Find out what a consistent study of Scripture reveals about the destiny of believers and unbelievers alike
Please note that I’m including many of my scriptural references in the links, so please be sure to click them as you go. All scriptural references are from the KJV (the King James Version of the Bible), also known as the AV (the Authorized Version).
Before getting started, I should warn you that this is an extremely long and detailed article. It was necessary to make it as long as it is in order to cover every possible angle — not to mention examine every passage of Scripture that I could — on the topic of soteriology (which is the theological label for the study of salvation) for you to come to a fully scriptural understanding of the subject. I know that it will be tempting for those who are impatient to simply skim the article, or to just search for specific passages they want to know my interpretation of, but it’s very important that you read this article from beginning to end extremely carefully (as well as that you read the various scriptural references I link to carefully, and that you do so not assuming you already understand what they’re talking about) or else you’ll almost certainly miss an important detail which is necessary for you to be aware of in order to truly understand what the Bible teaches about salvation.
I should also point out that, while this article was originally written from the perspective of what the King James Version of the Bible says about heaven, hell, judgement, death, and salvation, a number of people who have read this article have pointed me to certain passages in other Bible translations, as well as in the Hebrew and Koine Greek that they were originally written in, insisting that the King James Version needs to be corrected because they disagree with the conclusions I’ve come to about what it says. And so, in the interest of also helping those who don’t agree with how the translators of the KJV rendered certain passages also learn the truth about this topic, I’ve now updated this article to respond to their arguments as well, looking at what the original Hebrew and Greek literally said in certain places, in order to demonstrate that Scripture in its original languages doesn’t contradict the conclusions I’ve come to about what the KJV says.
When studying the Bible, it’s very easy to unintentionally read one’s preconceived theological assumptions into the passages one is looking at (this is what’s known as eisegesis) rather than carefully determining the actual meaning of the text in question (which is what’s known as exegesis), generally because they’ve heard other people tell them what the Bible actually teaches and have assumed their teachers were not mistaken about the meaning of these passages themselves. Most people also tend to be unaware of the difference between the absolute and relative perspectives of certain things mentioned in the Bible, which means they aren’t aware that the same word or concept doesn’t always mean the same thing every time it’s used in Scripture, and this can lead to all sorts of confusion when trying to interpret the Bible as well. As an example of this important hermeneutical principle, we know from Romans 3:10 that nobody is righteous, and yet Luke 1:5–6 tells us that Zacharias and Elisabeth were both righteous, and the solution to this apparent contradiction is to realize that, from an absolute perspective, no mortal human has ever been truly or completely righteous on their own, but from a relative perspective, meaning compared to other people in this case, some people can be said to be righteous, because they’re more righteous than other people around them. As another example, Ecclesiastes 11:3 tells us that the rain comes from clouds, while 1 Kings 17:14 says that God sends the rain, and we can understand that both of these statements are equally true when we recognize that God is the ultimate origin of rain from an absolute perspective (since all is of God), even while the clouds are the origin of rain from a relative perspective.
As the old saying goes, “a text read out of context is just a pretext for a proof text,” so it’s extremely important to always look at the context of any passage that a specific term is used in, and to compare that passage with the rest of Scripture as well, in order to understand what it actually means. Because, as another old saying goes, Scripture interprets Scripture, so when you come across a term in the Bible, it’s important to look at how that term was used previously in Scripture in order to determine what the best interpretation of the passage it’s used in is likely to be (taking everything else I’ve also pointed out about context and the absolute vs the relative into consideration as well, of course). And with that in mind, I’m now going to take you through a number of passages in the KJV that talk about heaven, hell, judgement, death, and salvation, looking at what they actually say very closely, so that we can determine what the Bible really says about these topics, because it’s very likely that you’ve been taught some unscriptural ideas about what all of these words mean.
And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. — Jonah 2:2–6
You might think this is an odd passage to begin the list with, but this is actually a very important passage to consider when it comes to this topic because it tells us that references to hell in the Bible, as well as other references to terms which might imply a never-ending period of time spent there, need to be interpreted extremely carefully. Since Jonah’s “for ever” spent in hell only lasted for three days, after which he escaped from hell, the very first passage in the Bible (and the only passage in the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures, meaning the books of the Bible that are generally referred to as the “Old Testament”) which talks about being in hell “for ever” seems to imply that people can escape it after a period of time (yes, I’m aware that it’s technically “the earth with her bars” that he said he’d been trapped in “for ever,” but obviously he didn’t spend eternity underground or behind bars, so this is all still connected with the same plight he referred to as “hell” in verse 2). This, of course, tells us that “hell” and “for ever” must be figurative terms when used in the KJV, unless you believe that hell is literally located in the belly of a big fish and that Jonah never actually left it (and if Jonah actually died and was literally in an afterlife realm called hell, that would mean it is possible for people to escape hell if they pray to God while there). For those who want to protest my interpretation here by saying, “This passage is obviously using figurative language,” well, yeah, that’s my whole point. “Hell” and “for ever,” at least when used in the KJV, are clearly figurative terms which don’t necessarily always mean the same thing every time they’re used, and so one can’t simply read their presupposition of never-ending punishment into a passage of Scripture simply because it contains these words, since that would obviously lead to serious misunderstandings based on this passage alone. Now, some might suggest that Jonah was simply using the word “hell” here as a figurative reference to an afterlife realm that one is tormented in without end after they die, but there had been no Scripture written that even implied such a fate in Jonah’s time which he could have even gotten that idea from, so whatever the terms “hell” and “for ever” mean in this passage, Jonah couldn’t possibly have been referring to a concept of never-ending torment in an afterlife since he wouldn’t have even been familiar with that as a scriptural idea to begin with (in fact, no Israelites would have been at the time; at least not any who based their theology on Scripture).
Of course, some people like to direct my attention to other Bible versions after reading this, in order to point out that they don’t say Jonah was in hell. And while the Hebrew word שְׁאוֹל (which is the word translated as “hell” in verse 2 of this passage in the KJV) is rendered along the lines of “the realm of the dead” in some Bible translations when it comes this verse (as well as rendered as “grave” in other parts of various less literal English Bible versions, including the KJV), that’s what most people believe hell is to begin with, so I’m not sure how this is supposed to help their argument (it’s also transliterated as “sheol” in other Bible versions, but that doesn’t help either, since a transliteration still has to be interpreted, and basically all Christians agree that שְׁאוֹל is generally used as a reference to the place the dead go). It’s also useful for them to know that the word שְׁאוֹל is translated as ᾅδης in the LXX (also known as the Septuagint) — which is the earliest extant Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures — as well as in the “New Testament” books in the original Greek (compare Psalms 16:10, which translates “hell” from שְׁאוֹל, to Acts 2:27, which translates ”hell” from ᾅδης, and which is quoting that original verse from the Psalms). And while this word is sometimes transliterated as “hades,” it’s often translated as “hell” or as “grave” in the “New Testament” books of the Bible, and is the Greek word used for the place the dead end up. No matter what English word you prefer to use, though, the important thing to note is that it has to be interpreted figuratively regardless of the word you choose, unless you believe that the dead all end up in the belly of a big fish.
Next, I’ve had it asserted to me that the “for ever” in this passage isn’t even referring to Jonah’s time spent in the fish at all, but that he was actually talking about the never-ending punishment which unbelievers will apparently suffer when they die. But why would Jonah suddenly start soliloquizing about never-ending punishment in an afterlife realm with absolutely no connection to his predicament, or to what he’d just been talking about in the verses prior to this one? I mean, I’m not arguing that Jonah wasn’t talking about שְׁאוֹל, or about being in there for ever, because I agree that he was, but we know that he didn’t remain in the belly of the fish, nor did he spend the rest of eternity in a literal place called שְׁאוֹל, so his references still have to be interpreted figuratively rather than in a way which would mean he’d arbitrarily begun talking about something else altogether.
And while it’s possible that I missed one, outside of more literal English translations, I couldn’t find a single English Bible version that rendered the Hebrew word עוֹלָם (which is the word translated as ”for ever” here) in a manner that didn’t mean “without end” if interpreted literally, which also confirms that “for ever” does need to be interpreted figuratively when it appears in less literal Bible versions such as the KJV, unless you think a period of three days literally never comes to an end. And just like the word שְׁאוֹל is translated as ᾅδης in the LXX, the word עוֹלָם is translated as αἰών (which is a singular noun that literally means “age”), as αἰῶνας (which is a plural noun that literally means “ages”), and as αἰωνίων (which is an adjective that literally means ”pertaining to an age or ages,” or “age-pertaining”) in the LXX, which means that these Greek words don’t necessarily literally mean “never ending” when they’re translated as “everlasting” or ”eternal” from the Greek Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible that are generally referred to as the “New Testament”) either, but are likely more figurative there as well.
But is there any scriptural basis for the idea that terms such as “for ever” and “everlasting” don’t actually mean “never ending” anywhere else in the Bible? Well, yes, there is. In fact, this can be seen all over the Bible. For example, in Exodus 21:6 we read about servants who choose to remain in servitude rather than going free on the seventh year, as was their right: “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.” If we take “for ever” literally there, it would either mean that the servant (or slave) in question can never die, or that the servant will have to remain a slave to his master perpetually, even after both of their physical resurrections in the distant future (as well as in any afterlife, if one exists, in the meantime, even if they both end up in different places while dead or after they’ve been resurrected and judged at the Great White Throne). Since I doubt anyone believes either of these options to be the case, it seems that the “for ever” there actually means “for a specific time period, even if the end date (the time of the servant’s death) is currently unknown,” which once again demonstrates that “for ever” in the King James Bible doesn’t necessarily mean “without end.”
Of course, some Bible versions do say “for life,” or “permanently,” rather than “for ever” in this verse, but the Hebrew word in this verse is the same word rendered as “for ever” in the passage from Jonah, so at the very least, you have to admit that the Hebrew word עוֹלָם doesn’t literally mean “without end,” and just because we see “for ever” in the Bible (or even “everlasting,” for that matter, which is also translated from the same Hebrew word in most places in the ”Old Testament” books) doesn’t mean we should assume it does mean “without end,” which is really all I’m getting at here. However, I have had people insist that, even if the word עוֹלָם doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” in an ontological sense, the word should at least always be understood as meaning something along the lines of, “it’s going to be like this for as long as the thing or person in question exists.” However, that assertion not only ignores the fact that עוֹלָם is also translated as “of old” in Deuteronomy 32:7 (and to insist that the word absolutely has to be rendered in a more “perpetual” manner would also mean that verse would have needed to be translated as saying something along the lines of “remember the days that never ended,” or “remember the days that we’re still experiencing,” instead), it also ignores the fact that this would mean Jonah would have needed to remain in the belly of the fish for the rest of his life as well. And with all that in mind, because עוֹלָם is translated as αἰωνίων in places in the LXX, and αἰωνίων is generally translated as “everlasting” or “eternal” in nearly every Bible translation that isn’t super literal, including the KJV, this means the word “everlasting” should be interpreted just as figuratively in the “New Testament” books as it is in the “Old Testament” books.
