[Just as a heads up to my King James Only audience members, while all of the Bible verses I link to throughout this post are from the KJV, not all the supporting articles and videos I’m linking to were created by KJV-Onlyists. However, they do still contain some excellent exegesis, and I’d highly recommend reading and viewing them as you go along. Basically, just “eat the meat and spit out the bones,” so to speak, as you read or watch them, and also go ahead and read any verses that are quoted from other translations in them from your own King James Bible instead, and you should be fine. And for my non-KJV-Onlyist readers, you can apply what I wrote in this post to nearly any translation of the Bible and come to the same conclusions; while I wrote this post from the perspective of what the Authorized Version says, it technically applies to pretty much all Bible translations, so even if you’re not a KJV-Onlyist, please do read this post to find out what Scripture says about death, hell, and judgement.]
In my last post here (which you should definitely read before continuing with this one, if you haven’t already) I demonstrated, using only the King James Version of the Bible, that even from a KJV-Onlyist perspective there’s no basis for believing that anyone will spend eternity in hell (or in the lake of fire either, which is a whole other thing or place). What I didn’t do is get into the details of what death and hell, as well as the various judgements in the Bible, are actually referring to, so I’m going to do that today.
When discussing the topics of salvation and judgement, however, it’s important to first understand why humans actually sin in the first place (other than Adam and Eve; they had a different reason that we don’t have time to get into here but which I might try to cover in a future post), what the actual consequences of sin are, and why Jesus Himself 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 they don’t realize they’re basically claiming] 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). I hinted at this in my last post, but 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 most 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. The wages of sin is death, not everlasting torment, and “death” means physical death, not spiritual death as most Christians assume (yet which you won’t find taught anywhere in Scripture, probably because it’s actually a completely meaningless expression). To “surely die” means to surely eventually physically die. It wasn’t that Adam and Eve “died spiritually” or went to hell at that point; it was just that they were paid the wages of sin: to die they began dying (to get really literal with the original Hebrew text — at this point I should perhaps apologize to my KJV-Onlyist readers here; I will be digging just a little bit deeper into the original languages at times in this post, although not to “correct the English” so much as to clarify it, so you can rest easy), meaning they gained mortality eventually leading to physical death. So, instead of dying because we sin (Paul didn’t simply say “for all have sinned” in this passage like he did in a previous one, which would mean “because all have sinned” if he had left out the word “that” here), we actually sin because we’re dying (“for that reason all have sinned,” or “because of that mortality all have sinned,” is what Paul was getting at in this passage in Romans 5; again, the word “that” is extremely important in this verse, making mortality the cause and sin the effect for humanity at large in this passage rather than the other way around) and don’t have abundant life in us (nor do we have the Spirit without measure) the way Jesus did (because of this, while He wasn’t yet immortal [meaning incapable of dying as He is now], Jesus wasn’t in a state of slowly dying like we are and couldn’t actually die until He willingly gave His life up and God took His Spirit from Jesus) to keep us from sinning the way He avoided it (although we also eventually will, at our resurrection and/or vivification [when we’re made immortal]), and we’re dying because we genetically inherited the wages of the first Adam’s sin: mortality. 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 babies would never die. Judgement, on the other hand, will be experienced by those who are not saved (relatively speaking; from an absolute perspective, everyone has already been saved by Christ’s death for our sins, burial, and resurrection, whether they believe it or not — which is what Paul’s Gospel is actually proclaiming — but from a relative perspective, non-believers aren’t said to be saved yet) when they appear before the Great White Throne, and by members of the body of Christ at the judgement seat of Christ.
What this judgement actually is, however, is a point that few people today ever come to understand. 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 in Him we live and move and have our being; 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. And anyway, even if hell was an actual place one could go to, God is said to be there, so this obviously isn’t what the judgement is.
