As was just explained in the last chapter (and if you didn’t read the last chapter in its entirety, or didn’t bother clicking most of the supporting links, please go back and read it all now, because it’s impossible to interpret much of any of the Bible — especially when it comes to the passages related to the subject of this chapter — without first understanding the truths in that chapter), Paul’s Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, that He was entombed, and that He was roused the third day, and to be said to be a member of the body of Christ, one simply has to truly believe this good news. But what about those who don’t believe Paul’s Gospel, and don’t end up getting saved under the Gospel of the kingdom either? What happens to them? Well, while I didn’t go into detail on it there, if you were paying close attention in the last chapter, you might have already figured out the answer to that question. But for those who haven’t, I’m going to do a deep dive into Scripture to give you the definitive answer in this chapter.
Now, as nearly everyone knows, 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 for their sins by ending up being tormented without end in an inescapable place called hell (which most believe is also a reference to a place called the lake of fire). This doctrine is known as Infernalism, although there’s a less horrific version of soteriology that some Christians hold to called Annihilationism, which is the idea that anyone who doesn’t choose to “get saved” before they die will end up being punished for their sins by simply ceasing to exist after their judgement, never to be resurrected again.
There’s a third, and far more scriptural (not to mention far less gruesome and hopeless), soteriological perspective, however, sometimes referred to as Universalism, Universal Salvation, or Universal Reconciliation. Please note that I’m referring to Scriptural Universalism here, though, and not to the wishy-washy sort of universalism that some hold to which says “all religions are valid,” that “all paths lead to God,” or that there’s no judgement of any sort. In addition, it’s important to also note that, while we Scriptural Universalists (particularly we “Concordant” Universalists) believe that everyone will experience salvation in the end, we don’t actually believe that everyone will be saved, and if this sounds like a contradiction to you, think carefully about what we covered in the last chapter, and also consider this question: If I pointed out that, among a group of 4 people, they each had a quarter, but that at the same time only 1 of them had a quarter, and that both statements were equally true, how could this be the case? Well, it’s actually quite simple: All 4 people had a piece of a pie, each an equal-sized slice of the pie that made up the whole pie when put together, but only one of these people had a 25-cent coin in their pocket. You see, as we learned from the first chapter of this book, the same word can refer to different things, and this applies to both the word “quarter” as well as the word “saved” (not to mention “salvation“). We already know that there are multiple types of salvation, and that not everyone experiences every sort of salvation. Relatively few people will experience the sort of salvation referred to under the Gospel of the kingdom, for example, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear a Universalist agree with the assertion that not everyone will be saved, as long as one realizes that we’re referring to specific types of salvation that not everyone is guaranteed to experience when we say that.
But that aside, how can we even suggest there’s a type of salvation that everyone will experience? Well, it’s because when it comes to the type of salvation specifically referred to in Paul’s Gospel, there are a multitude of passages in Paul’s epistles which seem to plainly teach the salvation of all humanity, passages which simply attribute salvation to God and Christ apart from any contribution of our own at all (even though many Christians who don’t want to accept the possibility of Universalism will do anything and everything they can to come up with explanations as to why these passages actually don’t mean that). Of course, it’s also true that there are other passages in his epistles which say only certain people will be saved, and at first this seems like it would be a contradiction if Universalism were true, but only until one remembers the perspective principle and realizes this doesn’t have to be any more of a contradiction than the idea of Universalists agreeing that not everyone will be saved under the Gospel of the kingdom is, because any passages in Paul’s epistles which teach that everyone is saved by God and Christ without any contribution from us (even the contribution of faith) could easily just be referring to salvation under his Gospel from an absolute perspective, while passages which teach that not everyone will be saved would then simply be referring to salvation under his Gospel from a relative perspective (or referring to an entirely different type of salvation altogether, of course, such as salvation under the Gospel of the kingdom), and the fact of the matter is, this absolutely is the case. (And if this sounds confusing, don’t worry; it will all become clear as you read the rest of this chapter.)
So what are these passages which Universalists believe teach that everyone has been saved from an absolute perspective, or which teach that everyone will experience salvation in the end, apart from anything we can do to contribute to it? Well, to begin with, Paul’s Gospel itself teaches us this (and that’s really all the proof one should need). In fact, not only does it teach the salvation of all humanity, the “Christ died for our sins” element of his Gospel also means that someone who believes in Infernalism, or even Annihilationism, can’t actually be a member of the body of Christ, because they don’t believe that sin has been dealt with, once and for all, through Christ’s death for our sins, and hence hasn’t truly believed Paul’s Gospel (if anyone believes that a person can be punished without end because of their sins, they haven’t understood what it means that “Christ died for our sins,” and you can’t truly believe something if you don’t actually understand its meaning). Not only that, though, it also means that someone who believes a person can only be saved by choosing to believe something specific aren’t in the body of Christ either, because it isn’t our belief that saves us, but rather it’s Christ’s death for our sins, along with His subsequent entombment and resurrection on the third day, that saves us (this means that even some who call themselves “Christian Universalists” aren’t in the body of Christ, because many of them also believe that salvation only comes through a choice to believe something specific rather than entirely through what Christ accomplished). To believe that one has to choose to believe something specific in order to be saved is putting the cart before the horse, since faith, or belief, in what Christ accomplished is the cart bringing us into the relative form of salvation known as membership in the body of Christ, while salvation from an absolute perspective because of Christ’s death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection on the third day, is the horse.
I should say, while “the salvation of all humanity” isn’t, strictly speaking, Paul’s Gospel itself — since Paul’s Gospel is technically just those combined elements that he said he taught the Corinthians (Christ’s death for our sins, His entombment, and His resurrection on the third day) — because the salvation of all humanity is the end result of Christ’s death for our sins, His entombment, and His resurrection on the third day, it means that the salvation of all humanity because of what Christ accomplished is this Gospel’s main point. And so, while there are other details that I’ll get into later in this book about his Gospel which also need to be understood in order to be considered a member of the body of Christ, it can legitimately be said that “the salvation of all humanity because of what Christ accomplished” is essentially Paul’s Gospel.
Despite all this, it’s been stated by many people that 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 was talking only about those in the Corinthian ecclesia who believed Paul’s Gospel (or at least only about people who believed Paul’s Gospel in general), and that it didn’t include the rest of humanity anywhere in its words, and, in fact, that the “for our sins” part of this Gospel was only referring to the sins of the Corinthians who believed that the words in Paul’s Gospel are true (or at least only referring to the sins of those who believe his Gospel in general). And while it is true that this part of the chapter was about what the Corinthians specifically believed (and it’s also true that what Paul wrote in this chapter about his Gospel, or Evangel — which, as translated into English in the CLV, was, “I am making known to you, brethren, the evangel which I bring to you, which also you accepted, in which also you stand, through which also you are saved, if you are retaining what I said in bringing the evangel to you, outside and except you believe feignedly” — includes a reference to a form of salvation that not everyone will experience, since those he brought the Evangel to weren’t saved if they believed it feignedly), what they specifically believed wouldn’t actually make any sense if “our sins” wasn’t referring to the sins of all humanity.
I mean, aside from the fact that he didn’t tell them something along the lines of, “Christ can have died for the sins of you Corinthians specifically, but only if you happen to believe that He died for your sins, making it so that He did die for your sins, even though He didn’t actually die for your sins if you don’t believe He did” (which would have to be the case if this passage was only about the sins of the Corinthian believers rather than the sins of all humanity), why would he have called this the good news he brought to them if it wasn’t already news which is good for his audience at the time he spoke it to them in person, before they even believed it? (This is why it’s called good news/a Gospel to begin with: because it’s good news whether someone believes it or not, or even hears it or not — it couldn’t be called good news if it’s something that has to be believed in order to avoid a never-ending punishment, since it could then only be called potential good news, or Paul’s Potential Gospel.) The statement that “Christ died for our sins” would have to already be good news to anyone Paul told this fact to before he even spoke the words to them if he wanted to be able to call it a Gospel in the first place, and not just news which can be good, but only if they happened to hear it and then also believe it’s true, somehow turning it into good news for them (although not really particularly good news, since, statistically speaking, they were still pretty much guaranteed to lose most of their loved ones to never-ending punishment in the end, especially if modern Christians are correct).
I should also say, this is where the Calvinists are at least partly correct (or at least those Calvinists who don’t say unscriptural and illogical things such as, “Christ’s death for our sins was sufficient to save all, but efficient to save only the elect,” because if something must be added to His sacrifice in order for someone to be saved — even something as simple as having to believe the right thing — then His death for our sins was, by definition, INsufficient on its own to save anyone). The consistent Calvinists at least understand that, if we can’t do anything at all to save ourselves, it can only be Christ’s death for our sins (along with His subsequent entombment and resurrection) that saves us, which means that anyone whose sins Christ died for has to be saved, since otherwise His death for our sins accomplished absolutely nothing for anyone prior to someone hearing about His death for our sins and then choosing to believe that His death for our sins accomplished something for them too, thus making them their own (at least partial) saviour by turning Christ’s ineffectual action (which, by definition, is what His death for our sins would be if it didn’t have any effect without someone else doing something, such as choosing to believe something specific, to add to it as well) into an action that finally helped accomplish something for them after all.
Where these Calvinists go wrong is in forgetting that the words Paul specifically said he spoke to the Corinthians when he first evangelized to them in person were not “Christ died for your sins” (or even “Christ died for the sins of the elect,” which is what most Calvinists believe he meant). Instead, he wrote that the words he told them in person were “Christ died for our sins.” If he only meant that Christ died for the sins of the Corinthians and himself specifically, it would mean He didn’t also die for the sins of anyone else, including the believers in Rome or Galatia or anywhere else for that matter (and that He didn’t die for your sins either). But let’s say that he just meant “the sins of the elect,” or even “the sins of believers in general” (to make this point clear to those who aren’t Calvinists as well), when he said “our sins.” Well, since it’s not like believing Christ died for our sins could then make it a fact that he died for their sins specifically, but only after believing it (since He only died once), this means He had to have at least died for the sins of anyone hearing this proclamation of good news before Paul spoke those words to anyone. And so, unless every single Corinthian Paul spoke to believed his words, if Christ’s death for our sins is what saves us, it would mean that Paul was lying to anyone who didn’t believe that Christ died for our sins when he spoke those words to them, because that statement would have to include everyone hearing him say those words rather than just the listeners who also believed those words were true (since it would mean that Christ didn’t actually die for their sins after all, considering the fact that anyone whose sins Christ died for has to be saved). Not only that, it would mean we were also lying anytime we explained that the good news includes the fact that Christ died for our sins, at least if anyone who heard us didn’t believe it either (unless, perhaps, what one actually has to believe in order to be saved is that Jesus died only for the sins of Paul and the Corinthians he spoke to — and that everyone in Corinth he preached his Gospel to got saved — and not that he actually died for you or anyone else, but then we’d have to ask what the basis of our salvation really was in the first place).
So yes, Christ’s death for our sins actually had to apply to all humanity (and hence guarantee the salvation of all humanity), as Paul also made clear when he expanded on all this later in the same chapter by writing that, “just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Of course, many Christians assume that Paul was simply referring to being resurrected here (based on the fact that a large part of this chapter is about resurrection), 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” (which is translated from ζῳοποιέω/“zōopoieō” in the KJV, and is the same Greek word that “quickened,” or “vivified,” depending on your Bible version — which means to be given an immortal body — is translated from) obviously can’t simply be referring to resurrection (which is an entirely different word, translated from the Greek word ἀνάστασις/“anastasis” instead) since not everyone who will be “made alive” will actually die and be resurrected (yes, that the dead will be physically resurrected was Paul’s main point in this chapter, but he used his Gospel to prove this point, and in doing so ended up covering details that went far beyond just simple resurrection, including elements that apply to those who won’t be resurrected — because they’ll never actually die — as well).
And since the “in Adam” half of the verse is about the end result of his sin as it applies to everyone (and not just those people who will actually die), 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 everyone as well, which can only be the vivification of our mortal bodies (since, as Paul explains later in the very same chapter, being made immortal is what we’re looking forward to as far as our salvation goes, and that being made immortal is how the death Adam brought us all is ultimately defeated, which also means that any human who is made immortal will then be experiencing salvation not only from an absolute perspective, but from yet another perspective as well, known as the physical perspective). That, combined with the fact that not everyone will end up as a corpse prior to being “made alive” — confirming that the “for as in Adam all die” part of the verse can only be referring to being made mortal, meaning being in a state of slowly dying because of what Adam did — tells us that a translation of this verse which provides the most clarity as to what Paul meant would be something along the lines of, “even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified,” as the Concordant Literal Version renders it. (And for any Preterists reading this book, the immortality here has to refer to our physical bodies being made immortal since Paul’s original reason for even writing this chapter was to make clear that those who die will be resurrected into physical bodies just like Jesus was.)
Of course, most Christians assume that one can’t be “in Christ” without first having made a conscious decision of some sort to end up there, leading them to also assume that only those who choose to be “in Christ” (or only those who are elected by God to be “in Christ”) can be saved, and they then read that assumption into this verse when trying to interpret it. But aside from what we’ve already covered about the meaning of Paul’s Gospel (which should be enough, in and of itself, to prove that everyone has already been saved from an absolute perspective, which means everyone will also have to eventually experience salvation from a physical perspective), if you read it carefully you’ll notice that, not only does it not actually say one has to make a choice to end up “in Christ” in that verse, it isn’t even talking about being “in Christ” from a positional perspective to begin with. If that’s what Paul had been getting at, he would have written, “for as all in Adam die, even so shall all in Christ be made alive.” Thankfully, that’s not what he wrote. Instead, the way he carefully worded it (“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, “even so,” also equally affected by the action of the last Adam, and completely outside of their own desire or will. The slight difference in wording might not seem important to most Christians (and those who don’t want to accept the possibility of Universal Salvation will automatically insist it doesn’t matter, without even taking the time to think about it), but it makes all the difference in the world when you realize that God didn’t simply inspire Paul to just throw words onto the page haphazardly, but rather that He made sure Paul laid the words out the way He did in order to make certain it’s clear that, 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 vivification without having died), even so they also have no say in experiencing the effects of the last Adam’s action (eventual immortality) either. Basically, the order of the words God chose for Paul to use tells us that “in Adam” and “in Christ” simply mean “because of what Adam did” and “because of what Christ did,” and are not positional terms at all in this passage.
The fact that Paul wasn’t referring to being “in Adam” or “in Christ” from a positional perspective there is also backed up by what he wrote in Romans 5. Of course, 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 enough natural wisdom and/or intelligence and/or humility and/or righteousness to be able to make a choice to believe the specific thing that ultimately saves us, for example, or at least having the natural ability and desire to build up that required wisdom and/or intelligence and/or humility and/or righteousness so one can make that specific choice), rather than being based 100% on Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection (with no action taken on our part at all to contribute to our salvation, since us having to accomplish anything at all in order to ensure our own salvation — even if that accomplishment was just managing to change our minds, meaning managing to repent, and choosing to believe the right thing — would be salvation based at least in part upon something we had to do ourselves, which would ultimately 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, in addition to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:22 about how we’re all dying (mortal) because of Adam, in Romans 5:12 Paul not only confirmed that the specific thing Adam did to bring his descendants mortality and death was his (Adam’s) own sin, but he also went on to explain that the reason we ourselves now sin is because of that mortality we inherited from Adam: “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.”
This is one of the most misunderstood passages in Scripture, and 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 mistranslated the verse that way). But, 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 grammar, not to mention logic, that I’m aware of), if we die because we sin, the first part of the verse would 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 (not to mention that it would also turn the words “and so” in the verse into a lie: 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, contrary to what the words “and so” are telling us, as well as contrary to what Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15:22).
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 mortality — which the word “death” is simply being used as metonymy for in this verse — the effect rather than 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 a part of what Paul was trying to explain in the first place with this verse (and as for why mortality leads to sin, 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 the Augustinian concept of “Original Sin” might be the answer to that question, the only scriptural basis for even considering Augustine’s doctrine in the first place is this verse itself, which means it’s a nonstarter when it comes to this topic, since everything I just wrote already demonstrates that it couldn’t possibly work (some Augustinians do attempt to use Psalm 51:5 to defend their doctrine as well, but since there aren’t any other passages in Scripture that say we have the inherited Augustinian “sin nature” — a term not found anywhere in Scripture — they’re trying to defend with that verse, they don’t have anything to base that interpretation on to begin with, especially since there are many other possible interpretations of that verse which don’t turn Romans 5:12, not to mention 1 Corinthians 15:22, into a nonsensical lie as would be the case if “Original Sin” were a valid concept).
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 the KJV actually got this correct, and that we should simply stick with what it actually says here and interpret it accordingly, since it gives us answers to both the question of why we’re mortal, as well as the question of why we sin, and also keeps 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.)
And so, contrary to what pretty much all Christians have been taught, we ourselves don’t die because we sin. In fact, Adam and Eve were the only humans who died because they sinned — or, rather, began to die/became mortal because they sinned. “In the day you eat from it, to die shall you be dying” is a more literal translation of what God said in the Hebrew Scriptures about the “forbidden fruit,” which is why the CLV translates Genesis 2:17 that way. Remember, the expression “thou shalt surely die” was used in both Genesis 2:17 and in 1 Kings 2:36-46 in the KJV — and was translated from the same Hebrew phrase מוֹת תָּמוּת/“mûṯ mûṯ“ in both passages — and yet, based on the amount of time it would take to travel from Jerusalem to Gath and back (even on horseback), there’s no way that Shimei actually died physically the day he crossed the brook Kidron, as Solomon warned he would in 1 Kings. And he certainly didn’t “die spiritually” that day either, as most Christians mistakenly assume the translation of “surely die” in the KJV means (an assumption they make because they recognize that this is obviously a figurative translation, based on the fact that Adam didn’t physically drop dead on the day he sinned), which confirms that the popular “spiritual death” idea is a complete misunderstanding of the term “surely die” in the KJV. As far as Shimei goes, it just meant that he had basically signed his own death warrant and knew that he was “as good as dead” on the day he crossed the forbidden brook. And as far as Adam and Eve go, it just meant that “to die they began dying,” meaning they gained mortality leading to eventual physical death on the day they ate the forbidden fruit.
I said “most Christians mistakenly assume” in the last paragraph, 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 isn’t even possible, since it would mean there was something “outside” of, or “beside,” God, which would make that thing the equal of God, and also mean there was a whole other universe that transcends God, which there would need to be in order for both God and someone separated from God to be existing side by side in). 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 raises the question of why Adam did become mortal that day, if literal mortality leading to death wasn’t his actual punishment, and why Paul says vivification from mortality is what our salvation from the consequence of Adam’s sin actually is. This also tells us that “to die” can’t possibly be a reference to being punished in the lake of fire, by the way, because Adam didn’t end up in that location the day he sinned either, so becoming mortal is the best interpretation of this warning if you don’t want to descend into the realm of contradiction and even outright absurdity, and since it lines up so well with the literal translation of Genesis 2:17, as well as with what 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 5:12 say, all the more reason to interpret it this way.
