When discussing the topics of salvation and judgement, it’s important to understand why humans actually sin in the first place (other than Adam and Eve; they had a whole other reason that we don’t have time to get into here), and why Jesus didn’t (and before getting into it, I should point out that people who claim the reason He didn’t sin is simply because He is God and that only God in the flesh could avoid sinning are also telling us, even if without realizing it, that we humans can never be free of sin, not even after our resurrection, since we aren’t going to become God, so that wasn’t the reason). The reason humans sin is because we’re mortal/dying, and we’re dying because Adam sinned (“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” — missing a single word, such as the word “that” in this case, when reading a passage in Scripture can change everything and make you completely miss the point of the passage). Contrary to what pretty much all Christians have been taught, we ourselves don’t die because we sin. Only Adam and Eve died because they sinned — or, rather, began to die/became mortal because they sinned: “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.” It wasn’t that they “died spiritually,” as most Christians assume (yet which you won’t find taught in Scripture, probably because it’s actually a completely meaningless expression); it was just that “to die they began dying,” meaning they gained mortality eventually leading to physical death.
Even someone reading a less literal Bible translation such as the KJV has to admit that this is the case after they compare God’s warning in those translations along the lines that, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” to what Paul said in the verse from Romans we’ve already covered (since Adam didn’t physically drop dead that day, they’re already interpreting the passage figuratively). The warning couldn’t have meant to simply be separated from God, as some assume, because “in Him we live, and move, and have our being,” as Paul explained, so to be separated from God would mean to cease to exist, if that were even possible at all. There are no passages in Scripture that talk about the so-called “spiritual death” they tend to believe in anyway, but if this so-called “spiritual death” results in mortality, as would presumably have to be the case in order to explain why Adam did become mortal that day (in order to argue that God’s warning wasn’t about mortality, one then ends up with the question of why he became mortal after sinning — and there’s nothing in the text that says Adam was already eating from the tree of life, so that argument isn’t a scripturally valid option either), we’d also have to ask why Satan and his angels aren’t also mortal, unless you don’t believe they’re actually “spiritually dead” but are instead “spiritually alive.” This verse 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 absurdity, and since it lines up so well with what Romans 5 says, all the more reason to interpret it this way.
You see, it’s important to realize Paul didn’t simply write “for all have sinned” in Romans 5:12 the way he did in Romans 3:32. Instead, he wrote, ”for that all have sinned.” Yes, it would have meant “because all have sinned” if he had left out the word “that” in this verse, but he didn’t, and so “for that reason all have sinned,” or “because of that mortality all have sinned,” is what Paul was getting at in this passage (making mortality the cause and sin the effect for humanity at large in this passage rather than the other way around). Some people have tried to claim that the verse should really be translated more along the lines of, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned.” I’m not going to even bother getting into why they make this claim because, aside from the fact that this translation is literally nonsensical (I can’t see any way that the phrase “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned” can legitimately follow “wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” and still make any sort of sense at all, at least not based on any rules of English grammar that I’m aware of), if we die because we sin, the first part of the verse would 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 (there’s no actual connection made between Adam’s sin and our sins in the verse if that’s what it means). I mean, let’s break it 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) his mortality passed down to his descendants (“and so death passed upon all men”) and D) because of our mortality, all of us descendants of Adam have sinned (“for that all have sinned”), giving us a nice “sequence of reasons,” each step of the way. But if we were to instead translate the last two parts of the verse as saying, “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned,” we’ve suddenly lost the whole narrative, since this sort of translation doesn’t tell us why all have sinned. That “all have sinned” because “death passed upon all men” answers that question, but reversing the order (making sin the cause and death the effect rather than death, or mortality, the cause and sin the effect) just makes a mess of the whole thing, leaving us with the question of why we sin, which was what Paul was trying to explain in the first place with this verse. And for those of you who are thinking that “Original Sin” is the answer to that question, aside from the fact that this is an Augustinian concept with no scriptural basis — which means it’s a nonstarter when it comes to this topic, since we have to base our theology on Scripture — it also doesn’t have any connection with the sequence of reasons laid out in the verse leading to why we sin, so, at the very least, including the first two parts of the verse becomes entirely pointless, which makes it pretty ridiculous to think that this is what Paul was getting at. And so, I maintain that this is a case where the KJV translators got it best, and interpret it accordingly (meaning that “death passed upon all men,” and “for that reason all have sinned”), giving us answers to both the question of why we’re mortal, as well as the question of why we sin.
So, instead of dying because we sin, as most Christians have always assumed, we actually sin because we’re dying and don’t have abundant life in us, or the Spirit without measure, the way Jesus did (which is why He couldn’t actually die until He willingly gave His life up; while Jesus, just like Adam prior to his own sin, was actually technically amortal — which means that, while He wasn’t yet immortal, which means incapable of dying, the fact that He didn’t have a human father meant He was not slowly dying the way we mortals are — having the Spirit without measure kept Him alive even on the cross, at least until God’s Spirit was taken from Him) to keep us from sinning the way He avoided it (although we also eventually will, at the time of our quickening, also known as the time of our vivification; to be “quickened,” or “vivified,” simply means “to be made immortal,” by the way), and we’re dying because we genetically inherited the “wages” of the first Adam’s sin: mortality. (Yes, we can avoid sinning some of the time, but being mortal makes us too weak to avoid sinning all of the time.)
And, just as a quick but related aside, please don’t confuse “death” with “judgement.” Death (which, yes, can technically be a punishment for certain sins, such as in the instances of capital punishment in the Mosaic law) is really just a natural genetic effect of being born into the line of Adam; in general it isn’t actually a punishment (not outside of specific “legal” cases anyway) or judgement in and of itself (at least not for anyone who isn’t Adam or Eve), or else newborn babies who haven’t sinned yet would never die (and, at the very least, third trimester abortions would be impossible to perform). Judgement, on the other hand, will be experienced by those who are not saved (relatively speaking) when they appear before the Great White Throne, and by members of the body of Christ at the dais of Christ (sometimes also referred to as the judgement seat of Christ).
However, “just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (or, perhaps more literally put, since not everyone will actually die, “even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified”). I hope it’s now become clear that, if what we need to be saved from is mortality (and, of course, death, for those who died before Christ’s return), as well as sinfulness because of that mortality, salvation is largely about being resurrected (if dead), vivified, and made perfect rather than about avoiding a torture chamber called “hell.” It’s important to note that this passage doesn’t say, “thus also shall all in Christ be vivified.” If it had, one might be able to assume that it only applied to a specific group of people (only those “in Christ”). Thankfully, that’s not how it was worded. Instead, Paul was using a parallelism there to tell us that everyone affected by the action of the first Adam is also affected by the action of the last Adam, and completely outside of their own desire or will. Just as nobody had any say in experiencing the effects of the first Adam’s action (mortality and, in most cases, physical death, as well as sinfulness because of that mortality), they also have no say in experiencing the effects of the last Adam’s action (eventual immortality and sinlessness).
As Paul also wrote in Romans 5:18–19, just as 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 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 choosing to believe anything specific, at least as far as salvation from an absolute perspective goes).
Most Christians mistakenly believe that only those “in Christ” will be vivified, completely missing the significance of the order of the wording in that verse in 1 Corinthians 15. But the whole point of the parallelism in this passage is to make it clear that Christ has at least the exact same level of effect on humanity that Adam had, meaning Christ’s action changes the exact same “all” that Adam’s action did (a paraphrase of this verse that should make the meaning of the passage more clear would be, “just as because of what Adam did, every human is condemned by being made mortal, equally so, because of what Christ did, every human will also eventually experience salvation by being made immortal”).
If you’re still finding this confusing, though, try breaking the sentence down into mathematical terms: “Even as, in a, x are dying, thus also, in z, shall x be vivified.” The set known as “x” is the exact same group (or number) of people in both clauses (with “a” and “z” being two different reasons for their two respective states at two different periods of time), not two separate groups of people who have to choose between two different outcomes. 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 praying to Adam and saying, “I accept you as my un-saviour,” which would have to be the case if we needed to choose to accept Christ as our Saviour in order to be saved), or to become mortal “in Adam” (we were all simply born mortal apart from any choice we made), this also means that, “thus also,” nobody can choose to be vivified “in Christ” either, because that’s how parallelisms work. “All” (“x”) became mortal/dying “through Adam” or “because of what Adam did” (“in a”) rather than because of any choice of their own (our mortality, which is what our condemnation ultimately is, precedes any sin of our own), and they will eventually also be vivified “through Christ” or “because of what Christ did” (“in z”) rather than because of any choice of their own (if condemnation happens without our conscious decision to “accept Adam,” then, thus also, our ultimate salvation would have to also happen without our conscious decision to “accept Christ”). Simply put, the variable x remains the same in both parts of the sentence, which means the “all” in the second x has to be the same “all” as in the first x. And the same also applies to when Paul uses the word ”all,” as well as the word “many,” in his parallelisms in Romans 5 (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 the passage could possibly mean that only some people (believers) will be vivified is if the verse said, “even as, in Adam, only some are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall only some be vivified,” or if it perhaps said, “even as, in Adam, all are dying, not thus also, in Christ, shall only some be vivified” (the words “even as“ and “thus also” mean that the variables on either side of the phrase “thus also” have to be equal to one another).
