what heaven really is:
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. — Genesis 1:20
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. — Matthew 24:30
So when we see the word heaven, we can see that it’s sometimes referring to the sky, where the birds and clouds are (the atmosphere, in other words).
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained — Psalm 8:3
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth — Genesis 1:14–17
As we’ve already determined, heaven is “above” us, but it isn’t only a reference to the atmosphere, but to outer space as well.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. — Genesis 1:1
This tells us that there are only two overall “places” one can be: on earth, or in heaven. And if one is in the sky or in outer space, they’re not on earth, which only leaves heaven for them to be in.
And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. — Luke 24:51
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. — Acts 1:9–12
This also reaffirms that heaven is a reference to what is “up above” the ground we stand on. As we can see, after Jesus ascended up into heaven, the disciples were gazing up into the sky (heaven), as the angels also confirmed they were (while also confirming that a prophecy of Zechariah is about Him and when He’ll one day return to the exact same spot He left from, which was the Mount of Olives). So, simply put, if someone wants to see heaven now, all they have to do is look up at the sky.
Most people, of course, think of heaven as a place the righteous dead go to, but you won’t find any Scripture that tells you anyone goes to a place called heaven while dead. The truth is, only the living can go to heaven, at least in a conscious state, and those in the body of Christ will go there when Christ comes for His body, and will finally “ever be with the Lord” there (and if there’s no Scripture which says the dead exist consciously in a place called heaven, this is yet more proof that nobody will exist consciously in any of the “hells” either). That said, heaven isn’t a place you’d want to go right now in your current body (aside from a short trip there in a plane or a space shuttle), because one needs a quickened body that could survive and thrive out there if you were planning to stay long, considering the fact that you’d suffocate from lack of oxygen, or freeze to death, or die from radiation poisoning out there in the heavens without either an immortal body or some sort of craft or structure to protect you from death (this is at least partly why Paul wrote that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”; we know that flesh and blood will inherit the part of the kingdom of God which will be on earth, meaning the kingdom of heaven, because we know that not everyone in the kingdom will be immortal during the thousand years, so this was clearly only about the part of the kingdom that will be in heaven, not the part that will be sent from heaven). It also isn’t the perfect, sinless place most people think it is, at least not yet, since the devil and his angels haven’t been cast out of heaven yet, for one thing, and many spiritual beings there still haven’t been reconciled to God yet either (and the word “reconciled” means the parties on both sides of an estrangement or disagreement are at peace with one another), although it will be pretty great for the body of Christ when we have our new bodies that can enjoy it out there with our Lord as we fulfill our impending ministry to help reconcile the alienated spiritual beings out there to God. This means, by the way, that Christians who like to claim that God can’t allow sin into heaven (which is not an assertion I’ve ever seen made in Scripture) seem to have forgotten that, if Satan needs to be cast out of heaven, it means sin has already been in heaven, as is also confirmed by the fact that the book of Job says he was there too (not to mention the fact that sinners travel through heaven in airplanes every single day). Similarly, the claim they often make that sin can’t exist in heaven because God can’t look upon sin is also an unscriptural one, since the words are actually, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil,” with “to behold” in this verse simply being a poetic expression meaning “to look upon approvingly.” His omnipresence and the fact that He sees everything would make this a very problematic (not to mention contradictory) verse as well, if most Christians were correct about this (and I should point out that this is obviously referring to the sort of evil that falls under the category of moral evil rather than morally-neutral evil, since few people remember that not all evil is sinful, as I mentioned previously, and don’t realize that God actually takes responsibility for the existence of evil, and are also unaware of the difference between God’s preceptive will and His providential will, but I’ll leave it at that because this is a much bigger topic than we have the time to get into here).
This, of course, raises the question of where people got the idea that the dead go to a place called heaven from in the first place. There are a few reasons for this, but the main two are verses that refer to God being in heaven, as well as a misunderstanding of the word “paradise.”
Since we know that the body of Christ will go to the heavens, and also that people will be living with God in the New Jerusalem, most Christians have assumed that these references must be talking about a place the dead go, not realizing that these things both take place within the physical universe rather than in an ethereal afterlife dimension (the body of Christ goes to the heavens to complete a ministry there, but not until after they’ve been resurrected from the dead and/or quickened; and the New Jerusalem later descends from the heavens/outer space to the New Earth rather than being a place anyone who is dead goes to). That said, yes, God indeed is in heaven. He has a throne room (which can also be referred to figuratively as “heaven”) and a throne somewhere out there in outer space, presumably in the New Jerusalem while it waits to descend to the New Earth, and it also seems likely that He manifests a part of Himself in some sort of manner that the spiritual beings there can perceive, but He ultimately transcends the whole universe at the same time.
As far as the second misunderstanding goes, paradise is a reference to a future state of the earth where the tree of life will be, both after Jesus returns and also later on the New Earth (presumably the part of the New Earth inside the New Jerusalem), which makes sense considering there would be no need to eat from the tree of life in an ethereal afterlife dimension as a ghost. This means that Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross about being with Him in paradise couldn’t mean what most Christians assume it to mean, because paradise doesn’t even exist yet (and anyone who wants to insist that Jesus was speaking about something other than a future state of the earth will need to provide some scriptural references with solid exegesis of those passages to prove that assertion — and before someone brings up 2 Corinthians 12:4, in light of everything we’ve just covered, this being a reference to Paul having a vision of the future splendours of the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, and not a reference to the supposed afterlife dimension we’ve now learned there’s no basis for believing exists anyway, makes far more sense than any other interpretation I’ve ever heard). Since we have to interpret this verse in light of everything else we’ve just covered, based on the way it renders Jesus’ statement, we’re forced to interpret this verse in the KJV figuratively, meaning that, from the thief’s perspective, it would feel like the same day when he woke up from his sleep and began to live with Jesus in paradise, either in Israel after Jesus returns, or on the New Earth (and for those who think it would mean that Jesus was being less than truthful by speaking figuratively here, ask yourself if He was also then being untruthful when He spoke figuratively to call Himself a door?). This is also confirmed by Jesus’ statement that He hadn’t ascended to the Father yet in John 20:17, not to mention the fact that we’re told His soul went to “hell” when He died (which we now know simply means that His consciousness ceased to exist when He died), not to heaven (or paradise), and if Jesus did not go to paradise on that day, the thief could not have been with Him there either, verifying that this could only be a prophetic statement about a time in the distant future when paradise begins on this earth or the New Earth. (And yes, I know that Jesus had been resurrected when He made that statement about not having ascended to the Father yet, but it’s still not a statement He could have made honestly if He had ascended as a ghost, which we know He Himself didn’t do anyway since His body was in the tomb and His soul was figuratively “residing” in “hell” while He was dead.)
Now, there are those who understand what death and paradise are, but who think this passage should be translated differently. You see, some will point out that there are no commas in the original Greek, and tell us that Luke 23:43 would be better translated as saying, “Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise” (just like Paul used similar expressions in Acts 20:26 and Acts 26:2, not to mention all the times expressions like this were used in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as in Deuteronomy 4:26, 39–40, 5:1, 6:6, 7:11, 8:1, 11, 19, 9:3, and so-on-and-so-forth), simply meaning the thief would be with Jesus in paradise, either in Israel after Jesus returns, or on the New Earth, in the future. That said, we don’t actually have to change the punctuation at all in order to understand what Jesus was getting at since, regardless of where the comma is located, we still have to interpret this verse in light of the rest of Scripture, which means that whether we move the comma (as some translations do) and interpret Jesus’ statement literally, or leave it where it is in the KJV and interpret Jesus’ statement figuratively, the end result is still the exact same no matter where the comma ends up (at least if we’re taking the rest of Scripture into consideration), with the thief not ending up in paradise with Jesus until he’s resurrected from the dead to live either in Israel or on the New Earth, so I’ll leave it at that. (Of course, you already know I’m going to ask it, but for anyone who might still be sceptical, if Jesus was trying to tell the thief that he’d be with Jesus in paradise when it begins in Israel or on the New Earth in the future, I’d like you to tell me what He would have needed to have said differently there in order to convince you of this.)
The fact of the matter is, nobody mentioned anywhere in the Bible was ever recorded as looking forward to an afterlife in a place called heaven, or as being afraid of being punished consciously in an afterlife realm called hell, nor had any Scripture prior to the story of the rich man and Lazarus ever even suggested that people would go to an afterlife realm to live happily or to suffer in while dead either, and the fact that the concept of an afterlife realm for ghosts wasn’t ever even hinted at in the Hebrew Scriptures should really tell you everything you need to know about the idea. Now, yes, there is a certain type of passage which some Christians who don’t want to let go of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul will read their assumptions into in order to claim they do teach it, such as Genesis 15:15, for example, which says, “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace,” and if one weren’t aware of everything we’ve just covered, and they assumed that there is an afterlife realm which the dead end up in, it’s easy to see how somebody could read that assumption into this statement, concluding that Abram’s (Abraham’s) ancestors are in this afterlife realm, and that he would eventually join them there as well. However, there isn’t anything in the verse that actually says his fathers were in any sort of afterlife realm at all — the idea that an afterlife realm is where they were located is nothing more than an assumption one has to read into the text based on doctrinal presuppositions — and based on what we’ve now learned, they couldn’t possibly have been in one, since we now know that the dead are simply unconscious in the grave. And this fact is confirmed in the second half of the verse, which tells us that the grave is exactly where they were, giving us the location of his fathers which Abraham would eventually go to, when it says, “thou shalt be buried in a good old age.” What most people don’t realize is that this verse is using what’s known as a Synonymous Parallelism, which is where the second part of a passage in Scripture confirms, and even clarifies, what the first part is saying, using slightly different wording, in this case by telling us that Abraham would end being buried with his ancestors after he’d lived to an old age, which means that these sorts of passages are simply talking about physical death and burial, and that they can’t be used to defend the doctrine of the immortality of the soul at all.
And so, as I said, nobody mentioned anywhere in the Bible was ever recorded as looking forward to an afterlife of any sort. What they were looking forward to was a physical, bodily resurrection in the distant future, so figurative passages such as the one in Luke 16, and symbolic statements such as those in the book of Revelation, have to be interpreted in light of this fact (when Job said, “But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost,” and then asked, “and where is he?”, Job wasn’t wondering where the dead are residing while remaining in a conscious state, as some mistakenly assume, but was presumably just using a rhetorical question to point out that the hypothetical dead man no longer exists, since the next few verses make it very clear that he believed the dead are gone until their future resurrection). The story in Luke 16 wasn’t a new revelation to replace the scriptural doctrine of unconscious death until resurrection, so one has to figure out what it means without creating an entirely new theology that not only hadn’t ever even been hinted at prior to it in Scripture, but that would also contradict other parts of Scripture, which also means that any scriptural references to the version of “hell” that dead souls are in can’t be talking about a place any human will actually suffer in, and neither can any passages that talk about the lake of fire (at least they won’t be able to suffer there any longer than it takes for a mortal body to die in that fire). And so, the simple fact is, every single person who dies goes to “hell” (meaning the “hell” used as a figure of speech for the state of being unconscious because one is dead), whether they’re a believer or not. And only those who do understand and believe what it is Paul meant when he wrote that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, will get to go to heaven, but not until after they’ve been resurrected and/or made immortal, because the only way for someone who is dead to go to heaven would be to put their corpse on an airplane or space shuttle, but they wouldn’t enjoy it particularly much (although this does mean that someone who has died can technically be in heaven and hell at the exact same time, not that they’d know they were in either “location”).
This also means that Enoch and Elijah didn’t go to live in heaven rather than dying either (at least not the same “level” of heaven that Jesus is now living in, which is presumably the New Jerusalem), contrary to the way Christians assume they did, since whatever happened to them can’t contradict what you’ve already learned from this article. Genesis 5:24 is not an easy verse to understand, but based on everything we‘ve covered so far, we know that Jesus is the only human living in heaven (at least in the part of heaven outside of earth’s orbit where certain humans will go to live eventually), so they couldn’t have, which means that Enoch had to have gone somewhere other than heaven when he “was not” and was “taken by God.” The most probable explanation is that he was simply “caught away” from a dangerous situation where he would have been killed, to live out the rest of his life in safety somewhere else, similar to the way Philip was “caught away” after baptizing the eunuch, which seems to line up with the fact that the book of Hebrews includes Enoch in a list of people who lived by faith while also saying that everyone in the list died. And it’s recorded that King Jehoram received a letter from Elijah after the time that Elijah was caught up in the whirlwind to heaven, so, again, based on everything we now know about who is in heaven, this means that Elijah pretty much had to have been deposited somewhere else on earth to live out the rest of his life in safety too, just like Enoch, and that he then also eventually died.
However, while we now know that nobody can suffer in any of the “hells” (at least not for any longer than it takes to die a second time in the lake of fire), even though none of the passages we’ve looked at so far prove that anyone will remain dead in the lake of fire without end, none of them prove that the people who do end up there will ever be resurrected from it either, much less that they’ll then experience the salvation Paul wrote about (meaning being quickened), which brings up the question of whether any of that will actually happen. Well, the answer to that question is found all over Paul’s epistles, so let’s take a look at some of the passages which teach this.
The first passage to consider is 1 Corinthians 15:22, where Paul wrote that, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Many Christians assume that Paul was simply referring to being resurrected here, but we know that everyone who Paul said will be “made alive” includes those who will never die, such as the members of the body of Christ who will still be living at the time they’re caught up together in the air to meet the Lord when He comes for His body, not to mention the members of the Israel of God who will still be alive at the Second Coming and who will remain alive — thanks to the tree of life — until the time they’re finally also made immortal, so being “made alive” obviously can’t be referring to resurrection since not everyone who will be “made alive” will actually die and be resurrected. And since the “in Adam” half of the verse is about the end result of his sin as it applies to every one of us, it stands to reason that, “even so,” the “in Christ” part is about the end result of His death for our sins as it applies to every one of us as well, which can only be the quickening of our mortal bodies (since, as Paul explains later in this very chapter, being made immortal is what we’re looking forward to as far as our salvation goes, and that this is how the death Adam brought us is ultimately defeated). This also confirms that the “for as in Adam all die” part of the verse has to be referring to being in a state of slowly dying, meaning being mortal, because of what Adam did, since not everyone will actually fully make it to the final death state (meaning not everyone will end up as a corpse) prior to being “made alive.”