Understanding this also helps explain why Jesus was able to avoid sinning, as well as why we’ll stop sinning too once we’re made immortal, by the way. Some people will say, “The reason Jesus didn’t sin is because He’s God, and only God in the flesh could avoid sinning so He could be the perfect sacrifice for sin,” but what they’re telling us when they say that, even if they don’t realize it, is that we humans could then never be free of sin, not even after our resurrection, since we aren’t going to become God, so that couldn’t possibly be the reason. Instead, the reason is because He was what I refer to as amortal rather than mortal, which means that, while He wasn’t yet immortal, which means being entirely incapable of dying — as we’ll also be when we’re vivified, just like He is now — the fact that He didn’t have a human father meant He wasn’t slowly dying the way we mortals are either, and not having mortality coursing through His veins, along with having the Spirit without measure, meant He was strong enough to avoid giving into temptation to sin (this combination of amortality and the Spirit without measure also kept Him alive, even on the cross, until He was ready to die and willingly gave up His life). This means Adam could have also theoretically avoided sinning if the circumstances had worked out that way, although he didn’t have the Spirit without measure like Jesus did, and ultimately gave in to temptation (for various reasons that I don’t have the time to get into right now, but which are explained in at least one of the books I link to in a later chapter), leading to the mortality and sin that all of us now get to experience.
That Adam is ultimately responsible for our mortality, death, and sinfulness, and even our condemnation, is also backed up a few lines later in Romans 5 as well, 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.
You see, when Paul wrote, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” he was using another set of parallelisms there, something he seemed to love using to prove this particular point in various epistles, where the “all” and the “many” in the second part of each sentence has to consist of no less than the exact same number of people who fall under the “all” and “many” in the first part of the sentences, or else the parallelisms would fall apart, as would his entire point. (But for those who still really want to blame our mortality and death on our own sins rather than ultimately blaming it on the first Adam’s sin, 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, not to mention why Paul included the part about “wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin“ in verse 12, and also why he claimed that “in Adam all die” in 1 Corinthians 15:22.)
Now, some like to insist that one has to first choose to receive the free gift to be included in the second half of these parallelisms (completely ignoring how parallelisms work), based on the inclusion of the word “receive” in verse 17, but Paul didn’t actually say anything about receiving the gift being a choice in that verse at all (although, if it was a choice, then receiving the “abundance of grace” mentioned in that verse would also have to be a choice). 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 (at no point did he say to his assailants, “Please whip me”; and had he instead said, “I refuse to receive these stripes,” they still would have whipped him anyway), 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 choose 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 how difficult most people find it to “choose to receive the gift” and “get saved” (at least as far as the traditional Christian understanding of what salvation is goes). And so, rather than being offered money as a gift and having the option to either accept it or reject it, which is a flawed analogy many Christians like to use when discussing salvation, it’s actually more like having money directly deposited into one’s bank account entirely without their knowledge (with evangelism being about telling people the money is there, whether or not they happen to believe it, or “choose to receive it”).
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 salvation (especially from an absolute and physical perspective) could possibly be something we have no say in, which is why they also insist that we’re entirely responsible for our own condemnation, mortality, and death as well, contrary to what Paul wrote. You see, if our condemnation is based entirely on the action of one (Adam), as Paul said it was, then our salvation would have to be 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 make to receive the free gift, and the pride of most Christians just won’t allow them to accept that as a possibility (because, although they’ll deny it — even to themselves — most of them, at least on a subconscious level, 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?”, thus telling us they believe they earned, and even deserve, salvation because they were smart enough to choose to receive it, unlike all those sinners who aren’t smart enough to make the same good choice they did and hence don’t also deserve it the way they do).
I should quickly add, some will point out that 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 also talks about “receiving” the Gospel Paul preached unto them, and that the salvation referred to in that passage seems like it could possibly be said to be conditional, if we take the passage on its own without considering the rest of Scripture. But if we interpret the passage as Paul referring to receiving salvation rather than simply receiving (or hearing) the message he preached unto them, based on what we’ve already covered (not to mention still have yet to cover), it could only be talking about receiving the relative salvation that involves joining the body of Christ after hearing his Gospel there (a form of salvation that not everyone receives), not the absolute and physical salvation that’s discussed throughout the rest of the chapter (as well as that’s discussed in Romans 5), so even if someone did have to choose to “receive” salvation from a relative perspective, it doesn’t mean anyone has to choose to receive salvation from an absolute or physical perspective. (Although, as you’ll learn later on in this book, even that kind of salvation isn’t actually based on anything we ourselves choose to do or receive, but is instead based entirely on God’s choice regarding whom He’ll have receive it, and the only question in that passage was over whether or not someone had actually truly been given the faith to believe Paul’s Gospel, rather than over whether they chose to believe his Gospel of their own so-called “free will,” but that’s a topic for later.)
This all means it’s time to recognize that the idea of the salvation Paul primarily wrote about (at least from an absolute and physical perspective) being based at all upon something people have to do for themselves — even if what they have to do for themselves is something as supposedly simple as having to choose to believe the right thing — rather than being based entirely upon what one/Christ did for us, is really something one must read into the text based on one’s preconceived idea that salvation depends at least partly (even if just 1%) on us and our wise decision to believe and/or do something specific rather than depends 100% on what one/Christ did. Simply put, Paul is placing the responsibility for both our condemnation and our eventual salvation on two men, and on two men alone, rather than on each individual human who will ever have lived. The whole point of the parallelisms in each of these passages is to make it clear that one/Christ has at least the exact same level of effect on humanity that one/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, considering the fact that none of us had to choose to allow Adam’s sin to make us mortal the way most Christians think we have to choose to allow Christ’s death for our sins to make us immortal.)
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 way parallelisms work means that the set (or variable, if you prefer) known as “x” has to be 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 condemner” before becoming mortal, which would have to be the case if we, “even so,” need to choose to “accept Jesus as our Saviour” in order to be saved; and if our condemnation 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 we were all simply born mortal (remember, our condemnation to mortality, death, and sinfulness was entirely because of one/Adam, and not because of anything we ourselves did, or else newborn babies who haven’t sinned yet would never die, and, at the very least, it would be extremely unlikely that third trimester abortions could even be performed), 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 also 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 we just covered), 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 words “many” and “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 vivified/“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”).
Unfortunately, due to a combination of the fact that most Christians misunderstand the various passages in Scripture about judgement, “hell,” and the lake of fire, especially the ones that include warnings by Jesus (which are indeed serious warnings, but they don’t mean anything even close to what most people have assumed they mean, as I’ll demonstrate later in this chapter) — and are misinterpreting these and other Pauline passages about salvation in light of their misunderstandings of those judgement passages rather than interpreting those particular passages in light of these 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, outside of the cases where he was discussing Israel’s salvation under the Gospel of the kingdom, which is a type of salvation that not everyone will get to enjoy, Paul was sometimes writing about salvation from an absolute perspective, which refers to having our/humanity’s sin dealt with by Christ’s death, sometimes writing about salvation from a physical perspective, which refers to being made immortal and hence sinless, and sometimes writing about salvation from a relative perspective, which refers to joining the body of Christ and getting to experience physical salvation early, and which itself has different “levels” of rewards that not every member of the body of Christ will necessarily be included in either, 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), most Christians read these passages and come away with extremely confused interpretations. 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 dying by being “in Adam,” even so every human will end up made alive by being “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 our lives. That said, when you consider the fact that the context of the chapter was resurrection and vivification, 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 vivified” (and to be vivified means to experience salvation from a physical perspective, finally enjoying one’s immortality, and hence sinlessness).
For anyone who might somehow still be sceptical, though, hypothetically speaking, 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 mortality and sinfulness, yet, equally so, because of what Christ did, every single human is guaranteed to eventually enjoy immortality and sinlessness, 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.
All that said, while Paul tells us in verse 22 of 1 Corinthians 15 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 verses 23 and 24 that there’s an order to when each person will be made fully alive.
The first order mentioned is “Christ the firstfruits,” which refers to the body of Christ being vivified at the time Christ comes for His body (this order of vivifications would not include the Head of the body Himself, though; the body being vivified in the future would have to exclude Him specifically, since otherwise verse 22 would also mean that “in Christ shall Christ be made alive,” which is a pretty meaningless statement, not to mention one which is contradicted by Peter, who wrote that Christ was already quickened, or vivified/“made alive” — past tense — by the Holy Spirit, not that He will be vivified/“made alive” — future tense, which is the tense verse 22 uses — by His own power, as though He isn’t already immortal now). The dead who will be resurrected, as well as the members of the body of Christ who are still living (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), will experience this immortality at the Snatching Away (which is the actual version of the event often called the Rapture that many Christians mistakenly believe will eventually happen to them, and which should also not be confused with the Second Coming), before we’re taken to our celestial destiny in the heavens. 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 among the celestials.
The second order is “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” referring to those in the Israel of God who are vivified after being resurrected at Israel’s first resurrection (which the CLV calls the former resurrection, also referred to elsewhere as the resurrection of the just), near the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom, 75 days after Jesus returns to earth and the Tribulation period has concluded (people such as “Old Testament” saints, for example, at least from the point of Abraham onwards, as well as those who died following the teachings that Jesus and His disciples shared). 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, and everyone else who gets to enjoy what the KJV and other less literal Bible versions refer to as “everlasting life” (which is a figure of speech that does not literally mean “immortality,” as we’ve already discussed, or even “never-ending life,” as we’ll get into more detail on soon) while living 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 vivifications 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 vivification 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 (vivification 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 vivified three-and-a-half or more (likely more; in fact, almost certainly more than seven) years apart from each other — and believe the first order is just speaking of Jesus Himself. However, as I already mentioned, to do so really doesn’t make any 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 vivified 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 during the Millennium and on the New Earth if every member of the Israel of God were vivified when Jesus returns, as I’ve also previously mentioned (and the fact that all the living members of the body of Christ are vivified 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 more than 2 months after Jesus’ Second Coming, is also more evidence that the body of Christ is not the Israel of God, and that our respective vivifications 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, not to mention everyone else who might not get to enjoy “everlasting” life, and the answer to this is found in the very next verse.
Of course, most people who read this chapter assume “they that are Christ’s at his coming” in verse 23 is the final group of vivifications mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 (if they even realize that Paul was talking about vivification at all), but Paul actually speaks of a third and final (“end”) group to be vivified/“made alive” when he wrote “then cometh the end” (or “thereafter the consummation” — εἶτα τὸ τέλος/“eita to telos” in the original Greek — as the CLV put is) in verse 24. Now, this technically could be said to have a double fulfillment of sorts, since the consummation of the eons, also known as the end of the ages, is almost certainly when this final vivification occurs (and is something that the body of Christ has already attained in spirit, and will have also attained physically at their own vivification, long before the actual final eon or age ends, but that the eons/ages will end isn’t the point Paul was making), 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 vivification and had now begun discussing the end of the eons (or simply the end of our current 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 men from the ‘every man in his own order’ of groups of men will be made immortal,” and then going on to explain that this final vivification will occur at a time in the future when all enemies are finally put under Christ’s feet. In fact, he even used his statement about Christ’s enemies to prove his point that all humanity will be vivified, by writing that the final enemy — death — will be destroyed, or abolished, altogether. Since death can’t be considered to have been truly destroyed as long as A) anyone remains dead, and B) anyone is still in a state of slowly dying, or is even capable of dying, meaning there are any humans left who are not yet immortal (and remember, immortality for humans is always connected with salvation in Scripture), we know that this has to include everyone else, even those who died a second death in the lake of fire, which means they’ll have to be resurrected a second time as well. 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 after the vivification of “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” but 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.”
Now, a lot of Christians simply assume that the reference to the destruction of death in verse 26 is just talking about the salvation of “they that are Christ’s at His coming” in verse 23 (they have to, because of their assumption that not everyone will experience salvation). But aside from the fact that death somehow being said to be destroyed by that group of people being vivified (or being saved in whatever way they assume this means) when Christ returns would mean nobody after Christ’s return (including anyone born during the Millennium and on the New Earth, as well as those in the Israel of God who aren’t vivified at the Second Coming) could possibly be saved, because the final salvation via the destruction of death would then have already been said to have taken place when Christ returned (because, if salvation was figuratively referred to as the destruction of “death,” there wouldn’t be any “death” left to destroy for anyone else to get saved by it happening again afterwards, since it will have already been destroyed at that point), this also isn’t possible because verses 24 and 25 tell us that His enemies are subjected, and that death is destroyed, at a point in time after “they that are Christ’s at His coming” have been vivified rather than that His enemies are subjected — and that death is destroyed — by that group being vivified. Remember, death is the last enemy to be defeated, yet there will still be more death and enemies continuing to exist long after the vivification of “they that are Christ’s at His coming,” since, aside from any death that will occur on earth during the Millennium itself, there is also going to be 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 vivification of “they that are Christ’s at His coming,” which will involve the death of all those enemies who rose up against Israel in that attack.
But it’s not only the death which occurs during the Millennium that causes problems for that interpretation. The death which occurs after it does as well. You see, we’re also told in Isaiah 65 that death will continue to exist on the New Earth too, long after “they that are Christ’s at His coming” have been vivified, at least for a certain period of time after the Great White Throne Judgement (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”). 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” of groups is finally vivified, when death is finally destroyed altogether. Of course, the fact that some people will be dead in the lake of fire at that time also proves that death continues to remain an enemy on the New Earth, at least for a time (since a second death would still be death), and so death can’t be said to have been destroyed until everyone who is dead in the lake of fire is no longer dead.
Of course, some Christians instead assume the references to death in these verses are talking about the mythical “spiritual death” that most Christians believe in (and which some of them mistakenly assume the death in verse 22 is talking about as well, although if it was, then Jesus definitely couldn’t be included in the “firstfruits” reference, unless you believe He also “died spiritually,” whatever that means, “in Adam”; although, if He did, He would have then only been “made alive” spiritually “in Himself” as well, and wouldn’t have been physically resurrected), but 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 life in outer space, which we’ve learned is what “heaven” primarily refers to in Scripture), the same problem that applies to those who think the destruction of death is simply referring to the salvation of “they that are Christ’s at His coming” would have to apply here as well, because the end of “death” doesn’t occur until after both “they that are Christ’s at His coming” are saved and all the rest of Christ’s enemies have been subjected as well, since it’s the final enemy to be defeated. (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 still “spiritually dead” at that time 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, and so far one hasn’t been forthcoming when I’ve asked), it would seem this would definitely have to be referring to the final group, or the rest of humanity (including both those who are dead — meaning those whose bodies will have been burned up when they died their second death in the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgement, and those who happen to die on the New Earth — 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 vivified yet, referring to those whose names were written in the book of life at the Great White Throne Judgement after their resurrection for said judgement who hadn’t already been vivified 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 Millennium), fully vivified after the final age/eon is completed (the ages, or eons, being a topic we’ll get more into shortly) and Jesus’ reign over the kingdom comes to an end because He’s placed all enemies (including death) under His feet (which ultimately just means that He’ll no longer have any enemies at that time: in some cases, such as in the case of death, because they’ve been destroyed altogether and no longer even exist, but in other cases because they’ll then be at peace with Him and God, as I’ll soon prove from another letter of Paul’s) and turns all rulership (including rulership over Himself) over to His Father.
This means, by the way, that people who use passages which seem to tell us Jesus will reign forever to prove that “everlasting torment” in “hell” (or, for Annihilationists, that destruction or annihilation) also never ends because those passages use the same English and Greek words are actually basing their argument on an obvious misunderstanding, since Paul is clear that His reign will end eventually, and that His reign actually only continues for the eons, or for the eons of the eons (or the ages of the ages), as more literal Bible translations make clear, meaning He reigns for the final two — and greatest — eons (we’re currently living in the third, and perhaps most wicked or evil, eon/age), but stops reigning after they’re over. This also demonstrates just how few people are aware that A) nearly all of the passages that are translated as “eternal,” “everlasting,” or “for ever” in the popular, and less literal, versions of the Bible have to be interpreted figuratively based on this fact, as well as that B) everyone will eventually be vivified/“made alive,” which Paul knew because he saw much farther into the future than John did in the prophecies he recorded in The Unveiling of Jesus Christ — better known by most people as the book of Revelation — since John only saw into the beginning of the fifth eon on 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 dead bodies in the lake of fire at that time, whereas Paul saw a much later point of time, at the consummation of the eons, 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).
The simple truth is, the words “everlasting” and “eternal,” not to mention “for ever,” almost never actually mean “never ending,” or “without end,” when you read them in less literal translations of Scripture such as the KJV, any more than they do when they’re used in everyday speech today, but almost always have to be read as hyperbole in such Bible versions. This 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 in the KJV and other less literal Bible translations, of course (and I’m not insisting that they couldn’t possibly have ever had a quantitative meaning when they were used outside of Scripture back then either), but one has to consider each instance of these words extremely carefully when reading Scripture, looking at the context of the passage, as well as of Scripture as a whole, before deciding they are meant to be interpreted quantitatively in a specific passage, so as not to contradict the rest of Scripture (since, if Scripture contradicted itself, there would be no reason to even consider what the Bible has to say about this topic in the first place, and nearly anyone who did so would likely be wasting their time), and when one does look into Scripture in its original languages, while taking everything we’ve covered in this chapter into consideration (as well as what we’ve yet to cover, as you’ll soon discover), it becomes evident that “for ever” in the KJV has to generally be a figurative term speaking of “the age,” or “the eon” (referring to the impending age, or eon, that will last for 1,000 years when the Israel of God rules the planet after Jesus returns, also known as the Millennium), or “the ages [that are coming]”/“the [oncoming] eons” (referring to the final two — and greatest — ages/eons, including both the 1,000-year age/eon when the Israel of God will rule the world, as well as the final age/eon on the New Earth — also known as the eon of the eons — prior to the end of the ages/consummation of the eons), and that “everlasting” and “eternal” in the KJV also have to both generally be figurative terms which mean “pertaining to an age/eon or ages/eons” or “taking place during an age/eon or ages/eons” (referring again to one or both of the two aforementioned future ages/eons, depending on the context), although these three terms can also sometimes simply figuratively refer to an indefinite period of time in the present evil age/eon we currently live in, but with a definite beginning and end (similarly, looking at the Greek makes it clear that the word “never” in the KJV also has to often be a figurative translation, generally just meaning “not for the age/eon,” telling us that, whatever the passage in question is referring to, it can’t possibly happen until the impending 1,000-year age/eon known as the Millennium has ended). However, for those who are looking for even more proof of this than what Paul wrote (although the fact that Paul tells us everyone will be vivified should make this obvious enough to anyone who is being honest with themselves), all we have to do is look to the Hebrew Scriptures, which make it very clear that nearly everything referred to by these words in the less literal English Bible versions using them does eventually come to an end.