And that wasn’t the only verse that demonstrates this. We also read about the fact that the Aaronic priesthood will be “everlasting” in Exodus 40:15, yet we know from Hebrews 7:14–22 that the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants is to be replaced by Jesus Christ, who will be “a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (and we know from 1 Corinthians 15 that even this new priesthood which is said to last “for ever” is eventually no longer going to be necessary).
Similarly, in 1 Chronicles 16:17 we read, “and hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,” which seems to tell us that the Old Covenant can never come to an end and be replaced by a New Covenant since it’s everlasting, but we know from other parts of Scripture that there will be a New Covenant, and that the Old Covenant in fact began to decay when Christ died (and will indeed eventually vanish away entirely, if it hasn’t already). So this tells us that “everlasting” can’t always mean “never ending” when we read that word in the King James Bible any more than “for ever” can.
Likewise, Isaiah 32:14–15 says: “Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.” Unless we’re meant to believe that Jerusalem will be left forsaken and desolate and never recover or be inhabited again, as verse 14 seems to say, yet which we know won’t be the case, we have to interpret that “for ever” as meaning a specific period of time again, just as we had to do with the previous examples. And, indeed, verse 15 tells us when that “for ever” ends, stating that Jerusalem will be left deserted “for ever,” until the spirit be poured from on high.
I could go on and on with example after example of things that were said to be “for ever” or “everlasting” that eventually ended in the Bible, but I trust it’s obvious by now that the translators assumed those who read the Bible are able to understand figurative language, and that they never intended for anyone to believe that “for ever” or “everlasting” should be interpreted as meaning “never ending” or “without end” at all. For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, though, “for ever” is really just figurative language that refers to “an age,” or to “a seemingly long period of time with a definite beginning and end” — similar to the way we still use the phrase today when we say things like, “I was stuck in that line for ever” — and “everlasting” just means “pertaining to an age or ages” 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, meaning they’re exaggerated expressions used for the sake of emphasis, and are not meant to be taken literally at all.
For those Christians who want to disregard all of the above because it’s only about the word עוֹלָם in the Hebrew Scriptures, however, and who insist that the word αἰωνίων in the Greek Scriptures still has to always mean “never ending,” and that it should always be translated as “everlasting” or “eternal,” even though it’s a Greek word that is translated in the LXX from a Hebrew word which doesn’t mean “without end,” please take a look at 2 Timothy 1:9, which includes the word αἰωνίων in the original Greek. I bring this to your attention because the KJV renders this verse as, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” with the words “before the world began” being translated from the Greek words πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων. Now, these words are obviously a figurative translation, since the original Greek words literally mean “before times age-pertaining” (“before the ages began,” basically — the translators of the KJV often used the word “world” as a synonym for ”age” or “ages”), but either way, I’m not aware of a single Bible version that uses the word “everlasting” in this verse (there are a few versions that translate it with variations of the word “eternal,” but this is obviously meant to be read figuratively too, since the word “eternal” literally means “without beginning or end,” and you can’t have a time before something with no beginning), so this verse proves that one just can’t insist the word αἰωνίων absolutely has to mean “without end.” But for the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve decided to use the word “everlasting” instead of “eternal” in your own personal translation of this verse. The problem is, you’re still stuck with the fact that the original Greek says “times” rather than “time” in this verse, and you can’t have more than one period of time that doesn’t have an end, yet each of those “times” would have to be “without end” if that’s what αἰωνίων literally means. So no matter how you look at it, the word αἰωνίων doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” or “without end.” At this point, some will insist that the context of the passage will dictate whether it should mean “without end” or not, to which I heartily agree, so long as we take the whole of Scripture into consideration when determining the context (so as not to end up contradicting other parts of Scripture). And with all that in mind, let’s move on to the next set of passages that talk about hell.
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. — Matthew 18:8–9
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. — Mark 9:43–48
The first thing to notice about these two parallel passages is that basically nobody actually interprets them any more literally than they do the passage in the book of Jonah. In fact, I doubt you personally know a single Christian who has actually mutilated or amputated parts of their body in order to avoid going to hell (whatever the word “hell” in these passages refers to, which isn’t something we should assume we know right off the bat, based on what we learned from the passage about Jonah), which means, right from the beginning, they aren’t interpreting these passages particularly literally.
However, there’s another factor here that almost nobody ever considers when reading these two passages, and that’s the fact that not only is there nothing in these passages which tell us anyone will actually remain in the hell fire Jesus warned about in those passages without end (they say that the fire is “everlasting” — although we now know that’s a word which doesn’t necessarily mean “never ending” in the Bible anyway — but not that anyone who ends up in said fire will be there without end), He also didn’t say that anyone would even be conscious or suffering there, and so anyone who insists that the people Jesus said would end up in hell fire in this particular warning definitely will be conscious, or will even remain in said fire without end, is eisegeting their preconceived bias and assumptions into the text rather than exegeting the truth out of the text. Of course, the fact that He didn’t say anyone would be conscious or suffering, or would be in there without end, doesn’t mean they won’t be. It simply means we can’t determine these things based on these two passages alone, since they just don’t say one way or the other, but we can look to other passages in Scripture to find out. And this is where the passage in Mark comes in handy, because it gives us the key to finding the answer to this question (the mention of the “undying” worm and unquenchable fire gives it away). You see, these warnings by Jesus were actually references to a prophecy of Isaiah which talked about carcases — meaning dead bodies — being consumed by worms and by fire in Israel in the future, not to ghosts of dead humans who are suffering consciously in an ethereal afterlife dimension. Yes, it’s true that the fire won’t be quenched, but to “not be quenched” is simply an expression which means the fire burning something won’t be deliberately put out, not that the fire can’t eventually go out on its own when the fuel source has been consumed. So just because the fire is said to “not be quenched” doesn’t mean that the fire won’t go out once all of the corpses there have been fully burned up, just like other things Scripture says will not be quenched but eventually stop burning, including the fire on the altar which was said “shall ever be burning” and “shall never go out” but is no longer actually burning.
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 this location. And I should also say, 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, just that this figure of speech means it won’t die before it’s supposed to.
This all tells us that these passages aren’t talking about anyone who is alive or suffering consciously, at least not if we’re taking the passage in Isaiah that Jesus was calling back to in that warning at all literally, which means that we have no reason to believe that anyone suffers in this particular hell fire at all, or that the fire burning the corpses will never actually go out. It also tells us that this isn’t a warning about a version of hell which people experience consciously after they die (if there even is such a place), since it’s simply referring to what happens to certain dead bodies here on planet earth — specifically in Israel — in the distant future (this warning was all very physical). So if there actually is a place called “hell” that people end up in as conscious beings after they die, we can’t look to passages that talk about this particular “hell” to describe or defend its existence. And neither can we look to these passages to prove that anyone will remain in hell without end either, since these two passages don’t claim anything of the sort (again, it’s only the fire that is said to be “everlasting,” not the time the dead bodies spend in said fire, so the idea that the dead bodies in this particular “hell” will never be resurrected and saved isn’t something we can definitively decide based on these particular passages).
But what was Jesus warning us about, then? Well, He wasn’t warning us about anything, because He wasn’t talking to us to begin with (unless, perhaps, you’re Jewish). It’s important to remember that, while He walked the earth, Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven coming to earth, specifically to Israel, not about “going to heaven” as ghosts after one dies (simply put, none of the rewards or punishments that Jesus either promised or warned His audience about had anything to do with an afterlife; they were all to be experienced right here on earth, even if some of them might not be experienced until after one has been resurrected from the dead). In addition, Jesus’ ministry and messages were specifically to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and not to Gentiles, as He told His disciples in Matthew 15:24. His death for our sins, burial, and resurrection on the third day aside, His earthly ministry was basically about confirming “the promises made unto the fathers,” which were primarily promises for the circumcision (meaning for Israelites) as Paul wrote in Romans 15:8. This means that basically all of the judgements Jesus spoke about — including His warnings about hell — not to mention the majority of the other teachings He gave, were only relevant to Israelites (with the possible exception of the judgement of the sheep and the goats). This is also connected with the fact that the words “salvation” and “saved” have different meanings in different parts of Scripture, which is something extremely important to be aware of. This is too big a topic to go into depth on it here, but to put it simply, when Jesus, or anyone other than Paul, taught about salvation in Scripture, they were primarily referring to getting to live in Israel during the period of time known as the Millennium and beyond (as well as to reign over the rest of the world from Israel, if they are included in Israel’s first resurrection, or are “overcomers” during the Tribulation). This sort of salvation was primarily for Israelites and required repentance, among other works that include baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ (and there are multiple other types of baptisms when it comes to this type of salvation as well, including baptism with — or in — the Holy Spirit, as well as with fire, among others), following the commandments Jesus taught His disciples during His earthly ministry, confessing one’s sins when one slips up (then also forgiving others who sinned against them), and enduring to the end (of one’s life or of the period commonly known as the Tribulation, whichever comes first), and not everybody will experience this sort of salvation because not everyone will get to live in Israel during the Millennium, although one day even Gentiles will be saved because of Israelites and their rise to prominence in the future.
Paul, on the other hand, taught about different “salvations” in different places, sometimes referring to the same salvation Jesus and His disciples were referring to, but most of the time he was either referring to being given immortality, and sinlessness because of that immortality (which is salvation from an absolute perspective), or to experiencing that particular salvation (immortality and sinlessness) before anyone else, while reigning with Christ in the heavens (which is salvation from a relative perspective), since that’s where our citizenship is located, and this salvation is entirely apart from any works (in fact, even if we don’t have any works at all, but only have faith that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, which is the Gospel message that Paul preached, we are still justified, which means that faith without works is not dead for us). Just to add some further details to this (our) salvation, our baptism isn’t in water (since there is only one baptism/immersion for us, which is by the Holy Spirit, into the body of Christ, including into what He experienced in His body, such as His death, and so this baptism, or immersion, is quite dry), and while forgiving others is still recommended for us, it isn’t required for us the way it is for Israel since we aren’t under law or required to do good works in order to be saved when it comes to our type of salvation the way Israel is when it comes to their type of salvation, and, in fact, we can be saved despite the fact that Israel is not yet a light to the Gentiles as they one day will need to be for Gentiles to be led to salvation.