Most Christians, of course, will claim that one has to first choose to receive the gift of salvation, based on verse 17 of Romans 5, but receiving something isn’t necessarily something one chooses, as evidenced by how Paul told us he received thirty-nine stripes five different times. Since he would have experienced those lashes whether he first chose to receive them or not, it’s time to reconsider the idea that “receiving the gift” is something one chooses rather than simply experiences apart from anything they have to do, since, 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, at least from an absolute perspective, having to choose to receive it would also be something one had to accomplish in order to be saved, which by definition would make it a work one had to do in order to be saved, and the most difficult work one could ever do at that, based on the fact that so few are ever able to “choose to receive the gift” and “get saved,” if choosing to get saved was actually even possible to do, which it’s really not. Rather than being offered a package with money in it and having the option to take it reject it, which is an analogy many Christians like to use, it’s more like having money directly deposited into one’s bank account without their knowledge (with evangelism being about telling people the money is there, whether they believe it, or “choose to receive it,” or not).
So why do Christians get confused by these verses? It’s due to a combination of the fact that they’ve misunderstood the various passages in Scripture about judgement and hell (which I’ll get to shortly) — and are interpreting this and other Pauline passages about salvation in light of their misunderstandings of those judgement passages rather than interpreting those particular passages in light of this and other Pauline passages about salvation — along with the fact that this verse says “in” (“in Adam” and “in Christ”) rather than “through” or “because of” (which is what the word is talking about here). Since one can only be “in” one of two people at a time, positionally-speaking, this causes them to miss the fact that the word “all” is the exact same group of people in both clauses (referring to “all of humanity”). To be fair, “in” obviously can mean “inside” something, positionally-speaking (either literally or figuratively, depending on the context), but it can also mean “through (the action of)” or “because of” something or someone, and that’s clearly what Paul was getting at in this parallelism.
However, let’s forget that, for the moment, and assume 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)? Not even slightly. To put it simply, because this is a parallelism, we’d then be forced to read it as meaning: just as every human begins “in Adam” (and hence is mortal), even so every human will end “in Christ” (and hence will be made immortal).
Similarly to what he wrote in those passages we just discussed, Paul also told us that Christ Jesus gave himself a correspondent ransom for all — although the testimony of each is in its own eras or times — and when a ransom is fully paid, all those who are held captive are saved (unless the one paying the ransom has been lied to). 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.
This conclusion is in accord with 1 Tim. 4:10, where we’re told that God ‘is the Savior of all mankind, especially of believers.’ This verse presupposes that those among ‘all mankind’ who die in unbelief will eventually be saved. If God was unable or unwilling to save those who died in unbelief, then he would not be ‘the Savior of all mankind, especially of believers.’ He would instead be the Savior of believers exclusively. But this, of course, would contradict the first part of this verse. Since God is ‘the Savior of all mankind’ (and not of believers only), it follows that all mankind – including all who die in unbelief – will, in fact, be saved from the condemnation to which sin leads, and ‘shall be constituted just’ (Rom. 5:18-19). This means that one does not have to be a believer in this lifetime in order to benefit from what Christ accomplished on the cross on our behalf.”
But while Paul tells us that everyone who experiences mortality because of what Adam did will also eventually experience immortality because of what Christ did, he also tells us that there’s an order to when each person will be made fully alive. This is a good time to explain why being “made alive,” or being ”vivified” (which is ζῳοποιέω/zōopoieō in the original Greek), should not to be confused with being resurrected (which is ἀνάστασις/anastasis in the original Greek). Since only the dead experience resurrection (at least from a literal perspective), and since both the resurrected dead and those still living members of the body of Christ will experience vivification (the dead first, after being resurrected, followed by those who are still living) 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), being ”made alive,” or being vivified, can only refer to being made immortal. This means that there are three different orders of humans who will be “made alive,” or made immortal, according to this passage, and these three orders combined consist of all humanity (even though each order will be vivified in their own times).
The first order mentioned is “Christ the firstfruits,” which refers to the body of Christ (aside from the head of the body, Who, although He was resurrected and vivified, would have to be excluded from verse 22 unless Jesus was also directly affected by Adam’s sin, which He wasn’t since He was amortal rather than mortal — that was kind of the point of the virgin birth, after all) being vivified at the Snatching Away, when God withdraws His ambassadors (as one does before declaring war), 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 the time known as the former resurrection (also referred to 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, and presumably includes both the resurrected dead saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision as well as the “Old Testament” saints. I should say, for a long time I assumed that everyone who is saved under this Gospel (as well as all the “Old Testament” saints), both dead and living, will be vivified at this point, but I’ve since concluded that only those who were dead and who will be resurrected will be vivified at this time, while everyone else saved under this Gospel will simply remain alive (at least to begin with) in an amortal state thanks to partaking of the fruit and the leaves of the tree of life, 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 Scripture appears to say, yet the vivification of the resurrected dead happens instantaneously, as is demonstrated by those in the body of Christ when they’re caught up in the air, it seems that there must two different methods of remaining alive during the Millennium and beyond (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 saved under both Gospels — 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 is just speaking of Christ Himself. However, as I already mentioned, to do so would mean Jesus was affected directly by Adam’s sin, so placing the body of Christ in the first order rather than the second makes the most sense, and even more-so in light of my conclusion that only the resurrected dead of those in the Israel of God will be vivified at the end of the Tribulation.
Now, most people assume “they that are Christ’s at his coming” in verse 23 is the final group of resurrections and vivifications mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, but if Paul isn’t referring to the “telos,” or consummation, of humanity — meaning a final group of humans being resurrected and vivified — when he wrote, “then cometh the end” (or, “thereafter the consummation” — “εἶτα τὸ τέλος”/“eita to telos” in the Greek) in the next verse (“then the end group of people from the ‘every man in his own order’ of groups of people will be made immortal” is what that statement means), it would have to simply mean “then comes the end of the world” or “then comes the end of the eon (or eons)” or something similar instead (although I should add that this technically could be said to have a double fulfillment, since the consummation of the eons, also known as the end of the ages, is 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 the end of the eons isn’t the main point of this statement). Paul wasn’t simply referring to the end of the eons there with no connection to what he’d just been discussing. It would literally make no sense at all for him to go from discussing the order of resurrections/vivifications among humanity to suddenly arbitrarily discussing an entirely unrelated topic (the triumph of Christ over His enemies at a time in the distant future, with no connection to the topic he was already discussing), then to go right back to discussing resurrection and vivification again as he does a few verses later.
Another reason this can’t simply be referring to the end of the eons rather than to the final group to be vivified is his explanation that this “consummation” exists at the time when Christ has nullified all sovereignties and all authorities and powers (referring to rulership by spiritual, celestial beings in the heavens, including by evil ones) and gives up the kingdom to His God and Father, and that it occurs when all His enemies are finally put under His feet, and when the final enemy — death — is finally abolished altogether. The problem is, if he was solely referring to a period of time in that statement, the way it’s written makes it sound like he’d then be claiming it takes place right after the resurrection and vivification of “they that are Christ’s at His coming.” But since we know from the rest of Scripture that there will still be enemies of Christ, as well as much more death happening, after that, this idea simply makes no sense at all. Remember, there will be well over 1,000 years to go between the vivification of “they that are Christ’s at His coming” and “the end” at the time when Christ finally does defeat all enemies and turns over the kingdom to His Father, since, at the very least, there is still a final, even if somewhat one-sided, battle between Him and those who consider Him to be their enemy a whole millennium after their vivification. In addition, we’re told in Isaiah 65 that there will still be death on the new earth for a period of time after the Great White Throne Judgement as well, at least prior to the conclusion of the final eon, which also completely demolishes the ideas of Amillennialism and Preterism (or at least Partial Preterism), I should add. (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 prior to the conclusion of the final eon.)
And it can’t be referring to the supposed “spiritual death” that most Christians believe in either (which some of them also mistakenly assume the death in verse 22 is referring to; although if it did, then Jesus definitely couldn’t be included in the “firstfruits” reference), because verse 24 tells us that His enemies are subjected and death is abolished at a point in time after “they that are Christ’s at His coming” have been vivified, not that they are subjected or that death is destroyed by that group being vivified (and remember, death is the last enemy to be defeated, yet there will still be more death and enemies continuing to exist long after the vivification of “they that are Christ’s at His coming,” including on the new earth for a time). So if this part of the chapter is just talking about a so-called “spiritual death” (whatever that means) 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), the same problem applies because it tells us that the end of “death” doesn’t occur until after both “they that are Christ’s at His coming” are given immortality and all the rest of Christ’s enemies have been subjected as well.