As for who is actually included in the part about being made alive goes, it’s important to notice that this passage doesn’t say, “even so shall all in Christ be made alive.” If it had, one might be able to justify the idea that it only applied to a specific group of people (only those “in Christ”). Thankfully, that’s not how it was worded. Instead, the way it was worded (“for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”) lets us know that Paul was using a parallelism there to tell us that everyone affected by the action of the first Adam is also equally affected by the action of the last Adam, and completely outside of their own desire or will. Just as nobody had any say in experiencing the effects of the first Adam’s action (mortality and, in most cases, physical death — aside from the relatively few people who will experience their quickening without having died — as well as sinfulness because of that mortality), they also have no say in experiencing the effects of the last Adam’s action (eventual immortality and sinlessness).
Of course, most Christians believe that one can’t be “in Christ” without having made a conscious decision of some sort to end up there, and they then read that assumption into this verse when trying to interpret it. But if you read the verse carefully (paying close attention to the order of the words in the verse), it should be obvious that it doesn’t actually say one has to make a choice to end up “in Christ” at all. The reason they conclude that one has to choose to be “in Christ” is generally because they’re assuming that the sort of salvation Paul is writing about here is the same sort of salvation Jesus spoke about during His earthly ministry (which is a type of salvation that one does have to do something specific in order to experience, and which not everyone experiences, although whether one does end up experiencing this sort of salvation is technically predetermined), not realizing that Paul was writing about an entirety different sort of salvation. In fact, the type of salvation Paul wrote about has multiple “levels” to it as well, and one has to determine whether Paul is referring to salvation from an absolute perspective, a relative perspective (and even this perspective has multiple angles to it, sometimes referring to one’s immediate salvation from the power of sin — which is the law/religion — when joining the body of Christ, but sometimes instead referring to getting to rule and reign with Christ, which not every member of the body of Christ will necessarily get to do), or a physical perspective, when he uses the words “salvation,” “save,” or “saved.” To be quickened (or to be “made alive”) refers to being made immortal, meaning experiencing the final stage, or “level,” of salvation, which is salvation from a physical perspective, and to be saved from a physical perspective requires one to first be saved from an absolute perspective, so this tells us that “in Christ shall all” be saved from a physical perspective (meaning, “because of Christ everyone” will be made immortal), and hence that all of us have also been saved from an absolute perspective (which simply means having one’s sins be included in Christ’s death for our sins) as well.
In addition to assuming that our salvation is (at least partly) based on possessing a certain attribute others don’t have, which allows us to fulfill a required action we have to do for ourselves in order to be saved (such as having to be wise enough to be able to make a choice to believe the exact right specific thing that ultimately saves us, for example), rather than being based 100% on Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection (with no action taken on our part at all to contribute to our salvation, since us having to do anything at all to ensure our own salvation — even having to choose to believe something specific — would be salvation by works), most Christians want to place the blame for our mortality, death, and sinfulness on each of us as individuals rather than on Adam as well, but that’s not what Paul taught. You see, Paul told us in Romans 5:12 that the reason humans sin is because we’re mortal/dying, and we’re dying because Adam sinned (“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”). Contrary to what pretty much all Christians have been taught, we ourselves don’t die because we sin. Only Adam and Eve died because they sinned — or, rather, began to die/became mortal because they sinned (yes, that’s what God’s warning to Adam, which is rendered figuratively in the KJV as, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” meant, as I’ll go into more detail on later). Their punishment was simply that they gained mortality leading to eventual physical death, not that they “died spiritually,” as most Christians assume (an assumption that doesn’t answer the question of why they became mortal when they sinned, and eventually died, since if the threat was simply the unscriptural “spiritual death” so many Christians believe in, then mortality and physical death were entirely different punishments that weren’t actually covered in the warning God gave them about death at all, which would also mean that mortality and physical death can’t be consequences of our own sin, as most Christians assume they are, either, if “spiritual death,” whatever that is, happened to be the actual punishment). While it’s true that most Christians have assumed the word “for” in this verse means “because,” and hence have interpreted the last two parts of this verse to mean “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned” in order to preserve their doctrine that we’re ultimately to blame for our own mortality and death (and many Bible versions have even translated the verse that way), aside from the fact that this would render the verse literally nonsensical (I can’t see any way that the phrase “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned” can legitimately follow “wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” and still make any sort of sense at all, at least not based on any rules of English grammar that I’m aware of), if we die because we sin, the first part of the verse would also be entirely superfluous, and might as well be cut out of the verse altogether, since that part of the passage would tell us basically nothing about why we sin, making it entirely irrelevant (the words “and so” are connecting the clause in the second half of the verse to the part of the verse that came before it, which means that what was written in the first part of the verse has to be the reason for the clause that comes after those words, yet there’s no actual connection made between Adam’s sin and our death and sin in the verse if that clause actually means “because all have sinned,” since that places the responsibility on us rather than on Adam). I mean, let’s break it all down: A) Adam sinned (“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world”), B) his sin brought him mortality leading to eventual death (“and death by sin”), C) because of this, his mortality passed down to his descendants (“and so death passed upon all men”) and D) for that reason, meaning because of that mortality, all of us descendants of Adam have also sinned (“for that all have sinned”), giving us a nice unbroken sequence of causes and effects. But if we were to instead interpret the last two parts of the verse as meaning, “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned,” we’ve suddenly lost the whole narrative, since this doesn’t tell us why all have sinned the way the literal reading of this verse does. “That all have sinned” because “death passed upon all men” answers that question, but reversing the order (making sin the cause and death the effect rather than death, or mortality, the cause and sin the effect) just makes a mess of the whole thing, leaving us with the question of why we sin, which was what Paul was trying to explain in the first place with this verse (and to quickly explain why mortality leads to sin, as the literal interpretation of this verse tells us it does, it’s simply because, while we can have the strength to avoid sinning some of the time, being mortal makes us too weak to avoid sinning all of the time). In fact, if our sin actually was the cause, the verse should have actually been written as: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin… but wait… that really doesn’t matter at all, now that I think about it, since death actually passed upon all men because all the rest of us have sinned too, and this had nothing to do with that one man to begin with, so I don’t know why I even mentioned him in the first place.” And for those of you who are thinking that “Original Sin” is the answer to that question, this is a theological concept with no scriptural basis, which means it’s a nonstarter when it comes to this topic, since we have to base our theology on Scripture. On top of all that, though, I’m hoping by now you’ve noticed that Paul didn’t simply write “for all have sinned” here the way he did in Romans 3:23. Instead, he wrote, “for that all have sinned.” Missing a single word when reading a passage in Scripture, such as the word “that” in this case, can change everything and make you completely miss the point of the passage. Yes, one could perhaps be excused for thinking Paul meant “because all have sinned” if he had left out the word “that” in this verse, and if one also hadn’t yet considered all of the above points we just covered. But he didn’t leave it out, and so “for that reason all have sinned” is the only thing Paul could have possibly been getting at in this part of the passage, which means the only way to use the word “because” instead of “for” in this verse is to interpret it along the lines of, “because of that [mortality] all have sinned,” which doesn’t help the idea that sin is the cause rather than the effect either. And so, I maintain that we should simply stick with what the KJV actually says here and interpret it accordingly (meaning that “death passed upon all men,” and “for that reason all have sinned”), giving us answers to both the question of why we’re mortal, as well as the question of why we sin, and also keeping the blame for our mortality, death, and sinfulness squarely on the shoulders of the “one man” Paul meant for us to understand it belongs on: Adam. (At least from a relative perspective, even if God was ultimately the one behind it all from an absolute perspective.)
This is also backed up a few lines later, in verses 18–19, when Paul told us that, just as judgement to condemnation came upon all men because of the offence and disobedience of one, and not because of their own offences or disobedience, righteousness and justification of life will also come upon all men because of the obedience of one, and not because of their own obedience — which would have to include obedience towards any commands to do anything specific in order to get saved, including commands to choose to believe anything specific, at least as far as salvation from an absolute perspective goes — telling us that only two people are responsible for our current and future states, the first Adam and the last Adam, and that we’re just along for the ride. This is another parallelism, something Paul seemed to love using to prove this particular point in various epistles, where the “all” and the “many” in the second part of a sentence have to be the same “all” and “many” in the first part or else the parallelism would fall apart. (And for those who want to blame our mortality and death on our own sins rather than on the first Adam, I’d be curious to know what they believe the condemnation that came upon all men because of the offence and disobedience of one/Adam actually even is, exactly.)
Now, some like to claim that one has to first choose to receive the free gift, based on verse 17, but Paul didn’t say anything about it being a choice in that verse. The idea that receiving the free gift is a choice is an assumption that one has to read into the verse, since it just isn’t there in the text, and we already know that receiving something isn’t necessarily something one chooses anyway, as evidenced by how Paul told us that, on five separate occasions, he received thirty-nine stripes. Since he would have experienced those lashes whether he first purposefully chose to receive them or not, it’s time to reconsider the idea that “receiving the free gift” is something one chooses rather than simply experiences apart from anything they have to do, because, aside from the fact that this would make salvation something they gained through their own obedience rather than because of the obedience of one/Christ (thus contradicting Paul’s entire point, which is that only the first Adam and the last Adam are responsible for anything that happens to us when it comes to both our condemnation and our salvation), having to choose to receive it would also be something one had to accomplish in order to be saved, which by definition would make it a work one had to do in order to be saved, and the most difficult work one could ever do at that, based on the fact that so few are ever able to “choose to receive the gift” and “get saved” (at least as far as the traditional Christian understanding of what salvation is goes).
The reason most Christians insist that receiving the free gift has to be a choice (aside from simply never having considered the possibility that it might not be) is because they just don’t want to accept that condemnation and salvation (especially from an absolute perspective) could possibly be something we have no say in. You see, if our condemnation is based entirely on the action of one (Adam), as Paul said it was, then our salvation is based entirely upon the action of one as well (the last Adam), as Paul also said it is, rather than based (at least in part) upon a wise decision we ourselves made to choose to receive the free gift, and the pride of most Christians just won’t allow them to accept that as a possibility (because even though they’ll deny it, even to themselves, most of them really want to be able to take the credit for having made the wise decision to “get saved,” and many definitely want those who don’t make the same wise choice they did to be responsible for not getting saved, based on the tragically large number of Christians who have asked me things along the lines of, “Are you saying that unbelievers will get the same reward as me? Even though they didn’t choose to accept Christ like I did?”).
This all means it’s time to recognize that the idea of the salvation Paul wrote about being based at least in part upon something people have to do for themselves — even if what they have to do is something as supposedly simple as having to choose to believe the right thing — rather than being based entirely upon what Christ did for us, is really something one must read into the text based on one’s preconceived idea that salvation depends on us and our wise decision to believe and/or do something specific rather than depends 100% on what Christ did. (This also means it’s time to stop ignoring the scriptural truth of election, although the thing almost everyone gets confused about when it comes to predestination is that it’s actually about when someone experiences salvation, not about if they get to experience it, at least as far as the salvation Paul wrote about goes: while some people are chosen by God to receive a special, early experience of salvation — meaning they’ll experience salvation from a relative perspective, and not everyone will get saved from a relative perspective — Paul is teaching here that everyone will eventually experience salvation from a physical perspective, because we’ve all already been saved from an absolute perspective, even if not everyone will experience their physical salvation until they’ve been resurrected and/or quickened at the end of the ages.)
Of course, because of their lack of understanding of whom (and Whom) Paul is placing the responsibility for both our condemnation and our eventual salvation on, most Christians mistakenly believe that only those who choose to be “in Christ” will be made alive/quickened (completely missing the significance of the order of the wording in the verse), but the whole point of the parallelisms in each of these passages is to make it clear that Christ has at least the exact same level of effect on humanity that Adam had, meaning Christ’s action changes the exact same number of people that fall into the categories of “all” or “many” that Adam’s action did. (And if Christ’s action doesn’t change the exact same number of people that Adam’s action did, it means that Adam’s failure was ultimately more efficacious than Christ’s victory was, making Adam and his sin more powerful than Christ and His death for our sins.)
If you’re still finding this hard to accept, Paul’s parallelism in 1 Corinthians 15:22 can also be expressed mathematically: “For as in a, x die, even so in z, shall x be made alive.” The set known as “x” is the exact same group (or number) of people in both clauses (with “a” and “z” being two different reasons for their two respective states at two different periods of time), not two separate groups of people who have to choose between Adam and Christ. In fact, since this is a parallelism, and because we know that nobody specifically made a conscious choice to “choose Adam” (I don’t recall ever thinking to myself, “I accept Adam as my lord and unsaviour,” which would have to be the case if we, “even so,” need to choose to “accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour” in order to be saved; and if it happens without our conscious decision to “accept Adam,” then, “even so,” our salvation would also have to happen without our conscious decision to “accept Christ,” since this is a parallelism), or chose to die “in Adam,” but rather that we were all simply born that way (remember, our condemnation to mortality, death, and sinfulness was entirely because of one/Adam, and not because of anything we ourselves did), this also means that, “even so,” nobody can choose to be “in Christ” either (if this verse meant that it’s up to us to specifically choose to be “in Christ,” it would mean that it was up to us to specifically choose to be “in Adam” first, which we already know isn’t the case, since we’re all born mortal; and if these were positional sorts of states, and we could unknowingly end up “in Adam” by committing an act we didn’t realize placed us there, it would also mean that,“even so,” the only way to end up “in Christ” would have to be by unknowingly committing an act we didn’t realize placed us there either). “All” (“x”) are mortal/dying “through Adam” or “because of what Adam did” (“in a”) rather than because of any choice of their own (our mortality precedes any choice of our own, and is in fact the reason we sin, as I was getting at previously, since otherwise newborn babies would be incapable of dying prior to their first sin and, at the very least, third-trimester abortions would presumably be impossible to perform), and they will all (“x,” again) also eventually be “made alive”/become immortal “through Christ” or “because of what Christ did” (“in z”) rather than because of any choice of their own. And the same applies to when Paul uses the word “many” instead of “all” in his parallelisms in Romans 5 as well (go ahead and put an x in place of the words “many” and “all” in the passages in Romans 5 to see for yourself). With this in mind, the only way 1 Corinthians 15:22 could possibly mean that only some people (believers) will be made alive is if the verse said, “For as in Adam only some die, even so in Christ shall only some be made alive,” or if it perhaps said, “For as in Adam all die, unevenly so in Christ shall only some be made alive” (the words “even so” there basically mean “in the same way,” or “equally so,” telling us that the variable x has to be the same number of people on both sides of the words “even so”).