For example, in Exodus 21:6 we read about servants who choose to remain in servitude rather than going free on the seventh year, as was their right: “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.” If we interpret the “for ever” there as literally referring to a period of time that never ends, it would either mean that the servant (or slave) in question can never die, or that the servant will have to remain in bondage to his master without end, even after both of their physical resurrections and judgements at the Great White Throne in the distant future (as well as in any afterlife, if one actually exists, in the meantime, even if they both ended up in different places while dead). Since I doubt anyone believes either of these options to be the case, I trust everyone would agree that the “for ever” in this verse is actually a hyperbolic translation which really means “for a specific time period, even if the end date (the time of the servant’s death) is currently unknown,” which demonstrates that when we see the phrase “for ever” in the Bible, we can’t just automatically assume it means “without end.”
Of course, some Bible versions do say things like “for life,” or “permanently,” rather than “for ever” in this verse, but at the very least, you have to admit that עוֹלָם/“olam” (which is the Hebrew word that “for ever” is translated from in this verse in the KJV) doesn’t literally mean “without end” or “never ending” (or at least doesn’t necessarily always mean “without end” or “never ending”), and this tells us that just because we see “for ever” in an English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (or even “everlasting,” for that matter, which is also translated from the same Hebrew word), it doesn’t mean we should automatically assume it means “without end” or “never ending” either, which is really all I’m getting at here.
However, I have had people insist that, even if the word עוֹלָם doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” in an ontological sense, the word should still always be understood as meaning something along the lines of “it’s going to be like this for as long as the thing or person in question exists.” The thing is, aside from the problems this would cause that we’ve already discussed about the servant remaining enslaved even after his death and resurrection (unless you believe the servant never exists again after his death, and there’s nothing in the text which indicates that עוֹלָם should only apply to his first life on earth if you’re going to read it this way), that assertion also ignores the fact that עוֹלָם was translated other ways which contradict this conclusion as well, such as when it was rendered as “of old” in Deuteronomy 32:7, and to insist that the word absolutely has to be rendered in a more “perpetual” manner would also mean that verse would have needed to be translated as saying something along the lines of “remember the days that never ended,” or “remember the days that we’re still experiencing,” instead.
But is there any basis for my assertion that the word עוֹלָם doesn’t necessarily mean “without end” anywhere else in the Bible, or are those the only examples? In fact, that this word doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” when it’s used in the Bible can be seen in many places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Isaiah 32:14–15 says: “Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.” Unless we’re meant to believe that Jerusalem will be left forsaken and desolate and never recover or be inhabited again, as verse 14 seems to say, we have to interpret that “for ever” as meaning a specific period of time again, just as we had to do with the previous example. And, indeed, verse 15 tells us when that “for ever” ends, stating that Jerusalem will be left deserted “for ever,” until the spirit be poured from on high.
And those weren’t the only passages to demonstrate that it doesn’t mean “never ending.” We also read about the fact that the Aaronic priesthood will be “everlasting” in Exodus 40:15 (with “everlasting” also being translated from עוֹלָם there), yet we know from Hebrews 7:14–22 that the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants is to be replaced by Jesus Christ, who will be “a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec,” and we know from 1 Corinthians 15 that even this new priesthood which is figuratively said to last “for ever” is eventually no longer going to be necessary either. That this “everlasting” priesthood will eventually come to an end is also backed up by the fact that, while the believing descendants of Isaac and Jacob will reign over the people of the earth as “kings and priests” during the thousand-year period of time when the kingdom of heaven finally fully exists on earth, there almost certainly won’t be any Israelite priests on the New Earth at all, because there won’t be any need for them with no physical temple in the New Jerusalem (and there definitely won’t be a need for them after the eons conclude and death has been abolished, since everyone will have been vivified, and hence made sinless, at that point, and so a priesthood will no longer be necessary).
Similarly, in 1 Chronicles 16:17 we read, “and hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,” which seems to tell us that the Old Covenant can never come to an end and be replaced by a New Covenant because it’s said to be “everlasting,” but we know from other parts of Scripture that there will be a New Covenant for those in the house of Israel and the house of Judah, and that their Old Covenant in fact began to decay when Christ died (and will indeed eventually vanish away entirely, if it hasn’t already). So we can see that “everlasting” doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” or “without end” when we read that word in the Bible any more than “for ever” does.
The translators of the KJV also demonstrated quite clearly that they didn’t believe עוֹלָם always means “without end” in Ecclesiastes 12:5, where they used the word עוֹלָם to say “his long home” when referring to the time someone who is dead spends in the grave. Since we know that everyone who dies will eventually be resurrected to face judgement (or enjoy salvation) one day, nobody could ever be resurrected from the dead if עוֹלָם meant ”never ending.” (Interestingly, though, some Bible versions actually do translate the verse to say “eternal home,” telling us that the word “eternal” can be just as figurative in those versions as it is in the KJV, unless we’re ignoring the passages that discuss the future resurrection of the dead.)
Now, I could go on and on with example after example of things that were said to be “for ever” or “everlasting” in the Bible but which eventually ended, but I trust it’s obvious by now that the translators believed those who read the KJV are able to understand figurative language, and that they never intended for anyone to assume that “for ever” or “everlasting” should be interpreted as meaning “never ending” or “without end” in the so-called “Old Testament” books, with “for ever” generally just being figurative language that refers to “an age,” or to “a seemingly long period of time with a definite beginning and end” when translated from the Hebrew Scriptures, and “everlasting” generally just meaning “eonian” or “age-pertaining” (“pertaining to an eon/age or eons/ages,” in other words), age-during (“taking place during an age or ages,” in other words), or even just “long lasting,” when translated from the Hebrew Scriptures, with nearly everything that’s said to be “everlasting” or said to last “for ever” eventually coming to an end. These words are quite clearly being used as hyperbole in most parts of the KJV and other less literal Bible versions when translated from the Hebrew Scriptures, and are not meant to be taken literally at all (and if you look עוֹלָם up in a concordance, you can see many more examples for yourself proving that this Hebrew word doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” or “without end”).
And with all that in mind, if “for ever” and “everlasting” don’t necessarily mean “without end” or “never ending” in the parts of the Bible translated from the Hebrew Scriptures, it stands to reason that there’s a good chance they don’t necessarily mean that in the parts of the Bible translated from the Greek Scriptures either. Outside of the clear proof I’ve just provided from Paul’s epistles that they don’t, based on what he wrote everyone being vivified (at least it should be clear proof for those who are using systematic theology to interpret Scripture), this is also made obvious by the fact that עוֹלָם is translated as αἰωνίων/“aionion” in the parts of the LXX (also known as the Septuagint, which is the earliest still-existing Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) where it’s translated figuratively as “everlasting” in the KJV, and since αἰωνίων is often translated as “everlasting” or “eternal” in the books of the less literal Bible versions translated from the Greek Scriptures (although it’s not always translated that way either, even in the KJV), one would think this means that we shouldn’t just automatically assume the words “everlasting” and “eternal” were meant to be interpreted literally in the English translations of these books either (especially since, if עוֹלָם often doesn’t mean “never ending,” it makes no sense to then say that its Greek translation as αἰωνίων can only mean “never ending,” as some insist, when we already know from the LXX that it rarely means that anyway, which is why it’s transliterated as “eonian” in the CLV), and that neither should “never” or “for ever,” both of which are also translated from cognates of αἰωνίων: such as αἰών/“aion,” which literally means a singular “age,” or long period of time with a definite beginning and end (which is why it’s transliterated as “eon” in the CLV, which makes sense considering the fact that “eon” is an English synonym for “age,” in case anyone reading this still wasn’t aware), and αἰῶνας/“aionas,” which literally means plural “ages,” or multiple periods of time, each with a definite beginning and end, based on the definition of the word “age” (which is why this word is transliterated as “eons” in the CLV), and which are both translated as “age” and “ages” in different parts of less literal English translations as well — although the KJV technically uses “world” in places that mean “age/eon,” but various other less literal translations use “age” instead of “world” in those same verses — telling us that these words definitely don’t only mean “can’t ever” or “without end.”
In fact, unless we want to believe there are three eternities, including a “past eternity” (we can see from the way the KJV translators rendered 1 Corinthians 2:7 to say “before the world” instead of “before for ever” or “before eternity” that they knew better than to always translate the word αἰών in a manner that denotes a period of time which never ends; although the CLV did an even better job of translating it as “before the eons”), as well as a “present eternity“ and a “future eternity“ (which the KJV translators rendered as “neither in this world, neither in the world to come” rather than “neither in this for ever or in the for ever to come” or “neither in this eternity or in the eternity to come” in Matthew 12:32; although, once again, the CLV did a better job of translating it as “neither in this eon nor in that which is impending”), we can see that the word αἰών simply doesn’t necessarily mean “without end,” just as the KJV’s rendering of αἰωνίων as “before the world began” in 2 Timothy 1:9 instead of “before eternity began” (and which the CLV renders even more meaningfully as “before times eonian”), and as “since the world began” in Romans 16:25 instead of “since eternity began” (which the CLV more meaningfully translates as “in times eonian”), proves that αἰωνίων doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” either (in fact, I’m not aware of a single version of the Bible that renders it as “eternity” in this verse, and really, most of them actually get close to its actual meaning of referring to eons or ages). So if anyone ever tries to claim that αἰωνίων can only mean “never ending” or some other word or phrase that denotes eternity, and that it can’t possibly refer to something more temporary, simply show them the passages I just referred to, which is all the proof one needs that this isn’t the case at all. That said, I should also point out that rendering the words αἰών and αἰωνίων as “world,” as the KJV sometimes does, when there’s already a Greek word for “world” (κόσμος/“kosmos”) can lead to some confusion as to when the word “world” means ”eon” and when it refers to a system or to the planet (at one point the KJV even “translates” both αἰών and κόσμος as “world” in the same verse), but at least it does help demonstrate that these Greek words don’t mean “without end” or “never ending” (or at least don’t only mean “without end” or “never ending”).
Basically, the mistake most people make when they read less literal Bible versions is that they see terms like ”for ever,” ”everlasting,” and “eternal,” and “eternal,” and eisegete certain soteriological assumptions which they already hold into these words, unaware that the literal meaning of these terms is somewhat different from how they were rendered in these particular Bible translations, terms such as the Hebrew word we’ve already discussed — עוֹלָם — as well as Greek words such as αἰών, αἰῶνας, and αἰωνίων (or αἰώνιος/“aiónios”), as I already mentioned, all of which nearly always (if not always) refer to a set period of time with a definite beginning and end when used in the Bible, even if that end date is unknown and a very long time from now. At the very least, we should be considering the context of the passages these various words are being used in, as well as comparing these passages to the rest of Scripture, in order to determine whether these terms can only be literally interpreted as meaning “without end,” “never ending,” or “can’t ever” in those specific cases, but in general by considering whether a literal interpretation would contradict other parts of the Bible (telling us they should be interpreted figuratively instead, if they would).
To put it simply, the word αἰών is almost always best translated as “age” or transliterated as “eon” — at least if you want the most literal and accurate understanding of what God intended for us to learn from the passage — the word αἰῶνας (or αἰῶναν/“aiónan”) as “ages” or “eons,” and the adjective αἰώνιον (or αἰώνιος) as “long lasting,” “age-during,” “age-pertaining,” or, better yet, “eonian.” Translating them as “eternal,” “everlasting,” “for ever,“ or “never” is technically acceptable as long as the reader understands that these translations quite often need to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally (or qualitatively rather than quantitatively), but since so few people are aware of this fact, doing so has caused confusion for the majority of English Bible readers in most cases, so I do think it’s more useful to stick with the more revealing literal translations if we want to understand what God is letting us know in these passages. This also goes for when less literal translations render the Greek into redundant English phrases like “for ever and ever,” I should add (especially considering the actual grammar of the Greek sentences the phrase “for ever and ever” is based on, since the Greek word for “and” — καί/“kai” — isn’t even found between the words translated as “for ever” and “ever,” and there’s no basis for the assumption some make that this was a figure of speech which meant “without end” when it was used in Scripture anyway, especially based on everything Paul wrote about salvation). This is why the most revealing translations of the Greek phrases this translation is based on are “eon of the eon,” “eon of the eons,” and “eons of the eons” (depending on the passage). These translations also makes it obvious that some of these words are singular and some are plural in different verses, something that will go unnoticed if you’re using a less literal Bible version, which is unfortunate since these different combinations of the words αἰών and αἰῶνας are very important for doctrinal purposes (for coming to an understanding of the doctrine of the eons, the existence of which is made a lot less obvious in less literal Bible translations), and rendering all of them the same way — as the singular “for ever and ever” — causes one to entirely miss the different points that God is making in each instance.
Either way, though, if we’re reading Bible versions that do use the words ”for ever,” ”everlasting,” and “eternal,” one has to be aware that “for ever” in those versions is really just figurative language that refers to “an eon” or “age,” or to “a seemingly long period of time with a definite beginning and end” — similar to the way we still use the phrase today when we say things like, “I was stuck in that meeting for ever” — and “everlasting” just means “pertaining to an eon/age or eons/ages” or, sometimes just “long lasting,” and eventually comes to an end just like the candy we call an Everlasting Gobstopper does when consumed (and the same goes for “eternal,” which is often used as a synonym for “everlasting” in the KJV, and is almost always translated from the same Greek word — with the one exception, where it’s instead translated from ἀΐδιος/“aidios,” not causing any problem for the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation at all — which means the same point would have to apply). In most cases, these words are quite clearly being used as hyperbole in versions like the KJV, meaning they’re exaggerated expressions used for the sake of emphasis, and generally can’t be taken literally at all in those versions.
And since many Christians often make a mistake similar to the one they make about Jesus reigning “for ever” when they try to insist that, “If ‘eternal damnation’ isn’t actually never-ending, then ‘eternal life’ would eventually end as well,” 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 what the form or quality of the life and judgements they experience will be. 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 vivification). So, when people are eventually resurrected from their second death in the lake of fire to be “made alive”/vivified (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 passages that figuratively speak of “eternal life” but rather because of passages that tell us we’ll already have been made immortal (of course, literally translated Scripture speaks of believers having eonian life rather than “eternal life” or “everlasting life,” but for those who prefer the KJV or other less literal Bible versions, the point stands). So we know that when the eons come to an end, meaning when someone reaches the end of the figurative “for ever” or “everlasting life,” as the KJV puts it, 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 never die, although not because of the eonian/“eternal” life that just ended, but rather because they’ll have bodies that can’t die (or, if they’re among those who get to enjoy eonian/“everlasting” life in Israel, or perhaps even on the New Earth, but haven’t been made immortal yet, they’ll finally be given immortality/be “made alive,” along with everyone else).
Similar to the claim about “eternal damnation” and “eternal life,” some also insist that calling God “the eonian God” (as Romans 16:26 is translated in the CLV) rather than taking the phrase “the everlasting God” (as the KJV renders it) literally would mean that God must eventually die, but this is just as misguided. As Martin Zender explained, “This verse isn’t trying to tell anyone that God lives forever. Everyone already knows God lives forever. Psalm 102:27 testified long ago that ‘His years shall have no end.’ It’s old news. The vital question is: Does God sit on high, removed from our struggles in time, or does He care what happens during the eons? He cares. Thus, He is the eonian God. This does not limit Him to the eons any more than ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ limits Him to those patriarchs.” And the same goes for passages such as Galatians 1:3-5 and Philippians 4:20, both of which say things along the lines of “to our God and Father be glory for the eons of the eons” in the CLV, rather than “unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever,” as the KJV puts it, and which doesn’t mean the literal translation is saying that God’s glory will end when the eons do any more than the literal translation means that God’s life would end at that time; it just means that Paul was simply focusing on the glory God will finally receive — which He certainly isn’t receiving now, at least not to the extent He will at that time — when the two greatest eons finally begin. Simply put, with very few exceptions, the Bible doesn’t delve into details pertaining to eternity, but is instead focused almost entirely on details pertaining to the eons (even though this fact has been mostly concealed from people who only read less literal translations of Scripture). What occurs after the consummation of the eons isn’t something that God seems to want us to know about right now (other than to know that everyone will have been vivified/saved by that time), and He appears to want us to concern ourselves with what happens during the eons instead.
This all makes particular sense when we consider the fact that, even in less literal translations such as the KJV, Jesus Himself said that having “life eternal” simply 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). 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, aside from believing what Jesus said “life eternal” means there, most of them also 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 life that is literally, or quantitatively, “everlasting” (meaning 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, then “life eternal” or “everlasting life” can’t literally 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 sense, and understands that they’re both actually simply a figure of speech (at least in the less literal Bible translations that use the terms) connected with salvation rather than literally referring to how long one continues to exist, even if they hadn’t fully realized it until they read this.
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 they assume are somehow naturally immortal. The simple truth, though, is that immortality isn’t something we’re born with (not even our souls are inherently immortal, as I’ll prove a little later in this chapter). 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, and whenever someone is made immortal it can then be said, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”, as far as they’re concerned, because death will have been swallowed up in victory for them).
- Those who are going to be resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement haven’t been saved (from a relative perspective, at least), so they’ll be 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 perpetually so they can die over and over again without end 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. (This also means that those Christians who try to deny a second resurrection of those who will die a second time in the lake of fire so they can be vivified, by telling me, “Scripture doesn’t specifically say the words, ‘Those who die a second time in the lake of fire will also be resurrected a second time so they can be made immortal,’” can’t then turn around and say, “There’s a second and third and forth resurrection, and so-on-and-so-forth, so humans can suffer without end,” since they’ve already denied that a second resurrection will take place.)
- Hence, no human 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 outright say that any humans will suffer consciously in the lake of fire to begin with (as I’ll demonstrate quite definitively later on in this chapter). And we also know from the fact that Paul said everyone will be vivified/“made alive,” and that death will eventually be destroyed altogether, that everyone will be resurrected from this death and be made immortal at some point in the future.
In case anyone is still sceptical about the salvation of all humanity, however, Paul also told us that Christ Jesus gave himself a correspondent ransom for all, and 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 (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 Paul began the chapter talking about all men alive at the time, and also said in verse 4 that “all mankind“ is included in those whom God wills to salvation, and there’s nothing in the text to indicate he’d suddenly begun referring only to believers immediately after that, but instead wrote that Christ Jesus gave Himself a ransom for the same “all” he’d been talking about already, telling his readers that every human who will have ever lived has been ransomed, even though they won’t all experience their salvation at the same time, since the testimony of each group of people to be vivified is in its own eras, or times, as we’ve already discussed).