So, unless someone has a better explanation of what these verses are referring to (and so far one hasn’t been forthcoming when I’ve asked), it would seem this would definitely have to mean the final group, or the rest of humanity (including both those who are dead — meaning those whose bodies were been burned up 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 fourth eon), fully vivified after the fifth and final eon (known as the eon of the eons) is completed and Jesus’ reign over the kingdom comes to an end because He’s placed all enemies (including death) under His feet and turns all rulership (including rulership over Himself) over to His Father.
This means, by the way, that people who use passages that 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 Greek words are actually basing their argument on an obvious misunderstanding since Paul is clear that He won’t reign forever but rather only for the eons (or the ages) or for the eons of the eons (or the ages of the ages), meaning He reigns for the final two, and greatest, eons — we’re currently living in the third, and perhaps most wicked or evil, eon — but stops reigning after they’re over. This also demonstrates just how few people are aware that A) all of the passages that are translated as “everlasting” or “for ever” in the popular versions of the Bible have to be interpreted figuratively based on this fact and the fact that Paul was clear everyone will eventually be vivified, as well as that B) Paul saw much farther into the future than John did in the book generally called Revelation (John only saw into the beginning of the fifth eon, whereas Paul saw all the way to the end of the eons).
The mistake most people make when they read less literal Bible versions is that they see terms like “hell,” ”for ever,” ”everlasting,” and “eternal,” and eisegete certain assumptions they already hold into these words, unaware that the meaning of these terms in their original languages is somewhat different from how they were rendered in these Bible translations, terms such as the Hebrew word עוֹלָם (`owlam, or olam), and Greek words such as αἰών (aión), αἰῶνας (aiónas), and αἰώνιος (aiónios), all of which refer to a set period of time with a definite beginning and end, even if that end date is unknown. The problem is, if these words mean what most people assume they do, they render Scripture contradictory, erroneous, and even nonsensical in many places. There are many more examples in the supporting articles I just linked to, so please read them as well, but just to further demonstrate how these words can’t literally mean “everlasting” or “forever” instead of “a finite period of time,” if “olam“ means without end, as the KJV seems to imply it does if you aren’t familiar with how to interpret the term ”for ever” in that translation, then slaves would never be able to die (or, if they did die, would have to remain as slaves for the rest of eternity after their physical resurrection if “olam” literally means “without end”), the Old Covenant could never come to an end (as, again, the KJV seems to tell us it won’t) and be replaced by the New Covenant (which it began to do when Christ died), and the land of Israel would have to be forsaken and desolate forever (as, again, the KJV appears to say it will be, if read literally) rather than eventually become fruitful again (as the next verse says it will be, which shows that even the KJV translators must not have actually meant “without end” when they translated “olam” that way, unless they just weren’t paying attention, so it seems safe to say that a KJV-Onlyist who wants to remain consistent would have to interpret the “for ever” and “everlasting” passages figuratively rather than literally (or qualitatively rather than quantitatively) and should actually believe in Universal Reconciliation — which is fine because, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, the KJV actually quite clearly teaches Universal Reconciliation when interpreted consistently; however, the more literal translations will still get you much farther in coming to understand the full truth of Scripture, so I do recommend sticking with them in your studies).
And if the Hebrew word translated as “for ever” and ”everlasting” doesn’t actually mean “without end” or “never ending,” it stands to reason that the Greek words might not either. And this is indeed the case, unless we want to believe there are three eternities, including a “past eternity” (even the KJV translators knew to not always render the word “aión” that way, but instead translated it as “before the world”) as well as a “present eternity“ and a “future eternity“ (which the KJV instead rendered as “this world” and “the world to come”), so these passages prove that the word doesn’t mean “without end” either, just as the KJV’s rendering of “aiónios” as “since the world began” instead of ”since eternity began” does as well. So if anyone every tries to claim that “aiónios” absolutely means “without end” or “never ending” or some other word or phrase that denotes eternity, just show them Romans 16:25, which is all the proof one needs that it doesn’t, since I’m not aware of a single version of the Bible that renders it as “eternity” in this verse (and, in fact, most of them actually get close to its actual meaning of referring to eons or ages). Although, I should say that rendering the words aión and aiónios as “world” 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 the planet (at one point the KJV even “translates” both “aión” and “kosmos” as “world” in the same verse), but at least it helps demonstrate that the Greek words don’t mean “never ending.”
To put it simply, the word “aión“ is best transliterated as “eon,” which just means “a long period of time” — at least if you want the most clear translation — the word “aiónas” (or “αἰῶναν”/“aiónan”) as “eons,” which just means “more than one eon” since it’s the plural form of the noun “aión,” and the adjective “aiónios” (or “αἰώνιον”/“aiónion”) as “eonian,” which just means “pertaining to an eon or eons.” Translating them as “everlasting” or “for ever,“ not to mention as redundant phrases like “for ever and ever,” just causes confusion for so many people (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 found in-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”). This is why the most clear translations are “eon of the eon,” “eon of the eons,” and “eons of the eons.” 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 forms of the word “aión” are very important, and rendering all of them the same way — as the singular “for ever” — causes one to entirely miss the different points that each instance is making. Either way, though, if we’re reading Bible versions that do use the words ”for ever” and ”everlasting,” one has to be aware that “for ever” in those versions is really just figurative language that refers to “an eon,” 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 line for ever” — and “everlasting” just means “pertaining to an eon or eons” or, to put it in simpler terms, “long lasting,” and eventually comes to an end just like the candy we call an Everlasting Gobstopper does. 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 can’t be taken literally at all in those versions.
In addition to all this, while I don’t agree with all of his theology, J. W. Hanson also did a good job of demonstrating from extra-biblical writings that these words generally didn’t mean “never ending” outside of Scripture back then, so there’s no reason to believe they do in Scripture either (outside of preconceived doctrinal bias, of course).
And since many Christians often make a similar mistake when they try to insist that, “If ‘eternal damnation’ (whether that damnation involves consciousness or not) 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. Literally translated Scripture speaks of believers having eonian life rather than “eternal life” or “everlasting life,” but it also tells us we’ll be made immortal. So we know that when the eons come to an end we’ll still be alive forever, not because of any passage that speaks of “eternal life” but rather because of passages that speak about our impending immortality. Similarly, the claim that when Paul called God “the eonian God” in his epistle to the Romans he must have actually been calling God “the never-ending God” because otherwise God would die 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.”
That’s not all, though, because Paul also wrote, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” in Ephesians 1:13. How does that prove the salvation of all? Well, if you read it in the context of the whole chapter (or at least the section of the chapter it’s a part of), and are also familiar with the different types of salvation mentioned in Scripture, you’ll notice that this section of the chapter (verses 3 through 14) is primarily about the blessings that God has purposed beforehand to literally lavish upon those 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 that not everyone will experience. This isn’t Calvinism, however, since experiencing the blessings mentioned in this chapter aren’t about the salvation from an absolute perspective that everyone gets. It’s only those who have been saved from a relative perspective that Paul is writing to here, 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 you actually believed that gospel,” but rather that they had heard the good news about the salvation which was already theirs). 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 his other writings, is the outcome of the good news/Gospel he preached) prior to hearing about it. Simply put, Paul couldn’t tell them about their already existing salvation if it wasn’t already existing.
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 good news about said salvation. But this is a misunderstanding due to not being aware of the different types of salvation mentioned in Scripture, and assuming there’s only one type of salvation referred to in the entire Bible. All the first part of the verse is telling us is that they trusted Christ after they heard the good news of their already existing salvation which He’d already won for them, and all the last part of the verse is telling us is that, after they trusted that Christ had already guaranteed (absolute) 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 is a part of their relative salvation, “an earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession”). All that is to say, Paul’s little parenthetical in Ephesians 1:13 is simply telling us that “the good news of [their] salvation” was already a fact for them before they heard it, and after they heard about the salvation that was already theirs from an absolute perspective, they trusted Christ and were sealed with the Holy Spirit, and hence were also saved from a relative perspective.
But in case anybody is still skeptical, as already mentioned, Paul later confirmed the salvation of all humanity beyond any shadow of a doubt when he wrote, “the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.” It doesn’t get any clearer than this, with Paul telling us that God will save absolutely everyone, even if those who believe this good news will get to experience a special, earlier (eonian) salvation than everybody else does. If a teacher were to say at the end of the school year, “I’ve given everyone a passing grade this year, especially Lisa who got an A+,” we’d know that, while nobody else got an A+, they still all passed, since “especially” doesn’t mean “only” or “exclusively” (or “specifically,” as some claim; those who think so should look up each time the Greek word μάλιστα/malista — translated as “especially” here — is used in Scripture in a concordance to see for themselves). In fact, if the word did mean “exclusively” or “specifically,” the part of the verse that tells us God is the Saviour of all people would be a lie, because it didn’t say “God is the potential Saviour of all people, but really only of those who believe,” but instead plainly tells us that He actually is the Saviour of all people (and to be able to legitimately be called the saviour of someone, you have to actually save them at some point, which means to be able to legitimately be called “the Saviour of all people,” God has to actually save all people eventually).