But most people think it refers to “everlasting punishment” or “everlasting torment” in a conscious state in a place of fire. However, this is a doctrine that didn’t exist among the first believers in Christ (and you won’t find it in the Scriptures Israel accepted either, which is strange since you’d think God’s chosen people would have been warned about something so terrible).
What few Christians seem to understand is that, when Jesus spoke about the future, and about “rewards” and judgements, as well as about death, 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 [at least he is if you’re in the body of Christ], is because Paul never once threatened anyone with any of the words that are translated as hell anywhere in his recorded words in the book of Acts or in any of his written epistles [and even in the one instance that he used the Greek word hades, even the KJV translated it as “grave” rather than “hell”], which brings up all sorts of questions if those of us in the body of Christ are supposed to model ourselves specifically after his example and after his teachings, yet he was never once recorded as having taught that anybody will suffer 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, 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 (or at least with Israel at its centre), 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 age ends and the fourth age begins (what the five ages or “worlds” are, and what the scriptural basis for them is, will have to be a topic for another blog post sometime, although I have written about it in passing elsewhere on this site).
He also spoke of paradise (paradeisos [παράδεισος] in Greek), which would be a reference to Earth as well since the tree of life is there and there would be no need to eat from the tree of life (which we know will be on Earth in the future anyway) in an ethereal afterlife dimension.
As far as the negative future He talked about goes, it was in this universe as well. His primary threat of “hell” was translated from the word Gehenna (or Geenna [γέεννα] 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 “carcases” (or corpses) of lawbreakers during the Millennial Kingdom here on Earth would be burned up and devoured by worms in. 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 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 age or “world”). 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 skōlēx (σκώληξ), 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 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. 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 (meaning it’s not deliberately put out), 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 in Leviticus, of which it was said that it would never go out yet is no longer burning today (a good reminder that “never” doesn’t always mean something won’t ever happen in the KJV), among other things the Bible 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 corpses to consume. Thanks to horrible misinterpretations, this reference to “hell” in the Bible 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. It should probably also be pointed out that Gehenna isn’t a reference to the lake of fire. Dead bodies are burned in Gehenna during the Millennial Kingdom, whereas nobody is burned in the lake of fire until after the Millennium is over, after all the carcasses burned in Gehenna have been resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement.
In addition, when talking about “hell,” He sometimes used the word hades ([ᾅδης], which literally means “the unseen” in Greek if you break the word down, and is the equivalent of the word sheol [שְׁאוֹל] 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 just speaking of the state of no longer being conscious because one is dead (when it’s not being used figuratively in parable form). Unfortunately, most Christians 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 was likely adopted by the Pharisees due to confusion about the state of the dead learned during the Babylonian captivity, and was later carried into much of Christendom as well due to misunderstandings of Scripture, such as Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross about being with Him in paradise (when Jesus promised the thief on the cross 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 [and physical] state of the Earth where the tree of life will be, and not to an ethereal afterlife realm. Now, with most Christians we’d normally get into the fact that there’s no punctuation in the Greek, and that Jesus might have been saying something more along the lines of, “Verily, to you am I saying today, with Me shall you be in paradise,” but obviously that won’t fly with KJV-Onlyists. However, one can still come to the correct conclusion even with the way the Authorized Version renders the verse; all you have to do is realize that, from the perspective of the thief, he would die that day and then wake up in paradise, being the exact same day for him as far as he’s concerned since no time would have seemed to have passed for him at all while he was dead), or the parable (and yes, it has to be a parable based on who Jesus was speaking to) 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 literally sitting inside Abraham’s chest, that there’s actual physical water in the supposed spirit realm, or that someone who is on fire could actually participate in a coherent conversation [or even make any sounds at all other than screaming in pain], not to mention that if we took it literally we’d have to believe that the rich all go to “hell” while the poor all get saved. It’s funny how things pertaining to “hell” are literal until they’re not when it comes to defending one’s traditions; see also the lack of bodily mutilation and the general avoidance of helping the needy among Christians who don’t understand what it means to rightly divide the word of truth [and don’t know the true identity of the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25, or what their actual “outcomes” refer to; as I’ll explain shortly, nobody “goes to heaven” or “goes to hell” during this judgement — the rewards and punishments in this prophecy take place entirely on Earth among the still living] as similar examples).