As W. B. Screws once wrote, “Christ’s death is the exact equivalent of the need of the human family. And that need is more than to simply be restored to the Adamic ‘purity.’ We need the grace that superabounds — not grace that puts us back in Adam’s condition. Everything that is needed to affect the salvation of all mankind, (I Tim. 2:4), is supplied in Christ. It is in this sense that He is ‘the One giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all.’ Nor would it be amiss to consider the meaning of ransom. It will secure the release of the person for whom it is paid, unless the one accepting the ransom intends to deceive the one paying it. If Christ gives Himself a correspondent Ransom for all, and any part of the human family is not subsequently released, then God has deceived His Son. In other words, since Christ gives Himself a correspondent ransom for all, all must be saved, or else God stands eternally discredited as dishonest. Perish the thought! No one can read I Tim. 2:3-6, and believe every word of it, without believing in the salvation of all humanity.”
To break it down, as Aaron Welch did:
“1. Anyone for whom Christ gave himself ‘a correspondent Ransom’ will be ransomed as a result.
2. Anyone ransomed as a result of Christ’s death will be saved.
3. The ‘all’ for whom we’re told Christ gave himself a ransom in 1 Timothy 2:6 will be saved.
4. The ‘all’ for whom we’re told Christ gave himself a ransom includes all mankind (1 Tim. 2:4-5).
5. All mankind will be saved.”
Please don’t confuse this as meaning that Christ died in our place, receiving the penalty for our sins so we wouldn’t have to receive said penalty 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 — although, if it could, it would then be our belief that ultimately saved us rather than simply Christ Who saved us), 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, Who endured beatings and the pain and humiliation of the cross before entering the death state, all in order to be a ransom for all sinners in order to save them, and God isn’t going to shortchange Him of any of the sinners He suffered and died for in order to save, regardless of whether some of them might not have been born wise enough to come to believe He did so prior to their death or His return — and those who don’t believe this good news includes all the Infernalists and Annihilationists out there as well, by the way, since they themselves don’t believe that He ransomed “all” humanity through His death for our sins either, which means they haven’t fully understood — and hence can’t be said to have truly believed — Paul’s Gospel themselves).
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 “in their place” so they wouldn’t have to pay the price for their sins themselves. However, for those who have never really thought about this, let’s consider what it would mean if He actually did pay a penalty for our sins so that we don’t have to suffer that particular penalty ourselves. If He did, and if ending up in the lake of fire without being able to leave it 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 (experiencing the specific punishment we deserve is what paying the penalty “in our place” means, after all). 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 yet, at least not as of the time this book was written, as I’ll explain shortly, and He wasn’t crucified or entombed there either), much less remained there for all time (which would have to be the case if that truly was the price to be paid for our sins), burning without end in the lake of fire obviously wasn’t a punishment He suffered “in our place,” which means it couldn’t possibly be the specific penalty we deserve either, at least not if He did pay the penalty we deserved “in our place.” And if the penalty He supposedly paid “in our place” was simply death instead, nobody who “got saved” would ever actually drop dead, which obviously isn’t the case (and believers have been crucified as well, so it wasn’t simply crucifixion that He endured “in our place” either, if that was the penalty He paid “in our place”). 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” (and if separation from God somehow was a penalty He paid “in our place,” even if only temporarily, those who believe in the Trinity would have to discard that doctrine, since God couldn’t be separated from God). And for those who want to suggest that the penalty might be “spiritual death,” whatever that’s supposed to be, it would again have to mean that A) Christ “died spiritually” for us “in our place” (and I’m assuming nobody actually believes He “died spiritually”), but also that B) nobody can be “spiritually dead” before they die physically if Christ paid that penalty “in our place,” yet most Christians believe we’re already “spiritually dead” prior to salvation, so there’s no way He could have “died spiritually” for us “in our place” so we don’t have to ever “die spiritually” ourselves, because we’re already in this spiritual state before we get saved (or we would be if the common Christian viewpoints of “spiritual death” and Penal Substitutionary Atonement were true, of course). 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).
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a penalty for our sins, however. In fact, there is, and that penalty is indeed death. It’s just that Jesus didn’t die “in our place” to receive the penalty so we don’t have to, which should be obvious considering the fact that believers continue to drop dead today. And while it’s true that the reason we die is simply the mortality we inherited from Adam, the sins we can’t avoid because of that mortality also make us worthy of the death most of us will experience (meaning any believers who die prior to Jesus’ return), so any mortal humans who end up sinning (which is all of us, or at least all of us who don’t die before we’re able to sin) still need to have their sin dealt with. Because, sure, God could temporarily overlook sin, and in “Old Testament” times He did indeed pass “over of the penalties of sins which occurred” (as it’s put in the CLV), thanks to the sacrificial system under the Mosaic law. But the blood of bulls and goats could not actually take away sins (the death of these animals couldn’t actually remove the penalty of sin, nor could it keep us from sinning again), and so in order to truly be just He had to have an actually righteous basis for forgiving and justifying us, for resurrecting us in the future, and even for eventually giving anyone the immortality they don’t deserve. Thankfully, He does indeed have a righteous basis for doing all of that, which is Christ’s death for our sins. To once again quote Aaron Welch:
“Thus, apart from what Christ did for us when he gave himself up for us, it would be unjust of God (who cannot lie, and is committed to the truth) to set aside the penalty of this just statute, and regard sinners as if they haven’t sinned, and aren’t deserving of death. It is in light of this fact that God’s mercy toward sinners – which, in the past, was manifested in the “passing over of the sins which occurred before in the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25) – appeared to be in conflict with his righteousness, and thus required “a display of his righteousness.” This display of God’s righteousness took place through the death and resurrection of Christ.
By living a life of perfect obedience to God and then “becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8) – which involved suffering a death that he didn’t deserve (for Christ was completely sinless) – Christ became worthy of all authority in heaven and on earth. Christ’s universal authority and exalted status as “Lord of all” is, in other words, Christ’s just reward for his obedience to God. And this means that, by his sacrificial death, Christ became worthy of the authority to save all sinners from the condemnation of which their sins made them deserving, and thus vivify all and abolish death (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Thus, through his sacrifice, Christ became more deserving of the authority to save sinners than sinners are deserving of death. And because Christ is ultimately going to use his God-given authority to save all sinners – in accord with God’s will that all mankind be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) – God is able to righteously forgive sins and justify sinners at any time. Thus, God is able to justly deal with sinners in a way that is contrary to what we deserve (which is what God does when he justifies sinners, and thus treats us as if we’ve never sinned) because his doing so is in accord with what Christ deserves because of his obedience.
The justification of all mankind (starting with believers) is, therefore, the result of Christ’s just award. Thus we read the following in Romans 5:18-19:
Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life’s justifying. For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.”
So, while He didn’t die “in our place,” or pay the penalty “in our place” (since most of us still die), Christ did die in order that the penalty could be justly set aside and everyone can be forgiven, justified, resurrected (if they’ve died), and even made free from ever being able to die (vivification, in other words). That’s not all, though. Because He died for our sins, His death also put away sin, removing sin from the equation for all humanity altogether (thus making Him the antitype 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 has what is sometimes referred to as ontological salvation (meaning they’ve been saved from an absolute perspective), and will also eventually experience eschatological salvation (referring to one’s final form of salvation, including salvation from a physical perspective, at least under Paul’s Gospel) when they’re eventually made immortal (although those relative few who “come unto the knowledge of the truth” now, meaning those who understand and believe what it means that Christ died for our sins, and that He was entombed and was roused on the third day, get to enjoy a special, relative form of salvation on top of the types of salvation that everyone will experience: including freedom from religion — because they know there’s nothing they have to do, or even that they could 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, which is why salvation from a relative perspective is sometimes also referred to as noological salvation — and also getting to experience that eschatological, physical salvation which Christ won for us all before the rest of humanity does too).
Those passages we’ve covered so far aren’t the only proof of the salvation of all humanity, 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 kinds 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 isn’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 — since it was already everyone’s, thanks to Christ’s death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection — 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 entombment 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 from an absolute perspective 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 (ontological, and eventually eschatological) salvation for all of us because of what He accomplished through His death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection, even before they believed it, they were then sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which means they were also saved from a relative perspective (“an earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession”), which doesn’t apply to all humanity the way salvation from an absolute (and eventually physical) perspective does, since not everyone is sealed by the Holy Spirit. All that is to say, Paul’s little parenthetical in Ephesians 1:13 is simply telling us that “the good news of [their and everyone’s] 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 vivification of their mortal bodies, referred to here as “the redemption of the purchased possession,” which they’ll receive at the Snatching Away, and which everyone else will also eventually receive, although “every man in his own order,” with each order “in its own times,” 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 more clear 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 (as already discussed, including freedom from religion, as well as an earlier experience of vivification than everyone else). Every Christian out there knows the definition of the word “especially” (or “specially,” which the KJV uses to translate the Greek word μάλιστα/“malista” here, and which ultimately also means “particularly,” not “exclusively”), 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 “specifically” 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” that Paul said 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 truly 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 eons, 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 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,” as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 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 do in their own way. And if a Calvinist ever does make this claim to you, ask them to show you one legitimate Bible translation that says anything even remotely close to the idea that God is just the Saviour of all kinds of people, or that He only desires all sorts of people to be saved, instead of saying than that He actually is the Saviour of all people and wills all people to be saved, as every legitimate Bible version I’ve ever read plainly says. I’m highly doubtful that any of them can — in fact, the only version I’ve ever found that says anything like this is the New World Translation, and I don’t think many people other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that’s a particularly accurate version of the Bible — which means they’re guilty of some serious eisegesis there.
However, for those who still disagree, I do have to ask: 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 those passages in his first epistle to Timothy in order to convince you that this is what he meant.
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 ever truly appreciated the contrasting goodness, and if we’d never experienced sin and death, we could never experience, and hence never truly appreciate, or even really understand, grace; immortality wouldn’t mean much to us either, without having first experienced mortality, I should add) — will be equally (if not even more so) affected by the cross and made immortal, even if it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time (with believers getting a special, earlier — eonian — experience of salvation, as well as potentially getting to rule and reign with Christ in the heavens during the impending eons, 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).
That said, those who will have been made truly immortal at the end of this eon aren’t the only people who will live through said eons (they’re just the only ones who will have vivified bodies during these eons). Those believers who “endured to the end” of the Tribulation, many of those born in the kingdom of heaven during the Millennium, as well as those born during the eon of the eons (again, referring to the final eon) on the New Earth, will also live through them as well (if they don’t die during them, of course, since they will have to live in either mortal or amortal bodies for the duration of the eons of the eons, meaning the final two eons), as will the “sheep” of Matthew 25 (the resurrected dead at the Great White Throne Judgement whose names happen to be written in the book of life will also live for the final eon, albeit in amortal bodies, even if they too don’t ever die again due to partaking of the fruit and leaves of the tree of life). Everyone else will go through eonian/“everlasting” judgement first instead (which doesn’t necessarily always involve death or “hell” for everyone; sometimes it just refers to a judgement while remaining alive on earth — until their eventual first death, of course — with the “goats” of Matthew 25 being a good example of this, as will be explained later in this chapter, so please don’t make the mistake of thinking that “death” and “judgement” always refer to the same thing).
But even among those who do die, by the end of it all, God justifies, vivifies, saves, and reconciles all, even if they have to go through judgement first. And when Scripture says “all” on this topic, it means “all,” and not just all humans, but all “spiritual” (or celestial) beings as well, 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 who require it, although it seems most people somehow miss the fact that Paul is using a sort of parallelism known as an Extended Alternation here — likely because they probably aren’t familiar with Paul’s consistent use of parallelisms throughout his epistles to prove the salvation (and reconciliation) of all humanity — to tell us that the same “all” created in Him (or “by Him,” depending on your translation) 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 on the earth, as mentioned in verses 16 and 20) both “created in” and “reconciled by” Him, but all the creatures in the heavens/outer space (as also mentioned in the same two verses, referring to a list of celestial, or spiritual, beings that overlaps with another list of celestial/spiritual creatures who are described in Ephesians 6 as being the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials, or “spiritual wickedness in high places” depending on your translation) are also “created in” and “reconciled by” Him, and there would be no need to reconcile spiritual beings in heaven who weren’t first alienated, so it can only be the foolish (and sometimes sinful, or even 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.
As I mentioned in the last chapter, it’s important to remember that reconciliation means the parties on both sides of an estrangement or 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 they would have to leave right before Christ destroys death (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, because they’d have to be included in the “all” which are reconciled to God as well), since Christ’s subjugation 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 the reconciliation that Paul wrote about 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 stating that his readers had already 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 (in fact, if it did mean that, it would also mean that no humans other than those who first read this epistle some 2,000 years ago could be reconciled after that time, which would mean there’s no hope for you or me either). 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 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, prior to the crucifixion, 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 — 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 (or, to put it more literally, to be conciliated to God, meaning to be at peace with God in their minds because He’s already made peace with them through the blood of Christ’s cross; conciliation is one-sided, and when all parties on both sides of an estrangement or disagreement are conciliated to one another, it means they’ve both finally been reconciled), 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 Him, 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.
In addition, I’d also like to ask you to explain what the basis of your belief that you’ve been saved even is, presuming you believe you’ve been saved. If you can honestly say that you’ve been saved because Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused on the third day, it can be said that you have faith in Christ for your salvation. But if you believe you’ve been saved because you chose to believe that Christ died for your sins, that He was entombed, and that He was roused on the third day, then it can really only be said that you have faith in your faith for your salvation. Because in order to truly be saved based solely on what God and Christ accomplished (meaning based 100% on Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection), rather than based on what you yourself accomplished (meaning choosing to believe in Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection), everyone has to be saved (at least from an absolute, and eventually physical, perspective) by what God and Christ accomplished, whether anyone believes it or not, since otherwise it’s your faith that ultimately did the job of saving you, with Christ only accomplishing the first step of your salvation, but not actually completing it Himself.
|The First Man: Adam = Condemnation [mortality and sinfulness] of all||The Second Man: Christ = Salvation [immortality and sinlessness] of the same all|
|Consequently, then… (Romans 5:18)||thus also…|
|By the offence of one||By the righteousness of one|
|judgement came upon [not in the original Greek text, but included for clarification]||the free gift came upon [not in the original Greek text, but included for clarification]|
|all men||all men|
|to condemnation||to justification of life|
|For even as… (Romans 5:19)||thus also…|
|By one man’s disobedience||by the obedience of one|
|the many were made||shall the many be made|
|For even as… (1 Corinthians 15:22)||thus also…|
|in Adam [because of what Adam did]||in Christ [because of what Christ did]|
|all are dying [all are mortal]||shall all be vivified [shall all be made immortal]|
|For in Him… (Colossians 1:16)||And through Him… (Colossians 1:20)|
|is all created||to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His [Christ’s] cross)|
|that in the heavens and that on the earth [whether angelic or human]||whether those on the earth or those in the heavens [whether human or angelic]|
Most Christians believe that the “death” spoken of in the various judgement passages in Scripture is simply a euphemism for “never-ending punishment,” but you won’t find anything in Scripture that says the words “death,” “die,” and “dying” should be interpreted in such a manner in those passages. In fact, if most Christians are correct when they read their preexisting assumption that never-ending punishment is a fact into the passages that speak of “death,” instead of taking the words ”perish,” “death,” “die,” and “dying” in the popular translations literally, it would mean that all believers would actually have to suffer forever in “hell” (or be annihilated forever) before they could be saved, because Paul is recorded in the KJV as having said, “for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” not, “for as in Adam all might die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” and if perishing or death in Scripture means to suffer punishment without end, all the people made alive in Christ would have to “die” (meaning “suffer never-ending punishment”) first, at least based on that translation.
Of course, if the penalty for sin really was never-ending pain (which is taught nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures — the absolute worst penalty for breaking the Mosaic law was execution; no Israelite was ever threatened with perpetual torture after they died as a result of sinning in the law of Moses — and there’s nothing in the Greek Scriptures to suggest that this changed when Jesus or Paul talked about sin either), then Jesus would have to still be suffering, and would need to continue doing so without end as well (okay, only under the penal substitution model of salvation, which I’ve already shown isn’t a scriptural doctrine, but since most Christians assume it is, the point would still stand if it actually were a scriptural doctrine).
Fortunately, there isn’t anything in the original Hebrew or Greek that implies “hell” (which itself is a word with uncertain etymology, but which 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 “inescapable torture chamber” at all, even though that’s how it’s come to be used by most English-speaking people in modern times, and which is translated from multiple different Hebrew and Greek words that actually refer to completely different places and concepts from one another, with none of them referring to the inescapable torture chamber that most people think of when they hear the word now either) never ends anyway, or that the lake of fire doesn’t eventually end either, when properly interpreted (the lake of fire being something different from at least one of the “things,” “places,” or “concepts” referred to as “hell” in the KJV — although this other “hell” is more often transliterated as “hades” in other Bible versions — since it has John saying that “hell” will be cast into the lake of fire, and it would make no sense to say that “hell” is cast into itself, which it would have to mean if this “hell” and the lake of fire were the same thing).
What few Christians seem to understand is that, when Jesus spoke about the future and about judgement, He wasn’t talking about non-corporeal, spiritual, afterlife “states” in other dimensions called heaven and hell (the reason I mention only Jesus here, even though Paul is our apostle, is because Paul never once threatened anyone with any of the words that some versions translate as “hell” anywhere in his recorded words in the book of Acts or in any of his epistles; and even in the one instance that he used the Greek word ᾅδης/“hades,” even the KJV translated it as “grave” rather than “hell,” which brings up all sorts of questions if those of us in the body of Christ are supposed to model ourselves specifically after his example and after his teachings, yet he was never once recorded as having taught that anybody will suffer without end, or even as having mentioned a place called “hell”). Rather, everything Jesus said in person when speaking about the future takes place on a planet called earth in the physical universe (albeit on two different earths; some taking place on our current planet, and some on the New Earth, or third earth, after this one has been destroyed).
However, I know that there are still a number of common objections to the idea that everyone will eventually experience salvation which you’ve no doubt heard, or perhaps even raised yourself at some point, as well as a number of so-called “proof texts” in the Bible which we’ve all been taught support the traditional doctrine of never-ending punishment in “hell” or the lake of fire. And while it should be pretty clear by now to those who have been paying attention to everything we’ve covered so far that none of these arguments or supposed “proof texts” can actually support the popular assumptions most of us grew up with when it comes to this topic, we should still take a look at them in order to learn how to respond to them when we hear them (beginning with the objections, then moving on to the supposed “proof texts”).