And Calvinists who insist that Paul is only claiming “God is the Saviour of all kinds or sorts of people,” and that God only wants “all sorts of people” to be saved rather than actually “wants all people to be saved,” are ignoring the second part of the verse where Paul says “especially of believers” rather than “specifically: believers” (if that’s what God really wanted Paul to get across, you’d think He would have just inspired Paul to simply write “the living God, who is the Saviour of believers” to avoid confusion), 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 beliefs, 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 desires all people to be saved as every 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation, and I don’t think anyone other than the JWs believes that’s a legitimate Bible translation — which means they’re guilty of some serious eisegesis there.
All that is to say, this passage once again clearly confirms that the soteriology of Paul throughout his epistles is indeed that every human who is affected by the curse will also be equally (if not more so) affected by the cross, even if it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time (only those predestined by God for eonian life, meaning those in the first two orders, will live through the eons to come while also experiencing vivification during those eons).
That said, those who have been made truly immortal 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 who survived the Tribulation (and those born during the Millennium) and who make it all the way to the final eon, as well as those born during the final eon, will also live through them as well (if they don’t die during them, of course, since they will have to live in mortal bodies for the duration of those 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 mortal 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 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, the “goats” of Matthew 25 being a good example of this, as will be touched on shortly, so, again, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that “death” and “judgement” 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 beings” as well; just as he used a parallelism in his epistle to the Romans and in his first epistle to the Corinthians to demonstrate that all humans will be reconciled, Paul also used a similar sort of parallelism in the first chapter of his epistle to the Colossians to tell his readers that all of the rest of creation will be reconciled as well, not just humans). In fact, I don’t know how someone can read verses 15 through 20 of that chapter and not end up a believer in Universal Reconciliation, although it seems most people somehow miss the fact that Paul is using a sort of parallelism called an Extended Alternation here — likely because most might not be familiar with Paul’s consistent use of parallelisms throughout his epistles to prove Universal Reconciliation at all, such as in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 where he does the same thing — to tell us that the same “all” created in Him are also the same “all” that are reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ’s cross, and that this passage tells us that not only are all humans (meaning all the things created on the earth, as mentioned in verses 16 and 20) both “created in” and “reconciled by” Him, but all the creatures in the heavens (as also mentioned in the same two verses, referring to a list of celestial beings that overlaps with another list of celestial 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 celestial beings in the heavens who didn’t sin, so it can only be the “fallen” or alienated celestial beings in the heavens who are being reconciled. And if all of them are going to be reconciled, as Paul says there, we know that all the creatures on the earth will be as well, as he also says there. But if you’re having trouble with this parallelism, replace the word “all” with the variable x again in both verses 16 and 20 — in fact, do it in all the verses from verse 16 to verse 20 — and it should become clear what it means.
|The First Man: Adam = Condemnation [mortality and sinfulness]||The Second Man: Christ = Salvation [immortality and sinlessness]|
|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]|
What this judgement actually is, however, is something that few people today ever come to understand, primarily thanks to never having been taught the scriptural basis for Universal Reconciliation that you’ve just finished reading (although sometimes also simply due to their unwillingness to let go of their theological biases and presuppositions).
Some (the Annihilationists) believe it refers to being completely burned up and destroyed in the lake of fire so that their consciousness completely ceases to exist forever. These Christians are closer to the truth about what the lake of fire is than most others are, but they’re still so far from understanding its purpose or what comes afterwards that they’ve basically called God a failure, and they themselves also fail to understand what salvation is.
Others think it just means everlasting separation from God in a place called “hell,” although this spiritualization of “hell” is clearly impossible since, as we already covered, in Him we live and move and are. We can’t even exist apart from God, and if anyone were separated from Him for even a moment (if that were even actually possible, which it isn’t) they’d then cease to exist.
But most people (the Infernalists) think it refers to “never-ending punishment” in a conscious state in a place of fire. However, this is a doctrine that isn’t found anywhere in the Greek Scriptures, and you won’t find it in the Scriptures that Israel accepted either, which is strange since you’d think God’s chosen people would have been warned about something so terrible.
That said, even if we were to use Bible versions with words like “everlasting” or “for ever” in some places, we’d still have to interpret the words based on the context of the rest of Scripture, and aside from the fact that Scripture tells us everyone eventually will be saved, there are also plenty of things in the Bible that seem to be said to be everlasting or that will last “for ever” (depending on one’s translation) that it also says will eventually end (as we’ve already covered), and Leviticus even tells us that the fire on the altar would not be quenched (just like the fires of “hell” are supposed to be, depending on your translation), and yet that fire is no longer burning today, so good exegesis is imperative here when using less literal Bible versions.
In fact, somewhat ironically, certain passages that are used to try to prove never-ending punishment — specifically those talking about the supposedly “unforgivable” or “unpardonable sin” — actually help prove that aiónios really means “pertaining to an eon or eons” rather than “without end.” If one compares Jesus’ statement about this particular sin as recorded in the book of Mark to his statement about it as recorded in the book of Matthew, they’ll see that the passages are talking about the same thing, which tells us that when one passage refers to an “eonian penalty” (less literal versions say things like “eternal sin” or “eternal damnation,” but we already know we have to interpret words translated from aiónios, such as ”everlasting” and “eternal,” in those versions figuratively, in order to remain consistent), while the other says, “It shall not be pardoned him, neither in this eon nor in that which is impending” (or, “It shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come,” or, “It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come,” in the less literal translations), it means that an “eonian penalty” (or “eternal damnation,” depending on one’s translation) means the same thing as not being pardoned in the eon that we’re currently living in (the third eon) or the next eon (the fourth eon, also knows as Millennial Kingdom, after the tribulation ends). But since we also know that there will be at least two eons to come after the one we’re in now — since Ephesians 2:7 talks about “oncoming eons,” plural (or “ages to come,” plural), not “the oncoming eon,” singular (or “the age to come,” singular) — this tells us that there are at least two more eons impending (at least as of the time this was written), and so while they might not be pardoned in the third or fourth eon (“neither in this eon nor in that which is impending”), they will be pardoned for this particular sin 1,000 or so years later in the fifth eon when the new heavens and new earth begin after the Great White Throne Judgement.
Besides all that, though, even if one really does “hath never forgiveness,” as the KJV puts it, people don’t necessarily need forgiveness in order to be saved anyway. 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 to be set free from prison, because even today when someone is sentenced to a certain number of years in prison, they still leave the prison once they’ve served their time, even if they are never forgiven (and to assume that the sentence of those who commit the so-called “unforgivable sin” is without end is also nothing more than eisegesis). 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 (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 — at least there’s no reason to believe that a “not guilty” sentence by God could suddenly become a “guilty” sentence), so even if somebody does miss out on forgiveness, justification is far superior to it anyway, and that passage doesn’t even hint at the idea that they won’t eventually be justified.
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”). Most Christians read all of the warnings Jesus gave as meaning certain people won’t ever go to heaven, but the fact is that nobody Jesus spoke to will go to heaven anyway, because their destiny isn’t in heaven but is instead in the kingdom of heaven. The fact that it’s call the kingdom of heaven has confused generations of people, but it isn’t the same thing that Paul talked about when he taught that the body of Christ will enjoy life in heaven in the future. You see, the kingdom of heaven is simply a reference to the kingdom of God when it begins on earth, specifically in Israel (it really just means “the kingdom from heaven”), not a reference to the heaven the body of Christ will enjoy, and it definitely isn’t a reference to a place that anybody who is dead goes to, since you have to be alive to enjoy life in the kingdom of heaven on earth (not to mention in order to enjoy life in heaven itself, based on the definition of ”heaven” you learned in the last chapter).
Unfortunately, because of bad presuppositions and interpretations (as well as a lack of basic logical analysis of Scripture), most Christians are under the 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 torture (or avoid ceasing to exist forever), 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).
Aside from being completely unscriptural, the horrible doctrine of everlasting torment in hell 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 (hoping that it will keep them from sinning, as if the threat of “hell” has ever kept anyone from sinning) have rationalized the idea that instilling the fear of this mythological torture chamber into their children is a good thing, but all it does is cause sleepless nights for millions of kids who are terrified 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 forever 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).