But why do so many Christians get confused by this verse? It’s due to a combination of the fact that they’ve misunderstood the various passages in Scripture about judgement and “hell” — and are misinterpreting this and other Pauline passages about salvation in light of their misunderstandings of those judgement passages rather than interpreting those particular passages in light of this and other Pauline passages about salvation (because they don’t realize that the salvation Jesus spoke about during His earthly ministry was an entirely different sort of salvation from the one Paul was writing about here, they mistakenly assume that, since not everyone experiences that sort of salvation, not everyone will experience the type of salvation that Paul was writing about here either; but even among the relatively few who do realize that these are different types of salvation, most aren’t aware of the fact that Paul was sometimes writing about salvation from an absolute perspective, sometimes writing about salvation from a relative perspective, which itself has different “levels” to it that not every member of the body of Christ will necessarily be included in, and sometimes writing about salvation from a physical perspective, and so they make the assumption that he always meant the exact same thing whenever he mentioned salvation or being saved, causing them to end up with the inconsistent and contradictory doctrines they‘ve come to believe instead) — along with the fact that this verse says “in” (“in Adam” and “in Christ”) rather than “through” or “because of” (which is what the word is talking about here). Since one can only be “in” one of two people at a time, positionally-speaking, this causes them to miss the fact that the word “all” is the exact same group of people in both clauses (referring to “all of humanity”). To be fair, “in” obviously can mean “inside” something, positionally-speaking (either literally or figuratively, depending on the context), but it can also mean “through (the action of)” or “because of” something or someone, and that’s clearly what Paul was getting at in this parallelism.
However, let’s pretend to forget all of the above, and assume for a moment that this passage actually is referring to being “in Christ” from a positional perspective rather than referring to our immortality being because of what Christ accomplished. Does that change anything at all about the end result I concluded it would culminate in (all humans eventually experiencing salvation from a physical perspective)? Not even slightly. To put it simply, because this is a parallelism, we’d then be forced to read it as meaning: just as every human begins “in Adam,” even so every human will end “in Christ.” So even if you interpret “in” positionally here, being a parallelism would force this verse to then mean that every single person will be “in” both of these two people (Adam and Christ), figuratively speaking, just at two different points of time in each of their lives. That said, when you consider the fact that the context of the chapter was resurrection and quickening, it’s pretty clear that Paul was literally telling us in this parallelism that even though “because of what Adam did all humans are mortal, even so because of what Christ did all humans will be quickened” (and to be quickened means to experience salvation from a physical perspective, finally enjoying one’s immortality, and hence sinlessness).
And I know you’ve been wondering when I’d ask it, so without further ado: for anyone who might somehow still be sceptical, if Paul was trying to explain in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 that, because of what Adam did, every single human has been condemned to death and sinfulness, yet, equally so, because of what Christ did, every single human is guaranteed to eventually be quickened, I’d like you to tell me what he would have needed to have written differently in those chapters in order to convince you that this is what he meant.
But while Paul tells us that everyone who experiences mortality because of what Adam did will also eventually experience immortality because of what Christ did, he also tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:23–24 that there’s an order to when each person will be “made alive.” Basically, there are three different groups of humans to be made immortal, and these three groups combined consist of all humanity (even though each group will be quickened in their own order).
The first group mentioned is “Christ the firstfruits,” which refers to the body of Christ (aside from the Head of the body, Who would presumably have to be excluded, since otherwise verse 22 would also mean that “in Christ shall Christ be made alive,” which is a pretty meaningless statement) being quickened at the time Christ comes for His body. The dead who will be resurrected, as well as the members of the body of Christ who are still living, will experience this immortality at that time (the dead members of the body of Christ will be resurrected first, after which they and the remaining living members of the body of Christ will be “made alive”/made immortal as we meet the Lord in the air), and will no longer sin from then on (because they’ll no longer be mortal). This event is God withdrawing His ambassadors from earth (as one does prior to declaring war) before the Tribulation begins, who then go on to fulfill their purpose in Christ in heavenly places.
The second group is “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” referring to those made immortal at the time of the resurrection of the just, 75 days after Jesus returns to earth and the Tribulation period has concluded (people such as “Old Testament” saints, for example, and those who died following the teachings that Jesus and His disciples gave). I should say, for a long time I assumed that everyone who gets to enjoy the sort of salvation Jesus spoke about, both dead and living, will be made immortal at this point, but I’ve since concluded that only those who were dead and who will be resurrected shortly after the Second Coming will be made immortal at this time, while everyone else who gets to enjoy “everlasting life” in the kingdom of heaven in Israel will simply remain alive (at least to begin with) thanks to partaking of the fruit and the leaves of the tree of life on a monthly basis, and won’t be made truly immortal until the final order of quickenings is completed much later. As for why I’ve come to this conclusion, I’ll just quickly say that if the reward for “overcoming” by some of those during the Tribulation will be to partake of the tree of life, and if one needs to continuously consume its products in order to remain healthy and alive, as Revelation 22:2 appears to say, yet the quickening of the resurrected dead happens instantaneously and is irreversible, as is demonstrated by those in the body of Christ when they’re caught up in the air to meet the Lord, it seems that there must two different methods of remaining alive on this earth and the New Earth (quickening as the first method, and partaking of the tree of life on a regular basis as the second). With that in mind, I should also say that some like to group the body of Christ in with this order as well, and believe it applies to everyone who experiences the salvation that Jesus spoke about, as well as those who experience the salvation that Paul wrote about — even if some are quickened three-and-a-half or more years apart from each other — and believe the first order is just speaking of Christ Himself. However, as I already mentioned, to do so really doesn’t make any linguistic sense, so placing the body of Christ in the first order rather than the second makes the most sense, and even more-so if I’m correct that only the resurrected dead members of those in the Israel of God will be quickened at the end of the Tribulation, which it would seem has to be the case for the reason I already explained, as well as because there wouldn’t be anyone left to fulfill the prophecies of righteous Israelites not only growing old but also having children in the kingdom and on the New Earth if every member of the Israel of God were quickened when Jesus returns, as I’ve also previously mentioned (and the fact that all the living members of the body of Christ are quickened when they’re caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, as well as the fact that the dead in Christ are resurrected before those who are still living when they go to meet the Him in the air, yet those who are raised from the dead at the resurrection of the just are still dead 75 days after Jesus’ Second Coming, is also more evidence that the body of Christ is not the Israel of God, and that our respective quickenings take place at different times). But that does bring up the question of when the rest of the members of the Israel of God will be “made alive”/made truly immortal, and the answer to this is found in the very next verse.
Of course, most people assume “they that are Christ’s at his coming” in verse 23 is the final group of quickenings mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 (if they even realize Paul was talking about quickening at all), but Paul actually speaks of a third and final (“end”) group to be “made alive” when he wrote “then cometh the end” in verse 24. Now, the end of the ages is likely when this final quickening occurs, and this has caused most people to misunderstand Paul’s statement there to mean that he’d moved on from the topic of resurrection and quickening and had now begun discussing the end of the ages (or the end of the world, as others assume) instead. But Paul had not even hinted at any such topics in this chapter so far, yet had just mentioned an order of different groups of people to be “made alive” in the verse immediately prior to this one (when he wrote, “but every man in his own order”), so there’s absolutely zero basis for interpreting this statement as meaning anything other than Paul telling his readers that “then the end group of people from the ‘every man in his own order’ of groups of people will be made immortal” (and then going on to explain that this final quickening will occur at the time when Christ finally destroys death altogether, and since death can’t be considered to truly be destroyed as long as anyone A) remains dead, and B) is not yet immortal, we know that this has to include everyone else, even those who died a second time in the lake of fire). It would make no sense at all for Paul to go from discussing resurrection and immortality to suddenly arbitrarily discussing an entirely unrelated topic altogether — the triumph of Christ over His enemies, and the destruction of death, at a time long after the quickening of “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” with no connection to what He’d just been discussing at all — then to go right back to discussing resurrection and immortality again as he does a few verses later, so this is obviously still about the same topic, and is simply referring to the end of the order of “every man in his own order” to be “made alive.”
Another reason this can’t simply be referring to the end of the ages rather than to the final group to be quickened is his explanation that this “end” exists at the time when Christ has subjected all authorities and principalities and powers (referring to rulership by both humans on earth as well as spiritual beings in the heavens, including by evil ones) and gives up the kingdom to His God and Father, and that it occurs when all His enemies are finally put under His feet, and when the final enemy — death — is finally destroyed altogether. The problem is, there will be well over 1,000 years to go between the quickening of “they that are Christ’s at His coming” and the destruction of death at the time of whatever “the end” is (in fact, probably a lot more than just 1,000 years), after Christ finally does defeat all enemies, since, at the very least, there is still a final, even if somewhat short and one-sided, battle between Him and those who consider Him to be their enemy a thousand years after the quickening of “they that are Christ’s at His coming.” In addition to all the death that occurs during — and especially at the end of — the thousand years, we’re told in Isaiah 65 that there will still be death on the New Earth for a period of time after the Great White Throne Judgement as well (when it said, “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed”), also making the common interpretation impossible. (And for those who are thinking that Revelation 21:1–8 means there won’t be any death on the New Earth, a careful study of that passage should make it clear that this only applies to those who get to reside within the walls of the New Jerusalem, at least until “the end” group of “every man in his own order” is finally quickened, when death is finally destroyed altogether.)
The references to death in this chapter can’t be talking about the supposed “spiritual death” that most Christians believe in either (and which some of them mistakenly assume the death in verse 22 is talking about; although if it was, then Jesus definitely couldn’t be included in the “firstfruits” reference, unless you believe He “died spiritually,” whatever that means, “in Adam” as well, and if He did, then He would have only been “made alive” spiritually “in Himself” as well, and wouldn’t have been resurrected), I should also mention, because verse 24 tells us that His enemies are subjected and death is destroyed at a point in time after “they that are Christ’s at His coming” have been quickened, not that they are subjected — or that death is destroyed — by that group being quickened (and remember, death is the last enemy to be defeated, yet there will still be more death and enemies continuing to exist long after the quickening of “they that are Christ’s at His coming,” including on the New Earth for a time, as we just covered). So if this part of the chapter is just talking about a so-called “spiritual death” rather than physical mortality, and it’s only talking about certain people being given some sort of “spiritual life” (or “going to heaven” after they die, which we now know isn’t even a scriptural concept, since only the living can enjoy heaven), the same problem applies because it tells us that the end of “death” doesn’t occur until after both “they that are Christ’s at His coming” are given immortality and all the rest of Christ’s enemies have been subjected as well. (Although, if there were such a thing as “spiritual death,” this would mean that eventually everyone else will also become “spiritually alive” when Christ subjects His enemies and destroys death, since if “death” in this chapter was simply a reference to the so-called “spiritual death” so many believe in, there couldn’t be any “spiritual death” left once Christ destroys it, long after “they that are Christ’s at His coming” have been “made alive,” which means that everyone left who is “spiritually dead” will become “spiritually alive” when death is destroyed as well, especially based on the fact that verse 22 is a parallelism.)
So, unless someone has a better explanation of what these verses are referring to (one which doesn’t contradict the rest of Scripture, I should add), it would seem this would definitely have to be talking about the final (“end”) group to be quickened, meaning the rest of humanity (including both those who are dead — meaning those whose bodies were burned up in the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgement, and those who happen to die on the New Earth prior to the destruction of death — as well as those who are still living, thanks to having partaken of the fruit and the leaves of the tree of life to keep from dying, but haven’t been quickened yet, referring to those whose names were written in the book of life but who hadn’t already been quickened previously, as well as those, and the descendants of those, still mortal humans who didn’t join Satan and die during his final rebellion at the end of the thousand years), finally quickened when Jesus’ reign over the kingdom comes to an end because He’s defeated all enemies (including death) and has turned all rulership (including rulership over Himself) over to His Father, and God is finally “All in all” (yes, in all, not just in a lucky few; if Paul had not pointed out that the “all” he was writing about doesn’t include God, people could then turn around and say that “all” doesn’t actually mean “all” because it obviously couldn’t include God, so it could then also exclude people who die as non-believers as well if it doesn’t actually mean “all,” but because Paul does point out that God isn’t included in the “all,” yet doesn’t mention anyone else as being excluded from the group, we know that everyone other than God is going to be included in the “all,” even those who die as non-believers — and for those who like to argue that “all” in this verse can’t actually mean everyone because of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:6, what I just wrote about “all” including everyone other than God tells us that it has to be referring to all sapient creatures other than God regardless, but that aside, there’s no good reason to assume that the “all” in chapter 12 isn’t talking about everyone anyway, and based on what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty, it almost certainly is).
This means, by the way, that people who use passages which seem to tell us Jesus will reign “for ever” to prove that “everlasting punishment” will also never end because those passages use the same words are actually basing their argument on an obvious misunderstanding, since Paul is clear that His reign won’t be never-ending, but rather will only last until He’s defeated the final enemy, and stops reigning after doing so. This also demonstrates just how few people are aware that A) many of the words which are translated as “everlasting,” “eternal,” or “for ever” in the KJV often have to be interpreted qualitatively and figuratively (just as these English words are almost always still used by us today: as hyperbole, meaning they’re exaggerated expressions used for the sake of emphasis) rather than quantitatively and literally, based on this fact and the fact that Paul was clear that everyone will eventually be quickened, as well as that B) Paul saw much farther into the future than John did in the book called Revelation (John basically only saw into the beginning of the New Earth, when death is a much less powerful force than it is now, but still exists, since, at the very least, there will still be people dead in the lake of fire at that time, whereas Paul saw a much later point of time, at the end of the ages, when death is finally destroyed altogether, and nobody can be left dead at all if there isn’t any death left — which there couldn’t be if it’s been destroyed).