I should say, I’m not going to respond to every objection ever raised, but I did want to quickly go over a few of the more popular ones in order to demonstrate that these aren’t good arguments at all (and after doing so, you should be able to figure out for yourself why any other objections you might hear are equally bad).
For example, one common objection is: “If it’s true that everyone will get saved, why is that almost no churches teach this?” Well, while it’s technically a statement connected with Israel’s specific type of salvation, I would suggest that Jesus’ reference to the strait and narrow gate can be seen as a trans-dispensational (or trans-administrational) truth. Because, honestly, there’s no way that a religion with as many followers as the traditional Christian religion has — about a third of the human population of the planet — can possibly be the “narrow way” that few find, so a better question would be: “If never-ending torment in hell is true, why is it that almost all churches teach it?” (And I’d also suggest that this goes for nearly every other popular, “orthodox” teaching within the Christian religion as well.)
It’s also often asserted that, “If everyone gets saved, then Jesus died in vain.” This is a very strange, yet extremely common, claim you’ll hear from many Christians who aren’t thinking things through particularly carefully. But the truth is, if Jesus didn’t die, then nobody would get saved. Really, this assertion is no different from saying, “If only a few people get saved, then Jesus died in vain since some people will not suffer without end in hell.” Either way, we (should) all realize it’s what Christ did that saves us, and recognize that this statement is a sign of lazy thinking.
Some Christians will also claim that a sin against an infinite God requires an infinite punishment, because a sin would affect an infinite being more than it would affect a mere human; but aside from the fact that you won’t find that assertion made anywhere in Scripture, which means they have no basis for making it in the first place, Scripture actually appears to say the opposite anyway, in the book of Job where Elihu (who was the one friend of Job who wasn’t condemned by God for his words) said, “Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you. If you sin, how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness only affects humans like yourself, and your righteousness only other people.”
Others will say things along the lines of, “The justice of God demands a place in which the wicked shall be punished for their sins without end, and if people don’t have to choose to receive the gift in order to experience salvation, then His justice hasn’t been satisfied.” But no, this isn’t true at all. In fact, all that the justice of God demanded was a perfect sacrifice for sin, and that sacrifice was Christ Jesus. And for those who insist that everyone isn’t saved from an absolute perspective (and that everyone won’t eventually experience salvation from a physical perspective as well) simply because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection, and that, in fact, God’s justice isn’t satisfied if people don’t also choose to believe that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to satisfy God’s justice, they’re ultimately telling you that they themselves really don’t believe Christ’s sacrifice was enough to satisfy God’s justice, but that an individual’s choice to believe a specific thing is also required on top of what Christ did in order to satisfy God’s justice (even though this would mean that they want us to choose to believe something they themselves think isn’t even actually true, somehow making what they believe to be a lie — that what Christ did was enough to satisfy God’s justice — become true by choosing to believe it), which would make us our own (at least partial) saviours. And if any of them insist that God’s justice was satisfied by what Christ did, but that people still have to choose to believe it in order to experience salvation, it would mean that their objection isn’t actually about God’s justice at all, and that they’re just using claims about God’s justice as a distraction from the real issue, which is that they want people to at least have to do something to earn salvation, even if it’s something as seemingly simple as having to choose to believe the right thing.
Some also argue that teaching the salvation of all humanity undermines evangelism, saying things like, “If the salvation of all is true, it doesn’t matter whether you believe now or not, so why bother to evangelize at all?” From one perspective (the most narrow of perspectives), yes, that could be said to technically be true. But from a broader perspective there are still very good reasons to believe now, as well as to evangelize. For one thing, if it is true, isn’t it better to believe (and teach) the truth rather than a lie (especially since the Bible so heavily condemns false teachers who teach lies)? But even beyond that, belief in this doctrine helps bring serious peace of mind that almost no Christians truly have (if you look at certain Christian message boards online, or the various Christian subreddits on Reddit, you’ll see post after post on a daily basis by people who are Christians yet who are still terrified that they’re going to suffer without end in a place called hell). But on top of all that, there’s another really good reason to believe this, and this is the fact that only those who do believe it get to join the body of Christ (since, if you don’t truly understand what it means that “Christ died for our sins,” can it be said that you actually believe it, and if you don’t actually believe it, how can it be said that one has joined the body of Christ?). However, I suppose someone who says this is implying that, if it’s true that everyone gets saved, then there’s less urgency to preach the Gospel so that people become Christians. Whether this is true or not comes down to what one means by evangelism, as well as whether “becoming a Christian” is really all that important in the first place, and, really, what the Gospel about how we’re saved actually even is. From the perspective of those of us who believe what I’ve covered in this book (those of us who are sometimes referred to as “Concordant” believers, at least as far as English-speaking members of the body of Christ go), we see the idea of having to become a Christian in order to be saved as religion rather than good news. To put it simply, we see religion as anything teaching that God will only look kindly upon us if we do the right thing(s) before we die. The good news which Paul primarily taught, on the other hand (that Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused the third day), is not a religion at all, but is instead the announcement of the end of religion (it’s a proclamation, not a proposition). Religion, to those of us in the body of Christ, consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshipping, sacrificing) the religious think they have to choose to do (and then actually do) in order to get right with God, but no action (which would include choosing to believe something specific, and then actually believing it) on our part can ever take away our sins or make us immortal. Thankfully, everything necessary for salvation from sin and death has already been done, once and for all, by God through Christ. And while God calls members of the body of Christ to proclaim Paul’s Gospel to those He calls us to proclaim it to, believing it isn’t essential to one’s ultimate salvation since our ultimate salvation was already guaranteed some 2,000 years ago, and God doesn’t intend to bring everyone to a knowledge of the truth in this lifetime anyway (while He’s saved everyone through Christ’s actions from an absolute perspective, He only elects certain people to be saved from a relative perspective and join the body of Christ — or perhaps to join the Israel of God instead — in this lifetime). So if someone doesn’t believe the Gospel, they won’t have the peace of mind that those of us in the true body of Christ have, based on the knowledge that God in Christ did indeed save all of us already, and they might also miss out on living through one or two future eons, or at least miss out on eonian/“everlasting” life during those two eons, but I’d also suggest that one’s concern that they might not become believers if they think the good news I just presented is true is actually less of a concern than one might think because, if they truly believe that they don’t have to become Christians simply because of what Christ accomplished, not only have they already believed the actual Gospel Paul taught (since, if they actually believed they could avoid “converting,” so to speak, because the above is true, then they’ve technically already believed Paul’s Gospel before they even realized it) rather than the “gospel” the Christian religion teaches, but they’re now in the body of Christ as well. So, perhaps that does undermine “evangelism” from a traditional Christian perspective, but not from the scriptural perspective that those of us in the body of Christ come at things from. And, of course, there are also certain rewards to be had in heaven after Christ comes for His body, which is also incentive to evangelize. That said, wanting to share good news is human nature. There’s a reason I wrote this book in the first place and give it away for free, after all (not to mention why I share it so widely), and belief in the salvation of all humanity has never stopped any of us from wanting to let everyone know this good news, or from actually sharing it.
Another variation of that objection is, “If you’re right, then I’ll miss out on some stuff, but I’ll be okay in the end,” and some even add, “However, if I’m right, you’re going to burn in hell for eternity.” It’s interesting how some believe it’s more important to accept a doctrine because it might have a worse possible outcome than accepting its alternative might have, regardless of whether that doctrine is correct or not, but I’m far more interested in truth than I am in worrying about unfounded threats (and if we needed to choose a theology based on it having the worst possible outcome if we don’t believe or follow it, some religions have even worse end results for those who don’t follow them than the Infernalist version of Christianity does, so this argument doesn’t help their case the way they might think it does). The real truth, however, is that if I’m wrong, I’ve still believed the Gospel (since I still believe there’s nothing I can possibly do to save myself from sin and death, and that only Christ’s death for our sins, along with His subsequent entombment and resurrection on the third day, saved me), so that isn’t actually the case at all. And so, if I’m wrong, I’ve actually only been teaching that God is better than He really is, since I’m claiming He’ll actually succeed in accomplishing His will that everyone be saved; whereas if I’m right, those who make this claim have actually spoken terrible blasphemy, basically accusing God of doing horrible things to the creation He supposedly loves by torturing them in fire with no chance of escape (or at least of giving up on the majority of them, letting nearly everyone cease to exist completely, never to enjoy consciousness again). And if we’re going to worry about a “Pascal’s Wager” sort of scenario here, I’d much rather err on the side of accusing God of being too good and too loving and too successful than accusing Him of being the exact opposite.
Some also like to say, “Those who believe everyone will be saved just want an excuse to sin,” but if someone truly understands and has believed what I’ve written in this book then they’ve already believed the good news that Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused the third day, and has hence already been saved, so it makes no more sense to say this about us than it does about any traditional Christian who believes they’ve been saved themselves (especially to a Christian who believes in OSAS, meaning “Once Saved, Always Saved”).
On a similar — yet somehow even worse — note, some Christians claim that, “If there isn’t a place of never-ending torture in a place called “hell” for sinners, then there’s no point in being good in the first place,“ and some even go on to assert that, if they believed that Universalism was true, they’d be out there robbing and raping and murdering people. (Seriously, I’ve actually had multiple Christians make this confession to me.) I have to hope they’re just using hyperbole there, although if they’re being serious, and the threat of never-ending torment in a place called “hell” is the only thing keeping them civilized, then perhaps it is a good thing that they don’t believe the truth about this topic, because that’s a seriously disturbing admission about who they really are and what they wish they could be doing. But regardless of their sincerity in making these statements, they really aren’t thinking things through. I’ll start with the second claim first, which is to point out that very few Universalists are out there committing the crimes these Christians are telling us they apparently wish they could — and, if they believed Universalism was true, supposedly would — indulge in. However, presuming they aren’t actually being honest about how their belief in Infernalism is keeping them from acting out some twisted desire to steal from and hurt others, perhaps the bigger admission that Christians who resort to these sorts of arguments are making is that they don’t trust grace at all. This is actually a bigger topic than just how it applies to the topic of the salvation of all, and I don’t have the time to really get into all the problems connected with this fact right here, but the bottom line is that most Christians really don’t trust grace in the slightest and are always trying to add at least a tiny bit of law to it (just to be safe), even though mortal humans trying to perform religious law always leads to more sin, not less (and not just the Mosaic law, but any religious rules at all, which is what law ultimately is), and so this ends up with the exact opposite result of what they’re hoping to achieve through their attempt to shoehorn religious rules into salvation by grace through faith. And as far as the first claim goes, for those Christians who haven’t forgotten that salvation isn’t based on “being good” anyway, since our good works can’t save us, and in fact have nothing to do with the sort of salvation Paul primarily taught about at all, this statement is about as logical as saying, “If criminals eventually get out of prison, then there’s no point in avoiding crime in the first place.” Aside from the fact that the threat of life sentences in prison (and even the death penalty, depending on where you live) doesn’t deter the criminals who commit major crimes from the actions that result in these sentences, you don’t find most Christians out there living lives of crime (or, if they are, most of them are hiding it pretty well), so we can assume they’re just not thinking things through when they say these things (and, just as with the last objection, any Christian who believes in OSAS and makes these claims forgets that they could then be out there committing the horrific crimes they tell me they wish they could be committing, since they’re guaranteed to still remain saved regardless, according to their own soteriology, so they aren’t being consistent with these assertions at all). Besides, almost no Christian actually believes someone should remain in prison for the rest of their life over a petty crime like shoplifting or jaywalking, so the idea that people should then be tortured without end in “hell” for the same — or even lesser — infractions of the secular law really makes no sense at all (and if someone really believes that sin is actually so serious that it requires someone to be tortured in fire without end, the idea that “the punishment should fit the crime” would be an entirely erroneous idea when it comes to their take on the judicial system as well, since they already believe that every wrong — which includes breaking the secular law, in most cases — does deserve a much worse punishment than just a fine or a period of time in prison, even when it comes to extremely minor offences, so they should really be arguing for life sentences, the death penalty, or maybe even torture, for every crime, if they wish to be consistent, since they believe that we all deserve far worse consequences than that for committing these actions).
And while there are many more objections that I’ve heard over the years, I’ll wrap this list up with a classic I’ve heard many times from Christians who say things like, “God is a gentleman who won’t coerce people into salvation, or force anyone to go to heaven against their will” (some even go so far as to compare the idea Him saving people without them first specifically choosing to be saved to rape; and it’s odd how many Christians seem to have this obsession with using sexual assault in their objections to Universalism, and so perhaps they’re telling us something about themselves there and actually are as interested in participating in this crime as many of them who make the last objection we just covered seem to imply). Well, if you’ve read everything I’ve written in this book up to this point, you already know that we believe only members of the body of Christ will end up living in heaven (with everyone else eventually being resurrected to live on the New Earth), so right off the bat that’s a straw man argument. But regardless, we don’t believe God will force anyone to be saved against their will anyway, but rather that He gives people the will to want to be saved. And since Paul told us that everyone is going to experience salvation in the end, He’ll certainly make sure that everyone is willing to enjoy immortality and sinlessness/perfection by the time the eons run their course. And those who still insist that God just wouldn’t force someone to experience salvation without having to specifically choose to experience it, aside from the fact that this isn’t an assertion found anywhere in the Bible (this is just an unfounded assumption certain Christians make in order to try to hold on to their preferred soteriological doctrines), most of these people do believe that God will instead force people to suffer without end in a place called “hell,” even though nobody would choose that either. This means that, at the end of the day, it seems as though these Christians don’t actually care if God forces people to experience something against their will at all, so long as He doesn’t let them enjoy what’s to come against the will of the Christians who want people to have to choose to do something specific in order to avoid experiencing suffering instead, the way they think they did.
And with all that being said, let’s move on to the so-called “proof texts” that we’ve all heard used to support the doctrine of never-ending punishment in hell, in order to finally determine what they’re actually talking about once and for all.
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
These two parallel passages are among the most commonly quoted in order to prove 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, as mentioned previously). 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” in less literal Bible translations such as the KJV (although we’ve already learned that this isn’t a word we should just automatically assume means “never ending” when we see it in less literal Bible versions), 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 (and to ignore everything we’ve already learned about Paul’s Gospel as well, of course). 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 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 corpses, or dead bodies — being looked upon with abhorrence (meaning contempt or aversion) by all flesh (meaning any living human) that sees them either being consumed by worms or by fire on a physical planet in the future (keeping in mind that the worms would burn up and die if they were in the fire too, so this means that the entire location won’t be on fire, but will have portions which will burn corpses alongside portions where corpses that aren’t on fire will be eaten by worms).
Of course, the fact that Jesus was referencing a passage from Isaiah about carcases tells us that these passages 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; and while it’s said that there will be “worms” that won’t die there, there’s little reason to believe these “worms” are a reference to anything other than maggots — especially when you consider the fact that Isaiah wrote “carcases,” not “ghosts” or “souls” — 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 dead bodies in this location). So if there actually is a place called “hell” that people end up in as conscious beings after they die, we have no good reason to look at passages which 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.
Now, I have heard it claimed that, while the majority of the passage in Isaiah 66 actually is referring to what happens on earth (although verse 22 suggests that this might actually take place on the New Earth after the Great White Throne Judgement rather than on our current planet after the Tribulation), the passage all of a sudden begins talking about an afterlife state of souls when we get to the part about the worm and the fire (or, perhaps, that the worm and fire part of the prophecy have a double-fulfilment, both on a physical planet and in an afterlife realm), and that this means whoever ends up in this particular “hell” will be dead, but will then continue on as a conscious soul in an afterlife realm to be tormented by “fire” of some sort (however that’s supposed to work without matter to combust), and by a “worm” (whether referring literally to an actual spiritual being that will somehow gnaw on their soul, or perhaps referring figuratively to simply being tormented by guilty memories of past sins, as I’ve heard it asserted by some who want to pick and choose for themselves which parts of this prophecy are literal and which parts are figurative rather than interpret the whole passage consistently) in another “hell” one enters in the afterlife. But since there’s absolutely nothing in the text that anyone reading it at the time it was written could possibly have interpreted as meaning it isn’t simply physical carcases being consumed by actual fire and worms (especially since there hadn’t been anything written in the Hebrew Scriptures that outright spoke of a conscious afterlife punishment), this is clearly an assumption they’ve read into the passage based on a pre-existing doctrinal bias, and so to insist that this is what the passage definitely has to mean without first considering everything else I’ll be covering in this chapter would be pure eisegesis (and while what we’ve already covered from Paul’s epistles proves that everyone will eventually experience salvation, so we know that nobody could possibly suffer without end in this afterlife version of “hell,” if that’s where these people actually ended up, if you read the rest of this chapter you’ll soon learn why it couldn’t possibly mean what they’re assuming it does there anyway).
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). As we’ve already learned from the first chapter of this book, His death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection on the third day aside, Jesus’ earthly ministry and messages were technically to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (and, as we’ve also already covered, He was primarily speaking about the kingdom of heaven, which will be an actual, physical 1,000-yearlong kingdom here on earth — specifically in Israel — sometimes referred to as the Millennium or Millennial Kingdom, which comes into being after the Tribulation period at the end of the third eon ends and the fourth eon begins, and not speaking about an ethereal afterlife realm at all), which tells us that He was warning His Jewish audience here about the possibility of missing out on enjoying eonian life (or, as the KJV figuratively refers to it as, “everlasting life”) for a thousand years in Israel, pointing out that they might instead end up as a corpse in a valley outside Jerusalem, referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures as the valley of the son of Hinnom, to be burned up and devoured by worms in rather than being buried under the ground as pretty much all Israelites would prefer to be the way they’re interred.
And while it could be that, because the kingdom of heaven didn’t come fully into effect on earth at the time (since Israel largely didn’t accept Jesus as their Messiah and as the Son of God back then), 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 (nobody Jesus spoke to could have known their type of 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), I’ve also heard it suggested that “unquenchable fire” is actually always used figuratively as a symbol of destruction as a form of national judgement in the Hebrew Scriptures (such as in 2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 34:25; Isaiah 1:31 and 34:10; Jeremiah 4:4, 17:27, and 21:12; Ezekiel 20:47; and Amos 5:6 — and just as a quick but relevant aside, it’s important to note that a fire being said to “not be quenched” in Scripture doesn’t mean it never goes out, but please read this linked article for more on that particular point, since I don’t have the time to get into that topic here). This second option would include the 587 BC fall of Jerusalem, if it is indeed the case, but it would have also found a more literal fulfillment in AD 70, at least as far as Jesus’ warnings using the term go, considering the fact that the whole city of Jerusalem was burned, and the corpses in the valley of the son of Hinnom outside the city apparently ended up incinerated in that fire (or consumed by worms in the valley) as well. And if that latter option is the case, it means that Jesus’ warnings about “hell” likely aren’t even relevant to anyone alive today (although the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement is still something to be concerned about, of course, even if that second option is what He meant, and also presuming there isn’t a double fulfilment for certain people after the Tribulation ends as far as that warning goes, if that’s the case).