Most Christians mistakenly assume that the whole Bible is to and about everyone, but the fact of the matter is that there are two entirely different sets of messages for two entirely different groups of people in the Bible, including two separate Gospels meant for these two different groups of people. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the difference between the Gospel of the Circumcision (also known as the Gospel of the Kingdom) and the Gospel of the Uncircumcision (also known as Paul’s Gospel, and one generally doesn’t call something theirs unless they’re trying to differentiate it from something that belongs to someone else, or at least trying to point out that it doesn’t belong to someone else, and if there was only one Gospel then Paul would have said “the Gospel,” not “my Gospel” — and we also know that Paul didn’t learn the Gospel he preached from any mortal humans but rather learned it directly from Jesus Christ, but it wouldn’t make sense for him to have been persecuting the Jewish church if he wasn’t aware of their most important teaching already, so the Gospel he learned from the glorified Christ couldn’t have been the same Gospel he was persecuting the Jewish church for preaching since he would have had to have known that Gospel before he ever met Christ in order to persecute them for preaching it), or are unfamiliar with the difference between the church called the body of Christ and the church called the Israel of God (the words “and upon” in Galatians 6:16 mean there are two separate groups of people being wished peace and mercy by Paul there, since there’s no way to legitimately read that verse in any way that implies Paul was actually saying, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and, oh yeah, these people are also called the Israel of God,” which means there have to be two separate groups being written about there — the first group being “as many as walk according to this rule,” referring to members of the body of Christ, and the second group being those known as “the Israel of God” — and those who know how to “rightly divide the word of truth” are aware that those in these two different churches have two different destinies: with one group reigning on the earth, specifically from Israel, and with the other group reigning from the heavens), or even for those of you who are familiar with the concept of the two Gospels but are convinced that there’s really only one Gospel in the Bible, if the Gospel Paul taught included Christ’s death for our sins, and the “Gospel of the Kingdom” that Jesus’ disciples taught while He still walked the earth didn’t — which it couldn’t have, because His disciples didn’t even understand that He was going to die at that point — these two Gospel messages can’t legitimately be said to be the same Gospel message because they just don’t contain the same message. You see, the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News,” or “news which is good,” and the word “news” quite literally refers to “a series of specific words which, when laid out in a specific order, conveys specific information about a specific subject.” This means that if you have another set of specific words which, when laid out in their own specific order, convey some other sort of specific information about that subject, you can’t say that you have the same news, even if both sets of news are good in nature, or even about the same person (for example, the news that “Joshua went to the graveyard” can’t be said to be the exact same news as “Joshua is now my boss” because the two messages mean something entirely different from one another since they convey entirely different pieces of information about this person from one another: one piece of news being about an action this person took, with the other piece of news being about the identity of said person). Because they’re providing us with different sorts of information about a subject from one another, it means they are, by definition, different sets of news. And so, considering the fact that the news which was good that Jesus’ disciples preached to Israel during His time on earth didn’t include Christ’s death for our sins the way the news which is good that Paul later preached to the nations did, anyone who believes that these two different sets of news which are good (one set of news containing information about Christ’s death for our sins and the other set of news not containing that information at all) are the exact same news as one another, and hence that there is only one set of news which is good recorded in the Bible, is seriously lying to themselves based on that simple fact alone. Unfortunately for most Christians, the truth is that, without understanding the difference between these two Gospels, one really can’t even begin to interpret much of any of what the Bible teaches, because this is a necessary concept to understand for proper scriptural interpretation throughout. (And to quickly get the most common objections to the idea of there being two Gospels out of the way: first of all, Paul was simply saying in Galatians 1:8–9 that anyone who tried to get those in the body of Christ to follow the requirements of any Gospels other than his would be accursed, whether it was actually a legitimate Gospel like the Gospel of the Kingdom is, or whether they weren’t even actual Gospels at all because they’re a combination of works and grace the way the “gospels” that most Christians teach today are, but Peter could, without fear of being accursed, teach almost anybody he wanted to that the Gospel of the Circumcision is something they should follow, so long as it wasn’t members of the body of Christ he was proclaiming this to, based on the words “unto you” in verses 8 and 9, since Paul was writing specifically to those who had already believed his Gospel, meaning members of the body of Christ, and not to those who hadn’t yet believed any Gospel at all; and second of all, yes, it’s true that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but that’s only within the body of Christ, because one’s nationality is irrelevant for Christ’s body, whereas, for the Israel of God, one’s nationality remains very important — Paul was reducing the scope of membership within the Israel of God in Romans 2:28–29 to include only certain Jews, not expanding it to include Gentiles as well, and the circumcision of the heart is really only for those under the law, whereas our circumcision is the “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.”)
And so, with all that being said, what was Jesus warning about here? Well, He was warning His Jewish audience about the possibility of missing out on enjoying living in Israel when the kingdom of heaven begins there during the Millennium, pointing out that they might instead end up as a corpse in a valley outside Jerusalem (known as the valley of the son of Hinnom, more often referred to now as Gehenna, which is a transliteration of the word γέεννα that this particular “hell” was translated from in the Greek Scriptures, since γέεννα is the Greek translation of גֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם, which is what ”the valley of the son of Hinnom” was translated from in the Hebrew Scriptures) to be burned up and devoured by worms, fowl, and beasts in rather than being buried under the ground, which is another element of the threats of hell Jesus warned of, I should add, since to not be buried under the ground after one dies is a great dishonour for all Jews, and would be a grave threat for anyone who heard His warnings. (I should also say, some people claim that Jews refer to Gehenna in a figurative manner to speak of a realm in which people will be tormented consciously after they die, so as to support their argument that Jesus was using this particular “hell” as a warning about what those who don’t get saved before they die will experience while dead, but there are three problems with using this argument: 1) I’m not aware of any historical evidence that this was the case during the time Jesus walked the earth, 2) even if this was a figure of speech during Jesus’ time on earth, there’s nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures to indicate it should be used this way, so this wouldn’t be an argument based on exegesis of Scripture so much as based on extrabiblical Jewish mythology, which isn’t something anyone should be basing their theology on, and 3) we already know that the punishment which takes place in this particular hell will be experienced by corpses here on earth, in that actual valley in Israel, not by ghosts in an ethereal afterlife dimension, so it really wouldn’t matter if Jews in Jesus’ time were referring to the valley figuratively in that manner anyway.)
Everyone Jesus spoke to desperately wanted to enjoy living in Israel when the kingdom of heaven finally begins there, so the idea that they might be dead during that time period, or that they might even end up weeping and gnashing their teeth because they’ve been forced to live in figuratively “darker” parts of the world when the kingdom first begins in Israel instead, would be a grave threat for them indeed (and the ”outer darkness” can’t be referring to hell, at least not the hell that Jesus primarily spoke of, because that particular hell will be within the borders of the kingdom of heaven since it will be in a valley inside Israel, so to be cast into the outer darkness simply refers to being exiled from Israel during the Millennium if one happens to be alive at that time). But even if you’re still under the mistaken impression that there’s only one Gospel, and that everything Jesus said applies to everyone, the other facts about these two passages that I’ve already mentioned still apply, so this particular hell is just a reference to a particular valley that dead bodies will be destroyed in, and isn’t a reference to the torture chamber in another dimension that most people believe the unrighteous dead end up in as ghosts. (And before moving on, if we’re to believe that encountering a fiery judgement means being tortured without end, one needs to ask not only why Jesus then wrapped up this warning with a statement that “every one shall be salted with fire” in the very next verse, but also why the references to fiery judgements throughout the Hebrew Scriptures pretty much all referred to fire purifying Israel and making things right, and never to any Israelites being tortured without end in said fire, as well.)
But what about the lake of fire? Doesn’t the Bible say that unrighteous sinners will be tortured consciously in the lake of fire, and that none of them can ever leave that location? Well, let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the lake of fire to determine whether that’s the case or not.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. — Revelation 20:7–10
This is the only passage in the Bible that suggests anyone will suffer without end in a location specifically referred to as the lake of fire, and I trust you noticed that it’s only the devil, the beast, and the false prophet who are said to be tormented there “for ever.” Yes, Revelation 20:15 does say that “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” too, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t say these people will remain in it “for ever,” or even that they’ll be alive while they’re in it (much less that they’d be suffering), and to insist that they definitely will be alive or suffering, or even that they’ll never leave it, is once again eisegesis rather than exegesis. (That’s not to say they won’t, but just like the hell fire passages we just looked at, we can’t determine whether or not they will based simply on what that verse alone says.) And, of course, even if the references to “the beast” and “the false prophet” in these verses were talking about humans rather than just evil spirits who possessed certain humans during the Tribulation, we already know that “for ever” seems to be best interpreted figuratively anyway, so there’s no good basis for simply assuming that any of these beings will never leave there either. That said, “the beast” and “the false prophet” in this passage really can’t be references to humans since the humans who will go by those titles will be cast alive into the lake of fire — which means the lake of fire is going to exist here on earth, not in another dimension that ghosts exist in — and mortal humans tend to die when they’re set on fire (and there’s nothing anywhere in the Bible to indicate that the humans who will go by these titles will be immortal, which they can’t be anyway, since immortality for humans in Scripture is always connected with salvation), so the reference to “the beast” and “the false prophet” who are being tormented in the lake of fire pretty much have to be talking about the spirits who possessed them rather than talking about the actual humans who will also go by those titles.
This also means that if the warnings by Jesus about hell we covered were a reference to the future location of the lake of fire (which many Christians believe them to be, and which I actually agree that those passages were indeed referring to), since Isaiah told us that only dead bodies would be spending time in there, we can say with quite some certainty that no humans in the lake of fire will be alive or suffering in there, at least not for any longer than it takes for someone to die after being set on fire (although this would fit with what we know; the lake of fire is called the second death for a reason — if the “second death” could somehow be interpreted as a reference to some form of torture, with one’s supposed “spiritual death,” whatever that means, actually being their “first death,” it should actually be called the “third death” since almost everybody who ends up there will have also died physically at some point prior to experiencing this fate, and if one’s “first death” is actually a reference to their biological death prior to being physically resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement rather than to this so-called “spiritual death” so many believe in, the second death would just be more of the same as the first death, which is biological death — which tells us there’s no good reason at all to interpret the “second death” as referring to being tortured in fire).