And since many Christians often make a similar mistake when they try to insist that, “If ‘eternal damnation’ isn’t actually never ending, then ‘eternal life’ would have to come to an end as well, and we’d eventually die,” I’m forced to point out that they really aren’t thinking things through when they make this assertion, since we’ve already determined that the “for ever” words in the KJV generally have to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively (or figuratively rather than literally), so we have to assume they aren’t talking about how long one lives (or how long one is punished) so much as about the form or quality of the life and judgements they experience will be (and, in fact, most Christians already interpret this term figuratively anyway, as we’ve already covered earlier in this article). And so, just because one’s time experiencing “eternal damnation” will come to an end, it doesn’t stand to reason that anyone with “eternal life” will eventually die (or lose their salvation, at least from an absolute perspective), because it isn’t verses about “eternal life” that promise us lives which never end anyway, but rather it’s verses about our impending immortality which tell us we’ll never die (at least after our quickening), as I pointed out previously. So, when people are eventually resurrected from their second death in the lake of fire to be “made alive”/quickened (which they’ll have to be in order for it to be able to be said that death has truly been destroyed, since as long as death continues to hold anyone prisoner, death hasn’t actually been defeated or destroyed at all, but rather continues to be an enemy), members of the body of Christ will still remain alive, although not because of any passage that speaks of “eternal life” but rather because of passages that tell us we’ll already have been made immortal. Basically, when someone reaches the end of the figurative “for ever” or “everlasting life,” that particular aspect of their salvation (the relative salvation that only a few will ever get to enjoy) will be over, but they’ll still remain alive because they’ll have bodies that can’t die (or, if they’re among those who get to enjoy “everlasting life” in Israel, or perhaps even on the New Earth, but haven’t been made immortal yet, they’ll finally be given immortality, along with everyone else).
But in case anybody is still sceptical, Paul confirmed the salvation of all humanity beyond any shadow of a doubt when he wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3–6 that Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all. You see, when a ransom is fully paid, all those who are held captive are set free (unless the one paying the ransom has been lied to). So, if Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all humanity, as we know He did, and any humans at all are not “released,” so to speak, we’d then have to conclude that God has deceived His Son (which I trust nobody reading this believes to be the case). In other words, since Christ gives Himself a ransom for all, all must be saved, or else God and the Bible stand discredited as dishonest (and there’s nothing in this passage with qualifies the “all” as referring only to believers, so to insist it only includes them is to once again read one’s assumptions into the text, especially in light of the fact that he began the chapter talking about all men alive at the time, and there’s nothing in the text to indicate he’d suddenly begun referring only to believers right after that).
Please don’t confuse this passage as saying that Christ died in our place, receiving the penalty for our sins so we wouldn’t have pay the price for our sins ourselves, though, as many Christians believe He did (so long as we choose to believe He did so, they’d also claim). Of course, even if the idea that Christ paid the price for our sins in our place were a scriptural concept, it makes no sense that we would have to choose to believe He paid the price for our sins in our place in order for Him to have actually paid the price for our sins in our place (He either did or He didn’t, and our belief couldn’t change the fact either way), because if those who didn’t choose to believe it then had to pay the price themselves, it would mean God was double-charging, which would be quite dishonest of Him (not to mention most unfair to His Son). That said, there’s absolutely nothing anywhere in Scripture which even implies that Jesus died in our place, or that He received the penalty for anyone’s sins so they wouldn’t have pay the price for their sins themselves. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say He actually did. If this was the case, and if ending up in the lake of fire without end was the penalty for our sins (whether consciously or otherwise), it would mean that Jesus would have to still be burning in the lake of fire. But since He never even set foot in the lake of fire to begin with (He couldn’t have, since it hasn’t even begun burning in the valley of the son of Hinnom yet, at least not as of the time this article was written, and He wasn’t crucified or buried in that valley either), burning in the lake of fire couldn’t possibly be the penalty He took in our place. And if the supposed penalty He paid in our place was simply death instead, nobody who “got saved” would ever actually drop dead, which obviously isn’t the case. This also means the penalty couldn’t be never-ending “separation from God,” since if it were, Jesus would also have to be separated from God at this point in time, and for all time, in order to truly “pay the penalty in our place.” So no, He didn’t die in our place, or pay any penalty for our sins in our place (and if you still believe He did, please point me to any passage that says He did). Instead, He died for our sins, meaning His death put away sin, removing sin from the equation altogether (thus fulfilling the type of the goat in the wilderness in the Mosaic law, among other things), and if sin has been put away, it’s no longer something anyone needs to worry about. You see, when He went down into the tomb, it can be said that He brought sin down into the earth with Him, and when He was resurrected three days later, He returned without that sin, and so sin is no longer being held against anyone anymore, regardless of whether they believe it or not, because Christ died for our sins, which is yet more proof that everyone will eventually experience salvation (although those relative few who believe and understand what it means that Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried and rose again on the third day, enjoy the additional benefit of freedom from religion, because they know there’s nothing they have to do, or even that they can do, in order to receive the benefits of what Christ did for us, since they’re aware that having to do any act at all would be a work performed in order to earn that gift, even if that act was simply having to choose to receive the free gift that Christ already gave us all).
That’s not all, though, because Paul also wrote, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” in Ephesians 1:13. How does that prove the salvation of all? Well, if you read it in the context of the whole chapter, and are also familiar with the different types of salvation mentioned in Scripture, you’ll notice that this section of the chapter (verses 3 through 14) is primarily about the blessings that God has purposed beforehand to literally lavish upon those (“hath abounded toward us”) whom He chose to become members of the body of Christ. Simply put, this section of the chapter is all about how God has predestined certain people to experience certain blessings in Christ, blessings which not everyone will experience. This isn’t Calvinism, however, since experiencing the blessings mentioned in this chapter aren’t about the salvation from an absolute and physical perspective that everyone receives. It’s only those who are experiencing the salvation Paul taught about from a relative perspective that he was writing to in this passage, specifically the body of Christ.
And so when Paul wrote, “after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation,” he was saying that his readers had heard the word of truth, and, in what is essentially a parenthetical, explained what that word of truth they heard was: the good news (“gospel”) of their salvation. To put it simply, Paul wrote here that the good news they had heard was the good news of their already existing salvation, not the good news of how they could have salvation if only they did something specific (note that he didn’t write, “after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your potential salvation, although only if you actually believed that gospel,” but rather that they had heard the good news about the salvation which was already theirs, after which they trusted that this good news about their already existing salvation was indeed true). The point here is that, because there is no included proposition in the text connected with the salvation they heard about, the good news they heard was a proclamation that they already had salvation (from an absolute perspective, which, as we know from Paul’s other writings, is the outcome of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection) prior to hearing about it. Simply put, Paul couldn’t tell them the good news of their salvation if they weren’t already saved from at least some perspective.
Now, most people read this verse and assume that either the first part of the verse (“In whom ye also trusted”) or the last part of the verse (“in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise”) actually is a proposition about their salvation, and that they didn’t receive their salvation until they actually believed the supposed good news about how they could attain said salvation. But this is a misunderstanding due to not being aware of what the different types of salvation mentioned in Scripture are all about. All the first part of the verse is telling us is that they trusted Christ after they heard the good news of their already existing salvation which He’d already won for all of us (including them), and all the last part of the verse is telling us is that, after they trusted that Christ had already guaranteed (absolute, and eventually physical) salvation for all of us because of what He accomplished through His death for our sins, burial, and resurrection, even before they believed it, they were then sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (which is a part of their relative salvation, “an earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession”). All that is to say, Paul’s little parenthetical in Ephesians 1:13 is simply telling us that “the good news of [their] salvation” was already a fact for them before they heard it, and after they heard about the salvation that was already theirs from an absolute perspective, they trusted Christ and were sealed with the Holy Spirit, and hence were also saved from a relative perspective (and were then awaiting their physical salvation, meaning the quickening of their mortal bodies, referred to here as “the redemption of the purchased possession,” which they’ll receive when Christ comes for His body, and which everyone else will also eventually receive, although “every man in his own order,” as already discussed).
But even clearer than that example, Paul also wrote that God is “the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” in 1 Timothy 4:10. And honestly, it doesn’t get any clearer than this, with Paul telling us that God will save absolutely everyone, even if those who believe this good news will get to experience a special level of salvation on top of that. Every Christian out there knows the definition of the word “especially” (or “specially,” which the KJV uses here, and which ultimately also means “particularly,” not “specifically”), yet somehow most of them seem to forget what it means when they get to this verse. But their apparent selective memory aside, they’d still recognize that if a teacher said, “I’ve given everyone a passing grade this year, especially Lydia who got an A+,” the teacher would have meant that, while nobody else got an A+, they still all passed, since these Christians actually do know that “especially” (and even “specially”) doesn’t mean “exclusively” or “only,” even if they need to pretend to themselves that it does when considering what Paul had to say here. Likewise, if someone wrote, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith,” the way Paul did in Galatians 6:10, they’d know that they should focus most of their positive efforts on believers (“them who are of the household of faith,” the very same people Paul was referring to when he wrote, “specially of those that believe,” in 1 Timothy 4:10), but that they should still try to do good unto everyone else (the very same “all men” Paul wrote that God was the Saviour of) as well, and not that we should do good only unto believers. In fact, if “specially” did mean “only,” the part of the verse which tells us God is the Saviour of all men would be a lie, because it didn’t say God is “the potential Saviour of all men, but really only of those that believe” (or that God is “the Saviour available for all men, although only actually the Saviour of those that believe”), but instead plainly tells us that He actually is the Saviour of all men, and to be able to legitimately be called the saviour of someone, you have to actually save them at some point, which means that, to be able to legitimately be called “the Saviour of all men,” God has to actually save all men eventually. Bottom line, if even one human fails to end up experiencing salvation by the end of the ages, Paul would be just as much a liar as that teacher would turn out to be if any of the students in Lydia’s class received a failing grade after telling them they’d all passed.
And as for those Calvinists who insist that Paul is only claiming “God is the Saviour of all kinds or sorts of men,” and that God only wants “all sorts of men” to be saved rather than actually “will have all men to be saved,” A) that’s clearly not what these passages say anyway (the words “kinds” and “sorts” aren’t there in the text), and B) they’re ignoring the second part of the verse where Paul says “specially of believers” (which can’t really follow the phrase “all kinds of men” and make any sense in this case, since “specially” would then be have to be qualifying who the “all kinds of men” are, but the word “specially” can’t actually be used that way because it means “particularly,” not “exclusively”) rather than “specifically believers,” so they’re just reading their own preconceived doctrinal bias that not everyone will experience salvation into these passages because they have no other choice if they don’t want it to contradict their theological presuppositions, just as Arminians and others who refuse to accept that everyone will eventually experience salvation do in their own way as well.
All that is to say, this passage once again verifies that the doctrine of salvation taught by Paul throughout his epistles is indeed that every human who is affected by the curse and locked up in unbelief — not to mention in vanity (neither of which we’ve been locked up in because of any choice we made, but rather, from a relative perspective, because of a choice Adam made, and, from an absolute perspective, because God Himself chose to lock everyone up in that manner so we could eventually also be shown mercy and be delivered from the bondage of corruption, since if we’d never experienced evil we couldn’t have truly appreciated the contrasting goodness, and if we’d never experienced sin and death, we could never experience, and hence never truly appreciate, grace and life) — will also be equally (actually, even more so) affected by the cross, even if it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time (with believers getting a special, earlier experience of salvation, as well as potentially getting to rule and reign with Christ in the heavens, or perhaps getting to rule over the earth from Israel — depending on which sort of salvation they’re experiencing — figuratively referred to as “everlasting life,” or as “life eternal,” in the KJV and other less literal Bible versions).
However, as I’m sure you expected, I have to once again ask the usual question: if Paul was trying to explain that God indeed will save everyone eventually, but that He’ll also give believers a special salvation on top of that in the meantime, I’d like you to tell me what he would have needed to have written differently in 1 Timothy 4:10 in order to convince you that this is what he meant.
It’s not just salvation that all humans will experience, though; it’s also reconciliation. And while salvation is technically only experienced by humans, reconciliation will be experienced by all sentient, sapient beings in the universe, as demonstrated by a passage where Paul used a similar sort of parallelism to the ones he used in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, this time in the first chapter of his epistle to the Colossians. In fact, I don’t know how someone can read verses 15 through 20 of that chapter and not end up a believer in the reconciliation of all creatures, although it seems most people somehow miss the fact that Paul is using a type of parallelism known as an Extended Alternation here — likely because they probably weren’t familiar with Paul’s consistent use of parallelisms throughout his epistles to prove the salvation (and reconciliation) of all humanity until they read this article — to tell us that the same “all” created by Him are also the same “all” that are reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ’s cross, and that this passage tells us that not only are all humans (meaning all the things created in earth, as mentioned in both verses 16 and 20) both created by and reconciled to Him, but all the creatures in heaven/outer space (as also mentioned in both of the same two verses, referring to a list of spiritual beings that overlaps with another list of creatures who are described in Ephesians 6:12 as being the spiritual wickedness in high places) are also both created by and reconciled to Him, and there would be no need to reconcile spiritual beings in heaven who weren’t first estranged, so it can only be the foolish (and sometimes evil) spiritual beings in the heavens who are being reconciled; and if all of them are going to be reconciled, as Paul promises they will be in that passage, we know that all the creatures on the earth will be as well, as he also says they will be in the same passage.
And, again, reconciliation means that the parties on both sides of a conflict are now at peace with one another, meaning that God is at peace with them, and they’re at peace with God, when this reconciliation occurs, which wouldn’t the case if any of them were still being tormented in the lake of fire at that time, which would have to be right before Christ destroys death by resurrecting and quickening any dead humans still left in the lake of fire as well (thus proving that “for ever and ever” isn’t meant to be interpreted as literally meaning “without end,” even when it comes to the punishment of the spiritual beings known as the devil, the beast, and the false prophet in the lake of fire, since they’d have to be included in the “all” which are both created by and reconciled to God as well), since Christ’s defeat of all other enemies takes place just prior to the destruction of death (and if there’s a better way to put an end to an enemy than turning that enemy into a willing servant, or even a friend, I don’t know what it would be). This is also proven by the prophecy of Philippians 2:10-11 which tells us “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” because nobody can say Jesus is the Lord and truly mean it apart from the Holy Spirit leading them to do so, which means anyone who does so will possess the Holy Spirit at that time. There’s absolutely no indication in this passage that this declaration will be forced out of them the way most Christians assume it will be, especially since it’s “to the glory of God the Father,” and He’d receive far more glory from a willing confession based on true reconciliation than from a coerced concession by an enemy, so the only reason to read the idea of this confession being forced out of still existing enemies at gunpoint (or whatever sort of threat it takes to get a spiritual being to assent to something they don’t want to assent to) rather than being made by friends and willing subjects who are now at peace with Him in their minds is, once again, preconceived doctrinal bias that not every human will experience salvation and that not every created being who needs it will be truly reconciled to God. But, if you’re having trouble with this parallelism, replace the word “all” with the variable x again in both verses 16 and 20 of Colossians 1 — in fact, do it in all the verses from verse 16 to verse 20 — and it should become clear what it means.