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, but rather literally heard Him say “the valley of Hinnom” in their own language, as the name of this geographical location had been shorted down to by the time Jesus walked the earth (technically the word they heard Him speak in Greek was γέεννα/“Géenna,” which is why it’s sometimes transliterated into English as Gehenna, depending on your Bible version, and which itself is a transliteration of the Hebrew גֵיא־הִנֹּם/“Gēʾ-Hīnnōm,” which means “the valley of Hinnom” in English, but which is translated as “hell” in most less literal English Bible versions, presumably at least partly because a valley is a long depression, or elongated, uncovered hole in the ground, although probably also partly due to a lack of awareness of the salvation of all, along with certain translators’ misunderstandings of what the English word “hell” actually means, thanks to their own doctrinal biases), which they would have — or at least should have — known was said 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). The worst punishment a Jewish person expected to experience after dying was to be denied a proper burial (there couldn’t be a worse consequence than that in their minds since most Jews believed that one ceased to exist consciously after death, as Scripture also teaches and as will be proven shortly), which is why cremation is forbidden for Jews to this day for the most part. In fact, Jews are basically obligated to bury any and all corpses, even if it’s the body of a criminal who had been put to death, so to be told that they not only might be kept from living in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth, but that they could potentially be left unburied and might instead have their cadaver unceremoniously cast into the most unholy place in all of Israel when the Millennium begins as well (the valley in which certain ancient Israelites burned their children to death as a sacrifice to the god Molech) would be the most humiliating indignity Jesus’ audience could have been threatened with. Jesus wasn’t threatening that anybody would be tortured in the valley of Hinnom; He was simply giving a warning that certain sins would result not only in death so that one couldn’t enjoy life in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth (and perhaps that certain sins during the Millennium might result in the same punishment as well), but also that they risked losing out on a proper burial so that their corpse would instead be seen burning up or being eaten by worms by everyone who looked upon it as well, which would be (and will be) a great source of shame to know before they die that this would happen.
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 (and I’m not familiar with any proof that it actually was used in this manner at that time), 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 what Scripture actually says 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 carcases, 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 (quite physical) 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 in an afterlife realm called “heaven” (which is something that we now know isn’t even a place the dead go), I should add, as does the fact that one could “enter into the kingdom of God with one eye,” as Jesus stated. And so 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 the nation of 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 popular doctrine of Infernalism.)
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.” 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 how long these people will remain in it for, or even that they’ll be alive while they’re in it (much less that they’ll be suffering), and to insist that the humans who are cast into it will “not surely die,” as mortal humans 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 (especially in light of everything we’ve already covered from Paul’s epistles about the eventual salvation of all humanity). This also means that “the beast” and “the false prophet” in this passage can’t be references to humans, since the beings 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 as a punishment (for the duration of the eons of the eons — as we’ve learned is one of the meanings of the figurative translation “for ever and ever” — and that they won’t be set free until the time they’ve been reconciled to God, at the consummation of the eons), 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 for the duration of the eons of the eons).
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 never-ending torture, with one’s supposed “spiritual death,” which we’ve already learned is an unscriptural concept, actually being a prior “death” to this one, it should actually be called the “third death” since 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 without end, but rather that it should simply be interpreted as meaning to literally die a second time in said location).
As for why I personally believe that the lake of fire will be located in the valley of Hinnom (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 probably take place at least partly on the New Earth (although we have to keep the “mountain and valley” aspect of prophecy in mind — see the below image at the end of this paragraph for a demonstration of this if you aren’t familiar with the concept — since we know that Jesus’ warnings were about the period of time when the kingdom of heaven will exist in Israel on our current planet, even if Isaiah himself may not have been aware of that fact), 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, 1,000 years before the New Earth is created, 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 (the fact that the lake of fire will apparently exist during the Millennium is also why I suspect the “unquenchable fire” prophecy might have a double fulfillment after the Tribulation, presuming it was referring to corpses being burned up in the valley of Hinnom after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70).
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 “hell” that the lake of fire will be located in, 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 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. 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 also 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). Anyway, at least as far as Gentiles go, Jesus Himself seemed to imply that certain non-Israelites will be resurrected for this judgement yet not end up condemned themselves, but rather will condemn certain Israelites who missed out on the resurrection of the just (and they won’t have been saved the way the body of Christ or the Israel of God are, or else they would have been resurrected much earlier and missed this particular judgement altogether). 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 (especially not as far as the sort of salvation Paul taught about goes), because those who would avoid the lake of fire at this judgement won’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 vivified 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 vivified. 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” (which, again, is just a figure of speech that simply means “for the eons of the eons,” or for the final two eons, in the passage that speaks of their fate), 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 vivified body or otherwise).
But even if humans can’t suffer in the “hell” that the lake of fire will be located in, if we’re “eternal” beings, as most Christians assume, we must still be able to suffer in another version of “hell,” which the unsaved will experience as ghosts after they die (whether after their first death, prior to their resurrection for the Great White Throne Judgement, or even if just temporarily after their second death in the lake of fire, until they’re resurrected again for their promised vivification), 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 really 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 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, death is compared to sleep, not to being awake in an afterlife existence (outside of one very misunderstood story in the book of Luke, which I’ll discuss shortly). 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, because 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.
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 being returned to their body to continue to be awake as they supposedly still were while they slept as well.
It’s important to keep in mind what E. W. Bullinger explained when he wrote: “When the Holy Spirit uses one thing to describe or explain another, He does not choose the opposite word or expression. If He speaks of night, He does not use the word light. If He speaks of daylight, He does not use the word night. He does not put ‘sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet’ (Isaiah 5:20). He uses adultery to illustrate idolatry; He does not use virtue. Thus, if He uses the word ‘sleep‘ of death, it is because sleep illustrates to us what the condition of death is like. If Tradition be the truth, He ought to have used the word ‘awake,’ or ‘wakefulness’ – but the Lord first uses a Figure, and says ‘Lazarus sleepeth,’ and afterwards, when He speaks ‘plainly‘ He says ‘Lazarus is dead.’ Why? Because, sleep expresses and describes the condition of the ‘unclothed‘ state. In normal sleep, there is no consciousness. For the Lord, therefore, to have used this word ‘sleep’ to represent the very opposite condition of conscious wakefulness would have been indeed to mislead us. Yet all of His words are perfect, and are used for the purpose of teaching us, not for leading us astray.”
All that being said, it should really go without saying that consciousness, at least for biological beings such as humans, can obviously cease to exist anyway, 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 our consciousness could return after we die without a living and active brain to bring it back into existence the way our brains do when we awaken from unconsciousness, thus regaining 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 vivified 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), 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 — which we now know is actually a reference to outer space — 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 vivified 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 — the word translated as “soul” is ψυχή/“psuchē” in the original Greek, which should be enough explanation in and of itself for those people who recognize the word that our English word “psyche” is based on — 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 they’re no longer existing at all, and have no hope 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 written 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 His 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 by God), so it seems pretty obvious that heaven is only for those who have been vivified (aside from people who fly in aircraft, and certain astronauts who visit it for a short period of time in their space shuttles, but they all return to earth relatively quickly) 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 in Luke 20, 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 eon, when the kingdom of heaven exists in Israel for 1,000 years) 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”/eon 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, as we know from Genesis 6), 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,” calling what is not yet as though it already were, in other words — 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, when in fact “all live unto him” already, since, as far as God’s concerned, they’ve already been physically resurrected from His timeless perspective).
The passage just can’t be read as saying they were actually still alive at that time. Verse 37 of Luke 20 (“…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 unconscious 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 and consciously retain knowledge 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.)
However, before moving on, if you still believe in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul after reading about Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees, I’d like you to explain how, exactly, Jesus’ argument about God not being the God of the dead, but rather of the living, could possibly still prove the resurrection if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actually are still alive in an afterlife realm somewhere. Because, unless you can do so, this statement by Jesus seems to be definitive proof that the dead aren’t actually conscious, which means that no other passage in Scripture one might believe teaches a conscious afterlife can possibly actually be intended to be interpreted that way unless one can first explain that.
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 that they would “see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” or “be perceiving the Son of Mankind coming in His kingdom,” as the CLV puts it, because Matthew 17:9 outright tells us that it was simply a vision. (It’s also important to note — for the sake of Preterists, who know why I’m pointing this out — that Jesus didn’t say in Matthew 16:28 that they themselves would be entering His kingdom at that time, but rather that they’d only be perceiving the Son of Mankind coming in His kingdom at that time, which is exactly what happened when they had that vision of Jesus in the glorified form He’ll exist in when the kingdom of heaven comes fully into fruition in Israel in the future.)
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 — at least as translated in the KJV — 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 desiring to trade in his mortal body for his future immortal body, which won’t happen until the Snatching Away (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 (at least from a relative perspective, although it was ultimately up to God from an absolute perspective). 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 vivified, 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, all the unbelieving Pharisees at the time, prophesying that all those Pharisees hearing that statement would indeed die in their sins and miss out on eonian life in the kingdom 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 definitely 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 a Gospel preached to them had to have still been physically alive at the time it was preached to them, meaning a 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, which has been interpreted in a number of different ways, but which almost nobody seems to understand is not describing an actual event or the geography of an afterlife dimension. This passage uses the word “hell” in the KJV (although many English Bible translations use the transliteration “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 (at least if one takes this story literally), 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, at least as far as this passage is concerned, 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 in hell 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 (which I believe is 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 to describe a fiery afterlife realm, 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 God being the God of the living rather than of the dead, a few chapters later, as we’ve already discussed, which would mean God couldn’t have been the God of Lazarus while he remained dead, if the “events” in this story actually took place), 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, and not 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 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 using this figurative story to let 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 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 the fact 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 taken 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 does a U-turn back into some place or state referred to as “hell” in the KJV, also transliterated as “Sheol” from the Hebrew שְׁאוֹל/“sheh-ole’,” or sometimes even translated as “the unseen,” depending on your Bible version; 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).
- The spirit returns to God Who gave 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 human 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 common 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 vivification 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 the Evangel (or Gospel) 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 entombed, and that He was roused 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 entombed” are true, but how many of us actually agree that “He was entombed”? Most believe that His body was entombed, but they also believe that He Himself went somewhere else altogether (meaning they believe He went to another dimension called “hell” — or hades, depending on their preferred Bible translation — as a conscious being for those three days, even if it was in a part of “hell” known as “Abraham’s bosom,” which they also believe is referred to as “paradise” — παράδεισος/“paradeisos” in the Greek — based on a misunderstanding of another passage that I’ll discuss shortly). 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 entombed while He Himself went somewhere else, he said, “He was entombed,” 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 entombed” 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 laid to rest, 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 entombed at all, other than passively having it happen to Him; so unless his pallbearers also had some sort of mystical object or magical spell which 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 tells us He “gave up the ghost,” not that He became a ghost — it can’t legitimately be said that “He was entombed” unless He was His body and nothing more at that point). Paul didn’t just randomly include the words “He was entombed” 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) entombment wasn’t a crucial part of the Gospel Paul said his readers believed when they were saved, he would have just written that “Christ died for our sins and was roused the third day,” and left those particular words about His entombment 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 entombed” 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 entombed 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 — ἐξουσία/“exousia” in the original Greek — 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 (the same Greek word was used here as well), 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 entombed,” 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 the Gospel that 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, and which is also confirmed by the “He has been roused the third day” part of Paul’s Gospel, since, in addition to proving that Jesus was resurrected into a physical body, Paul also tells us with those words that His rousing/waking from the “sleep” of death was done to Him, not by Him). The context of this passage in John 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 vivified, or quickened (which obviously couldn’t happen to His body 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. 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,” demonstrating that human spirits and souls are not the same thing), 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, being transliterated from the Greek ταρταρόω/“tartaroō”), because of their sin. Besides, all passages have to be interpreted in light of Christ’s entombment 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 entombed? Well, yes, very much so! It’s only when we realize that Christ actually died and was entombed 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 entombed, instead believing that only His body did and was (and that His death for our sins was entirely useless if we don’t contribute something ourselves — such as our faith — in order to make it save us, as most Christians also believe) 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 the Gospel that 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).
This, of course, raises the question of where people got the idea that the dead go to places called heaven or hell from in the first place. There are a few reasons for this. Their misinterpretation of Luke 16 largely explains why people think dead sinners end up suffering consciously in a place called “hell,” but as far as the dead ending up in heaven goes, 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, experienced by living people, rather than in an ethereal afterlife dimension experienced by the dead (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 vivified; 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”) with a throne in it somewhere out there in outer space, presumably in the city that will one day be called 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 (or, more specifically, a future state of Israel, with the Hebrew word עֵדֶן/“ay’-den,” translated as “Eden” in this verse in Isaiah, being translated as παράδεισον in the same verse in the LXX, which is what the word “paradise” is translated from in the Greek Scriptures) where the tree of life will be, both after Jesus returns and also later on the New Earth, 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 really even exist yet, at least not outside of the Jerusalem which is currently above as it waits to descend to the New Earth, I suppose (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, not to mention explain away all the proof we’ve already covered that the dead really are unconscious — 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, if someone believes that the KJV translated this verse well, we’re then forced to interpret it 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 is a figure of speech that simply means 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, there are no commas in the original Greek, and so many prefer to translate Luke 23:43 as saying something more along the lines of, “Verily, to you am I saying today, with Me shall you be 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 (lining up exactly with the malefactor’s request that Jesus remember him when He comes into His kingdom — something we already know will be here on earth in the future; but even if the kingdom were an afterlife location, which it isn’t, we know that Jesus went to “hell” rather than to heaven when He died anyway, so He certainly didn’t “come into His kingdom” during those three days — telling us that he was expecting Jesus to either escape the cross or to be physically resurrected after he died, something even Jesus’ disciples didn’t believe was going to happen at that time, which means he might have been the first convert to believe in the resurrection if that was the case, and to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven on earth in the future regardless of whether He died or not, which makes sense considering the fact that no Israelite back then would have been expecting the kingdom to be anywhere other than in Israel). That said, regardless of where the comma should be 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 taught 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 a figure of speech 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 just speaking rhetorically to point out that the hypothetical dead man no longer exists, since he made it very clear in the next few verses that he believed the dead are gone until their future resurrection by answering his own question, saying, “As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands”). 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 human 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 entombed, and that He was roused 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 Jerusalem which is above), contrary to the way Christians assume they did, since whatever happened to them can’t contradict what you’ve already learned from this book. 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, just like Enoch.
So no, Jesus wasn’t promising an existence in a spiritual realm called heaven for the supposed ghosts of the righteous when He spoke, nor did He ever offer anybody literal everlasting or eternal life either, since eventual everlasting life (at least from a literal perspective) for everyone is already a given thanks to His death for our sins, and subsequent entombment and resurrection, which is actually what the good news that is the Gospel of the Uncircumcision is proclaiming. Likewise, neither was He warning anyone about never-ending torture in a spiritual realm called hell for sinners (or even just permanent non-existence for sinners). Instead, He was A) teaching the people of Israel how to be sure to enjoy eonian life on earth during the next eon or two in the messages He gave during His earthly ministry, and teaching those elected for the body of Christ about the fullness of salvation — including eonian life in the heavens among the celestials during the next two eons — in the messages He gave Paul after He physically left the earth (while everyone eventually gets literal everlasting life, meaning immortality, only a relatively small number of people will experience figurative “everlasting life,” or eonian life as it actually refers to), and B) warning the people of Israel how to avoid weeping and gnashing their teeth because they’ve been forced to live in the “outer darkness” (meaning they’re not allowed to live in Israel, possibly having to live as far away as the other side of the planet), or even how to avoid being killed and suffering the humiliating sentence of having their dead bodies displayed and destroyed in public in the valley of Hinnom (also on earth), both of which would result in missing out on the joys of the Millennial Kingdom in the fourth eon (and quite possibly the next eon after that as well) because they’d either be living outside of Israel or possibly even be dead for the remaining eon or two.
And, again, since the Hebrew Scriptures never threatened never-ending torture while dead as a punishment for breaking the Mosaic law, or even for sin in general — at most it threatened physical death for certain capital crimes — but did speak of the earthly valley of Hinnom (aka Gehenna) as a place where the physical (not spiritual) bodies of the dead lawbreakers would be burned in the future (they couldn’t be spiritual bodies since “spiritual bodies” are only given to someone once they’ve been quickened (or vivified), and are, in fact, very physical themselves), and since Jesus didn’t ever correct these beliefs Himself when He spoke of judgement and the valley of Hinnom in Israel (when read without a preconceived bias, it’s completely clear that He was teaching the exact same thing the Hebrew Scriptures said about the topic), there’s literally zero reason to interpret these things the way most Christians have.
To put it simply, most Christians are assigning the earthly rewards and punishments that Jesus taught are meant for Israelites (and for those who bless them or don’t bless them during the Tribulation) to a supposed afterlife state meant for everyone, attempting to spiritualize physical and geographical places and events when there’s absolutely no good reason to do so. Even the Great White Throne Judgement — which does apply to people other than Israel — and any of its resulting sufferings will likely happen on earth (at the very least, it happens to those who are physically alive in this universe, having just been resurrected into regular human bodies, and not to ghosts in an afterlife dimension), prior to the bodies of those who don’t enter the New Earth at its beginning being physically (not spiritually) cast into the lake of fire just like the dead bodies of previous sinners were physically cast into the valley of Hinnom on earth during the Millennium, or at least on the New Earth itself, by those whose names are written in the book of life but who still have some wrongs to right, meaning some “debt” to others to repay (which is a whole other topic that most Christians aren’t familiar with at all, but 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 “the uttermost farthing,” since that doesn’t gain anyone any of the types of salvation we’ve already covered).
Aside from being completely unscriptural, the horrible doctrine of never-ending torment in the lake of fire is also probably the biggest cause of religious evil. How so? First, it’s caused millennia of psychological torture for children (and even adults). Somehow, religious parents have rationalized the idea that instilling the fear of this mythological torture chamber into their children is a good thing (hoping that it will keep them from sinning, as if the threat of “hell” has ever kept anyone from sinning), but all it does is cause sleepless nights for millions of kids who are terrified that they or their loved ones will suffer horrific agony for eternity with no chance of escape if the wrong decision or action is made, and ultimately also causes many of these children to reject God when they get older since many of them still have a conscience and know just how wrong unending torture would be if it actually happened. Perhaps worse, though, is the fact that, once this doctrine has been completely absorbed into the psyche, it makes emotional empathy an extremely difficult thing to maintain, causing religious people to think it’s okay to reject family members who believe differently from them (sometimes ejecting them from their own homes), and discriminate against, or even be violent towards, people who don’t follow their religion or who might not think certain actions are actually wrong (“If God is going to torture people without end in the afterlife for even the smallest infraction, what’s a little temporary violence in this life?” is what it seems many religious people believe).