“Ye shall not surely die” might be the first recorded lie the devil told, 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), seemingly unaware that the Hebrew Scriptures tell us the dead know nothing (meaning they aren’t conscious at all). Even in the Greek Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible that are generally referred to as the New Testament), death is compared to sleep (the book of Acts didn’t say Stephen died and went to heaven — 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); it isn’t compared to being awake in an afterlife existence at all, outside of that one parable which seems to confuse so many (although that was the purpose of parables — they weren’t told to make things obvious to the religious — so I suppose 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 (“saw corruption”), 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 person is now “in the grave” or “in the dust,” in the very same place that all animals end up as well, in fact, and not in another dimension called Heaven or hell). 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.”
Anyway, we know that consciousness, at least for humans, can cease to exist, since one can be rendered unconscious by either going to sleep or fainting or by being knocked out. So if consciousness can cease to exist under those common circumstances, the soul isn’t in an eternal state of consciousness (which means the soul could technically be said to cease to exist each time we go to sleep, since the soul itself actually is our awareness or consciousness — the word translated as “soul” is psuchē [ψυχή] 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), and if we can lose our consciousness, with it ceasing to exist while we’re alive, there’s no reason to believe it goes on after we die without an active and awake brain to keep it going. For example, 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, living brain aren’t the same thing as true consciousness, nor can these physical processes occur without a living, biological brain). If they were to suddenly die in their sleep right then (particularly someone who died before they reached REM sleep, if one wants to argue that REM sleep is a form of consciousness), 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 really makes no sense at all.
Also, the first time those in the body of Christ will meet the Lord is in the air in our newly vivified bodies at the rapture (or at the resurrection of the just, 75 days after the the Second Coming, for those Christians in the Israel of God), which is the point from when we’re said to finally “always be together with the Lord” (and not from a previous point such as our physical death, which would be when we actually began to “always be together with the Lord” if the immortality of the soul were true). 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), 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), 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, 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 — that passage was written before air and space flight — but they all return to Earth relatively quickly) and isn’t for those who are currently dead (for those who aren’t aware [thanks, again, to traditions we’ve been taught since childhood], the heavens, or “Heaven,” just refers to everything “above” [or around] the Earth, including our sky and atmosphere, where the birds and clouds are, but more importantly, to outer space where the sun and the moon and other heavenly bodies are — “in the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth” — [although, when it talks about where we’ll be in the heavens, it would be referring to deep space, likely beyond the reach of our current telescopes, but still in our physical universe], out among the stars and planets where most of the celestials reside [even if perhaps partially in higher dimensions if they’re not just somehow invisibly living on our plane of existence] and is actually a place you wouldn’t want to go without either a space suit or an immortal body that could survive and thrive out there; it isn’t the wonderful, perfect place most people think it is, at least not now [nor is it a place that anybody who is dead goes to; only the living can go to Heaven, at least in a conscious state], although it will be pretty great for the body of Christ when we have our new bodies that can enjoy it out there with our Lord as we fulfill our impending ministry to the celestials there).
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 Christians 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, is simply that they’re unconscious and can’t do anything while dead), so it seems safe to say that nobody remains conscious while dead (believe it or not, some people actually try to use this passage to support their view that the dead remain conscious, misapprehending the statement to mean that the dead aren’t actually dead, but if they took the time to examine the context of the preceding verses 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 whether the resurrected dead during the impending Millennial Kingdom in the next age here on Earth would still be married or not [and not about ghosts in an afterlife dimension and whether they’d still be married 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 future 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]).