Aside from the fact that anybody who sat down to actually think about it would realize that no sin or crime could ever warrant torture that lasted forever, however (some people 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), the Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, not never-ending torture (okay, “wages” is not necessarily the most enlightening translation of the Greek word ὀψώνιον/opsōnion, and this passage is actually talking about something altogether different from what most Christians have traditionally assumed, but I’m using the common rendering of the passage here to demonstrate that even the traditional translation doesn’t work with the traditional doctrine), and that said “wages” come from the sin of Adam, not from our own sins, as has already been discussed. And while most Christians believe that the “death” spoken of in these judgement passages is simply a euphemism for “everlasting punishment,” you won’t find anything in Scripture that says the words “death,” “die,” and “dying” should be interpreted figuratively in these 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 Christians would actually have to suffer forever in “hell” (or be annihilated forever) before they could be saved, because in the KJV Paul is recorded 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 nonstop pain that never ends (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 text to suggest that this changed when Jesus or Paul talked about sin either), then Jesus would have to still be suffering for our sins and would need to continue doing so forever as well (okay, maybe only under the penal substitution model of salvation, which I don’t actually believe is a scriptural doctrine, but since most do, the point stands for those who believe it is).
Fortunately, there isn’t anything in the original Hebrew or Greek that implies that “hell” (which itself is a word that is translated from multiple different 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) 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 Greek words translated as “hell,” since the KJV 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 hades — one of the words rendered as “hell” in some Bible versions, and which will be discussed in more depth shortly — 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 forever 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).
First of all, He spoke of the kingdom of heaven, which begins as an actual, physical 1,000-yearlong kingdom here on earth (not in a supposed afterlife dimension), specifically in Israel, that is 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.
He also spoke of paradise (παράδεισος/paradeisos in the Greek), which is a reference to a future state of the earth where the tree of life will be, both during the Millennium and 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.
As far as the negative future He talked about goes, it was in this universe as well. His primary threat was Gehenna (γέεννα/Geenna in Greek), also known as the Valley of Hinnom (or the Valley of the son of Hinnom), which was an actual, physical valley in Israel (again, not in another dimension one enters after death) — although it’s actually quite pleasant at the moment — in which it’s believed by many that garbage was burned in Jesus’ time, and which Jesus’ Jewish audience would have immediately recognized as a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy about the place the corpses of lawbreakers would be burned up and devoured by worms in here on earth in the future (almost everybody has somehow failed to notice the word “carcases” in the passage in Isaiah that Jesus was referencing, missing the fact that he was writing about dead bodies that living people would be able to see in the future on earth rather than about conscious souls in some afterlife dimension, and that Jesus would have then been speaking about the same thing). The worst punishment a Jewish person could experience after death was to be denied a proper burial (there couldn’t be a worse consequence than that since most Jews believed that one ceased to exist consciously after death, as Scripture also teaches and as will be discussed 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 Gehenna; He was simply giving a warning that certain sins would result not only in death so that one couldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth (and that certain sins during the Millennium will have the same result as well), but also that they risked losing out on a proper burial so that their corpse would instead be seen burning up by everyone who looked upon it as well, which would be (and will be) a great source of shame before they die. Like Judas, it would have been far better for them to have died in the womb or in childbirth than to have been born at all, since babies who aren’t born never have to deal with such indignities (and are also far more likely get to live on the new earth than Judas or any of those who will be cast into Gehenna are, at least during the fifth eon).
And the reference to the worm that “dieth not” there isn’t talking about human souls not dying, or to some sort of magical worms that never die either. The Greek word for worm there is “σκώληξ” (“skōlēx”), which refers to regular maggots, not to human souls, or even to mystical, immortal worms that chomp on the souls of sinners for eternity. To put it simply, it’s talking about actual living (conscious) creatures who consume actual dead (unconscious) bodies. Jesus and Isaiah were just saying that any dead body that will be thrown into the valley will be totally consumed, either by maggots or by fire (as well as by fowl and by wild beasts). And while it is technically true that the “worms” won’t die, that’s just because maggots are simply larval flies which go through a process known as pupation and grow into adult flies, so they won’t die while still in their larval, “worm” form, but will instead grow up and lay eggs so that there are then more “worms” to consume more of the bodies in the valley. That said, the idea that something or someone “would not die” is used in various other parts of Scripture as well, but they did still eventually die, so it’s important to realize that this phrase doesn’t mean the thing said to “not die” never will; it just won’t die before it’s supposed to.
Likewise, the fire isn’t quenched either (“quenched” being a word that just means it won’t be deliberately put out, not that it can’t go out on its own once it runs out of fuel), but will instead burn for as long as there is fuel (dead bodies) to keep it burning. But, just like the fire on the altar that Leviticus said wouldn’t be quenched but which is no longer burning (among other things Scripture says will not be quenched but eventually stop burning), it will also eventually go out once it’s done its job and there are no more carcasses to consume.
Thanks to a misunderstanding of how to interpret this and other words in certain less literal versions, as well as a simple lack of understanding of the context of these passages, Gehenna has been thought by most Christians to be referring to a place all non-Christians will go to suffer forever in after they die, when it really only applies to a very specific (and relatively small) set of people living in a very specific period of time that hasn’t even occurred yet (at least not as of the time this was written), and nobody will even be conscious in it, much less actually be suffering, since it’s a reference to a geographical location on earth rather than to an afterlife realm. And if Gehenna is where the lake of fire will be located (which I actually believe it will be), anybody who dies a second time in the lake of fire will experience the exact same thing anyone who is burned up in Gehenna during the Millennium will experience: actual death, at least until their next resurrection.
Now, some Christians like to point out that, at the time Jesus used the word, some Jews might have used the word “Gehenna” figuratively to refer to a concept that one could loosely describe as the place we think of as ”hell” today. But even if that happened to be the case (and there is reason to believe that the usage of the word in this manner didn’t actually occur until after the Bible was written), the fact of the matter is that Jews in Jesus’ time believed all sorts of unscriptural ideas, many of which Jesus had to point out they were wrong to believe because the ideas weren’t found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (“have you not read…?” and ”it is written…” are phrases Jesus sometimes had to say to them), and this would be one of those concepts that definitely wasn’t found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (you’re welcome to try to find the concept of never-ending conscious torment in the Valley of Hinnom in the Hebrew Scriptures, but so far nobody has been able to show me an example of it being taught there).
And so, bottom line, pretty much every warning about ”hell” that Jesus gave during His earthly ministry was about about missing out on the Millennial Kingdom because one might be a corpse in the Valley of Hinnom at that time rather than alive in Israel when the kingdom begins there, and the warnings are pretty much only relevant to those for whom Jesus came (Israelites) anyway.
In addition, Jesus sometimes also referred to ᾅδης (hades), which is simply “the unseen,” and is the Greek equivalent of the word שְׁאוֹל (sheol) used in the Hebrew Scriptures for “the grave” (although sheol doesn’t literally mean “grave,” but rather likely means “ask,” being used in reference to something that is unseen, which is why “hades,” which literally means “unseen” when it’s broken down, is such a great Greek equivalent of this Hebrew word), and is just speaking of the state of no longer being conscious because one is dead (when it’s not being used figuratively in stories about rich men or prayers by Jonah). Unfortunately, most members of the Christian religion are unaware of the fact that the immortality of the soul is not only an unscriptural concept, but that it’s an entirely pagan idea that may have been adopted by certain Pharisees due to confusion about the state of the dead learned during the Babylonian captivity, and which was later carried into much of Christendom.
That said, the belief in the concept is also based on misinterpretations of various passages of Scripture. One of the main examples is the Christian misunderstanding Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross about being with Him in paradise as meaning that they’d literally be together in paradise that very same day. That would have been impossible, of course, because Jesus actually remained in the tomb for three days (as will be discussed in another chapter), not to mention the fact that paradise doesn’t even exist yet. When Jesus promised the thief on the cross — actually, more likely a pole or a stake, but for the sake of familiarity I do call it a cross throughout this book — that he’d be with Him in paradise, He was referring to a future resurrection on Earth rather than to an afterlife state immediately after they both died; as we’ve already covered, paradise is a reference to a future physical state of the Earth where the tree of life will be, and not to an ethereal afterlife realm, so if one were to translate this passage more literally, it would likely say, “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), meaning the thief would be with Jesus in paradise on the New Earth in the future. That said, we don’t actually have to even change the punctuation at all in order to understand what Jesus was getting at since, regardless of where the comma is located, we still have to interpret this verse in light of the rest of Scripture, which means that if we leave the comma where it is we’d then be forced to assume Jesus was simply speaking figuratively there, referring to the fact 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 on the new earth, so the end result, and correct interpretation, is exactly the same regardless (and for those who think this would mean Jesus was being less than truthful, ask yourself if He was also then being untruthful when He called 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 He went to hades 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 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 while dead, which we know He didn’t do anyway.)