As for why I personally believe that the lake of fire will be located in the valley of the son of Hinnom in Israel, there are a couple reasons. The first is because I’ve noticed that the passage almost immediately prior to the reference in Isaiah to the undying worms and unquenchable fire is a statement that implies this will take place at least partly on the New Earth (although we have to keep the “mountain and valley” aspect of prophecy in mind, since we know that Jesus’ warnings were about the time period known as the Millennium, even if Isaiah wasn’t aware of that fact), and it seems unlikely that there would be two places for burning corpses on the New Earth (a place called “hell” and a place called the lake of fire) after the Great White Throne Judgement takes place. And similarly, we know that “the beast” and “the false prophet” will be cast into the lake of fire during the Millennium (well, technically right before it), and the similar point that it seems unlikely there would be two places for burning corpses in Israel in during the Millennium would apply here too, and so it does seem that the valley which Jesus is said to have referred to as “hell” in the KJV will indeed be the future location of the lake of fire.
Now, some people will probably bring up the fact that this passage also says “and ever” after the “for ever” part of the verse, but if “for ever” just refers to “an age” (or “a long period of time with a definite beginning and end”), as we’ve now learned it does, “and ever” in our English Bibles would really just be an emphasis on that “for ever,” simply making that period of time mean a really long period of time, but still with a definite end. Yes, some try to assert that the “and ever” part makes the passages actually mean “never ending,” but that’s nothing more than an assumption they’re making. But even if we ignored all that and decided for no good reason to interpret “and ever” as somehow turning the figurative “for ever” into a literal period of time with no end, the fact remains that we have absolutely no basis for believing any humans will even be conscious in the lake of fire, and this reference only applies to the devil, the beast, and the false prophet anyway.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. — Luke 16:19–31
This passage is about a whole other “hell” from the one where the lake of fire will be located, since that one is going to be a physical place in an actual valley here on earth, which means nothing about that “hell” can be applied to this one, and nothing about this one can be applied to it (it’s a whole other Greek word as well, being translated from ᾅδης, in this case, rather than from γέεννα). And as far as this “hell” goes, unless one believes that Lazarus was sitting inside Abraham’s chest, that there’s actually physical water and fire that ghosts can interact with in this supposed afterlife dimension which Jesus is apparently unveiling to Israelites for the first time (no passage of Scripture prior to Luke 16 had ever revealed such an afterlife — in fact, until Jesus told this story, anyone who based their theology entirely upon what the Scripture which was available to them at that time said would assume nobody is even conscious when they’re dead — and it seems extremely unlikely that the Person who corrected people for teaching extrabiblical theological concepts by saying things like “have ye not read…?” and “it is written…” would suddenly turn around and teach an entirely extrabiblical concept of an afterlife not found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures to the people He came to confirm the patriarchal promises to Himself), 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 a place called hell when they die, while the poor all get saved, since there’s literally zero indication in this story that Lazarus was a believer. The reason Jesus said Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” seemed to be entirely because of his suffering as a beggar, not because He’d accepted Christ as his Saviour or believed any Gospel — and likewise, the reason the rich man was said to be suffering in hell was because he got to enjoy good things during his life, not because of sin, or even because he rejected Jesus (there was no indication in the story that either Lazarus or the rich man had ever even heard of Jesus).
The fact of the matter is, no Christians actually believe any of that, which means they’re already basically interpreting the story entirely figuratively to begin with, so they should really just finally acknowledge that it’s 100% figurative, since they already read it that way anyway (even if they haven’t realized until now that they’re doing so), meant to convey a message that had nothing to do with an afterlife at all, and everything to do with potentially missing out on getting to enjoy life in the kingdom of God when it begins in Israel, just like most of Jesus’ other warnings were about. Please note that I’m not insisting this is a parable, however, 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 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 in hell can be anyway, parable or not, it’s still entirely metaphorical , and leave it at that.
But let’s pretend, for a moment, that Jesus somehow actually was revealing new information about an afterlife which nobody prior to that point had ever revealed in Scripture (obviously He wasn’t, since that would go against His whole modus operandi, and would really make no sense at all, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that He was). In doing so, we’d then have to consider the fact that Revelation 20:14 says, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Note that the ”hell” in this verse is translated from the same Greek word ᾅδης that it’s translated from in the story in Luke 16, and not from γέεννα.)
From that verse in Revelation we know that at least one of the things or places referred to as hell in the KJV and the place called the lake of fire seem to be two entirely different places (or concepts), since John tells us in this verse that hell itself is eventually going to be cast into the lake of fire, and something can’t be cast into itself. But this brings up a major problem. You see, most Christians assume that people in the hell they end up in after they die can never leave that particular version of hell, and yet Revelation 20:13 tells us, “the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” (The “hell” in this verse is also translated from ᾅδης rather than from γέεννα, I should point out.)
It’s probably now becoming clear to most of you what it is that I’m getting at, but I’ll continue for the sake of everyone else. Remember, it’s an afterlife location called hell which most Christians assume certain people will not only spend eternity in as ghosts, but that in fact they can never possibly ever even leave, but we’ve just read that hell is going to be emptied (and then cast into the lake of fire itself), so it should now be obvious that people not only can, but in fact will, leave the version of hell that dead souls end up in after all, contrary to what most believe, and so even if we took this story literally, the rich man would eventually leave this version of “hell” in order to be resurrected from the dead so he could be judged at the Great White Throne anyway (the Great White Throne Judgement doesn’t take place in some afterlife dimension, or outside of time, as some misunderstand Revelation 20:11 to mean — not realizing that the earth and the heaven fleeing away is just figurative language for the inhabitants of the earth and heavens trying to hide from God’s judgement, as Adam and Eve once did — since it takes place right here in the same physical universe you’re reading this article in now, based on the fact that people are going to be resurrected from the dead before they’re judged), and then possibly (although we couldn’t say for certain) cast into the “hell” located in the valley of the son of Hinnom (aka the lake of fire).
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. — Daniel 12:1–3
Now, the events of this passage do take place at least partly around the time of the Great White Throne Judgement, but all it says is that some people will be resurrected to shame and “everlasting” contempt (this also means that nobody is dead in this passage, since they’ve just been resurrected, so it can’t be talking about whatever hell one is in after they’ve died, nor can it be talking about the lake of fire, at least not if they’ll be alive at this time, since no humans will be alive in the lake of fire), and shame and contempt aren’t even remotely close to the same thing as torture in fire (and we’ve already determined that “everlasting” generally doesn’t mean “never ending” in the Bible anyway, and there’s no basis for assuming it does here that I’m aware of, outside of preconceived doctrinal bias towards it having to mean that, of course).
Before moving on, though, this seems like a good time to remind you that not once did the Hebrew Scriptures ever threaten never-ending torture (much less torture in fire) while dead, or even after one is resurrected, as a punishment for breaking the Mosaic law, or even for sin in general. At most, they threatened physical death for certain capital crimes (or, in the case of Adam, simply to “surely die,” which one should realize is a figurative translation in the KJV that just meant “to gain mortality leading to eventual physical death” when they discover the literal meaning of the Hebrew מוֹת תָּמוּת is actually “to die shall you be dying”; since Adam didn’t physically drop dead the day he sinned, we already know that the translation “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” in the KJV is a figurative statement, but it can’t mean to 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, and if this warning was simply about the so-called “spiritual death” that so many assume it was about rather than about becoming mortal, we’d then have to ask why Adam became mortal/began dying on the day he sinned, and why we’re mortal and die as well — not to mention the fact that, if sin and “spiritual death” results in mortality, as some might now attempt to argue, 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” — and 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, especially based on the literal meaning of the Hebrew phrase, if you don’t want to descend into the realm of contradiction and even absurdity). And even if this passage in the book of Daniel had actually said that certain people will be tortured in fire without end while they’re dead (which isn’t what it says at all), or even after they’ve been resurrected, there’d never been a threat of a never-ending conscious punishment before that passage, so there’s no good reason to assume it was suddenly being proclaimed here centuries after the giving of the Mosaic law when no Israelite had ever heard of it before, and when the readers of Daniel clearly couldn’t have possibly understood it to mean that prior to Jesus’ statements about hell, presuming His statements were actually meant to be taken literally (and presuming we ignored the context of the warnings we learned from Isaiah). You’d think that, at the very least, God’s chosen people would be given a warning about something as horrific as never-ending torture (in fire, no less), not to mention be told who would be experiencing such a thing or why, or how to avoid it, for that matter. The fact is, not only was no Israelite ever warned about it (at least not that we see in Scripture, and we need to base our doctrines on what Scripture says), nobody prior to Israel was ever warned about it either that we’re told of. Not even Adam and Eve were warned about suffering without end in a fiery place if they sinned, much less anyone who lived from their time to the time Daniel was supposedly warned about it, and even if to “surely die” was referring to the so-called spiritual death — which is actually a completely unscriptural and meaningless term, since, if our spirits could die, we’d drop dead ourselves; and if the term is simply a metaphor, then it isn’t actually “spiritual death” so much as “metaphorical death” — that many Christians mistakenly believe in, there’s no hint of being tortured in fire without end in that expression anyway. (Not to mention the fact that pretty much every reference to fiery judgement in the Hebrew Scriptures actually referred to purifying Israel, so they’d really have no basis for reading torture in fire into any passages about judgement.)
Besides, as I already mentioned, the passage in Daniel is talking about a physical resurrection on earth anyway. It wasn’t referring to a spiritual existence in an afterlife realm while dead at all. The negative part of this passage is referring to those resurrected to life at the Great White Throne Judgement before they’re either sent to their second death — when they’re tossed into the lake of fire to die a second time — or to their time paying off “the uttermost farthing” on the New Earth (which is a whole other topic that most Christians aren’t familiar with at all), so it seems safe to say that this isn’t actually talking about what most people have read into it, and that we should move on to the next passage.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. — Matthew 5:29–30
This is just an earlier telling of the same warning Jesus gave in Matthew 18 that we already covered. The reason I didn’t include it along with that passage is because this one doesn’t refer to the duration of one’s time spent in hell (or, more accurately put, the duration of the existence of this particular “hell,” since the other passage technically didn’t mention the duration of one’s time spent there either), but everything I already said about that passage applies to this one too, so there isn’t really much to add to those comments here, although perhaps I should point out that Jesus said “thy whole body,” so Jesus’ warning about hell can only be referring to something that happens to physical bodies here on earth rather than to ghosts in an afterlife dimension, which lines up perfectly with what we’ve already learned from that prophecy about carcases in the book of Isaiah that Jesus was referencing with this warning.
Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. — Matthew 5:21–22
Jesus said this shortly before the last passage we just looked at, but you’ll notice that he didn’t say anything about being conscious in hell, or being there without end, so the same comments apply to this warning as well. That said, something very important to consider about all of the passages where Jesus warned about avoiding certain actions (or making sure to do certain actions) in order to avoid hell is that, by the time anyone has heard these warnings, they’ve already sinned at least once in their life, and most Christians believe that even one sin is enough to guarantee you’ll be punished in hell without end after you die. If we’re interpreting these passages where Jesus warns about hell the way most Christians do, and applying them to everyone rather than just to the Israelites He gave these warnings to, these would be extremely pointless warnings, at least based on the traditional Christian assumptions about soteriology, since it would be far too late by the time anyone heard or read any of the warnings. (Unless, perhaps, you don’t believe in “eternal security” and believe one could lose their salvation, but the problem is, in most cases Jesus wasn’t talking to people who were “saved” yet, at least not according to the way most Christians understand the word “saved,” so there’s no way any of His listeners could have possibly understood Him to be talking about losing salvation, which means there’s no good basis for interpreting these warnings as simply being solely about losing salvation either.)
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. — Matthew 18:6
This passage doesn’t actually mention hell by name, but it precedes one of Jesus’ suggestions that people mutilate their bodies in order to avoid hell, so I wanted to mention it because these verses all seem to suggest that if people either kill themselves (or allow themselves to be killed) after committing a certain type of sin, or mutilate their bodies in order to avoid committing certain types of sins, they can avoid being punished in hell, which really doesn’t seem to fit with the traditional Christian soteriology, at least not the soteriology of most Protestants. The simple truth is, any Christian who doesn’t take the method of avoiding being punished in hell in these passages literally can’t take the rest of the passages literally either if they want to remain consistent. At the very least, they have no basis for using these passages to defend their soteriology.
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. — Matthew 12:31–32
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. — Mark 3:28–29
And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. — Luke 12:10
These are parallel passages that are all talking about the same thing, the so-called “unforgivable sin.” The first thing to note is that none of these passages mention either hell or the lake of fire, so any assertion that not being forgiven for this sin means being tortured in hell or in the lake of fire is simply an assumption one is reading into these passages based on their presuppositions. It’s also important to note that the passage in Matthew tells us how long “hath never forgiveness” as mentioned in Mark will actually last, which is this “world” and the “world” to come, and the word “world,” in the KJV, doesn’t always mean “planet” or “earth.” In many cases, including this one, it’s another figurative reference to an “age” (it’s translated from αἰών here — which is the exact same Greek word that ”age” is translated from elsewhere in the KJV — rather than κόσμος, which is the word that ”world” would be more literally translated from), meaning “a long period of time with a definite end,” sometimes also simply referring figuratively to the zeitgeist — or the specific “spirit” — of a particular age, and there are at least two ages or “worlds” to come still, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:7 (note the plural “ages” in this verse). This is made even more obvious when you look at the original Greek in these passages, since οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ οὔτε ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι οὔτε ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι in Matthew 12:32 literally means “it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming,” and οὐκ ἔχει ἄφεσιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος in Mark 3:29 literally means “hath not forgiveness for the age, but is in danger of age-pertaining condemnation.” This means that, while someone who is guilty of this sin won’t be forgiven in this world/age, or even the next world/age, there’s nothing in these passages that says they won’t be forgiven during the world/age after that (which, as those who are familiar with the doctrine of the ages know, will be the final world/age, beginning with the creation of the New Earth, after both the final rebellion against Israel and God by Satan and the “goat nations” living in the “outer darkness” at that time, as well as the Great White Throne Judgement, have taken place), not to mention after the final world/age has concluded (as all ages will have to do, based on the definition of the word “age”). Which makes sense, since it’s literally only an “age-pertaining condemnation,” which means the punishment will only last for the duration of specific ages (this age and the age that is coming), but will end after those particular ages have concluded.
Not only that, none of those parallel passages actually mention what the sentence or punishment actually is. You see, as the literal meaning of the passage in Mark should make clear, “damnation” only means “condemnation,” and is simply the judgment, not the sentence; neither eternity spent in hell nor in the lake of fire is implicitly meant by the word “damnation” — all it means is “a verdict of guilty” — and since neither hell or the lake of fire are mentioned in any of these passages, to read never-ending punishment in either hell or the lake of fire into those passages without a good reason to do so is simply eisegesis. But even if we did eisegete hell or the lake of fire into these passages, we already know that there’s no basis for believing any human is conscious in either of them, much less that they’ll remain in either of them without end, anyway, so that doesn’t help the traditional interpretation either. Besides all that, though, even if “hath never forgiveness” actually meant they wouldn’t eventually be forgiven (which it doesn’t, since it’s simply a figurative translation of οὐκ ἔχει ἄφεσιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, which literally means ”hath not forgiveness for the age,” so it’s only until the end of ”the age” — which is a term that refers specifically to the Millennium if one is reading the original Greek literally — that they’ll definitely miss out on forgiveness), people don’t necessarily need forgiveness. That might sound like a strange statement, but there are two factors to consider here. The first is simply that someone who is condemned doesn’t require forgiveness in order 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, especially since we already know it only lasts for the next two “worlds,” or “ages,” and all ages, by definition, eventually come to an end). But the second thing to consider is that there’s actually something even better than forgiveness, and that’s justification. Forgiveness implies guilt, and just means that the forgiver is overlooking the guilt of the one being forgiven by not implementing a penalty for their crime (and said forgiveness can be revoked as well), whereas justification means “not guilty” to begin with, or “declared to be righteous” (it’s sometimes well explained as, “just as if I’d never sinned at all”; and it’s important to note that justification can’t be revoked the way forgiveness can be — at least not the sort of justification Paul wrote about, anyway — and there’s no reason to believe that a “not guilty” verdict by God could suddenly become a “guilty” verdict), so even if somebody does miss out on forgiveness entirely, justification is far superior to it anyway, and that passage doesn’t even hint at the idea that they won’t eventually be justified. On top of all that, though, it’s important to point out that nobody actually takes this passage literally anyway, at least not the version quoted in Mark 3. How can I say that? Well, because it says, “eternal damnation” in the KJV, and the word “eternal” literally means “without beginning or end,” and I doubt Jesus actually meant their condemnation would have no beginning, so this means that at least one word in that passage can’t be interpreted literally, so we might as well be consistent with what we learned about “for ever” and “everlasting” and treat this word the same way we now know we should be treating those words (especially since it’s translated from the same Greek word — αἰωνίων — that ”everlasting” is translated from anyway).
But if the actual sentence for the damnation isn’t specifically spelled out in those passages, what is the punishment for the condemnation that these passages are referring to? Well, there were various reasons one might end up experiencing this sentence, but there was basically only one ultimate judgement that Jesus ever threatened His Jewish audience with: missing out on getting to live in Israel during the Millennial Kingdom. But as big and bad a threat as that was for Jesus’ audience (and it was a pretty major threat for them), missing out on getting to enjoy life in Israel for that 1,000 year period wasn’t the end. Jesus said that “the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” to the chief priests and the elders of the people, but that doesn’t mean the chief priests and elders won’t ever go into the kingdom of God. In fact, they indeed will (He said “before you,” not “instead of you”), just not until a point in time after the first group has already done so. Please note that I’m not saying they’ll have been forgiven at this point, though. In fact, I’m willing to concede that they probably won’t have been forgiven, or even saved (under the Gospel of the Kingdom, anyway), at this point. But that’s okay because, as we’ve already covered, one doesn’t need to be forgiven once they’ve paid the penalty for a crime, and the penalty for this particular crime was simply to miss out on life in Israel during the Millennium and nothing more, at least based on every other judgement passage that quotes Jesus talking about Israelites missing out on salvation (and salvation under the Gospel of the Kingdom primarily had to do with getting to live in the kingdom of God during the Millennial Kingdom; it wasn’t really about life on the New Earth, for the most part). 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 called 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 term “the kingdom of heaven” in the book of Matthew 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, as I’ll explain a little later).
Basically, there are people who will get to enjoy the kingdom of God when it begins on earth shortly after Jesus’ Second Coming, in the next world/age (this would include the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus spoke of, among others), which is the time generally known as the Millennium. But after the Great White Throne Judgement, during the final world/age (which will be the world/age after “the world to come”), the kingdom will be located (at least to begin with) in the massive city known as the New Jerusalem, and it’s during this world/age that people such as the chief priests and elders, as well as those who “hath never forgiveness” will get a chance to enter the Kingdom (which refers to getting to enter the New Jerusalem; it isn’t a reference to simply living on the New Earth). Not everyone will get to do so until they’ve paid off “the uttermost farthing,” however. But when they have, they’ll also get to enjoy life in the kingdom of God (even if they missed out on the salvation Jesus spoke about, since they didn’t get to live in Israel during the period of time known as the Millennium). This doesn’t mean the salvation we’re concerned with is through works, though, because this has nothing to do with the salvation Paul wrote about at all. Nobody who goes to live in the New Jerusalem after paying off their debt on the New Earth will be made immortal at that time, which is what the salvation Paul wrote about was largely referring to (although they’ll likely remain alive, thanks to the fruit and leaves of the tree of life, but they’ll need to continue consuming the tree’s fruit regularly in order to remain alive — presumably on a monthly basis, based on Revelation 22:2 — so this isn’t true immortality, and hence isn’t the salvation Paul taught about), so you can stop worrying about the idea that I’m teaching salvation by works here, at least as far as Paul’s Gospel is concerned.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. — Matthew 13:24–30
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. — Matthew 13:47–50
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. — Matthew 25:31–46
I’m covering all three of these passages together because I believe they’re all talking about similar judgements which occur around the same time, if not just being different tellings of the same judgement, and I’ve never met a single person who disagrees, so it seems safe to do so.
If you read those passages over without taking the time to break them down and think about three important factors one needs to consider when interpreting Scripture systematically (context, chronology, and consistency), and ignore the fact that neither hell nor the lake of fire are mentioned by name anywhere in any of these parabolic prophecies, it’s sort of easy to see why people might assume they’re talking about true believers going to heaven and non-believers ending up trapped in hell. But before jumping to any conclusions, you should really be taking some time to ask yourself a few questions:
- Who are the sheep supposed to represent and who are the goats supposed to represent?
- When are the events in these prophecies supposed to take place, and where?
- How is it the sheep gain eternal life?
- Where is it the goats are apparently going to spend eternity?