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 ground or earth, the soul returns to hell/hades/the unseen (meaning back to non-existence/unconsciousness), 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 hades and the spirit is with God, does the soul of an unsaved person suffer in a fiery “hell” 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. 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 at all, as Paul told us it is (although this doesn’t find its ultimate fulfilment until the end of the fifth age, but that’s another topic), 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 figurative figments of the rich man and Lazarus story ever suggested people would go to one while dead either. What they were looking forward to was a physical, bodily resurrection in the distant future, so parabolic 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 can be, it still has to be interpreted as literally as possible if we want to actually understand it). 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 anywhere in the Bible. 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 a parable, John and Paul both tell us that the rich man wouldn’t have stayed in hell/hades forever anyway — John in Revelation when he tells us this particular “hell” is “emptied” (and, along with death, is then cast into the lake of fire itself) so the dead in it can be resurrected so they can be judged at the Great White Throne before the fifth age begins, and Paul in 1st Corinthians when he tells us how everyone will be vivified at the end of the fifth and final age — which means taking this parable literally doesn’t actually help the traditionalist view of everlasting torment in hell anyway, since the rich man wouldn’t stay in hell/hades forever regardless. In fact, this verse in Revelation singlehandedly dismantles the concepts of both everlasting torment and annihilation all on its own. If all of the verses in Scripture that have the word “hell” in it are referring to the same place (as most Christians believe they are), including the passages that indicate that time spent in hell never ends, then we know for a fact that they’re being interpreted incorrectly because of this verse in Revelation which tells us that one’s time spent in hell does come to an end when everyone in it is set free from it and resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement. Not only does this completely destroy the concepts of everlasting torment or destruction in hell, since we know for a fact that nobody stays in there forever based on this verse, it destroys the concept of everlasting torment or destruction in the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement as well, since the words that are used to say that the time spent in the lake of fire is forever are the same words used to say that time spent in hell is forever (and if the so-called “for ever” spent in “hell” isn’t actually forever, there’s no basis for claiming the “for ever” in the lake of fire is forever either).
Aside from Gehenna and hades, Jesus also used parables to warn of things such as outer darkness, a furnace of fire, and ”everlasting fire.” 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 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 “everlasting 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 the non-Christians who will be cast into the lake of fire, yet pretty much every Christian 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 Christians 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), so the sheep can’t possibly be who most Christians have assumed they are, which also means that this parable can’t be talking about the Great White Throne Judgement (which in turn means that the fire in this parable isn’t referring to the lake of fire). 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 fire here (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 Gentiles of the nations being punished for not doing good unto the least of Jesus’ brethren (Jesus’ “brethren” being Jews, not Christians in the body of Christ or just random people alive today) during the tribulation period by being forced to reside in “darkness,” far from Israel, during the Millennial Kingdom (and it should also be noted that it isn’t the fire in that prophecy that is made ready for the devil and his angels as most Christians have thought, but rather it’s those who are sent into the figurative “fire” who are instead made ready for the devil and his angels, since people living in those parts of the world will eventually give in to temptation by Satan to rise up against Israel one last time at the end of the 1,000 years). This judgement takes place almost immediately after the tribulation ends and Christ returns to Earth, at least 1,000 years prior to the Great White Throne Judgement (quite possibly before He resurrects and vivifies “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” since that doesn’t happen until 75 days after He returns to the Earth, which is another good indicator that the “sheep” in this prophetic parable aren’t a reference to Christians), and if everybody was going to be judged and sent to heaven or the lake of fire at this point, aside from the fact that this would make the Great White Throne Judgement 1,000 years later somewhat redundant, there would also be no mortals left to populate the Earth with new children during the Millennium (which we know from the Hebrew Scriptures will happen), no mortals left to be kept alive and healthy by partaking of the fruit and leaves of the tree of life at a later time on the new Earth, no “unsaved” people left for Israel to finally be a light to the nations to and finally fulfill the so-called “Great Commission” to, and there would be no nations left to be tempted by Satan to rise up against Israel at the end of the Millennium either, since everybody would either be immortal in heaven or burning in the lake of fire if the traditional interpretation of these parables is correct.