Now, some try to argue that verse 21 contradicts this conclusion, but that just means they aren’t reading the text very carefully, since A) it really should be obvious that the point Paul was making about the eventual reconciliation of all created beings concludes with the end of verse 20, and B) they somehow miss the fact that when Paul wrote, “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled,” he was simply saying his readers had experienced this reconciliation at the time he wrote the letter. But since we’re not claiming that verses 16 to 20 say everyone has currently been reconciled in their minds yet anyway, the immediate reconciliation of believers doesn’t preclude the eventual reconciliation of everyone else he promised would eventually be reconciled as well. It’s also important to notice that it’s only in our minds that Paul says the alienation takes place prior to being reconciled, as well as to know that the alienation is entirely one-sided at this point in time, with religious humans (and presumably also foolish spiritual beings) mistakenly believing that God is still angry with them because of their wicked works, as it could be said He was, from a certain perspective, in “Old Testament” times, not realizing that God is actually already at peace with everyone because of what He did through Christ, and that He isn’t imputing the trespasses of the world unto them at all — remember, while evil acts will be judged at the Great White Throne, sin won’t be, because sin has already been entirely taken care of by Christ — but is instead now asking those of us in the body of Christ to beseech the rest of the world to be reconciled to God, meaning to be at peace with God in their minds because He’s already made peace with them through of the blood of Christ’s cross, and to believe the good news of their already existing salvation because of what Christ did (and it seems we’ll be bringing a similar sort of message to the alienated spiritual beings in the heavens, after Christ takes us up there to be with Him, as well).
And at the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to ask yet again: if Paul was trying to explain that God indeed will reconcile every being He ever created who has been alienated from God, I’d like you to tell me what he would have needed to have written differently in verses 16 to 20 in order to convince you that this is indeed what he meant.
Now, those aren’t all the arguments for the salvation (and reconciliation) of all humanity. There are many more, but those should be enough to make it clear that the only way to avoid the conclusion that everyone will eventually experience both salvation and reconciliation is to insert words into Paul’s epistles that aren’t there, to redefine certain words into meaning something other than what the writers meant by them, or even to change (or simply ignore) the order of the words in some verses. But there’s just no justification for doing so, especially when we consider the fact that there’s no basis for believing in never-ending conscious torment in the lake of fire — or even in an afterlife realm — to begin with, as we’ve already learned. However, I know that there are still a number of so-called “proof texts” which you’ve no doubt been taught support the traditional doctrine of never-ending punishment in the lake of fire, and to be thorough, we should go over them as well. The truth, though, is that when you take everything Paul wrote about salvation, as well as the difference between the various types of salvation mentioned in Scripture, into consideration (not to mention the fact that the dead aren’t conscious, and that no humans in the lake of fire remain alive while in there), it’s pretty obvious that none of them can actually support the popular assumptions most of us grew up with when it comes to this topic. Don’t take my word for it, though. Let’s take a look at the rest of these passages so you can see for yourself.
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. — Daniel 12:1–3
Now, the events of this passage do take place at least partly around the time of the Great White Throne Judgement (at least the negative part of it), but all it says is that some people will be resurrected to “everlasting” shame and contempt (this also means that nobody is dead in this passage, since they’ve just been resurrected, so it can’t be talking about the “hell” one’s soul is figuratively said to be in after they’ve died, nor can it be talking about the lake of fire, at least not if they’ll be alive at this time, since no humans will be alive in the lake of fire), and shame and contempt aren’t even remotely close to the same thing as torture in fire (and “everlasting” has to be meant to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally here anyway, based on everything we’ve already covered about the salvation and reconciliation of all humanity; although, if you aren’t sure about this, please ponder it for the amount of time it takes an Everlasting Gobstopper to dissolve in your mouth, perhaps while watching a video of one of the various “eternal flames” people have lit being extinguished — the candy might take “for ever” to completely disappear, perhaps even longer than that video lasts, if you find and watch one, but like most things which are said to be “everlasting” or “eternal,” its time will eventually come to an end as well).
Before moving on, though, this seems like a good time to remind you that not once did the Hebrew Scriptures ever threaten never-ending torture (much less torture in fire), either while dead or after one is resurrected, as a punishment for breaking the Mosaic law (or even for sin in general). At most, they threatened physical death for certain capital crimes. And even if this passage in the book of Daniel had actually said that certain people will be tortured in fire without end while they’re dead (which isn’t what it says at all), or even after they’ve been resurrected, there’d never been a threat of a never-ending conscious punishment before that passage, so there’s no good reason to assume it was suddenly being proclaimed here centuries after the giving of the Mosaic law when no Israelite had ever heard of it before, and when the readers of Daniel clearly couldn’t have possibly understood it to mean that prior to Jesus’ statements about hell anyway (presuming we ignored the context of those warnings, which we learned from Isaiah, of course). You’d think that, at the very least, God’s chosen people would have been given a warning about something as horrific as never-ending torture (in fire, no less), not to mention be told who would be experiencing such a thing or why, or how to avoid it, for that matter, prior to Jesus (or even prior to Daniel) supposedly doing so. The fact is, not only was no Israelite ever warned about it (at least not that we see in Scripture, and we need to base our doctrines on what Scripture says), nobody prior to Israel was ever warned about it either, at least that we’re told of. Not even Adam and Eve were warned about suffering without end in a fiery place if they sinned, much less anyone who lived from their time to the time Daniel was supposedly warned about it. And even if to “surely die” (which was obviously a figurative translation in the KJV since Adam didn’t physically drop dead the day he sinned) was referring to the so-called spiritual death that many Christians mistakenly believe in, there’s no hint of being tortured in fire without end in that expression anyway. I say “mistakenly,” of course, because “spiritual death” is actually a completely unscriptural and meaningless term (at least outside of the fact that those in the body of Christ died with Christ when He died, but that isn’t what Christians mean when they talk about the so-called “spiritual death” of sinners) since, if our spirits could die, we’d drop dead ourselves. And if the term is simply a metaphor, then it isn’t actually “spiritual death” so much as “metaphorical death”; and if it really is just a metaphor, it can’t be a metaphor for being separated from God, as some assume, because “in Him we live, and move, and have our being,” as Paul explained, so to be separated from God would mean to cease to exist, if that were even possible at all. And it can’t be a metaphor for ending up in the lake of fire either, because Adam didn’t end up in the lake of fire on the day he ate the fruit. Besides, if Adam did only die metaphorically, then we’ll also only die metaphorically as well (and Christ would have also only died and risen metaphorically too), which we know isn’t the case, so there’s just no good scriptural basis for interpreting these things the way most Christians have been taught to interpret them, and it should really be clear that this figurative warning in the KJV should be interpreted as meaning Adam would gain mortality leading to eventual physical death, at least if we don’t want to descend into the realm of contradiction and even absurdity.
Besides, as I already mentioned, the passage in Daniel is talking about a physical resurrection on earth anyway. It wasn’t referring to a spiritual existence in an afterlife realm while dead at all. The negative part of this passage is referring to those resurrected to life at the Great White Throne Judgement before they’re either sent off to their second death — when they’re tossed into the lake of fire to die a second time — or to their time paying off “the uttermost farthing” on the New Earth (which is a whole other topic that most Christians aren’t familiar with at all, and which has nothing to do with “earning salvation,” as some think would be the case if it means what I believe it means, because nobody gets saved by paying off their debt since that doesn’t gain anyone any of the types of salvation we’ve already covered), so it seems safe to say that this isn’t actually talking about what most people have read into it, and that we should move on to the next passage.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. — Matthew 5:29–30
This is just an earlier telling of the same warning Jesus gave in Matthew 18 that we covered near the beginning of this article. The reason I didn’t include it along with that passage is because this one doesn’t refer to the duration of one’s time spent in hell (or, more accurately put, the duration of the existence of this particular “hell,” since the other passage technically didn’t mention the duration of one’s time spent there either), but everything I already said about that passage applies to this one too, so there isn’t really much to add to those comments here, although perhaps I should point out that Jesus said “thy whole body,” so His warning about hell can only be referring to something that happens to physical bodies in a geographic location here on earth rather than to ghosts in an afterlife dimension, which lines up perfectly with what we’ve already learned from that prophecy about carcases in the book of Isaiah and from that prophecy about the valley of the son of Hinnom in the book of Jeremiah that Jesus was referencing with this warning.
Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. — Matthew 5:21–22
Jesus said this shortly before the last passage we just looked at, but you’ll notice that he didn’t say anything about being conscious in hell, or being there without end, so the same comments apply to this warning as well.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. — Matthew 18:6
This passage doesn’t actually mention hell by name, but it precedes one of Jesus’ suggestions that people amputate body parts in order to avoid hell, so I wanted to mention it because these verses all seem to suggest that if people either kill themselves (or allow themselves to be killed) after committing a certain type of sin, or mutilate their bodies in order to avoid committing certain types of sins, they can avoid being punished in hell, which really doesn’t seem to fit with the traditional Christian doctrine of salvation, at least not that of most evangelicals and other Protestants. And if they aren’t taking the methods of avoiding being punished in hell in these passages literally (or at least interpreting the methods figuratively to mean that one must do whatever they can to avoid sinning in order to avoid hell, which also doesn’t fit with the popular doctrine, because most Protestants don’t believe we can avoid hell by avoiding sinning, and by the time anyone had heard or read these warnings they’d already have sinned at least once in their life, guaranteeing them a one-way trip to the “hell” most Christians believe in, if they were right, and so these warnings would have come far too late to be useful to anyone if most Protestants are correct), they can’t really use these passages to defend their assumptions if they want to remain consistent.
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. — Matthew 12:31–32
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. — Mark 3:28–29
And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. — Luke 12:10
These are parallel passages that are all talking about the same thing, the so-called “unforgivable sin.” The first thing to note is that none of these passages mention either hell or the lake of fire, so any assertion that not being forgiven for this sin means ending up in the lake of fire is simply an assumption one is reading into these passages based on their presuppositions rather than based on what Scripture actually says. It’s also important to note that the passage in Matthew tells us how long “hath never forgiveness” as mentioned in Mark will actually last, which is this “world” and the “world” to come. This is another case of the word “world” being used as a synonym for “age,” and there are at least two “ages” or “worlds” to come still, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:7 (note the plural “ages” in this verse). This means that, while someone who is guilty of this sin won’t be forgiven in this world/age, or even the next world/age, there’s nothing in these passages that says they won’t be forgiven during the world/age after that (which, as those who are familiar with the doctrine of the ages believe, will be the final world/age on the New Earth, prior to the time Christ destroys death, but that’s too big of a topic to get into right now), not to mention after the final world/age has concluded (as all ages will have to do, based on the definition of the word “age”).
Not only that, none of those parallel passages actually mention what the sentence or punishment actually is. You see, “damnation” only means “condemnation,” and is simply the verdict, not the sentence; time spent in the lake of fire is not implicitly meant by the word “damnation” — all it means is “a verdict of guilty” — and since neither hell or the lake of fire are mentioned in any of these passages, to read punishment in the lake of fire into those passages without a good reason to do so is simply eisegesis. But even if we did eisegete the lake of fire into these passages, we already know that there’s no basis for believing any human is conscious in the lake of fire, much less that they’ll remain there without end, anyway, so that doesn’t help the traditional interpretation either. Besides all that, though, even if “hath never forgiveness” actually meant they wouldn’t eventually be forgiven (and it looks like “never” could be meant to be interpreted figuratively in the KJV here anyway — which it often is, since “never” doesn’t always mean “can’t ever” or “won’t ever,” such as when someone angrily says something like, “I’m never going to talk to you again,” then later turns around and speaks to that person again after they’ve cooled down, for example), people don’t necessarily need forgiveness. That might sound like a strange statement, but there are two factors to consider here. The first is simply that someone who is condemned doesn’t require forgiveness in order for a punishment to end, because even today when someone is sentenced to a certain number of years in prison, they still leave the prison once they’ve served their time, even if they are never forgiven (and to assume that the sentence of those who commit the so-called “unforgivable sin” is without end is also nothing more than eisegesis, especially since we already know it only lasts for the next two “worlds,” or ages, and all ages, by definition, eventually come to an end). But the second thing to consider is that there’s actually something even better than forgiveness, and that’s justification. Forgiveness implies guilt, and just means that the forgiver is overlooking the guilt of the one being forgiven by not implementing a penalty for their crime (and said forgiveness can be revoked as well), whereas justification means “not guilty” to begin with, or “declared to be righteous” (it’s sometimes well explained as, “just as if I’d never sinned at all”; and it’s important to note that justification can’t be revoked the way forgiveness can be — at least not the sort of justification Paul wrote about, anyway — and there’s no reason to believe that a “not guilty” verdict by God could suddenly become a “guilty” verdict), so even if somebody does miss out on forgiveness entirely, justification is far superior to it anyway, and that passage doesn’t even hint at the idea that they won’t eventually be declared justified (which it seems they eventually will be, based on everything we went over from Paul’s epistles). On top of all that, though, it’s important to point out that nobody actually takes this passage literally anyway, at least not the version quoted in Mark 3. How can I say that? Well, because it says “eternal damnation,” and as we know, the word “eternal” literally means “without beginning or end,” and I doubt Jesus actually meant their condemnation would have no beginning, which would mean it likely has an end as well, so we might as well be consistent with what we’ve learned about “for ever” and “everlasting” and treat this word the same way we now know we should be treating those words in the less literal English Bible versions like the KJV when it comes to judgement: entirely figuratively.
But if the actual sentence for the damnation isn’t specifically spelled out in those passages, what is the punishment for the condemnation that these passages are referring to? Well, there were various reasons one might end up experiencing this sentence, but there was basically only one ultimate punishment that Jesus ever threatened His Jewish audience with: missing out on getting to live in Israel when the kingdom begins in earnest there (regardless of whether the cause of missing out on life in the kingdom is because one is dead at the time — either in the lake of fire or otherwise — or because one has been exiled from the kingdom at the time, missing out on living in Israel during that thousand year period was basically the bottom line when it came to the punishments Jesus spoke about). But as big and bad a threat as that was for Jesus’ audience (and it was a pretty major threat for them), missing out on getting to enjoy life in Israel for that thousand-year period wasn’t the end. Jesus said that “the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” to the chief priests and the elders of the people, but that doesn’t mean the chief priests and elders won’t ever go into the kingdom of God. In fact, they indeed will, just not until a point in time after the first group has already done so (He said “before you,” not “instead of you”), and since both groups are currently dead, with the first group not even having enjoyed life in the thousand-year kingdom yet, the only time and place left for the second group to possibly enter the kingdom will be on the New Earth, after the Great White Throne Judgement has ended (since they won’t be resurrected until after the thousand years are over), which proves that people who miss out on the salvation Jesus spoke about can still make it to the New Earth. Please note that I’m not saying they’ll have been forgiven at this point, though. In fact, I’m willing to concede that they probably won’t have been forgiven at that time, and they certainly won’t have been saved at that point (at least not when it comes to the sort of salvation Jesus primarily spoke about, since they’ll have been dead during the thousand years). But that’s okay because, as we’ve already covered, one doesn’t need to be forgiven once they’ve paid the penalty for a crime, and the penalty for this particular crime was simply to miss out on life in Israel for the thousand years that the kingdom of heaven will exist there, at least based on every other judgement passage that quotes Jesus talking about Israelites missing out on salvation.