Let’s answer these questions by starting with the first passage. At the end of His explanation of this parable, Jesus says the angels “shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Now think about this carefully. If the kingdom of heaven is an afterlife location which people go to when they die, and only Christians can go to heaven, then how can the angels “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity” if they’re not already in the kingdom? To be in the kingdom (which would have to be heaven, if the traditional assumption were correct), they’d have to already be saved (not to mention dead, based on the common misunderstanding of what the word “heaven” means in the Bible, which is something I’ll discuss later in this article), so is this parable saying that some people will become sinners in heaven some time after they die and then cast out of heaven into hell? Obviously nobody believes this to be the case, but this just tells us that, similar to when they bring up the other passages they assume are about hell but which never use the word, they aren’t thinking things through very carefully.
So we know this is taking place on earth, not in an afterlife realm, which means the next step is to determine the identity of the “righteous/just/sheep” and the “wicked/them which do iniquity/goats” (this also once again tells us that when we read about “the kingdom of heaven” in the Bible, it’s not talking about a place one goes to after they die, but is a term that refers to something here on earth). Now, most people will quickly say that the sheep, or the righteous, represent true believers, and that the goats, or the wicked, are everyone else. As for when and where all this takes place, very few people have ever even considered that question, but while neither hell nor the lake of fire are actually mentioned in any of these passages, if people are being judged and going into fire for eternity, it must be talking about the Great White Throne Judgement and the lake of fire, right? But wait… are there going to be any true believers judged at the Great White Throne? As most Christians are aware (at least those who haven’t fallen for the deception known as Amillennialism), but seem to forget when they read these passages for some reason, there won’t be any true believers being judged at that particular judgement (those in the body of Christ will have already been “judged,” so to speak, over 1,000 years earlier, at the Judgement Seat of Christ, and will have been living in the heavens for all that time, while those in the Israel of God will have been living on, and reigning over, the earth that they inherited for the 1,000 years before this occurs, and there’s no reason to think that either group would be judged after the Millennium ends, especially since most of them will have been made immortal at this time, and immortality for humans is always connected with salvation in Scripture), which means the sheep can’t actually represent true believers at all, can they? Not to mention, there’s no reference to a resurrection in any of these passages, which would be necessary to occur if these are about a judgement of everyone who has ever lived. Instead, one needs to take a look at the verse in Matthew 25 which says it takes place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory,” and look at the context of the rest of the chapter, as well as the chapter before it, which makes it obvious that it’s talking about the time immediately after Jesus returns to the earth at His Second Coming, so these passages must be talking about a judgement which 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 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, and ignoring the fact that ζωὴν αἰώνιον and κόλασιν αἰώνιον literally mean “life age-pertaining” and “chastening age-pertaining,” which are temporal terms, and which tell us that “everlasting” and “eternal” are just as figurative here as they always are in the KJV), that just brings up other problems. For example, 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, as Revelation tells us the nations will, if all the non-believers are cast into the lake of fire at this point.
Not only that, but hopefully you’re also now beginning to wonder why there’s nothing in there about the sheep “asking Jesus into their hearts” or “accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour” in these passages (not that either of those are scriptural ways to be saved), or even about them believing that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day (which is the Gospel that Paul taught), and also why it seems like salvation appears to be dependent upon being just or doing good works rather than being said to be by grace through faith (the same concern also applies to the passages we considered which seem to tell us that we have to mutilate our bodies while we’re still alive if we want to avoid hell after we die, rather than accept Christ or His sacrifice in order to avoid it; and, again, they can’t simply be warnings not to sin, if the traditional view is correct, because by the time anyone has heard these warnings they’ve already sinned at least once in their life, guaranteeing that they’ll be sent to hell to suffer without end after they die, making them very pointless warnings indeed). Most people just brush those concerns aside, however, because they “know” these passages have to be talking about what they’ve always been taught by their religious leaders that they are, and decide to believe, even though it doesn’t actually say so in the passages, that the reason for salvation in these passages (especially the judgement of the sheep and the goats) has to be figurative and has to be talking about works as the fruit of faith rather than good works being the actual cause of the sheep’s salvation as that passage says they are when taken literally (and then push the thought that “many non-believers do the very things Jesus seemed to say would result in everlasting life while many believers don’t” to the back of their minds and try to forget that fact as well), because if one were to read it literally it would become obvious pretty quickly that it just can’t be talking about what one has always assumed it is at all (although one is then also forced to push the thought that, “if the cause of salvation and damnation is figurative, then there’s no reason to believe that the actual reward and punishment, or even their durations, aren’t also figurative,” to the back of their mind as well, but most successfully do so). But even if this could all somehow be twisted into meaning the sheep are true believers who will go to heaven for eternity, and the goats are non-believers who will go to the lake of fire for eternity (or if we ignore the fact that this passage takes place on earth among the living and not in some afterlife realm among the dead), we already know from what we’ve previously covered that there’s no basis for believing that anybody is going to remain in any version of hell, including the lake of fire, without end (and that there’s no reason to believe anyone is conscious in it either), so mangling the passage in such a manner doesn’t actually help defend the traditional doctrine anyway.
But as for what these passages are actually talking about, in order to figure this out, one needs to first be aware of certain passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which are the key to understanding the true meaning of being in a furnace of fire, such as Deuteronomy 4:20 which says, “but the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day,” or Jeremiah 11:4 which says, “which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God.” Those are only two of the many references in the Hebrew Scriptures to being judged in a figurative furnace, as well as to being “refined in a furnace,” none of which refer to spending time burning in literal fire in an actual furnace, but are basically talking about time spent exiled in parts of the world that aren’t Israel. And so, what the first two parables are actually saying is that there will be righteous Israelites and unrighteous Israelites when Jesus returns, and some will wail and gnash their teeth because they’ve been forced to live in parts of the world that aren’t Israel during the Millennium (these parts of the world are “the furnace of fire,” and would be where the “everlasting fire” in the parable of the sheep and the goats will also be located), unlike the righteous Jews who will get to live in Israel during the Millennium (which is where everyone who heard Jesus when He spoke wanted to live when the kingdom arrives on earth in the future). It’s actually very simple to grasp once you come to understand who Jesus’ audience was and what His message was all about, but when you assume He was talking about an afterlife for ghosts in another dimension rather than the life and death which physical bodies on this planet “experience,” and think He was directing His message to everyone rather than specifically to Israelites, it’s easy to get extremely confused about all of His sayings.
As for the parable of the sheep and the goats, like the judgement in the first two parables, this judgement simply refers to certain people (possibly Gentiles of the nations, but more likely simply non-believing Israelites living among the nations — perhaps not even being aware that they’re from an Israelite tribe — based on the fact that Jesus’ messages tended to only be about Israelites, and also that sheep and goats in Scripture were generally connected with Israelites) being 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 (since Israel is where the kingdom of heaven will be located when it begins on the earth, those parts of the world far from the light of the King and His kingdom will be in “outer darkness,” which is a grave threat for any Israelite who hopes to finally live in that kingdom when it comes to earth), 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 it obviously isn’t literal fire in this parable that is prepared for the devil and his angels either, as most Christians have traditionally assumed, but rather it’s the parts of the planet these people are exiled to live in which are figuratively being referred to as the “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 don’t worry, this interpretation isn’t teaching salvation by works for us either, because this passage isn’t actually talking about the sort of salvation Paul taught about, since the “sheep” aren’t going to be quickened (which simply means to be made immortal) when they go live in the kingdom, at least not right away, as I’ll explain shortly, so this isn’t the sort of salvation which Paul taught isn’t by works, because that salvation is all about being quickened.
Now, before moving on, I should mention that I’ve had it suggested to me by someone who does understand that the term ”life eternal” doesn’t necessarily refer to being made immortal right away that the people who rise up against Israel at the end of the 1,000 years are actually the descendants of the “sheep” who entered the kingdom rather than the descendants of the “goats” cast into the “everlasting fire,” and that the “everlasting fire” is indeed a reference to the lake of fire, but nowhere in Scripture is it said that the offspring of those who are given “life eternal” who sin will be exiled to other parts of the planet. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible they will be, of course, but since there’s nothing in the text to indicate they will be, departing into the “everlasting fire” being what is representative of the exile is a far more scripturally sound explanation than an explanation that isn’t even hinted at in the text could possibly be, especially in light of what we know the “furnace of fire” is in the first two parables (and there’s no reason to assume the “everlasting fire” is a different fire than the “furnace of fire,” especially since “hell” isn’t ever mentioned in these passages).
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. — 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10
This passage is obviously also talking about Christ’s Second Coming (compare the details of verse 7 here to the details mentioned in Matthew 25:31 if there’s any doubt in your mind), which means that what I’ve already written about “fire” in the last few passages I covered applies to this passage as well. Paul was simply pointing out the sort of punishment some of those who will be alive at the time Jesus returns will have to endure, and it’s just as figurative as when Jesus spoke about it. Besides, almost no Christian takes the word “destruction” in this verse literally, and if that word is figurative and not literal, there’s no good reason to believe that the word “everlasting” before it is any more literal than it is (especially since we already know that it doesn’t really seem to be meant to be taken that way anyway).
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. — Matthew 10:28
Notice the word “destroy” there, which, just like the word “destruction” in the last passage, we have no basis for interpreting figuratively in the manner most Christians do (in the sense that to be “destroyed” somehow figuratively refers to suffering without end in the lake of fire). I’d argue that it makes far more sense to interpret it in a way that lines up with what Jesus was actually teaching throughout His earthly ministry: about the kingdom of heaven coming to Israel in the future, and how to either get to live there during the Millennium or end up missing out on it at that time. With that in mind, I’d suggest that this verse is simply saying that Jesus’ Jewish audience at the time He gave the warning (along with those Israelites who live through the Tribulation) should not fear men who might kill them for their faith, because God will still resurrect them to live in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth if that happens. But if they die without that faith, on the other hand, God will not resurrect them at that time, which means they’d miss out on the greatest desire of their soul (this is what the figurative language of having one’s soul destroyed means), which for anyone listening to Jesus would have been (or at least should have been) to get to live in that kingdom when it begins in Israel in the future. Like Judas, it would have been far better for them to have died in the womb or in childbirth than to have been born at all, since babies who aren’t born are far more likely get to live on the New Earth than Judas or any of those who will be cast into the hell Jesus warned about are, at least during the final age.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? — Matthew 23:33
All this verse says is that the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking at the time will be condemned to hell (the “hell” in the valley of the son of Hinnom, in this case, since it’s translated from γέεννα in this verse), but it doesn’t say they’ll be in this particular hell without end, nor does it say they’ll be conscious while they’re in it (which we know from what we’ve already learned that they won’t be).