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 the book of Revelation. 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 order of resurrections and vivifications written about by Paul that I discussed in my last post. 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 Christians will have been made immortal at this point, and that there aren’t any more resurrections to immortality until the end of the ages or “worlds” 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 is destroyed), 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, so there’s absolutely no reason to believe that any of them could possibly continue to live while in the lake of fire (besides, the only passage in Scripture that even talks about anyone other than the devil, the beast, and 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 in my last post 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 was He warning about never-ending torture in a spiritual realm called hell for sinners (or even just nonexistence for sinners, if the Annihilationists are right). Instead, He was A) teaching the people of Israel how to be sure to enjoy “everlasting life” (which, as we learned in the last post, isn’t talking about living forever since “everlasting” has to be read as a qualitative word rather than a quantitative one in the KJV, although they will still live forever regardless because they’ve also been made immortal) on Earth (primarily in Israel, which is where the Kingdom of Heaven will be at that time) during the next age 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 “everlasting life” in the heavens among the celestials during the next two ages — in the messages He gave Paul after He physically left the Earth (while everyone will eventually be given immortality, only a relatively small number of people will experience “everlasting life,” meaning enjoying immortal life during the next two ages), 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 during the Millennium, 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 hell/Gehenna (also on Earth), not to mention missing out on the joys of the Millennial Kingdom (and quite possibly the next age after that as well) because they’d either be living outside of Israel or even be dead for the remaining ages.
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 (there is one passage in the book of Daniel that says some will be resurrected to “everlasting contempt” but, aside from the fact that contempt and torture are two very different things, A) “everlasting” here can’t mean “never ending,” as we already covered in the last post, and is actually 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 [or 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) — but did speak of the earthly hell/Gehenna as a place where the physical (not spiritual) bodies of the dead lawbreakers would be burned during the Millennial Kingdom (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 hell/Gehenna, there’s literally zero reason to interpret these things the way most Christians have. To put it simply, most Christians are assigning the earthly rewards and punishments that Jesus taught are meant for Israelites (and for those Gentiles 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, 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 [likely an actual body of water on Earth, quite possibly referring to the Dead Sea] just like the dead bodies of previous sinners will have been physically cast into hell/Gehenna on Earth). These facts, combined with the fact that Scripture 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 tradition over Scripture 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 seared their consciences are, as well as just how little they understand about God’s character and His purpose for the ages and dispensations). Sadly, the religious 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 “everlasting life” will first go through judgement (not to be confused with punishment or with death), and some will even experience a second death. However, at the end of the ages or the consummation of the eons (after the final age or eon or “world” is over), “the grave” or “the unseen” (which is all that “hell” really refers to as far as anyone in the dispensation of Grace is concerned) 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 destroyed), and God will be “All in all” (yes, in all; not just in a lucky few — as I wrote in my last post, 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). This truth is lost on those who are lost, 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 hell/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 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” (chata’ [חָטָא] in Hebrew, and hamartia [ἁμαρτία] 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 the religious 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 insists He will, in the end God will succeed in destroying evil, sin, “hell,” 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 ages (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 (or charity) is, he tells us that love always perseveres and never fails (or “endureth all things and never faileth”), 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 (perhaps with the exception of certain religious conservatives) could actually do something as unkind as to torture someone (or simply let someone be tortured) for even a few minutes, much less forever, many who refuse to let go of tradition 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) 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 really 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 so many 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 religious 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.
And speaking of His sovereignty, now that you’ve finished reading part two of this study, please now read part three of this study where I explain that predestination is about when someone gets saved, not if they get saved, as well as the fact that if everyone doesn’t get saved then nobody can get saved.