The other main example is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which can be interpreted in a number of possible different ways but which almost nobody seems to understand is not describing an actual event or the geography of an afterlife dimension. Unless one believes that Lazarus was sitting inside Abraham’s chest, that there’s actually physical water and fire in this supposed afterlife dimension, or that someone who is experiencing the equivalent of being on fire could actually participate in a coherent conversation (or even make any sounds at all other than screaming in pain), nothing in this story can be taken literally. Not to mention, if we did take it literally, we’d have to believe that the rich all go to “hell” while the poor all “get saved” (there’s literally zero indication in this story that Lazarus was a believer; the reason Jesus says he went to “Abraham’s bosom” seemed to be entirely because of his suffering as a beggar — and likewise, the reason the rich man was said to have gone to “hell” was because he got to enjoy good things during his life). The fact of the matter is, no Christians actually believe any of that, which means they’re already interpreting the story figuratively to begin with, so they might as well go all the way and acknowledge that it’s 100% figurative, 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. Please note that I’m not insisting this is a parable, however (although I’m also not saying it isn’t a parable), 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, and because He’d never done so in any other parables before, and while this is a really weak argument (He’d also never mentioned pearls in any parables prior to discussing the pearl of great price, but there’s a first time for everything, and the idea that a person’s name occurring in a lesson means it just can’t possibly be a parable is simply a lazy argument with no hermeneutical basis that I’m aware of), rather than get into that whole debate I’ll just say, since we know that basically nothing Jesus said in this passage can be read any more literally than Jonah’s time spent ”for ever” in ”hell” can be anyway, parable or not, it’s still entirely metaphorical — perhaps even allegorical — and leave it at that. It’s actually quite funny how things pertaining to “hell” are literal until they’re not when it comes to Christianity — see also the lack of bodily mutilation and the general avoidance of helping the needy among Christians who don’t understand right dividing as similar examples.
“Ye shall not surely die” might be the first recorded lie the devil told (or, ”Not to die shall you be dying,” as a more literal translation of what the serpent said would be), but today it’s being taught by many leaders in the Christian religion who are trying to convince us that death isn’t actually death at all, but is rather just a change in our state of consciousness (and, in fact, that death is really life, ”eternal life,” even). 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 forever, since there’s still a resurrection from the dead prior to the Great White Throne Judgement. But in addition to this, it also demonstrates that they’re unaware of the fact that the “Old Testament” books tell us the dead know nothing (meaning they aren’t conscious at all). Even in the Greek Scriptures, death is compared to sleep (the book of Acts didn’t say Stephen died and went to heaven, for example; while his spirit was returned to God — not as a conscious being, though, since our spirit is just the breath of life that generates a soul while in a body — Acts says that he himself went to sleep, not that he remained conscious), not to being awake in an afterlife existence, outside of that one story which seems to confuse so many (although that was the purpose of parables — they weren’t told to make things obvious to the religious — and so, presuming the story of the rich man and Lazarus actually was a parable, it seems it’s doing its job there).
Scripture says that David and others fell asleep — referring to their actual persons being asleep or unconscious in death — not that just their bodies, which are referred to separately as having decayed, fell asleep 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 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). Similarly, bodily resurrection is likewise compared to waking up from sleep in Scripture, and not to a person being returned to their body.
As E. W. Bullinger explained, “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.”
It’s important to remember that consciousness, at least for humans, can cease to exist, since one can be rendered unconscious by either going to sleep (which is why the aforementioned expression is used in the Bible) or 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 — 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), there’s no reason to believe it could return after we die without a living and active brain to bring it back into existence the way our brains do when we wake up from sleep. 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 can these physical processes that generate dreams 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 in the air in our newly vivified bodies at the Snatching Away (or at the resurrection of the just, 75 days after the the Second Coming, for those in the Israel of God — compare the numbers in Daniel 12:11–13 to the numbers in Revelation 13:5 if you aren’t familiar with the 75 day difference), 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 is 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 just resurrected) will then be vivified and caught up to the Lord to finally go live in the heavens, not that the dead get to live happily with the Lord as ghosts in another dimension called heaven. (And the reference to “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 is just talking about the spirits of the dead 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, and our soul doesn’t exist so long as our spirit is not residing within our physicial body.) 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 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 said, “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 dangers he faced to spread his Gospel and pointed out that there would be no reason for him to do so if there were no resurrection from the dead since otherwise 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 no hope at all and would cease to exist forever (we wouldn’t even have the hope of existing in another dimension called “heaven” with God since we would have “perished”), which was basically the entire reason Paul wrote that chapter in his first epistle to the Corinthians to begin with.
This is also backed up a little further on in the chapter when he said that “this mortal must put on immortality,” which tells us that we don’t inherently have immortality (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 celestial 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 only gain it when our bodies are vivified, which is not until after the resurrection of those in the body of Christ who have died, not from the time they died (or really from the time they were born, if the “immortality of the soul” were true).
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, which means we have no reason to believe he’s ended up there since then either), but that nobody other than Christ Himself has either (at least as of the time John wrote that), according to John’s commentary in the book called the Gospel according to John (Jesus’ “red letters” quote should really end at verse 12 based on the fact that verse 13 says the Son of Mankind was in heaven at that point, which we know Jesus wasn’t at the time He had that discussion with Nicodemus — and for those who are familiar with it, yes, I’m also aware of the dual, “spiritual” meaning of this verse, and how it’s connected to the other double entendres in the chapter, but I believe the literal meaning still stands as well, or else it wouldn’t be a double entendre like the other references in the chapter that are doing the same thing — so everything from verse 13 to 21 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, only used historical quotes of Jesus to prove theological points instead of being a historical record in and of itself as the three other “Gospels” were), 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 (even though, to Him, all are considered alive from a proleptic perspective, which was the point of this statement), 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 (the real reason the dead don’t praise or thank or remember Him, though, of course, being simply that they’re unconscious and can’t do anything while dead since they have no thoughts at all). Believe it or not, though, some Christians actually try to use this statement to support their view that the dead remain conscious, misapprehending the statement to mean that the dead aren’t actually dead. If they just took the time to examine the context of the preceding verses (in Luke 20:27-37), however, they’d discover that it was really about the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a physical resurrection in the future, 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 Millennial Kingdom in the next eon here on earth (and not about a ghost in an afterlife dimension and whether or not she’d have to be polygamous in that imaginary realm; it wasn’t the concept of an ethereal afterlife state that the Sadducees were trying to trip Jesus up on) in order to make the idea of a physical resurrection seem ridiculous, but Jesus turned it around on them 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 not the God of the dead but of the living (which is where the figure of speech known as prolepsis comes in; prolepsis in Scripture is where God calls what is not yet as though it already were — when God makes a statement that tells us something is going to be, it’s already as good as done — so Jesus was using prolepsis there to tell us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will definitely be resurrected someday since otherwise that statement about them would have been a lie because it would mean they would have ceased to exist forever when they died).
The passage just can’t be read as saying they’re actually still alive in our time period. Verse 37 (“…that the dead are rousing, even Moses divulges at the thorn 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 still actually alive in another dimension (He didn’t say, “that the dead are living in another dimension”; He said, “that the dead are rousing,” referring to a future resurrection). Jesus’ whole point is that, if they weren’t going to be resurrected and 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 still be their God (and they could still thank and praise Him, contrary to what the book of Psalms says), but Jesus made it clear that, without a physical resurrection, He couldn’t be their God, since they’d be dead and gone forever. Because they will be resurrected, however, God actually can be said to be their God.
There’s just no way to read verses 37 and 38 as anything other than Jesus saying those who have ”gone to sleep” are indeed dead and gone until their resurrection, because the only way that Moses’ statement about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob could possibly be used as proof of the resurrection of the dead is if the three of them are currently gone 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, and Jesus’ argument couldn’t possibly help prove the resurrection at all.
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 obviously this isn’t what was happening there), we know that this was simply a vision to fulfill the prophecy made immediately before this passage because Matthew 17:9 outright tells us that it was simply a vision. And speaking of necromancy, 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 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, if you look at the context of what he actually said in the previous verses, and also remember that a physical resurrection in a glorified, vivified body is what Paul was, and the living members of the body of Christ currently are, looking forward to, you can see that he’s figuratively comparing our current mortal bodies to earthly houses, and saying that he’s looking forward to no longer being “at home” in his mortal body, but instead wants to be at home in his vivified “house not made by hands” (meaning in his glorified body). When Paul talked about “houses” and “homes” in this chapter, he was talking about bodies, so the “house not made with hands” is a reference to his future immortal body, not to him existing as a ghost in another dimension after he dies. In fact, Paul specifically says in verses 3 and 4 that he was not hoping for death at all, when he wrote that he wasn’t looking to be “unclothed,” but rather that he was hoping to be given an immortal body, or to be “clothed upon,” 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.