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? — Isaiah 33:14
I’m sure it should go without saying, by this point, that the “devouring fire” and “everlasting burnings” can’t be referring to hell. For one thing, as we’ve already covered, nobody who heard or read this warning at the time it was given could have possibly interpreted it as referring to hell, since hell had never been described that way in Scripture yet, and this verse doesn’t even mention hell. So what was this talking about? Well, the first thing to note is that it’s a reference to specific sinners in a specific location — Zion — telling us that this is a judgement specifically meant for Israel, and the fire is simply a figure of speech for certain judgements of God against Israel. Why does God use fire as a symbol of judgement? Because the judgement comes directly from Him, and God Himself is referred to as a consuming fire (and I assume you don’t believe that God is hell, or the lake of fire, Himself, since we already know that that the lake of fire will be located in a valley in Israel). The Hebrew Scriptures are full of examples of this symbolism being used to refer to judgements of Israel, so to assume this one verse is a reference to the lake of fire is just reading one’s preconceived doctrinal bias into the text. But the question does remain, who among Israel shall be able to dwell in the “fire” when God judges Israel? Well, the answer to that question is given in the very next verse: “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.” Those Israelites who walk righteously will be able to dwell among the fiery judgements themselves without being devoured, yet we know the righteous won’t be cast into the lake of fire, so it should go without saying that this verse was never talking about the lake of fire to begin with.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. — Matthew 7:21–23
Of course, there’s nothing about hell or the lake of fire in this passage, but it’s quoted so often to defend never-ending punishment that I thought I should include it regardless. That said, based on everything we’ve covered so far, you should really be able to interpret this one for yourself by now. But for those who do need an explanation, Jesus is simply talking about certain people who won’t be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven, which just refers to Israel during the Millennium, in this passage, because they’ve continued to sin during their lives (this also makes it clear that this isn’t a warning for members of the body of Christ, because there is no condemnation for us, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even sin, since where sin abounds, grace much more abounds). He isn’t talking about ghosts not being allowed to live in an ethereal afterlife realm called heaven when they die, and He isn’t even talking about unbelievers (anyone who can do the things in His name that the people He was condemning were able to do are clearly believers, but it wasn’t lack of belief He condemned them for anyway; rather, it was for their iniquity).
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. — John 14:6
Like the last passage, this one doesn’t mention hell or the lake of fire either, but I thought I should quickly cover it as well. Aside from the fact that Jesus was talking to Jews in this verse, which tells us that it’s technically about the sort of salvation Israelites were looking forward to (which, again, involves getting to live in Israel during the Millennium, not “going to heaven” as ghosts after one dies), if anybody comes to the Father after the Millennium, it would still be because of what Christ did.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. — John 3:16
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. — John 3:36
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. — 1 John 5:12
Every single Christian out there already interprets basically every part of these passages extremely figuratively. Based on everything I’ve written above, it should really be quite clear by now to anyone who has been paying attention that these verses are simply saying that those Israelites who don’t “believe on the Son” won’t get to enjoy life in Israel during the Millennium (and while it’s too big of a tangent to get into right now, John’s books are a part of what’s known as the Circumcision writings — as opposed to what are known as the Uncircumcision writings, meaning Paul’s 13 epistles — and so references to “the world” in the writings of John that aren’t talking about specific ages are generally, if not always, referring to “the world” of Israelites, not the whole planet or every human to ever live, although I don’t have the space to go into any more detail on that in this particular article). And what does it mean for an Israelite to believe on the Son? Well, it simply means to believe that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah (or Christ) and the Son of God, as John also wrote in John 20:31 (and I trust you noticed the lack of having to believe that “Christ died for our sins” in that verse which tells John’s readers what they have to believe in order to have “life through his name,” and have figured out that this is because that particular belief wasn’t necessary under the Gospel of the Kingdom the way it is under Paul’s Gospel, realizing that John certainly would have included it in that verse if it actually was a necessary thing for his readers to believe in order to experience the sort of salvation John was writing about, since it wouldn’t make sense for him to leave out such a crucial detail of what his readers needed to believe to have life if that was the main reason he wrote the book, as he claimed it was in that verse).
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. — Romans 10:9–10
Similar to the above passages written by John, misunderstanding what Paul wrote in this passage has caused a lot of confusion and consternation among many people, and has also led to some pretty bad doctrines (such as “Lordship Salvation,” as just one example). As I’ve already said, however, there are different types of salvations, and different ways of experiencing “everlasting life” in the kingdom of God (those saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision will do so on earth, and those saved under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision will do so in the heavens). Basically, anyone to whom God has given the faith to truly believe Paul’s Gospel will experience “everlasting life” in the heavens, which is salvation from a relative perspective under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision. This means that, while it isn’t the choice to believe the Good News which Paul preached as his Gospel that saves someone (our relative salvation is based on God’s sovereign election of those of us in the body of Christ long before we were even born, and has nothing to do with any decisions we make at all; which isn’t to say we don’t make decisions, but the decisions we make are all determined beforehand by a combination of our nurture and our nature — meaning our life experiences and genetics — as well as by God), if someone does truly understand and believe this Good News, it means they are among the elect and have been brought into membership in the body of Christ, and will get to enjoy “everlasting life” in the heavens after the event generally referred to as the Rapture. One thing you’ll notice that Paul didn’t mention in that message of Good News, however, which is what he told his readers they believed when they were saved (relatively speaking), is that they had to confess Jesus as Lord (or “confess the Lord Jesus,” as the KJV renders it) in order to be saved, and yet verse 10 of Romans 10 seems to make it clear that the salvation written about there is based on confession. Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t Lord to us, of course, since we’re told elsewhere that He is, but His Lordship isn’t something Paul said his readers confessed at the time they were brought into membership in the body when he explained what they did when they were saved (nor did he say it’s something that they or we have to confess in order to be brought into the body; in fact, it’s having faith that the Good News he preached is true that he considers to be the important thing we do, as he makes clear all throughout the rest of his epistles, so there’s no good reason to take this one reference to confession being necessary for salvation that happens to be sitting in the middle of a series of chapters which were primarily about Israel and their salvation and applying it to us, especially when it would contradict everything else we know about our salvation).
Likewise, while Romans 10:9–10 says that someone who experiences the salvation that confessing the Lord Jesus and believing God raised Him from the dead brings will indeed believe God resurrected Jesus (just as we believe), which means they would obviously also have to believe that He died (just as we believe), there isn’t anything in that verse about His death being “for our sins,” which is a crucial part of what we believe when we’re saved under our Gospel. The most important part of the belief connected to the sort of salvation Paul is talking about in Romans 10 is Jesus’ resurrection, not His death for our sins. It might not seem like it, but these are important distinctions between these two different sets of belief here.
Of course, most people are under the impression that there’s only one Gospel to be believed in Scripture. This right here, however, demonstrates quite clearly how there is definitely more than one thing that a person can believe in order to be saved (figuratively speaking; again, it isn’t the actual belief itself that saves us, but what the truth we’re believing means that both did and does, which is why we call it Good News to begin with). As I’ve already alluded to, something we need to keep in mind is that Romans chapters 9 through 11 are primarily about Israelites (they aren’t 100% about Israelites, but Israelites are the main focus of those chapters, including in the passage in question), and Paul’s point about confessing and believing in that passage was connected to what Israelites have to believe in order to be saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision, which is that Jesus is the Christ, aka the Messiah, and that He is the Son of God. Salvation/“everlasting life” under this Gospel has nothing to do with the salvation of Paul’s Gospel, nor does it have anything to do with residing in the heavens during the impending ages, but is actually about getting to live in the part of the kingdom of God that will be on planet earth — meaning Israel — during the Millennium. Christ’s death “for our sins” wasn’t included anywhere in the Gospel that Jesus or anyone else preached prior to Paul proclaiming his specific Gospel to the nations, and Jesus’ resurrection was only an important part of their Gospel inasmuch as it proves He’s still able to be their Messiah because He’s no longer dead (with the confession part being connected to Him being the Son of God).
So don’t worry if you haven’t verbally spoken the words “Jesus is Lord” (especially if you physically aren’t able to speak and, as such, can’t verbally proclaim anything). One day you, and everyone else, will, of course (and remember, nobody can call Jesus Lord apart from the Holy Spirit leading them to do so). But in the meantime, the only way to be saved under Paul’s Gospel is for God to choose to give you the faith to understand and believe what it means that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. — Matthew 7:13–14
At this point I trust you’ve figured out that there’s no basis for reading the idea of never-ending torment in the lake of fire into any of these passages. I trust you’re also aware that I’m not claiming everyone will get saved when it comes to the sort of salvation Jesus was talking about while He walked the earth, since not everyone will get to live in Israel during the Millennium.
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 18:3
Just like all the other passages we’ve covered, there should be no reason for me to point out that there’s no mention of hell or the lake of fire in this verse either, and I shouldn’t have to repeat that Jesus was simply talking about not getting to live in Israel during the Millennium when He said certain people would not enter the kingdom of heaven unless they’ve been converted, so I’ll just leave it at that.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. — Romans 6:23
This verse is extremely misunderstood, and is almost always taken completely out of the context of the rest of the section that it’s in, but just like the last few passages we covered, this verse doesn’t mention hell or the lake of fire directly, so one has to read the idea of never-ending torment in hell into the word “death” here if they want to continue believing in such a thing, which by now should be clear that there’s no basis for doing anyway, since the concept doesn’t even exist in the Bible to begin with, at least not in any of the passages we’ve looked at so far. As for what the verse is talking about, it would take a long study of Romans chapter 2 all the way through chapter 8 to really get into it, but to put it very simply, Paul is basically using this as a metaphor for the ongoing results of his readers continuing to allow sin to reign over themselves while they’re alive (“death” is just as metaphorical as “wages” is here, which is something that most Christians already agree with me on, even if they aren’t aware of what it’s actually referring to). What’s important to note is that Paul wasn’t talking about unbelievers in this part of Romans, but rather about members of the body of Christ who haven’t fully reckoned themselves to be dead to sin yet, meaning they’re still allowing sin to reign over them because they’re still having confidence in the flesh and are actively trying not to sin — which is what it means to “obey it in the lusts thereof” (“lust,” in the KJV, simply refers to covetousness, or the desire to obtain something, I should add, and has no inherent connection with sexuality in-and-of-itself the way most Christians assume it does because they’re using modern definitions of words rather than using their original definitions), since walking after the flesh is compared to allowing sin to “have dominion over you” because you’re still following the law, with walking after the spirit being compared to being free from law, which would include being free from any of the religious rules that some Christians insist we follow as well (the reason we don’t follow the Mosaic law isn’t because there’s anything wrong with the specific rules in the law themselves; the commandment against murder is not a bad rule, which means that it isn’t simply the specific rules in the Mosaic law we aren’t supposed to follow, but rather it’s religious rules in general that we aren’t supposed to follow, because trying to follow religious rules like the Mosaic law simply leads to more sin and death, and yes, this definitely includes the 10 Commandments, as Paul made clear by referencing the 10th commandment when he wrote Romans 7:7 as a part of his teaching that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be placed under any parts of the law at all) — rather than simply trusting that Christ will live the life He wants us to live through us, doing the things God wants us to do and avoiding the things God wants us to avoid Himself through us. Of course, he also contrasts this metaphorical “death” with the freedom of “eternal life” that one can experience instead, and this “eternal life” is just as figurative as the “death” in this verse is (I’ll get more into what “eternal life” actually means shortly, but it doesn’t mean what most Christians have assumed it does either, which should make sense, considering how figuratively we now know we should be reading the word “eternal” in Scripture to begin with).