And with all that being said, let’s get back to the rest of the supposed “proof texts”:
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 shame and “everlasting” contempt (this also means that nobody is dead in this passage, at least not at first, since they’ve just been resurrected), and shame and contempt aren’t even remotely close to the same thing as torture in fire. Besides, aside from the fact that “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, as well as what we’ve covered about how the word is generally meant to be read qualitatively rather than quantitatively in the KJV, it’s also only the contempt that is said to be “everlasting,” not the shame, and the word translated as “contempt” here is the Hebrew word דְּרָאוֹן/“der-aw-one’” and is used only one other time in Scripture, in the aforementioned passage in Isaiah about dead bodies being looked upon with abhorrence by living humans (with “abhorrence” being translated from this same Hebrew word), so the contempt/abhorrence is being experienced by others rather than by the ones being judged in this passage themselves. This tells us that, when they’re resurrected, many people will feel shame while being judged at the Great White Throne, and then, after they die a second time in the lake of fire, their corpses will be looked upon with “everlasting” (meaning eonian, or for the duration of that final eon) contempt or abhorrence by those who see their dead bodies being consumed on the New Earth.
Before moving on, though, this seems like a good time to remind you yet again 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, as I’ve previously mentioned. 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 and Jeremiah, 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.
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 for a while — or to their time paying off “the uttermost farthing” on the New Earth, 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.
Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. — Isaiah 14:9-11
The word “hell” in this passage is obviously not referring to the inescapable place of conscious torment that most Christians believe in (as many other Bible versions make clear by transliterating the Hebrew word שְׁאוֹל as “Sheol” in this passage), since, as we just discussed, nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures had ever threatened never-ending torture (much less torture in fire), so there’s no way anyone who read it when it was written could have possibly interpreted it that way. Instead, it should be pretty obvious that the English word “hell” here is being used as metonymy for “grave” (at least in Bible versions that use the word “hell” in this passage), as the inclusion of the word “grave” in verse 11 (which the KJV also translated from the same Hebrew word שְׁאוֹל that it translated “hell” from in this passage), not to mention the references to worms — which are creatures that consume corpses — should also make pretty clear. This passage was simply using the figure of speech known as personification (something done multiple times in Scripture, including in this very book by the same prophet) to taunt the king of Babylon, pointing out that even someone as proud and powerful as him ends up in the same place that nearly everyone else ends up in (the grave, or “the unseen”). And since we already know that the dead are unconscious, the reference to the other dead kings speaking to him is just more figurative language, letting this king know that he’d end up in the same place as them (unless you believe these dead kings are sitting on literal thrones and ruling over an afterlife realm, but I’m trusting that you can see just how figurative this whole passage is).
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 at the beginning of our consideration of the so-called “proof texts.” 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” could be cast into this particular “hell,” so His warning here 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 Hinnom in the book of Jeremiah that Jesus was referencing with this warning (especially since the word “hell” was translated from γέεννα in the KJV in this passage, which we already know is the Greek name for that particular valley in Israel).
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 either “hell” (γέεννα or ᾅδης) by name, but it precedes one of Jesus’ suggestions that people amputate body parts in order to avoid the “hell” known as the valley of Hinnom, 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 refrain from sinning in order to avoid “hell,” which also doesn’t fit with the popular doctrine, because most Protestants would insist we can’t avoid the version of “hell” that most Christians believe in by avoiding sinning, considering the fact that 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 their version of “hell,” 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 supposedly “unforgivable” or “unpardonable” 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 the figurative “never,” as mentioned in Mark’s account, will actually last, which is this “world” and the “world” to come. This is another case of the KJV using the word “world” as a synonym for “age,” or “eon” (which is why other translations render it more literally as “it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming,” or even as “it shall not be pardoned him, neither in this eon nor in that which is impending”), 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, they could theoretically be forgiven during the “world”/age after that (which, as those who are familiar with the doctrine of the ages/eons believe, will be the final “world”/age/eon on the New Earth, prior to the time Christ destroys death), not to mention after the final “world”/age/eon has concluded (as all eons will have to do, based on the definition of the word “eon”).
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 nor 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” was meant to be taken literally and meant they wouldn’t eventually be forgiven, people don’t necessarily need forgiveness (although the passage in Matthew tells us that this is almost certainly a figurative translation in the KJV, since it explains how long “never” actually lasts here, as we’ve already covered, and a more literal translation also makes it clear that Jesus simply meant “yet whoever should be blaspheming against the holy spirit is having no pardon for the eon,” referring to the impending thousand-year eon known as the Millennium). 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 or pardoned (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 until the end of the next “world,” or age/eon, and that there’s a “world”/age/eon to come after that one ends). 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).
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 that 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 there’s a good chance they won’t have been forgiven when that time comes, 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, or at least for most of that period of time; and they won’t be made immortal at that time, so they won’t have experienced the salvation Paul taught about either, at least not from a relative or physical perspective). 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 (simply put, forgiveness is only necessary for getting to live in the kingdom of heaven during the thousand-year period of time it exists on this planet, or for getting to live in heaven itself during the same time period, although the forgiveness that the Israel of God experiences is conditional, whereas the “forgiveness” that those of us in the body of Christ experience was given to us by God without us having to do a single thing to enjoy it, simply because He chose to bless us more than anyone else, and the word “forgiveness” when it comes to us is mostly just referring to being dealt with graciously by God, but that’s a much bigger discussion than I have the room to get into here, although it really should be pretty evident based on everything else I’ve covered about our salvation in this book).
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/eon (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/eon (which will be the “world”/age/eon 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/eon 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. 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 salvation is through works for them, though, because this has nothing to do with salvation 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, they’ll be amortal rather than being truly immortal, since true immortality refers to being incapable of dying, which means they wouldn’t need the produce of the tree of life to remain alive, and hence this isn’t the salvation Paul wrote about).
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 English version of the Bible had ever been described that way in Scripture yet, and this verse doesn’t mention any of the “hells” 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). Similar to all the references to “unquenchable fire” being used as a symbol of national judgement coming upon Israel as a whole, the Hebrew Scriptures are also full of examples of this particular symbolism being used to refer to judgements of Israel as well, 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 (only certain extremely unrighteousness people are said to end up there), so it should go without saying that this verse was never talking about the lake of fire to begin with. This also serves as a good reminder when reading the rest of the Bible that just because you see the word “fire” in a passage — even if it’s a passage about judgement — doesn’t mean it’s necessarily referring to the lake of fire, but rather that it might simply refer figuratively to someone being judged in some way without ending up in the version of “hell” known as the lake of fire (especially if you don’t specifically see the words “hell” or “the lake of fire” in the passage in question, at least in the KJV and other less literal Bible translations).
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 also 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 in the lake of fire. But whatever the cause of the outcome mentioned in these passages is, I hope it’s obvious by now to anyone who has made it this far into the book that Jesus’ main point here had to be about getting to enjoy life in the kingdom of heaven on earth vs not getting to do so, 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 by name 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 and recognize the figurative language (or understand that everyone will eventually experience salvation, per Paul’s epistles), 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 dais of Christ — sometimes also referred to as 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 move or change 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” literally meant that every single human living on earth were going to be judged and sent to afterlife realms called 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 Millennium 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 Millennium 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 entombed, and that He was roused the third day, and why it seems like the positive outcome 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 the reward 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 reward 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 vivified 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, 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 made of iron, 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, but is simply a symbolic reference to judgement, as we’ve learned that mentions of “fire” very often are in the Bible). 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, and 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”), 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 fully 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 will go through, 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 certain 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 today), by being forced to reside outside the kingdom of heaven, as well as to other Gentiles of the nations getting to live in the kingdom 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 1,000 years of “life eternal” (meaning life eonian) 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 as their punishment (the parts of the planet that are referred to as a “furnace” for exiled Israelites at that time, which makes sense, considering the fact that what we’ve seen so far tells us that “fire” rarely, if ever, speaks of the “hell” known as the lake of fire when either that specific location isn’t also referred to by name in a passage using the word, or the word “hell” itself isn’t used in the passage), 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, having been “prepared for the devil and his angels” to tempt them to do so. (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, since this passage isn’t even talking about hell to begin with.)
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 vivified when they go live in the kingdom, at least not right away (since they’ll be a part of the “end” group of the “every man in his own order” of groups to be “made alive,” and so they won’t be vivified until the time that death is finally destroyed completely, at the consummation of the eons), so this isn’t talking about the sort of salvation which Paul taught isn’t by works either (in fact, it isn’t really talking about salvation at all, but is just talking about a reward for blessing Israelites).
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 (referring to not getting to live in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth, including both “them that know not God,” meaning the Gentile “goats” of Matthew 25, as well as them “that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” meaning Israelites who are not a part of the Israel of God). 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.
(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) — Philippians 3:18-19
We know that anyone who experiences “destruction” (whether literally or figuratively) will still eventually also experience salvation from a physical perspective (and has already been saved from an absolute perspective, even if not from a relative perspective), based on what Paul taught in the rest of his epistles, as already covered. This means that the “end” which the enemies of the cross of Christ that Paul is condemning here can only be an “end” from a relative perspective, since we know the “end” they’ll experience at the end of the eons will be salvation.
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 couple passages, 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 they’re martyred. 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 in hell” 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 die in childbirth will at least be resurrected at the Great White Throne Judgement so they can grow up on the New Earth, while Judas will likely end up in the lake of fire when he’s resurrected, at least prior to the time Christ destroys death (yes, even Judas will finally be resurrected and vivified 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.
When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever. — Psalms 92:7
Just like the other passages referring to being destroyed that we’ve looked at, we know that being “destroyed for ever” in this verse can’t be referring to never-ending torment in “hell” without reading one’s doctrinal bias into the phrase, and we also know from everything we’ve learned from Paul’s epistles about the salvation of all that nobody remains dead (or even dying) at the consummation of the eons, so the “for ever” here has to be as figurative as it is in any other passage we’ve already looked at, and by now it should be clear that this just means they’ll miss out on getting to live in the kingdom of heaven, but not that they won’t eventually experience salvation at the consummation of the eons, when “for ever” comes to an end.
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 were condemned to “hell” (the “hell” known as the valley of Hinnom, in this case), but Jesus didn’t say they’d be in this particular “hell” without end, nor did He say they’d be conscious while in it (and we know from what we’ve already learned that they couldn’t be), so this really isn’t a helpful verse for anyone trying to teach never-ending torment in “hell.”
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 live particularly sinful 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 “in,” meaning “through,” or “because of”) Christ.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. — Acts 4:12
Once again, there’s nothing about “hell” or the lake of fire in this verse, and this statement was made by Peter to the religious leaders of Israel, so we already know it can only refer to the sort of salvation that pertains to Israelites (getting to live in the kingdom in Israel after Jesus returns, in other words), and has nothing at all to do with the sort of salvation Paul later taught about to the nations.
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 since it’s a Circumcision writing, 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, but that’s a much bigger discussion). 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, especially since he wrote it after Jesus’ death and resurrection).
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. — John 3:1–7
Modern-day Evangelicals are obsessed with this passage, insisting that everyone has to choose to be “born again” if they want to experience salvation. Unfortunately, just like Nicodemus, they have absolutely no idea what Jesus meant by the term. To get the obvious out of the way first, nobody can choose to be born a first time, and this second birth is no different since it happens not “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
But equally important to know, unless you’re an Israelite, you can’t be “born” a second time, because you haven’t been “born” a first time, at least not when it comes to the sort of “birth” that Jesus was talking about there. Remember, Jesus wasn’t talking about the same sort of salvation Paul primarily wrote about (in fact, throughout Paul’s epistles, he never even once spoke about a new birth; instead, he taught about a whole new creation altogether — or “a new creature,” as the KJV puts it — which is even better than being “born” a second time), but was referring to getting to live in the part of the kingdom of God that will exist for 1,000 years in Israel, so from that fact alone it should be obvious that this statement is only relevant to Israelites and not to Gentiles. But to make this even more clear, Jesus’ question (“Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”) in response to Nicodemus thinking that any of this was about biological childbirth tells us that this Pharisee should have already known exactly what Jesus was talking about, based on the Scripture available to him at the time. This tells us that we have to look to the Hebrew Scriptures to determine exactly what Jesus meant (and we know there’s nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures about “asking Jesus into your heart,” as most Evangelicals explain being “born again” as meaning when they share their “gospel,” or really anything else they use to try to explain the meaning of being “born again” either, for that matter).
So what was it in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was referring to here? Well, Jesus was talking about a nation that was figuratively said to have been “born” a first time by Moses in Exodus 4:22 when he said, “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (along with similar statements he made in Numbers 11:12 and in Deuteronomy 32:18). That would be the first “birth” of those whom Jesus was referring to in this passage, telling us that it only applies to the nation of Israel. As for the second birth, this also has to be something spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures if Nicodemus should have known this already as “a master of Israel,” so we have to look to passages that refer to Israel being born another time, and this would be Isaiah 66:8 which asks, “shall a nation be born at once?”, prophetically referring to something that will happen to the nation of Israel in the future. Simply put, Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about Israelites experiencing their New Covenant (which never applied to Gentiles, since we didn’t have an old covenant to be replaced with by a new one to begin with), and the rebirth of the favoured nation of God when they’re returned to their land and sprinkled “with clean water” (this is why Jesus said they need to be born not just of the Spirit, but also of water), which will take place at the end of the Tribulation, when Jesus returns and the thousand-year kingdom begins.
This is also why Jesus specifically said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” Unfortunately, people who aren’t using the King James Version are unlikely to be aware of this, because most other Bible versions don’t use the precise grammar in their translations of that passage the way the KJV does (and even many people who do use the KJV won’t realize it, since few today know about 17th-century grammar), but “ye” is a plural word in the KJV, which means Jesus was simply saying: “Marvel not that I said unto thee [Nicodemus], Ye [the nation of Israel] must be born again.”
Now, it is true that Jesus also said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and combined with the fact that they make the same mistake Nicodemus made in assuming the first “birth” was biological (which is what led him to ask his question about entering “the second time into his mother’s womb”), this has led Evangelicals to assume that individual Gentiles today have to choose to be “born again” or they won’t be able to go to heaven, but we already know that going to heaven is only for the body of Christ, so this can only be referring to getting to live in the part of the kingdom of God that will exist on earth for 1,000 years rather than in the part of the kingdom of God that will be in heaven. Simply put, Jesus was just referring to the specific Israelites God chose to be a part of Israel’s second birth when it occurs (since Jesus didn’t specify that He was referring to or including the nations in this statement the way He did in Matthew 25:32, and because we know that His teachings were pretty much only relevant to Israelites — not to mention the fact that Gentiles weren’t “born” a first time in the manner that Jesus was referring to there, so there’s no way they could be “born” a second time that way either — it should be pretty obvious that His statement should be understood as meaning: “Except a [Jewish] man be born again…”), including a few who can be said to have (at least proleptically, if not literally) experienced the second birth earlier than the rest, such as those Peter wrote to in his first epistle (where he called back to prophecies about this from Exodus 19:6 and from Psalms 22:30–31). And even then, we know that an Israelite only needs to be “born again” to “see the kingdom of God” during the first thousand years of its existence on earth, since the Mosaic law (and hence the New Covenant) will be irrelevant after those thousand years have been completed, after the current heaven and earth have passed away, which means the “born again” figure of speech will no longer be relevant either. This tells us that Israelites who missed out on getting to enjoy life in the kingdom of heaven (which refers specifically to the part of the kingdom of God that will exist in Israel for 1,000 years) will finally have an opportunity to enter the kingdom of God on the New Earth (when it will be centred within the New Jerusalem). Some will try to argue that Jesus’ “except a man” statement means this has to apply to all humans, of course, but they’re ignoring the context of the passage. This is just like Paul’s “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” statement, which we know is only referring to the part of the kingdom of God that will be in outer space, since we know that flesh and blood will inherit the part of the kingdom of God that’s going to exist on earth during the thousand years (since not everybody who gets to live in the kingdom will have been vivified at that time), as well as on the New Earth (at least until the consummation of the eons), and there’s no reason the word “man” can’t be just as context-defined here as “kingdom of God” is in that passage (and, based on the scriptural references I linked to in this paragraph, as well as the other arguments I presented, it should be obvious that it is).
So no, unless you’re a member of the Israel of God, you haven’t been “born again,” and neither can you be (since you weren’t “born” a first time in the manner Jesus was speaking about), nor do you need to be, since the salvation of those in the body of Christ won’t be enjoyed in the same part of the kingdom of God that Israel is looking forward to living in when it begins in earnest on the earth.
I realize that Evangelicals and other Christians have various ideas about what it means to be “born again,” but if their ideas can’t be shown to be laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures, they have no basis for the claims, because otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have criticized Nicodemus for not knowing what He meant by the term. And I’m sure you’ve heard “testimonies” by certain Christians about how they were “born again” and became a whole new person, walking away from a life they considered to be sinful thanks to God changing them when they “got saved” (and, in some cases, it’s true that they were leading particularly sinful lives, although it’s also true that most Christians misunderstand even more of the Bible than just the topics we’ve been discussing, and misinterpret large parts of it to be teaching that many things are sinful which actually aren’t sinful at all, as I’ll discuss in a future chapter). And yes, God was indeed behind the change, at least from an absolute perspective, because God is behind absolutely everything that happens (since all is of God). But from a relative perspective, their changed lifestyles had nothing to do with being “born again” at all, since we know from what we just covered that being “born again” is only for the Israel of God (and that’s not to say the lives of Israelites who are “born again” won’t change drastically, but that’s because they’ll finally be able to keep the Mosaic law perfectly when it happens, which isn’t something Gentiles are meant to keep anyway, and members of the body of Christ certainly aren’t either, whether they’re Jewish or Gentile, which is another clue that being “born again” isn’t for us).
So when you hear a Christian’s “testimony” about how getting “born again” changed them, and are tempted to think it means you should remain a member of (or return to) the Christian religion (or to join it, if you’ve never been a member), remember that many people who have hit rock bottom have realized how destructive their lifestyles were and dramatically changed their lives for the better without becoming Christians at all (and that people who join other religions have similar “conversion experiences” to the ones Christians talk about as well), so joining this religion isn’t proof of anything. (And for anyone who is wondering, yes, members of the body of Christ might have been called Christians at one time, and while this label does seem like it might have been used by members of the Israel of God, there’s no indication that any believers in the body of Christ used it for themselves, but rather it appears to be a label applied to them by others outside the body, and as such most of us avoid the label — so as to not be confused with those in the religion that uses the label today, which some of us suspect began with people such as Phygellus and Hermogenes and others who turned away from Paul creating the adulterated “gospel” of the Christian religion by merging parts of each of the two legitimate Gospels into one — and simply call ourselves members of the body of Christ, or sometimes just “believers.”)