This is similar to the way they misuse Paul’s quote that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” to try to prove that Paul believed his death would bring him immediately to be with Christ, once again ignoring the context of the verses before these words, not to mention the verses after them as well. Of course, we’ve already determined that Paul was well aware of the fact that the only way he would be with Christ forever was through resurrection (or through the vivification of his mortal body, if the Snatching Away occurred while he was still alive), not through death. As we already covered, Paul’s teaching was that, apart from resurrection, those who have died will have perished (which means they would have ceased to exist forever, based on what we’ve already covered), so we have to interpret this passage in light of that fact, and the context of the surrounding verses makes it pretty obvious that the “gain” Paul was referring to there would be a gain to the cause of the Gospel, which his martyrdom would surely accomplish. I’ll admit, verses 22 and 23 aren’t the easiest verses for people today to grasp, especially if you’re using a translation like the KJV (17th century English isn’t always something 21st century people find easy to understand), and some people will assume that by, “yet what I shall choose I wot not,” Paul meant he hadn’t yet decided which option he was going to select, as if it was up to him. But whether he lived or died wasn’t actually up to him at all — it was up to the Roman government. Literally all Paul was saying there is that he wasn’t going to let it be known whether he’d personally rather continue living as a prisoner in bonds, which seemed to be helping cause the Gospel to be spread more boldly, or whether he’d prefer to die and let his martyrdom help the cause of the Gospel even more than his state as a prisoner was doing, and that he was pretty much “caught 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 two undesirable options 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 options, which was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” since if the Snatching Away were to occur 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. 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 Snatching Away 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 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, 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 they misunderstand it to be (it helps to notice the plural ”ye” in Jesus’ statement, since He was talking to, and about, the unbelieving Pharisees at the time, prophesying that all those Pharisees hearing that statement would indeed die in their sins and miss out on ”eternal life” during the Millennium).
Likewise, they misread passages such as Revelation 6:9–11 and Revelation 14:9-11 to defend the idea of the immortality of the soul as well, but if the first passage was meant to be read literally it would mean that martyred ghosts are all trapped underneath an altar and that these ghosts can wear physical clothing, so 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. And the second passage is obviously just as figurative since it can’t simply be about being cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement because the lake of fire will be located in a valley down here on earth, 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, and even if it was about those who worship the beast during the Tribulation getting cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement, the lake of fire will be outside the New Jerusalem on the new earth, not inside it where it would have to be for those words to make sense (plus, no humans will be alive in the lake of fire anyway, so the reference to torment here tells us it can’t be about that). As for what it means, I’d suggest that it’s simply extreme hyperbole about those who take the mark and worship the beast, and the intense suffering they’ll go through while still alive during the Tribulation for doing so, as described just two chapters later.
Some also attempt to argue that the reference to the Gospel being preached to them that are dead, as 1 Peter 4:6 mentions, means the dead must be conscious. At this point it should go without saying, based on all the passages we’ve already looked at, that there’s no question the dead are unconscious, so any passages one brings up to try to argue that they remain conscious have to be interpreted in light of the facts we’ve already covered, which means that the people mentioned in this passage who had the Gospel preached to them had to have still been physically alive at the time it was preached to them, meaning the Gospel was preached to them and then they later died.
So, rather than going to afterlife realms called heaven or “hell” after we die, Scripture instead tells us that death is a return. The body returns to the soil or earth, the soul returns to sheol/hades/“hell”/the unseen (meaning our consciousness returns to the non-existence from whence it came), and the spirit returns to God who created it (although not as a conscious entity, since our spirits aren’t conscious on their own without a body: soul, or feeling and consciousness, is an emergent property of combining a spirit with a body, just like combining the colours yellow and blue creates the colour green — the spirit is our “breath of life” as well as our “essense,” so to speak, which would include the memories that make us who we are, but it doesn’t experience consciousness until it’s reunited with a resurrected body).
This presents quite a dilemma for the traditional view, of course. If the soul of a dead person is existing consciously in an actual place called “hell” and the spirit is with God, does the soul of an unsaved person suffer in a fiery location while the spirit enjoys being with God? Remember, Scripture doesn’t discriminate between “saved” and “unsaved” spirits when it says they return to God upon death (to claim that only the saved spirits return to God is to read one’s presuppositions into the text). And what does that say about us if our spirit and soul can go to separate “places” but are both conscious (are we made up of two conscious beings that can be split up when we die, yet only one will be punished for sin in “hell” while the other is in heaven with God)? This is just one more reason why the traditional view makes no sense. Instead, it’s better to believe what Scripture actually says: that souls can actually die. On top of that, if those who are saved (relatively speaking) “go to heaven” as soon as they die, then death isn’t really an enemy to be “defeated” (and, really, abolished) at all, as Paul told us it is, but is instead a friend finally bringing us to God, 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 sidenote in most of Christendom, when it’s what we’re actually supposed to be looking forward to).
Of course, nobody mentioned in the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures was ever recorded as looking forward to an ethereal afterlife state anyway, nor had any Scripture prior to the story of the rich man and Lazarus ever suggested people would go to one while dead either (and the fact that the concept of an afterlife realm for ghosts wasn’t ever even hinted at in the Hebrew Scriptures tells us everything we need to know about the idea — although I should quickly mention passages which some Christians who don’t want to let go of this doctrine like to use to claim they do, such as Genesis 15:15 which says, “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace,” but the second half of that verse tells us exactly what statements like this are referring to when it says, “thou shalt be buried in a good old age,” meaning they’re simply talking about physical death and burial; this is what’s known as a synonymous parallelism in Scripture, which is where the second part of a passage confirms what the first part says, using slightly different wording). What they were looking forward to was a physical, bodily resurrection in the distant future, so figurative passages such as that one, and symbolic statements such as those in the book of Revelation have to be interpreted in light of that (although it should probably also be noted that, as symbolic as parts of the book of Revelation — or the Unveiling of Jesus Christ, as it should actually be called — can be, it still has to be interpreted as literally as possible if we want to actually understand it). 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 hadn’t ever even been hinted at prior to it, which also means that any scriptural references to the dead in hell can’t be talking about a place anyone will actually suffer in, and neither can any passages that talk about the lake of fire (at least they won’t be able to suffer there any longer than it takes for a mortal body to die in that fire).
Of course, even if we did ignore what the rest of Scripture says about the state of the dead and pretended that Luke 16 wasn’t entirely figurative, John and Paul both tell us that the rich man wouldn’t have stayed in hades (which is the Greek word Jesus used that is translated as ”hell” in less literal versions) forever anyway — John in Revelation when he tells us hades is “emptied” (and, along with death, is then cast into the lake of fire itself) so the dead in it can be resurrected in order that they can be judged at the Great White Throne before the fifth eon begins, and Paul in 1st Corinthians when he tells us how everyone will be vivified at the end of the fifth and final eon as previously discussed — which means taking this story literally doesn’t actually help the traditionalist view of everlasting torment in “hell” anyway, since the rich man wouldn’t stay in hell/hades without end regardless. (At most, Infernalists can try use the story to support the idea of the immortality of the soul; but based on everything else you’ve just read, it should now be quite clear just how untenable that concept actually is.)
If someone does want to keep using the word ”hell,” though, and saying that people can go to heaven or hell, even after everything they’ve just learned, that’s technically okay as long as one realizes that every single person who dies actually goes to the “hell” of less literal Bible versions, whether they’re a believer or not, since the word “hell” in this case simply refers to the state of being unconscious because one is dead (just don’t confuse it for the ”hell” that refers to the valley in which certain carcases will be consumed after Jesus returns). Unlike the fact that everyone who dies ends up in that ”hell,” however, only those who believe Paul’s Gospel will get to go to heaven, but not until after they’ve been resurrected (presuming they’ve died before the Snatching Away, of course) and/or vivified, 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 heaven rather than dying (at least not the same “level” of heaven that Jesus is now living in, which is presumably the New Jerusalem), contrary to the way Christians assume they did, since whatever happened to them can’t contradict what you’ve already learned so far. 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 our solar system that certain humans will go to live in 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 “caught away,” likely 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 faithwhile 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.
Aside from Gehenna and hades, Jesus also used parables to warn of things such as outer darkness, a furnace of fire, and eonian fire (which less literal Bible versions render as “eternal fire” or “everlasting fire,” but the word rendered along the lines of “eternal” in those versions literally means “eonian,” as previously discussed). When one considers the fact that the reward Jesus was promising His audience was to live in the kingdom of heaven here on earth rather than in some ethereal afterlife realm, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that the outer darkness and other such negative judgements were also just referring to places and experiences here on Earth as well, specifically parts of the planet other than Israel. Since Israel is where the kingdom of heaven will be centred when it arrives on Earth, those parts of the world far from the light of the King and His kingdom will be in “outer darkness,” which is a grave punishment indeed for any Israelite who hoped to finally live in that kingdom when it comes to Earth. The eonian fire of Matthew 25 might seem a little trickier, but it isn’t referring to the lake of fire as most Christians assume either. Nearly everyone has been taught that the sheep in that parable are those who believe and are saved (relatively speaking), while the goats are non-Christians who will be cast into the lake of fire, yet most Christians (at least those who haven’t fallen for the deception known as Amillennialism) also agrees that no true believer will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgement (which is the judgement that takes place immediately prior to anyone ending up in the lake of fire), and in fact 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 time; it takes place in our physical universe after the dead have been physically resurrected, as we’ve already covered), so the sheep can’t possibly be who most Christians have assumed they are. Not to mention, there’s no reference to a resurrection in this passage, which would be necessary to occur if this is a judgement of everyone who has ever lived. Instead, one needs to take a look at the verse 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, so this must be talking about a judgement that takes place on earth among the living (and not the dead) at the beginning of the Millennium, shortly after the Great Tribulation ends, rather than the Great White Throne Judgement which takes place 1,000 years after He returns.