To reiterate all that, there are people who will get to enjoy the kingdom of God when it begins on earth shortly after Jesus’ Second Coming, in the next world/age (this would include the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus spoke of, among others). But after the Great White Throne Judgement, during the final world/age (which will be the world/age after “the world to come”), the kingdom will be located (at least to begin with) in the massive city known as the New Jerusalem, and it’s during this world/age that people such as the chief priests and elders, as well as those who are said to “hath never forgiveness,” will get a chance to enter the kingdom (which refers to getting to enter the New Jerusalem; it isn’t a reference to simply living on the New Earth, since there will be plenty of people living on the New Earth who aren’t living in the New Jerusalem). Not everyone will get to do so until they’ve paid off “the uttermost farthing,” however (which I personally suspect means, at least in part, paying the people they wronged in this lifetime back in some way while on the New Earth). But when they have, they’ll also get to enjoy life in the kingdom of God (even if they missed out on the salvation Jesus spoke about, since they didn’t get to live in Israel when Jesus first returned). This doesn’t mean the salvation we’re concerned with is through works, though, because this has nothing to do with the salvation Paul wrote about at all. Nobody who goes to live in the New Jerusalem after paying off their debt on the New Earth will be made immortal at that time, which is what the salvation Paul wrote about was largely referring to (although they’ll remain alive, thanks to the fruit and leaves of the tree of life, but it seems they’ll need to continue consuming the tree’s products regularly in order to remain healthy and alive — presumably on a monthly basis, based on Revelation 22:2 — and so while they won’t technically be mortals at this time, since the tree’s produce will protect them from death by aging or illness, this also isn’t true immortality, since true immortality refers to being incapable of dying, and hence isn’t the salvation Paul wrote about).
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. — Matthew 13:24–30
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. — Matthew 13:47–50
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. — Matthew 25:31–46
I’m covering all three of these passages together because I believe they’re talking about similar judgements which occur around the same time. And since pretty much every Christian I’ve ever spoken with believes these are either similar judgements which take place around the same time, or are referring to the same exact judgement, it seems safe to do so (although, if you believe these are actually referring to separate judgements that don’t take place around the same time, I’d be curious to learn how you interpret these passages).
If someone reads those passages over without taking the time to break them down, and ignores the fact that neither hell nor the lake of fire are mentioned by name anywhere in any of these parabolic prophecies, it’s sort of easy to see why someone might assume they’re talking about true believers going to heaven and non-believers ending up trapped in hell. But whatever the cause of this outcome is, I hope it’s obvious by now to anyone who has made it this far into the article that Jesus was talking about getting to live in the kingdom of heaven on earth vs not getting to do so here, just as pretty much all of His judgement teachings were about. As I mentioned earlier, at the end of His explanation of the first parable, Jesus says the angels “shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth,” and we now know that the kingdom of heaven is going to be here on earth, not in an afterlife realm, which means the identity of the “righteous/just/sheep” and the “wicked/them which do iniquity/goats” likely isn’t what most Christians have assumed either. Of course, most Christians assume that the sheep, or the righteous, represent true believers, and that the goats, or the wicked, are everyone else, and while neither hell nor the lake of fire are actually mentioned in any of these passages, if people are being judged and going into fire for eternity, as the passages seem to imply when one doesn’t consider the context, most also assume that it must be talking about the Great White Throne Judgement and the lake of fire. Of course, as most Christians are aware, but seem to forget when they read these passages for some reason, there won’t be any true believers being judged at that particular judgement (those in the body of Christ will have already been “judged,” so to speak, over 1,000 years earlier, at the Judgement Seat of Christ, and will have been living in the heavens for all that time, while those in the Israel of God will have been living on, and reigning over, the earth that they inherited for the thousand years before this occurs, and there’s no reason to think that either group would be judged after that period of time ends, especially since most of them will have been made immortal at this time, and immortality for humans is always connected with salvation in Scripture; besides, believers within the body of Christ will likely participate in judging those at the Great White Throne Judgement — Christ is the judge at that judgement, and it would take a very long time for one person to judge every single human being who ever lived, even if one excludes all those who have been saved, relatively speaking, so it makes sense that the rest of His body will assist Him here — and no, this judgement doesn’t take place outside of space and time, but rather takes place in our physical universe after the dead have been physically resurrected into mortal bodies, which should be more obvious than it is to some, considering the fact that it’s technically impossible for anyone who isn’t God to be outside of space and time anyway, as well as that nothing can occur without space and time, so nobody could experience being judged if they weren’t existing within space and time), which means the sheep can’t actually represent true believers at all. Not to mention, there’s no reference to a resurrection in any of these passages, which would be necessary to occur if these are about a judgement of everyone who has ever lived. Instead, all one needs to do is take a look at the verse in Matthew 25 which says it takes place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory,” and look at the context of the rest of the chapter, as well as the chapter before it, which makes it obvious that it’s talking about the time immediately after Jesus returns to the earth at His Second Coming, telling us that these passages must be talking about a judgement which takes place on earth shortly after the Great Tribulation ends, rather than the Great White Throne Judgement which takes place a thousand years after Jesus returns.
Of course, if “life eternal” and “everlasting punishment” meant that every single human living on earth were going to be judged and sent to heaven or hell for eternity, as most Christians have always assumed would happen at the time the judgement in these parables takes place, that would cause other obvious problems. For example, it would leave nobody living on the earth for the next thousand years to reproduce, as Scripture says will happen in Israel when the kingdom begins there (as well as on the New Earth, after the thousand years ends and our current planet is destroyed). As I’ve mentioned before, the Bible teaches that those who have been made immortal will be like the angels and will no longer marry or reproduce at that time, and if all the non-believers are going to be sent to the lake of fire to die a second time at that point, with everyone else being given their immortality at that time, that doesn’t leave anybody else to fulfill the prophecies about the New Covenant, or even the New Earth, that are supposed to take place after the Tribulation ends. Not only that, it also wouldn’t leave any Gentiles to fulfill the many prophecies about the nations during the thousand years, not to mention the fact that no Gentiles would be left to rise up against Israel at the end of the thousand years one last time, as Revelation tells us will happen, if all the non-believers are cast into the lake of fire at this point.
Hopefully you’ve also asked yourself why there’s nothing in there about the sheep “asking Jesus into their hearts” or “accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour” in these passages, if you’re still assuming this is talking about the salvation Paul wrote about (not that either of those are actually scriptural ways to be saved), or even about them believing that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, and why it seems like the salvation in these parables appears to be dependent upon being just or doing good works rather than being said to be by grace through faith. Most people just brush those concerns aside, of course, because they “know” these passages have to be talking about what they’ve always been taught by their religious leaders that they are, and decide to believe, even though it doesn’t actually say so in the passages, that the reason for salvation in these passages (especially during the judgement of the sheep and the goats) has to be figurative and has to be talking about works as the fruit of faith rather than good works being the actual cause of the sheep’s salvation as that passage says they are when taken literally (and then push the thought that “many non-believers do the very things Jesus seemed to say would result in everlasting life while many believers don’t” to the back of their minds and try to forget that fact as well), because if one were to read it literally it would become obvious pretty quickly that it just can’t be talking about what one has always assumed it is at all (although one is then also forced to push the thought that, “if the cause of salvation and damnation is figurative, then there’s no reason to believe that the actual reward and punishment, or even their durations, aren’t also figurative,” to the back of their mind as well, but most successfully do so). But even if this could all somehow be twisted into meaning the sheep are true believers who will go to heaven, and the goats are non-believers who will go to the lake of fire, we already know from what we’ve previously covered that there’s no basis for believing that any human is going to remain in the lake of fire without end (and that there’s no reason to believe any human is conscious in it either), and we in fact know that everyone who dies a second time will have to be resurrected and quickened in order for death to actually be destroyed, so mangling the passage in such a manner doesn’t actually help defend the traditional doctrine anyway.
But as for what these passages are actually talking about, in order to figure this out, one needs to first be aware of certain passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which are the key to understanding the true meaning of being in a furnace of fire, because this isn’t talking about the lake of fire at all. Instead, if you look at passages such as Deuteronomy 4:20, which says, “but the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day,” or Jeremiah 11:4, which says, “which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God,” it should be obvious what it’s referring to. And those are only two of the many references in the Hebrew Scriptures to being judged in a figurative furnace, as well as to being “refined in a furnace,” none of which refer to spending time burning in literal fire in an actual furnace, but are basically talking about time spent in parts of the world that aren’t Israel (no Christian believes the “furnace” part of the parable is literal anyway, and if the “furnace” in the warning isn’t a literal structure with fire burning inside of it, it stands to reason that the “fire” in the figurative “furnace” in this warning isn’t literal fire either, and a furnace and a lake are two entirely different types of things anyway, although the word “lake’ is also pretty figurative, simply telling us that the valley will be full of fire when the corpses are burning in it). And so, what the first two parables are actually saying is that there will be righteous Israelites and unrighteous Israelites when Jesus returns, and some will wail and gnash their teeth because they’ve been forced to live in parts of the world that aren’t the kingdom of heaven/Israel (these parts of the world being referred to parabolically as “the furnace of fire,” also referred to in other passages as the “outer darkness,” which we’ve already learned can’t refer to the lake of fire, since it will be located in a valley inside the kingdom), unlike the righteous Jews who will get to live in the kingdom of heaven/Israel at that time (which is where everyone who heard Jesus when He spoke wanted to live when the kingdom arrives on earth in the future). It’s actually very simple to grasp once you come to understand who Jesus’ audience was and what His message was all about, especially when you also take all of Paul’s references to the salvation of all humanity in his epistles into consideration. But when you assume He was talking about an afterlife for ghosts in another dimension rather than the life and death which physical bodies on this planet “experience,” and think that Jesus was directing His message to everyone rather than specifically to Israelites, it’s easy to get extremely confused about all of His sayings.
As for the parable of the sheep and the goats, this judgement simply refers to certain Gentiles of the nations (based on Jesus’ statement that “before him shall be gathered all nations”) being cursed for not being a blessing unto the least of Jesus’ brethren during the Tribulation period, which this judgement takes place immediately after (Jesus’ “brethren” obviously being a reference to faithful Israelites, presumably those who will be taken into captivity among the nations during the Tribulation, and not simply to random people who are suffering), by being forced to reside in figurative “darkness,” far from Israel and her Messiah, at that time (since Israel is where the kingdom of heaven will be located when it begins on the earth, those parts of the world far from the light of the King and His kingdom will be in “outer darkness”), and to other Gentiles of the nations getting to live in Israel at that time as a reward for blessing the faithful Israelites who were persecuted during the Tribulation. We know from Zechariah 14:16–21 that there will be Gentiles not living in the kingdom of heaven at this time, consisting of “every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem” at the end of the Tribulation, meaning the Gentiles who didn’t support Israelites during the Tribulation and hence won’t get to enjoy “life eternal” in Israel at that time, but who didn’t die at Armageddon since they presumably weren’t a part of the army that gathered against Jerusalem there, so we know from this passage that the goats definitely won’t actually be killed in the lake of fire at this judgement, because if they were, there wouldn’t be anyone left to fulfill that prophecy, especially since it appears from those prophecies, as well as from elsewhere in Revelation too, that every nation will be involved in rising up against Israel at that time. This, of course, also means that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels isn’t any more literal than the “furnace of fire” is, but rather that it’s simply a figurative reference to the parts of the planet outside the kingdom of heaven where these people are sent to live (the parts of the planet that are referred to as a “furnace” for exiled Israelites at that time), since people living in those parts of the world — or at least their descendants who don’t get saved during that time, one thousand years later — will give in to temptation by Satan to rise up against Israel one last time at the end of the thousand years. (Which means that the urban legend many Christians repeat, that “God created hell for the devil, not for humans, but humans sinned so He had to punish them in hell too,” is based on a complete misunderstanding of this passage, and actually has no scriptural basis at all.)
And don’t worry, this interpretation isn’t teaching salvation by works for us either, because this passage isn’t actually talking about the sort of salvation Paul taught about, since the “sheep” aren’t going to be quickened when they go live in the kingdom, at least not right away, so this isn’t talking about the sort of salvation which Paul taught isn’t by works either.
Of course, the fact that the “goats” who are exiled at this time will eventually die, since they won’t have been made immortal at this time (since immortality for humans is always connected with salvation in Scripture, as I hope has been drilled into your head by now), and also the fact that we know they have to be among the “all” who will eventually be “made alive,” as Paul also explained (even if not until the end of the ages, when Christ destroys death), means there’s absolutely no basis for interpreting “everlasting punishment” any more literally than we now know we should be interpreting “life eternal” (which we’ve learned is just a figure of speech too, referring to the quality of “reward” one experiences) here. By now it should be quite clear that, rather than interpreting it in a quantitative and literal sense, in order to remain consistent with the rest of Scripture, we actually should be interpreting “everlasting punishment” in a qualitative and figurative sense as well, one which refers to the manner of punishment the “goats” will receive rather than the duration of the punishment, especially since the only reference to “everlasting punishment” in the entire Bible is in the exact same verse that says “life eternal.” Which also means that it should be quite obvious to anyone who has made it this far into the article that the words “everlasting” and “eternal” (not to mention “for ever”) generally don’t mean “never ending” (or “without end”) when you read them in less literal translations of Scripture such as the KJV, if they ever even do mean that at all in the Bible (which isn’t to say it’s impossible that these words are meant to be interpreted quantitatively rather than qualitatively in certain passages where they’re used the KJV, but one has to read each instance of these words extremely carefully, considering the context of the passage, as well as of Scripture as a whole, before deciding they do, so as not to contradict the rest of Scripture).