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 eonian 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 entombed, and that was roused the third day will experience eonian life in the heavens (rather than in Israel, which is where those who experience the salvation Jesus preached about during His earthly ministry will enjoy their eonian life). This means that, while it isn’t the choice to believe in Christ’s death for our sins, or His subsequent entombment and resurrection, that saves someone (our relative salvation to eonian life 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, with belief, or faith that Paul’s Gospel is true, being gifted to those God chose at the time He calls them), if someone does truly understand what it means, and also believes, that He did die for our sins, that He was entombed, and that He was roused the third day, they are among those whom God has elected for membership in the body of Christ, and will get to enjoy eonian 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 (there’s nothing about His entombment there either, I should add, which was also an important element of Paul’s Gospel). 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/eonian 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 eons, 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 prior to Paul trying to explain it to them — although I don’t believe they ever understood the full extent of it the way Paul did, and were happy to basically only — or at least primarily — apply it to the Israel of God as some of them did in their own epistles), 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 that there are two 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 have a disability making it so 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 Himself was entombed, and that He was roused the third day, at some point prior to your death or to the Snatching Away.
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. — Romans 9:1-5
I’m including this passage because I’ve heard it asked, “How could Paul be willing to give up his salvation in exchange for the salvation of his kinsmen, if it were possible to make such a trade, if everyone will be saved?” Of course, based on everything we’ve already covered, we now know Paul believed and taught that everyone has already been saved from an absolute perspective, and that everyone will eventually be saved from a physical perspective, so this can only be referring to salvation from a relative perspective, meaning he’d be willing to give up his position as a member of the body of Christ if it meant all Israelites could join the Israel of God (remember, this is in Romans 9, which is largely about Israelites and their sort of salvation, as we just discussed when looking at the last passage), because he cared about his kinsmen that much, and we already know that not everyone will be saved from a relative perspective, so this passage isn’t actually problematic at all when it comes to the salvation of all. But on top of that, few seem to consider the question of, if Paul actually did believe in never-ending torment, do you actually think he’d really wish to lose his salvation, even if it meant that every other Israelite would be saved? Can you imagine anyone would be willing to suffer fiery torture without end for any reason at all whatsoever? Anyone who has burned themselves even for a moment would know the answer to that question is a resounding “no,” but they might be willing to trade their future glorified position in heaven for the benefit of those they care about, knowing that they’d still experience physical salvation eventually, and so this passage actually tells us quite definitively that Paul did not believe in the idea of never-ending torment. And since it’s also pretty unlikely that someone would give up their existence altogether, never to be resurrected again, this is yet another passage supporting the idea that Paul believed in the salvation of all (from an absolute and physical perspective anyway, even if not from a relative perspective).
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. — 1 Thessalonians 4:13
I’ve heard Christians use the line about those who have “no hope” here to try to prove that these people without hope can’t ever be saved, but Paul was referring to people having no expectation in their minds of a future resurrection and salvation, not to having no possibility of resurrection and salvation, and he was referring to the sorrow of living people due to not expecting their dead loved ones to be resurrected, not to the sorrow of people who were already dead (which is why the CLV renders it even better when it says: “Now we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are reposing, lest you may sorrow according as the rest, also, who have no expectation”), so anyone who tries to use this verse to prove never-ending punishment isn’t reading the text very carefully.
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 (Paul anthropomorphized “sin” at times in Romans, although you might not be aware of that if you don’t use the CLV, which capitalized the “S” to make it more obvious) while they’re alive (and the English word “wages” in the KJV 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 — it’s really referring more to a ration than to a payment, but that’s too big of a tangent to get into here, although you can click that link if you want to learn more about this word). 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 using their own strength — which is what it means to “obey it in the lusts thereof” (the 21st century definition of the word “lust” isn’t what was meant by the word when it was originally written, just as is the case with many words in our English Bible translations that have been similarly misunderstood by modern Christians, such as “modesty,” “fornication,” and “adultery,” for example, but that’s a topic for a later chapter), 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, and will have us do the things God wants us to do and avoid the things God wants us to avoid Himself through us (Sin — anthropomorphically-speaking — is just as happy when we purposely try not to sin as when we purposely do sin, because it likes any focus we can give it, since it takes our focus and trust away from Christ). 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 in the KJV is, literally referring to eonian life, as should also be obvious by now.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. — Acts 16:31
A common question I’ve heard asked is, “How can the salvation of all humanity be true if someone has to ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ in order to be saved?” Of course, by now it should be obvious that Paul had to have been referring to salvation from a relative perspective there (which involves being a member of the body of Christ), and not salvation from an absolute perspective (the salvation which all humanity will experience because of Christ’s death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection on the third day), so this verse doesn’t actually cause any problems for the doctrine of the salvation of all humanity at all. (And for anyone who thinks Paul’s statement there was meant to be instructive to anyone reading the book as far as salvation goes, imagine only telling someone who didn’t even know who Jesus really was to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” with no further explanation of what that even means, and then ask yourself if that could possibly be enough for them to do in order for them to be considered saved; as I mentioned earlier, it’s important to remember that the book of Acts was a Circumcision writing primarily concerned with letting the Israel of God know why the kingdom temporarily ended up getting put on hold, and that Paul’s Gospel was never fully fleshed out anywhere in the book since it wasn’t meant for the book’s audience to believe, which is why the writer left the full explanation of what Paul meant, which he would have later given to the Philippian jailor when they arrived at his house, out of the book.)
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. Besides, we know that these “whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also,” which means that if you’ve been called for membership in the body of Christ, it’s guaranteed that you will be glorified also (which is referring to the glory we’ll receive in heaven after the Snatching Away; this isn’t talking about the salvation that everyone will eventually receive), so even if a member of the body of Christ doesn’t “inherit the kingdom of God” (or “shall not be enjoying the allotment of the kingdom of God,” as it might be better put) — likely referring to reigning over the celestial beings in a particular sector of heaven/outer space — they’ll still experience salvation from a physical perspective in heaven 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 unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. — Revelation 3:14–19
A lot of people worry that they’re a “lukewarm” believer, and that God will “spue” them out of His mouth, sending them to hell to suffer without end. Of course, we already know what “hell” refers to in Scripture now, and that it isn’t what most people have always assumed it is, but something else important to note is this passage is referring to a whole local church, not to any individual, so it’s that local church itself that’s at risk of judgement (and I personally believe it’s a local church that will exist during the Tribulation, although that’s a discussion for another time), and isn’t talking about any individuals being at risk of “hell” to begin with.
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 (and as the judgement of the body of Christ at the dais of Christ should make clear). 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’d have no basis for simply assuming that doesn’t apply to the judgement referred to in this verse either, even if we didn’t already know what Paul wrote about the salvation of all humanity.
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 KJV that we’ve covered as well), which means we can’t really use this verse to prove any particular soteriology.
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, telling us that we once again have no basis for interpreting “for ever” any less figuratively than we would these words either (and reminding us that, at least based on everything else we’ve covered so far, we seem to have no reason to ever interpret “for ever” as literally meaning “without end” in the Bible versions that use the phrase), 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 for those who would suggest it’s 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, considering everything we’ve already learned about the word “fire” when it’s used in passages that don’t also specifically refer to “hell” or the lake of fire by name (and this passage doesn’t use either of those names), it makes far more sense to interpret this as simply being extreme hyperbole (since Revelation is an extremely figurative book) about the judgement of 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 a judgement of 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 the way Paul said they will be, 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 how long their punishment will last; 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, so they don’t actually help defend the commonly held doctrine (although please correct me if I’m wrong and missed one, but please also first consider whether anything I wrote in this chapter would apply to it as well), and to interpret this extremely figurative reference to the judgement that a very specific — and relatively small — group of people will experience as referring to suffering consciously in the lake of fire makes no sense either.
In fact, prior to reading this single passage in John’s book describing his 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 and be vivified (and hence saved) 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 more than halfway through 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 the lake of fire 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 eonian life, and might even end up in one of the various types of “everlasting”/eonian “fire,” we now know that they, and everyone, will eventually leave any “hell” they might end up in (if the “fire” they end up in happens to be “hell,” and not all of the “fires” are referring to “hell,” as we’ve now learned), and finally experience salvation, thanks to God and Christ.
Unfortunately, because of bad presuppositions and interpretations (as well as a lack of basic logical analysis of Scripture), most Christians are under the horribly mistaken impression that, while God tried to save everyone through Christ’s sacrifice, He will ultimately miss the mark when it comes to 99% of humanity because He just isn’t powerful enough to convince them to choose the right religion, probably because He didn’t make most people smart enough or wise enough or humble enough or righteous enough to come to the right decision in the first place. Those who believe this aren’t aware that God’s purpose for the eons was never about hoping people will choose the right religion so they can be among the lucky few who escape never-ending punishment, but rather that He saves those who are helpless to save (or even participate in saving) themselves (although, again, each in their own order, or in their own times).
These facts, combined with the fact that Scripture (although it needs to be understood that really only Paul) is quite clear that everyone will eventually experience reconciliation and immortality, makes it pretty obvious that the only reason for the morally and spiritually depraved followers of religion to continue believing in a demonic doctrine like Infernalism (or even Annihilationism) after learning these truths is because they want to believe it (and continuing to believe and teach it tells the rest of us just how hardened their hearts and cauterized their consciences are, as well as just how little they understand about God’s character and His purpose for the eons and dispensations, which are not the same thing as one another). Sadly, most Christians only seem to want good news as long as it’s not too good (really, their basic doctrine is bad news — which is why I like to call them malangelists rather than evangelists — since one could hardly call the teachings that “sin wasn’t actually completely taken care of by Christ some 2,000 years ago,” and that “the majority of people throughout history, probably most of your family members and friends included, are almost certainly going to be tormented, or at least destroyed, for eternity,” to be anything even remotely resembling good news). Some malangelists like to say that it’s necessary to be taught the bad news first so that the good news has context, but everybody is already completely familiar with the actual bad news as Scripture defines it — that everyone is mortal and has failed to be perfect — so it’s really not something that anybody needs to be reminded of. And the so-called “good news” they’re teaching isn’t good news at all either, since their supposed “gospel” is that your friends and family members can be saved, but only if they happen to be moral enough or wise enough or humble enough or lucky enough to happen to choose to believe and/or do the right thing(s) before they die (or if they happen to be among those whom God has elected to avoid never-ending punishment if the Calvinists are correct), which really can’t be called good news, either for those who weren’t born righteous enough or smart enough to make the right choices (or lucky enough to be elected for salvation, if Calvinism is correct), or for those of us who are going to miss them if they don’t.
So, while everyone will eventually enjoy immortality, those who aren’t predestined for eonian life will first go through judgement (not to be confused with punishment or with death), and some will even experience the second death. However, at the consummation of the eons (after the final eon has ended, as all eons, by definition, must), “the grave” or “the unseen” will have no victory and death (all death) will have no sting because it will have been destroyed (and anyone still dead will have to be made alive for death to be truly abolished), and God will be “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” but doesn’t mention anyone else as being excluded from the group, we know that everyone other than God is 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 in chapter 15 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 very well could be).
This truth is lost on those who are lost, thanks to their slavery to the demonic teachings of the Christian religion, but if this weren’t the case (if most of humanity were to suffer consciously in the lake of fire without end), all this judgement would do is torture the majority of people who ever existed nonstop, which would serve no purpose at all (and don’t try to bring up satisfying God’s justice as a possible purpose, because we’ve already determined that Christ’s death was all God’s justice required, and for Him to require anyone else to suffer too wouldn’t be about justice at all, since His justice was satisfied by Christ’s death regardless of whether someone believes it before they die or not) other than to stand as an never-ending reminder that Satan, death, and “the grave” won the ultimate victory after all (a Pyrrhic victory though it might be for Satan, a defeat of God in the battle over souls it would remain nonetheless — and the same goes for if Annihilationism or Conditional Immortality is true as well, by the way; it would mean God still lost to Satan, death, and “the grave” in the struggle for souls), and that God was a failure in ridding creation of evil (simply quarantining evil to a small corner of the universe does nothing to eliminate evil from existence, and the only thing it would really change is to add infinitely more suffering to the universe than it currently has, just in a more compressed area, which would actually be worse than what we have today), ultimately making Him and Jesus A) monsters (only the most horrific of monsters could force, or even allow, someone to be tortured without the possibility of escape; the worst person to ever live could never do anything like that, but many religious Christians want to accuse God of doing something that would make Hitler look like a saint in comparison, or at least make God out to be no better than Hitler if one is an Annihilationist, because they believe He’ll permanently kill the majority of humanity a second time in the largest holocaust ever known), and B) the biggest sinners of all for “missing the mark” (חָטָא/“chata’” in Hebrew, and ἁμαρτία/“hamartia” in Greek, which we translate as “sin” in English, is a word that means “to miss the mark” — for example, to not hit the bullseye on a target with an arrow or a target with a stone thrown from a sling — as the book of Judges made clear when it mentioned 700 lefthanded men who could sling stones at an hair breadth and not miss, with the word “miss” there being the same Hebrew word that is translated as “sin” in other verses) by failing to accomplish their goals.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. Most Christians think the best idea God could possibly come up with is never-ending incarceration and torture (or permanent destruction, in the case of the Annihilationists) as a backup plan after failing to achieve His originally-intended universe, locking the majority of His creation up to suffer forever, but this just shows us that they don’t think very highly of God and His abilities to make things right (or accomplish His ultimate intentions), which is what judgement really means (again, judgement shouldn’t be confused with punishment — the ultimate end result of judgement is righteousness). Rather than failing, as most Christians insist He will (and, really, already has), in the end, God will succeed in completely destroying evil, sin, “hell” (really, “the unseen” or “the grave”), and death (again, all death, which would have to mean even the second death), because He actually is God and is fully capable of doing so.
While understanding the above should be more than enough to convince anyone with an open mind that everyone will eventually experience salvation and reconciliation, understanding the character of God is also important. In fact, teaching never-ending torment in “hell” seriously slanders God and Christ, and not only because it accuses them of being the world’s biggest sinners since it would mean they’ve failed to achieve their goals, not to mention their purpose for the eons (a missing of the mark on God’s part that Annihilationism also teaches). God has many attributes, but perhaps the most important way to understand God is to remember that, while it tells us that God has wrath, the Bible also tells us that God is love (and not the other way around). Most Christians will claim to agree with this statement, of course, but they completely fail to understand what love is (among all the other things that Paul tells us love is, he tells us that love always perseveres and never fails), and will insist that the God who is love Himself will fail to save the majority of His earthly creation, despite their salvation presumably being His greatest desire, persevering only long enough for someone to reach their physical death before giving up on them completely, even though He could easily save them after they’ve been resurrected (which those of us in the body of Christ know He will eventually do; and for those who would suggest that He couldn’t do this because their salvation would then be based on sight rather than solely on faith, it would also mean that nobody born during the Millennium or on the New Earth could be saved, since their salvation would also be based on sight rather than solely on faith if that were the case). Paul also tells us that love is kind in the same passage, but while few people could actually do something as unkind as to torture someone (or simply let someone be tortured) for even a few minutes, much less without end, most Christians insist that God is far less kind (which would mean He’s not loving) than us mere humans who would never do such a horrible thing to anyone. Yes, those whom God loves He chastens, but the purpose of this is to help, not hurt; it isn’t simply an end in itself. And since He loves the whole world, He’ll chasten the whole world, even if in different ways at different times for different people (the case of how God treats the inhabitants of Sodom, both in the past and in the future, is a great example of this).
The important thing to remember here is that God’s attributes, such as justice, can never conflict with His essence, which is love. If love is His very essence, everything He does must ultimately be beneficial for (and work out in the best interests of) all sentient creation in the long run, which means His love can’t ever take a back seat to an attribute like His justice, but rather His justice will always have to be influenced by His love (which always perseveres and never fails) for all of His creation. And since allowing any of His creation to suffer in a lake of fire with no hope of escape could not be said to be an expression of His love for said creation (except in the most horrifically twisted of religious minds), we know that His justice could not allow this to happen since it would conflict with His love towards all of His creation. And, just as a quick aside, some will try to claim that God might define words such as love differently than we do since “His ways are higher than ours,” but A) God already defined love for us in Scripture, and B) if we aren’t using words in a way that we can actually all understand them, there’s no point in using these words at all in the first place, and we might as well just stop studying Scripture altogether . And honestly, if “love” can somehow really include never-ending torture for some of those it’s directed towards, I don’t even want to begin to think about what the love we’ll experience in heaven might actually be like for those of us who are headed there, but to say it might not be pleasant would likely be an understatement.
Of course, what most Christians always forget is that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, so if one wants to truly understand the character of God, all one has to do is look at what we’re told about His Son, Who insisted on extreme forgiveness (seventy times seven, and even forgave those who killed Him), and ultimately sacrificed Himself to save every sinner ever born. When you want to interpret Scripture, you have to do so using a hermeneutic that begins with Christology. If you don’t do that, it’s easy to misunderstand the passages about judgement, and just as easy to forget that everything in Scripture needs to be read with Christ’s character and His purpose in mind. If you really want to understand God’s character, you don’t go looking to the Hebrew Scriptures. You’ll find bits and pieces of information about His character there (and you’ll certainly learn about His power and sovereignty there), but to truly understand who God is and what He’s actually like, you have to look at His Son and who He is. And if you believe that Jesus died for the sins of every human, but that He’d then turn around and torture anyone He died for (or even allow anyone He died for to be tortured) without end just because they weren’t naturally wise enough or righteous enough to choose to “receive” His death (however that’s even supposed to work), it means you really don’t understand Jesus (or the God He’s the image of) at all.
For those who still have trouble with the idea that God truly is the Saviour of every human who will have ever lived, as Paul told us He is, however, I have one last thought for you to consider. I once asked a scholar of Koine Greek (one who knows far more about the language than I can claim to) who did not believe in Universal Reconciliation, but rather believes that most of humanity will be tormented without end in the lake of fire, to tell me what he thought the writers of Scripture would (or, really, what God would have inspired said writers to) have written differently than they actually did if my conclusions about Universal Reconciliation (from eonian salvation and judgement, to avoiding having one’s dead body burned in the valley of Hinnom, to everything else about the topic) were correct (and I challenge you to find someone who knows Koine Greek well and ask them the same question, or to ask yourself the question if you yourself are well versed in the language), and his response was that it wouldn’t have been recorded any differently at all because the Greek text technically could mean everything I’ve written so far without any contradictions (even though he personally believed it meant what most Christians traditionally think it does), which tells me that belief in everlasting torment for non-Christians really is just a matter of wanting it to be true.