But that just brings up other problems. If every single human living on earth is going to be judged and sent to heaven or hell for eternity immediately after the Tribulation ends (which would seem to be implied by the references to “life eternal” and “everlasting punishment” if we’re interpreting the passage the way most Christians do), who is going to live on earth for the next 1,000 years and reproduce, as Scripture says will happen during the Millennium (as well as on the New Earth, after the Millennium ends and our current planet is destroyed)? 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 (presuming that’s what “life eternal” means), 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 to mention the fact that nobody will be left to rise up against Israel at the end of the Millennium one last time if all the non-believers are cast into the lake of fire at this point.
I don’t have room to get into all the details here, but Aaron Welch wrote a great study on the topic (which I highly recommend reading in full) where he explains that the eonian fire (as well as the furnace of fire in an earlier parable) is actually the exact same thing as the outer darkness. Simply put, it refers to where certain people (possibly Gentiles of the nations, or perhaps non-believing Israelites living among the nations — likely not even being aware that they’re from an Israelite tribe — based on the fact that Jesus’ messages tended to only be to and about Israelites, and also that sheep and goats in Scripture were generally connected with Israel) will be punished for not doing good unto the least of Jesus’ brethren (Jesus’ “brethren” obviously being a reference to believing Jews, not simply to random people who are suffering) during the Tribulation period, which this judgement takes place immediately after, by being forced to reside in figurative “darkness,” far from Israel and her Messiah, during the Millennial Kingdom (and it should also be noted that it isn’t literal fire in this parable that is prepared for the devil and his angels, as most Christians have traditionally thought, but rather it’s the parts of the planet these people are sent to live in which are figuratively being referred to as “eonian fire,” since people living in those parts of the world — or at least their descendants, one thousand years later — will give in to temptation by Satan to rise up against Israel one last time at the end of the Millennium), and to others getting to live in Israel during the Millennium as a reward for doing good things to persecuted Jews during the Tribulation. And don’t worry, this doesn’t teach salvation by works, because this passage isn’t actually talking about salvation to begin with, at least not the sort of salvation Paul taught about (the “sheep” aren’t going to be vivified when they go live in the kingdom, at least not right away, so this isn’t the sort of salvation which Paul taught isn’t by works, because that salvation is all about being vivified).
And finally, in addition to all the threats of judgement I’ve already covered, while Jesus Himself never spoke of it during His time on Earth, we all know there is the threat of the lake of fire written about in Revelation that has already been mentioned many times in this book as well (although the term “the lake of fire” is pretty much just a figurative reference to “Gehenna,” so what I’ve already said about that topic basically applies to it too). But, aside from everything else I’ve already said about it so far that demonstrates it isn’t a place that people will suffer forever in, there’s one more reason that’s impossible, and that’s the aforementioned order of vivifications written about by Paul. Remember, people are resurrected in physical, human bodies for the Great White Throne Judgement prior to being cast into the lake of fire (if their name happens to not be written in the book of life), but Scripture tells us that only true believers will have been vivified (resurrected to immortality) at this point, and that there aren’t any more resurrections to immortality until the consummation of the eons at a much later time (and that the final vivification is to live with God forever, not to suffer forever, particularly since it doesn’t happen until the time that death — which would have to include the second death — is abolished), so those who will be resurrected from the dead only to be cast into the lake of fire shortly thereafter will just be regular mortal humans, or at least there’s nothing in Scripture to indicate that anybody other than those who are saved are ever given immortal bodies (especially since humans being made immortal in Scripture always appears to be connected with experiencing salvation), so there’s absolutely no reason to believe that any of them could possibly continue to live while in the lake of fire. Of course, the only passage in Scripture that even talks about anyone other than the adversary, the wild beast, or the false prophet being cast into the lake of fire doesn’t actually say they’ll be conscious or tormented forever in there anyway, just that they’ll be cast into it. What happens to them afterwards has to be determined based on a proper interpretation of the rest of Scripture, and we’ve already determined that Scripture says everyone is eventually going to be resurrected and vivified, which lines up perfectly with it being the second death, meaning just more of the same as the first death for regular humans (non-existence until one’s next resurrection, and this time also vivification to enjoy God forever).
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 (primarily in Israel, which is where the kingdom of heaven will be at that time) during the next eon or two in the messages He gave while on Earth, 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, 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 Gehenna (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 (which would be what the figure of speech of having one’s “soul destroyed in Gehenna” means, and also along the lines of what eonian extermination, or “destruction age-during,” refers to — and the fact that their extermination is only eonian tells us that, when the eons are concluded, so will their extermination be also, which reveals that the Annihilationists who believe that the extermination of the “unsaved” will last forever are just as wrong about judgement as the Infernalists are).
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 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 resurrected and/or vivified to live forever, and are, in fact, very physical), and since Jesus didn’t ever correct these beliefs Himself when He spoke of judgement and Gehenna when read properly in the original Greek (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.
Yes, there is one passage in the book of Daniel that less literal Bible versions render as saying some will be resurrected to “everlasting contempt” which some Christians like to use to defend the idea of never-ending torment in ”hell.” However, aside from the fact that contempt and torture are two very different things, A) the Hebrew word rendered as “everlasting” in those versions is “olam” which, as we’ve already discovered, is a word that refers to a period of time with a temporary duration, B) as we’ve also already covered, there’d never been a threat of a never-ending conscious punishment before this passage, so there’s no good reason to assume it’s suddenly being proclaimed here centuries after the giving of the Mosaic law when no Israelite had ever heard of it before — for that matter, nobody prior to Israel was warned about it either; not even Adam and Eve were warned about it, much less anyone who lived from their time to the time Daniel was supposedly warned about it — and it isn’t even explaining who would be experiencing such a thing or why, not to mention how to avoid it, and C) the passage is talking about physical resurrection on Earth anyway, not to spiritual existence in an afterlife realm while dead; the negative part of this passage is referring to those resurrected to life at the Great White Throne judgement before they’re killed again — which is why it’s called the second death — when their bodies are tossed into the lake of fire to be burned up, as well as possibly to those who are resurrected to live as prisoners (temporarily, until the last farthing is paid) on the New Earth.
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 Gehenna 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 debt to pay off, so to speak.
These facts, combined with the fact that Scripture (although it should be stated 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 everlasting torment (or even everlasting annihilation) 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). Sadly, most Christians only seem to want good news as long 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 lucky enough to happen to believe and/or do the right things before they die (or if they happen to be among those whom God has elected to avoid eternal damnation 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 eternal 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 is over), “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 regardless, but that aside, there’s no good reason to assume that the “all” in chapter 12 isn’t talking about everyone anyway, and based on what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty, it almost certainly is).
This 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 forever), all this judgement would do is torture the majority of people who ever existed nonstop, which would serve no purpose at all other than to stand as an everlasting 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, ultimately making Him and Jesus A) monsters (only the most horrific of monsters could force, or even allow, someone to be tortured forever; 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, which would be even more horrific than it already is — and not only for them but for those of us who care about them as well, and who would be missing them for all of eternity — if He didn’t eventually resurrect them again and make things right for all of them), 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 — the book of Judges 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 plan God could possibly come up with is everlasting incarceration and torture (or everlasting destruction in the case of the Annihilationists), 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, in the end, God will succeed in destroying evil, sin, “hell” (really, “the unseen” or “the grave”), and death (again, all death, which would have to mean even the second death) completely 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 reconciliation, understanding the character of God is also important. In fact, teaching everlasting 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 the Bible tells us that God has wrath, it 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. 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 forever, 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 of His 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 forever 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) Scripture already defines love for us in the aforementioned passage, 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 really, if “love” can somehow actually include “everlasting torture” for some of those it’s directed towards, I don’t even want to begin to think about what “heaven” might actually include 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. For instance, Jesus often kept His teachings a secret from those who weren’t meant to understand them at that time (those who were not the elect), speaking in parables so that “seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand,” which tells us that not all of God’s truths are intended for everyone to understand just yet (not even most of the Christians who are reading this, many of whom have already rejected everything I’ve written here because God has made sure they aren’t able to see the truth). But even with His truth hidden from most, we also see that Jesus insisted on extreme forgiveness (seventy times seven, and even forgave those who killed Him), and ultimately sacrificed Himself to save the world. 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.
For those who still have trouble with the idea that God truly is the Saviour of everyone 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 believed that most of humanity would be tormented forever 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 Gehenna and/or the lake of fire, 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 could technically 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.