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 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; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. — 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10
This passage is obviously also talking about Christ’s Second Coming (compare the details of verse 7 here to the details mentioned in Matthew 25:31 if there’s any doubt in your mind), which means that what I’ve already written about “fire” in the parables we just looked at applies to this passage as well. Paul was simply pointing out the sort of punishment some of those who will be alive at the time Jesus returns will have to endure, and it’s just as figurative as when Jesus spoke about it. Besides, almost no Christian takes the word “destruction” in this verse literally (since most somehow manage to interpret this word as a figure of speech referring to being tortured in the lake of fire without end), and if that word is figurative and not literal, there’s no good reason to believe that the word “everlasting” before it is any more literal than it is.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. — Matthew 10:28
Notice the word “destroy” there, which, just like the word “destruction” in the last passage, we have no basis for interpreting figuratively in the manner most Christians do (in the sense that to be “destroyed” somehow figuratively refers to suffering without end in the lake of fire). Even if we didn’t know about all of Paul’s teachings on the eventual salvation of all humanity, I’d still argue that it would make far more sense to interpret it in a way that lines up with what Jesus was actually teaching throughout His earthly ministry: about the kingdom of heaven beginning in Israel in the future, and how to either get to live there when it begins, or end up missing out on it at that time. With that in mind, I’d suggest that this verse is simply saying that Jesus’ Jewish audience at the time He gave the warning (along with those Israelites who live through the Tribulation) should not fear men who might kill them for their faith, because God will still resurrect them to live in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth if that happens. But if they die without that faith, on the other hand, or have rejected Jesus in order to temporarily save their lives, God will not resurrect them at that time, and they’ll presumably even die a second time in the lake of fire, which means they’d miss out on the greatest desire of their soul (this is what the figurative language of having one’s soul destroyed means, or at least this is a far more scripturally consistent interpretation of the phrase than what most Christians assume it means, as should be obvious by this point), which for anyone listening to Jesus would have been (or at least should have been) to get to live in that kingdom when it begins in Israel in the future. Like Judas, it would have been far better for them to have died in the womb or in childbirth than to have been born at all, since babies who aren’t born are far more likely get to live on the New Earth than Judas or any of those who will be cast into the hell Jesus warned about are, at least prior to the time Christ destroys death (yes, even Judas will be resurrected and quickened at that time, but he’ll have missed out on so much in the meantime).
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. — Matthew 10:32–33
This statement almost certainly has to do with who will get to be resurrected to live in Israel when the kingdom begins there vs who won’t be, based on the last passage we just looked at (which was stated just moments before this one), and doesn’t tell us anything about what happens to anyone after the thousand years come to an end, so it doesn’t really help support the popular doctrine.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? — Matthew 23:33
All this verse says is that the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking at the time will be condemned to hell, although not until after the Great White Throne Judgement, since this particular “hell” hasn’t even begun burning yet, and they won’t be resurrected until after the thousand years are finished. It doesn’t say they’ll be in this particular hell without end, though, nor does it say they’ll be conscious while they’re in it (and we know from what we’ve already learned that they won’t be), so this really isn’t a helpful verse for anyone trying to teach never-ending torment in hell.
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? — Isaiah 33:14
I’m sure it should go without saying, by this point, that the “devouring fire” and “everlasting burnings” can’t be referring to “hell.” For one thing, as we’ve already covered, nobody who heard or read this warning at the time it was given could have possibly interpreted it as referring to any version of “hell,” since no location referred to as “hell” in any version of the Bible had ever been described that way in Scripture yet, and this verse doesn’t mention “hell” either, so there’s no way anyone could have made a connection between this particular “fire” and any version of “hell” back then. So what was this talking about? Well, the first thing to note is that it’s a reference to specific sinners in a specific location — Zion — telling us that this is a judgement specifically meant for Israel, and the fire is simply a figure of speech for certain judgements of God against Israel. Why does God use fire as a symbol of judgement? Because the judgement comes directly from Him, and God Himself is referred to as a consuming fire (and I hope you don’t believe that God is hell, or the lake of fire, Himself, which He can’t be since we already know that that the lake of fire will be located in a valley in Israel). The Hebrew Scriptures are full of examples of this symbolism being used to refer to judgements of Israel, so to assume this one verse is a reference to the lake of fire is just reading one’s preconceived doctrinal bias into the text. But the question does remain, who among Israel shall be able to dwell in the “fire” when God judges Israel? Well, the answer to that question is given in the very next verse: “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.” Those Israelites who walk righteously will be able to dwell among the fiery judgements themselves without being devoured, yet we know the righteous won’t be cast into the lake of fire, so it should go without saying that this verse was never talking about the lake of fire to begin with.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. — Matthew 7:13–14
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. — Matthew 7:21–23
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last. — Luke 13:23–30
Of course, there’s nothing about hell or the lake of fire in these passages, but they’re quoted so often to defend never-ending punishment that I thought I should include them regardless. That said, based on everything we’ve covered so far, you should really be able to interpret these for yourself by now. But for those who do need an explanation, Jesus is simply talking about certain people who won’t be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven after He returns, because they’ve continued to sin during their lives (this also makes it clear that this isn’t a warning for members of the body of Christ, because there is no condemnation for us, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even sin, since where sin abounds, grace much more abounds). He obviously isn’t talking about ghosts not being allowed to live in an ethereal afterlife realm called heaven when they die, based on everything we’ve already covered, and He likely isn’t even talking about unbelievers (I’d think that anyone who can do the things in His name that the people He was condemning were able to do are probably believers, but it wasn’t lack of belief He condemned them for anyway; rather, it was for their iniquity). Jesus’ statement that many “shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God” in the passage in Luke also confirms that this all takes place on earth. So, in answer to the disciple’s question, yes, there are relatively few that will be saved, at least when it comes to the sort of salvation Jesus preached about during His earthly ministry. This doesn’t mean they can’t later experience the sort of salvation Paul taught about, though (especially from a physical perspective), because it’s an entirely different sort of salvation, as I’ve already explained.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. — John 14:6
Like the last passage, this one doesn’t mention hell or the lake of fire either, but I thought I should quickly cover it as well. Aside from the fact that Jesus was talking to Jews in this verse, which tells us that it’s technically about the sort of salvation Israelites were looking forward to (which, again, involves getting to live in Israel after He returns, not “going to heaven” as ghosts after one dies), if anybody comes to the Father after the thousand years are finished, as Paul promised everyone eventually will, it would still be “by” (or “through”) Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. — John 3:16
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. — John 3:36
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. — 1 John 5:12
Every single Christian out there already interprets basically every part of these passages extremely figuratively, reading “going to heaven” into the word “life,” and “suffering without end in hell” into the word “perish,” for example. Based on everything I’ve written above, though, it should really be quite clear by now to anyone who has been paying attention that these verses are simply saying that those Israelites who don’t “believe on the Son” won’t get to enjoy life in Israel after Jesus returns (and while it’s too big of a tangent to dig into the details of it right now, references to “the world” in the writings of John that aren’t talking about specific ages are generally, if not always, referring to “the world” of Israelites, not the whole planet or every human to ever live). And what does it mean for an Israelite to believe on the Son? Well, it simply means to believe that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah (or Christ) and the Son of God, as John also wrote in John 20:31 (and I trust you noticed the lack of having to believe that “Christ died for our sins” in that verse which tells John’s Jewish readers exactly what they have to believe in order to have “life through his name,” and have figured out that this is because that particular belief wasn’t necessary to experience the sort of salvation Jesus spoke about during His earthly ministry, realizing that John certainly would have included it in that list of things they have to believe in order to experience the sort of salvation John was writing about if it actually was a necessary thing for his readers to believe in order to experience the sort of salvation he was writing about, since it wouldn’t make sense for him to leave out such a crucial detail of what his readers needed to believe to have life if that was the main reason he wrote the book, as he claimed it was in that verse).
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. — Romans 10:9–10
Similar to the above passages written by John, misunderstanding what Paul wrote in this passage has caused a lot of confusion and consternation among many people, and has also led to some pretty bad doctrines (such as “Lordship Salvation” for the body of Christ, as just one example). As I’ve already explained, however, there are different types of salvation, and different ways of experiencing “everlasting life.” By now you should be well aware that anyone to whom God has given the faith to truly believe that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day will experience “everlasting life” in the heavens (rather than in Israel, which is where those who experience the salvation Jesus preached about will enjoy their “everlasting life”). This means that, while it isn’t the choice to believe in Christ’s death for our sins, as well as His subsequent burial and resurrection, that saves someone (our relative salvation is based on God’s sovereign election of those of us in the body of Christ long before we were even born, and has nothing to do with any decisions we make at all; which isn’t to say we don’t make decisions, but the decisions we make are all determined beforehand by a combination of our nurture and our nature — meaning the life experiences and genetics that have caused our brains to be wired in the way that causes each of our individual brains to make the particular decisions they end up making — not to mention by God Himself), if someone does truly understand what it means, and also believes, that He did die for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, they are among those whom God has elected for membership in the body of Christ, and will get to enjoy “everlasting life” in the heavens after they’re caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. One thing you’ll notice that Paul didn’t say his readers did when they were saved (relatively speaking), however, is confess Jesus as Lord (or “confess the Lord Jesus”), and yet verse 10 of Romans 10 seems to make it clear that the salvation written about there is at least partly based on confession. Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t Lord to us, of course, since we’re told elsewhere that He is, but His Lordship isn’t something Paul said his readers confessed at the time they were brought into membership in the body when he explained what they did when they were saved (nor did he say it’s something that they or we have to confess in order to be brought into the body; in fact, it’s simply having faith that he considers to be the important thing we do, as he makes clear all throughout the rest of his epistles, so there’s no good reason to take this one reference to confession being necessary for salvation that happens to be sitting in the middle of a series of chapters which were primarily about Israel and their salvation and applying it to us, especially when it would contradict everything else we know about our salvation).
Likewise, while Romans 10:9–10 says that someone who experiences the salvation that confessing the Lord Jesus and believing God raised Him from the dead brings will indeed believe God resurrected Jesus (just as those in the body of Christ believe), which means they would obviously also have to believe that He died (just as those in the body of Christ also believe), there isn’t anything in that verse about His death being “for our sins,” which is a crucial part of what we believe when we’re saved. The most important part of the belief connected to the sort of salvation Paul is talking about in Romans 10 is Jesus’ resurrection, not His death for our sins. It might not seem like it to most, the first time they read this passage, but these are important distinctions between these two different sets of belief connected with two different types of salvation.
As I’ve already alluded to, something we need to keep in mind is that Romans chapters 9 through 11 are primarily about Israelites (they aren’t 100% about Israelites, but a focus on Israelites is a large part of those chapters, including in the passage in question), and Paul’s point about confessing and believing in that passage was connected to what Israelites have to believe in order experience the sort of salvation John wrote about, which is that Jesus is the Christ, meaning Israel’s Messiah, and that He’s the Son of God. This sort of salvation/“everlasting life” has nothing to do with the salvation Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, nor does it have anything to do with residing in the heavens during the impending ages, but is actually about getting to live in the part of the kingdom of God that will be on planet earth, meaning living in Israel after Jesus returns. Belief that Christ’s death was “for our sins” wasn’t a requirement for salvation in any message that Jesus or anyone else preached prior to Paul proclaiming that it was necessary to be believed to be considered a member of the body of Christ, as we’ve already discussed (it couldn’t have been, since even Jesus disciples didn’t understand that He was going to die or be resurrected until after it had all taken place, which means they also couldn’t have known all that His death would accomplish), and Jesus’ resurrection was only an important part of what they had to believe inasmuch as it proves He’s still able to be their Messiah because He’s no longer dead (with the confession part being connected to Him being the Son of God).
Of course, most Christians mistakenly assume that the whole Bible is to and about everyone, but by now it should be pretty clear to anyone who has made it this far into the article that there are two entirely different sets of messages for two entirely different groups of people in the Bible (one for the body of Christ and one for the Israel of God), as well as multiple different types of salvation written about in there, so don’t worry if you haven’t verbally spoken the words “Jesus is Lord,” or “confessed the Lord Jesus” with your mouth (especially if you physically aren’t able to speak and, as such, can’t verbally confess anything). One day you, and everyone else, will, of course. But in the meantime, the only way to experience the salvation Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 15 (at least from a relative perspective; everyone has already experienced it from an absolute perspective, whether they realize it or not, and will experience it from a physical perspective in the future) is for God to choose you for membership in the body of Christ; and if He has, He’ll give you the faith to understand and believe what it means that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, at some point prior to your death or to the time Christ comes for His body.
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 18:3
Just like all the other passages we’ve covered, there should be no reason for me to point out that there’s no mention of hell or the lake of fire in this verse either, and I shouldn’t have to repeat that Jesus was simply talking about not getting to live in Israel after He returns when He said certain people would not enter the kingdom of heaven unless they’ve been converted, so I’ll just leave it at that.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. — Romans 6:23
This verse is extremely misunderstood, and is almost always taken completely out of the context of the rest of the section that it’s in, but just like the last few passages we covered, this verse doesn’t mention hell or the lake of fire directly, so one has to read the idea of never-ending torment in hell into the word “death” here if they want to continue believing in such a thing, which by now should be obvious that there’s no basis for doing, since the concept doesn’t even exist in the Bible to begin with, at least not in any of the passages we’ve looked at so far (and is clearly contradicted by Paul’s writings about the salvation of all humanity anyway). As for what the verse is talking about, it would take a long study of Romans chapter 2 all the way through chapter 8 to really get into it, but to put it very simply, Paul is basically using this as a metaphor for the ongoing results of his readers continuing to allow sin to reign over themselves while they’re alive (the English word “wages” is just as metaphorical as “death” is here, which is something that most Christians already agree with me on, even if they aren’t aware of what either word is actually referring to). What’s important to note is that Paul wasn’t talking about unbelievers in this part of Romans, but rather about members of the body of Christ who haven’t fully reckoned themselves to be dead to sin yet, meaning they’re still allowing sin to reign over them because they’re still having confidence in the flesh and are actively trying not to sin — which is what it means to “obey it in the lusts thereof,” since walking after the flesh is compared to allowing sin to have dominion over you because you’re still following the law, with walking after the spirit being compared to being free from law, which would include being free from any of the religious rules that some Christians insist we follow as well (the reason we don’t follow the Mosaic law isn’t because there’s anything wrong with the specific rules in the law themselves; the commandment against murder is not a bad rule, which means that it isn’t simply the specific rules in the Mosaic law we aren’t supposed to follow, but rather it’s religious rules in general that we aren’t supposed to follow, because trying to follow religious rules like the Mosaic law simply leads to more sin and death, and yes, this definitely includes the 10 Commandments, as Paul made clear by referencing the 10th commandment when he wrote Romans 7:7 as a part of his teaching that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be placed under any parts of the law at all) — rather than simply trusting that Christ will live the life He wants us to live through us, doing the things God wants us to do and avoiding the things God wants us to avoid Himself through us. Of course, he also contrasts this metaphorical “death” with the freedom of “eternal life” that one can experience instead, and this “eternal life” is just as figurative as the “death” in this verse is, as should also be obvious by now.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. — 1 Corinthians 6:9–10
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:19–21
Inheriting the kingdom of God in these passages should not be confused with salvation, at least not salvation from an absolute or physical perspective. Paul was writing to members of the body of Christ who were already saved, and who couldn’t lose their salvation no matter how hard they tried, so the inheritance here was simply about reigning with Christ. It couldn’t have been about salvation for those in the body of Christ because our salvation isn’t based on our actions — even if we stop believing in Him for some reason, He’ll remain faithful to us from a salvation perspective since He can’t disown, or deny, Himself, and the body of Christ is now a part of Himself. Now, it might be that we can lose out on reigning with Him by denying Him in order to avoid suffering, but either way, we still remain His body, and He won’t amputate and disown His own body parts, and body parts can’t amputate themselves either. So even if a member of the body of Christ doesn’t “inherit the kingdom of God,” they’ll still experience salvation from a physical perspective at the same time the rest of the body does. (Everything I wrote about Romans 6:23 also applies to these passages too, I should add, and reading the surrounding verses helps explain the context of these passages, but I’ll leave it at that since this is a much bigger discussion than we have the space to get into here.)
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. — Hebrews 9:27
While the context of the chapter this verse is in has nothing to do with what most Christians assume that particular statement means, the statement is still made, and Christians who believe in never-ending punishment love to quote it to prove their beloved doctrine for some reason, so it has to be discussed. The problem with using this verse to prove never-ending punishment is we already know that many people will die a second time in the lake of fire, after they’ve been resurrected from their first death (and many people were resurrected throughout the Bible, as recorded in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, who later would have died a second time as well, unless you believe that Lazarus and everyone else raised from the dead throughout the Bible are still alive today), so whatever this verse means, it can’t be interpreted too literally. Also, just like many other passages we’ve covered, there’s no mention of hell or the lake of fire in this verse, and while we know that some people who are judged at the Great White Throne will end up in the lake of fire, not only do we now know that nobody will be conscious in it, we also now know that there’s no basis for asserting that anyone will remain in it indefinitely. And remember, being judged doesn’t imply that someone will be punished without end anyway (or even that they’ll be punished at all). First of all, judgement can be a good thing, as many of the judgements of Israel mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures reveal. But second of all, many of the punishments based on negative judgements throughout the Bible eventually ended (or were promised to be reversed in the future), so we have no basis for simply assuming that doesn’t apply to the judgement referred to in this verse either.
These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. — 2 Peter 2:17
I’m not going to get into all the details of this particular passage, because it’s enough to point out that the sinners in question aren’t literally wells, nor are they literally clouds, so the “for ever” here should be taken about as literally as the rest of the verse (and about as literally as the other times it’s used in judgement passages in the Bible that we’ve covered as well), which means we can’t really use this verse to prove any particular doctrine of salvation.
I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. — Jude 1:5–13
The everlasting chains in this passage don’t help defend any doctrine of salvation either, because this passage tells us they only lock up the fallen angels until (“unto”) their judgement. And the reference to Sodom and Gomorrha suffering the vengeance of “eternal” fire doesn’t help either because neither of these cities are currently still burning, and we already know that Sodom will also eventually be returned to her “former estate” anyway (and if Jude was just referring to the citizens of the city, Ezekiel 16:55 would then likely also have to be referring to its citizens). And as far as the “wandering stars” go, the lake of fire doesn’t seem like it could be described as a place of “blackness of darkness” (aside from the fact that it will be in a valley in the open air in Israel, underneath the sun and moon, the lake of fire would be anything but dark unless we aren’t taking the “fire” part of its title literally, and if one chooses to interpret the “fire” part figuratively, there’s no reason to interpret the supposed duration of the punishment literally either), and I’m assuming I don’t have to point out that they aren’t literally clouds or trees or waves or stars, which means we’re outside the territory of literalism to begin with here, which means we once again have no basis for interpreting “for ever” any less figuratively than we would these words either, nor do we have any way to use this passage to support any particular doctrine of salvation.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: 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. — Revelation 14:9–11
This passage is obviously extremely figurative. It can’t simply be about being cast into the lake of fire because the lake of fire will be located in a valley down here on earth after the Tribulation ends, not up in heaven where it would presumably have to be in order to be tormented in the presence of “the holy angels” and the Lamb, if we were taking it literally. And even if it was about those who worship the beast during the Tribulation getting cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement, the lake of fire will be outside the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, not inside it where it would have to be for those words to make sense (plus, we know from Isaiah that no humans will be alive in the lake of fire anyway, so the reference to torment here tells us it can’t be about suffering consciously in the lake of fire, but that it must be referring to something else altogether). As for what it means, I’d suggest that it’s simply extreme hyperbole about those who take the mark and worship the beast, and the intense suffering they’ll go through while still alive during the Tribulation for doing so, as described just two chapters later.
Either way, though, that was quite literally the only passage we’ve looked at which even suggests that any human might be conscious while being punished “for ever and ever” (since the only other passage to mention that particular “duration” in the KJV was referring to the punishment of spiritual beings, not humans, and we now know that even those particular beings will have to be set free in order to be reconciled to God, so there’s no reason to assume the “for ever and ever” in this passage is any more literal than the one that talks about their time spent in the lake of fire; and unless one decides to read their theological assumptions into the text, in order to apply it to more people than are actually mentioned in it, this passage can really only be applied to humans who worship the beast and take his mark anyway, which is an extremely small percentage of every non-believer to ever live, so it doesn’t help support the idea that anyone else who doesn’t choose to get saved will suffer without end either), and this is quite problematic for the popular doctrine of never-ending torment in hell, because that’s it. No other passage I’m aware of that one might think is talking about the “hell” known as the lake of fire implies that they’ll actually be alive and suffering while in said location, or even that they can never possibly be resurrected and leave it some day (although please correct me if I’m wrong and missed one, but please also first consider whether anything I wrote above would apply to it as well), so they don’t actually help defend the commonly held doctrine, and to interpret this one as referring to suffering consciously in the lake of fire makes no sense either. Think about it. Prior to John’s vision on Patmos, nobody would have ever had any scriptural reason to interpret any of the other passages we’ve looked at as meaning that any humans would be conscious in the lake of fire — especially in light of what Isaiah wrote about carcases — or even that their corpse could never be resurrected from their second death after burning up in it, since no passage which mentioned either “hell” or the lake of fire by name said anything of the sort. And so, somebody studying the Bible carefully from beginning to end who had never actually heard of the doctrine of never-ending torment in hell for non-believers couldn’t possibly come to the conclusion that any humans would be conscious or suffering while in the lake of fire, at least not before reaching this particular passage in Revelation. And if they’re being honest with themselves and taking the rest of Scripture into consideration when they get to this passage, they’d realize it would make no sense to think it was referring to that either, since no other passage we’ve looked at even hinted at such a fate, and because it would contradict everything else they’d already learned as well, which means that to use this one extremely figurative passage located near the very end of the Bible to reinterpret all the references to judgement that came before it in Scripture into meaning all unbelievers (or really anyone at all) will be suffering without end in hell ignores basically every hermeneutical principle I’m aware of, and would contradict too many other things in Scripture we’ve already looked as well, so there’s just no good scriptural excuse for doing that. And so, even though some people will miss out on “everlasting life,” and might even end up in “everlasting” hell fire, we now know that they, and everyone, will eventually leave hell (whichever hell or hells they end up in) and experience salvation, thanks to God and Christ.
But the fact that not everyone gets to enjoy “everlasting life” is also something that should concern my readers, because there are certain qualifications for getting to do so. There are, of course, various types of “everlasting life” available to be experienced, depending on when one lives, anyway. You might get to enjoy the “everlasting life” that involves living in Israel after Jesus returns if you happen to live through the Tribulation and take care of Israelites who are persecuted during the second half of it. This isn’t in an immortal body, however, although I think it stands to reason that whoever does get to enjoy this sort of “everlasting life” will likely be given access to the tree of life and will never die. The members of the Israel of God will also be given “everlasting life” after Jesus returns (and will get to reign over the rest of the world from Israel), and those of them who died prior to — and are resurrected 75 days after — Jesus’ Second Coming will even be made immortal upon their resurrection (while those who “endure to the end” of the Tribulation will get to remain alive thanks to the tree of life, although they, as well as those who helped persecuted Jews during the Tribulation, will eventually be made truly immortal too, along with everyone else, at the end of the ages, when Christ destroys death).
However, there’s a final group of people who also get to experience “everlasting life,” and this entire group will get to enjoy it in immortal bodies (and these bodies will be even more glorious than the immortal bodies of those in the Israel of God). These people, of course, are the members of the body of Christ. This is an extremely small group of people, though, and technically only those relatively few people who have been ordained to “eternal life,” meaning those to whom God has elected to give the understanding of what it means, and the faith to believe, that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, will actually be immersed into His body, because faith in what Christ accomplished is a gift from God (it isn’t only the salvation and grace that are referred to as being a gift in that verse; the faith clearly is as well, especially since there’s no way anyone could think the salvation or grace could possibly be “of yourselves,” considering the definition of grace and the fact that nobody can save themselves, not to mention the fact that receiving salvation would be a transaction rather than a gift if we had to produce faith on our own in order to receive said salvation anyway, so the reference to the gift has to include the faith), and even having to choose to believe all this in order to be saved would be a work we had to accomplish on our own, and would then make us our own (at least partial) saviours since, if we aren’t saved (referring to salvation from an absolute perspective) because of what Christ accomplished prior to having faith, it would mean Christ accomplished absolutely nothing that benefited anyone until they performed the final step of their salvation themselves, through their intelligent or wise or righteous or humble choice to believe the right thing, whichever option or options it is that you think is the source of peoples’ will to choose to believe the specific thing(s) that causes them to finally get saved (instead of their will to believe the good news of their already existing salvation because of what Christ accomplished coming from the Source that Scripture says it actually comes from). However, while whether we experience this sort of “everlasting life” or not isn’t something we ultimately get to decide for ourselves (nobody chooses what they believe — they either hear or read something and believe it, or they hear or read it and don’t believe it, and nobody can choose to force themselves to believe something that they think isn’t true, at least not without some serious self-induced brainwashing, likely requiring powerful drugs; although, if they didn’t think it was true, they’d have no reason to try to force themselves to believe it in the first place, so we couldn’t really blame them for not believing it anyway), at some point in their life, anyone included in this group will have believed (which first requires actually understanding) all the elements of what it is Paul said that members of the body of Christ believe when they’re saved, which means God will have given them an understanding of, and belief in, the following facts before they die or before Christ comes for His body: 1) That “Christ died for our sins” means that sin has now been dealt with for everyone, and so nobody’s sins are being held against them at all anymore (the good and evil works of non-believers will still be judged at the Great White Throne, of course, but sin and evil are two entirely different concepts, as I’ve already mentioned, and should never be confused as being the same thing, although it is true that a lot of evil actions are indeed sinful), and everyone will eventually experience salvation because of this, and entirely apart from anything they do on their own at that, including even believing this good news. 2) That “He was buried” means He literally ceased to exist as a conscious being when He died (just as He did for a few hours every time He went to sleep at night), and He Himself was placed in the tomb (and not just His body while He Himself went somewhere else). And 3) that “He rose again the third day” means, after spending three days truly dead, God resurrected Him into a physical (albeit “spiritual”) body, not that He simply now exists as a glorified ghost in another dimension (this final point was the whole reason Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, after all, because some people had stopped believing in the physical resurrection). And so, if you’ve come to truly understand and believe the details I’ve just explained, then you can rest assured that you are indeed among the elect and have joined the body of Christ.
If you’ve made it this far and disagree with basically everything I’ve written, however, I’m sorry to say that there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait until the end of the ages to experience your own salvation, since you likely aren’t among those whom God has elected for membership in the body of Christ. But, just like everyone else, even you will get to enjoy salvation at that time (and if you happen to be alive at the time the Tribulation begins, maybe you’ll actually be among those who get to experience “life eternal” by being a member of the Israel of God, or perhaps even by helping the least of Jesus’ brethren at that time, instead). This also means that, if you want those of us who have come to understand and believe what I’ve written in this article (meaning those of us who hold to what is sometimes referred to as “Concordant” theology, the most important of the core doctrines of which are covered in this article using KJV-type language, as opposed to the “Concordant” terminology we typically use to discuss such things) to change our minds and believe what you do about the topics I’ve covered instead, you’re going to have to do a good job of breaking down exactly where I went wrong in my exegesis here. You can’t just expect those of us who have come to believe the doctrines I’ve covered in this article to take your word for it that they’re wrong simply because you say they are, so you’ll have to actually do the work of explaining how we’ve misinterpreted all of the passages of Scripture that I’ve exegeted in this article in order to prove us wrong if you want us to change our minds and believe what you believe instead (which doesn’t mean just presenting us with various philosophical arguments, or appealing to our emotions, as Christians who don’t want to let go of their beloved doctrine of never-ending punishment tend to do when they realize they have no scriptural foundation for their assumptions, at least in my experience). So the ball’s in your court, but I’m not going to hold my breath, because thus far literally nobody has ever even attempted to refute the arguments I’ve laid out in this article (although a few people I’ve shared these interpretations with have been given the faith to believe the truth and are now in the body of Christ, and I pray that now includes you too).
But why did God seem to hide all this truth from so many, as seems to be the case when we consider the fact that so few people appear to be able to see much of it at all when they read their Bibles? To that I simply repeat Proverbs 25:2, in which we are told, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter,” and then suggest that perhaps God did this to reveal the true nature of our hearts to us when we’re finally judged, so that we’ll be able to see just how evil our preferences for how others end up spending eternity can be (although it’s also true that those who aren’t among the elect can’t believe most of what I’ve written anyway, because their minds have been blinded, and only God can get them to believe the truth, which won’t happen for most people until they’re standing before the Great White Throne). And your reaction to everything I’ve written above almost certainly will be used to reveal the truth about the state of your own heart during your years as a mortal here on earth to you at that time.