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. — 1 Corinthians 6:9–10
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:19–21
Inheriting the kingdom of God in these passages should not be confused with salvation, at least not salvation from an absolute perspective. Paul was writing to members of the body of Christ who were already saved, and who couldn’t lose their salvation no matter how hard they tried, so the inheritance here was simply about reigning with Christ. It couldn’t have been about salvation for those in the body of Christ because salvation isn’t based on our actions — even if we stop believing in Him for some reason, He’ll remain faithful to us from a salvation perspective since He can’t disown, or deny, Himself, and the body of Christ is now a part of Himself. Now, it might be that we can lose out on reigning with Him by denying Him in order to avoid suffering, but either way, we still remain His body, and He won’t amputate and disown His own body parts, and body parts can’t amputate themselves either. So even if a member of the body of Christ doesn’t “inherit the kingdom of God,” they’ll still experience salvation from an absolute perspective. (Everything I wrote about Romans 6:23 also applies to these passages too, I should add, and reading the surrounding verses helps explain the context of these passages, but I don’t think there’s any need to add to this since that’s a much bigger discussion.)
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. — Hebrews 9:27
While the context of the chapter this verse is in has nothing to do with what most Christians assume that particular statement means, the statement is still made, and Christians who believe in never-ending punishment love to quote it to prove their soteriology, so it has to be discussed. The problem with using this verse to prove never-ending punishment is we already know that many people will die a second time in the lake of fire, after they’ve been resurrected from their first death (and many people were resurrected throughout the Bible, as recorded in both the “Old Testament” and “New Testament” books, who later would have died a second time as well, unless you believe that Lazarus and everyone else who was raised from the dead throughout the Bible is still alive today), so whatever this verse means, it can’t be interpreted too literally. Also, just like many other passages we’ve covered, there’s no mention of hell or the lake of fire in this verse, and while we know that some people who are judged at the Great White Throne will end up in the lake of fire, not only do we now know that nobody will be conscious in it, we also now know that there’s no basis for asserting that anyone will remain in it indefinitely. And remember, being judged doesn’t imply that someone will be punished without end anyway. First of all, judgement can be a good thing, as many of the judgements of Israel mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures reveal. But second of all, many of the punishments based on negative judgements throughout the Bible eventually ended (or were promised to be reversed in the future), so we have no basis for simply assuming that doesn’t apply to the judgement referred to in this verse either.
These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. — 2 Peter 2:17
I’m not going to get into all the details of this particular passage, because it’s enough to point out that the sinners in question aren’t literally wells, nor are they literally clouds, and I doubt anyone believes that hell or the lake of fire are full of literal mist, so the “for ever” here should be taken about as literally as the rest of the verse (and about as literally as the other times it’s used in the Bible that we’ve covered as well), and we can’t really use this verse to prove any particular soteriology.
I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. — Jude 1:5–13
The everlasting chains in this passage don’t help defend any soteriology, because this passage tells us they only lock up the fallen angels until (“unto”) their judgement. And the reference to Sodom and Gomorrha suffering the vengeance of eternal fire doesn’t help either because neither of these cities are currently still burning, and we already know that Sodom will also eventually be returned to her “former estate” anyway (and if Jude was just referring to the citizens of the city, Ezekiel 16:55 would then likely also have to be referring to its citizens). And as far as the “wandering stars” go, hell and the lake of fire don’t seem like they could be described as places of “blackness of darkness” (the rich man couldn’t see Abraham in the darkness if it were referring to hell — presuming the hell one is in when they’re dead is an actual place and not a state of being, of course, which isn’t a presumption I make — and a lake of fire would be anything but dark unless we aren’t taking the “fire” part of its title literally, and if one chooses to interpret the “fire” part figuratively, there’s no reason to interpret the supposed duration of the punishment literally either), and I’m assuming I don’t have to point out that they aren’t literally clouds or trees or waves or stars, which means we’re outside the territory of literalism to begin with here, which means we once again have no basis for interpreting “for ever” any less figuratively than we would these words either, nor do we have any way to use this passage to support any particular soteriology.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. — Revelation 14:9–11
This passage is obviously very figurative. 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.
And that’s it. No other passage I’m aware of that one might think is talking about the lake of fire or any other version of hell refers to the duration of one’s time spent in any of those locations, much less suggests they’ll actually be conscious and suffering there (although please correct me if I’m wrong and missed one, but please also first consider whether anything I wrote above would apply to it as well), so they don’t actually help defend the commonly held doctrine. This means it’s time to begin reading the terms “for ever,” “everlasting,” and “eternal” in the Bible qualitatively and figuratively rather than quantitatively and literally, and give up on the idea that God is going to torture anyone (or allow anyone to be tortured) in fire with no end, as the tradition most of us have been brought up to believe teaches. This makes particular sense when we consider the fact that Jesus said having “life eternal” just means “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,” which means that the term “life eternal” isn’t inherently referring to living forever anyway (at least for those He was ministering to during His time walking the earth).
This might sound like it means we won’t necessarily actually live forever, if what I’m saying is true, but we don’t actually need verses about “life eternal” to tell us we’ll live forever to begin with, because it isn’t verses about “everlasting life” or “life eternal” that promise us we’ll live forever anyway, but rather it’s verses about our impending immortality which teach us this fact. Of course, something almost no Christian seems to realize is that most of them are already interpreting “everlasting life” and “life eternal” in a qualitative, figurative manner rather than literally (even if few of them are aware of it), since most of them believe that all humans continue to live on forever after they die anyway, which means being given “everlasting life” isn’t required to live forever, at least according to the theology of most Christians, and hence it can’t actually mean to live forever. Think about it, if we’re already “eternal” beings, as most Christians believe we are (all the while ignoring the fact that “eternal” literally means “without beginning” just as much as it means “without end”), then “life eternal” or “everlasting life” can’t be talking about how long we continue to exist, since we’re all going to exist forever regardless of whether we have “life eternal” or not, according to their viewpoint. Of course, the fact that we still have to “put on immortality” in order to fully experience salvation means we’re not inherently immortal or “eternal” beings, but few Christians ever really stop to think about these facts particularly deeply, and so they just assume we are inherently “eternal” and immortal. That confusion aside, though, as I said, almost all Christians already interpret terms like “life eternal” and “everlasting life” in a qualitative, figurative sense, and understand that it’s actually connected with salvation rather than simply referring to existing forever (even if they don’t generally realize that this is what they actually believe). The simple truth is, immortality isn’t something we’re born with; we have to be given immortality, and it won’t be truly given to any of us until a very specific time in the future. In fact, that immortality factor is another good proof that no human can possibly suffer in the lake of fire without end. How so? Well, consider these facts:
- Immortality for humans in Scripture is always connected with salvation (only those who are finally experiencing salvation physically — in living bodies in this universe that you’re reading this in now — will have “put on immortality,” or will have been made immortal).
- Those who are resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement haven’t been saved (from a relative perspective, at least), so they are raised as regular, mortal, biological humans on the same planet you’re reading this on now.
- Regular, mortal, biological humans who are set on fire burn up and die.
- There’s nothing in Scripture that tells us God will keep resurrecting people in the lake of fire so they can die over and over again after they’ve died a second time (which would make the lake of fire also the third and fourth and fifth deaths, and so-on-and-so-forth, rather than just the second death).
- Hence, nobody can be said to suffer in the lake of fire any longer than it takes to burn up and die one time, at least not without reading one’s assumptions into Scripture (which would be eisegesis).
The fact that immortality is what we’re still looking forward to discredits the idea of never-ending torment in any other version of hell just as much as it does never-ending torment in the lake of fire, I should say, because it means we aren’t immortal now, which also means that we can’t actually suffer while we’re dead (which means that the passages about hell which most Christians believe are talking about an afterlife have to mean something else altogether from what they’ve assumed). “Ye shall not surely die” might be the first recorded lie the devil told, but today it’s being taught as truth by many people in the Christian religion who are trying to convince us that death isn’t actually death at all, but is 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 Hebrew Scriptures 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 conscious soul while in a body and isn’t conscious itself — 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 in Luke which seems to confuse so many who aren’t among the elect (although that was the purpose of parables, and so, presuming it 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 decayed (or “saw corruption”) 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 conscious person being returned to their body. If God intended for us to understand death as being a state of consciousness, He would have used the word “awake” in the Bible to refer to being dead instead of the word “asleep” (and would then have also said the reverse for resurrection, that people “fall asleep” when they’re resurrected, which makes just as much sense as saying one is actually conscious while they’re asleep in death).
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), 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 going to be in the air in our newly quickened bodies at the Rapture (or at the resurrection of the just, 75 days after the Rapture, for those in the Israel of God — and please compare the numbers in Daniel 12:11–13 to the numbers in Revelation 13:5 if you aren’t familiar with the 75 day difference, because this is an important difference that proves the Rapture takes place prior to the Second Coming), 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 newly resurrected) will then be quickened 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 wrote, “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 absolutely no hope at all because we would cease to exist forever (we wouldn’t even have the hope of existing in another dimension called “heaven” with God, since those who died in Christ would have “perished,” or ceased to exist, according to this passage), 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 same 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 spiritual beings, could die at this point, so it appears it has to be a passage about a human and how that human is the only human who is currently immortal), but only gain it when our bodies are quickened, 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 and ascension, 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 assertion), 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 man was in heaven at that point, which we know Jesus wasn’t at the time He had that discussion with Nicodemus, so everything from verse 13 to 21 presumably had to have been John’s personal commentary on the topic, written after Jesus had left the earth; it’s important to remember that the book of John was a theology book rather than a history book and, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, used historical quotes of Jesus to prove theological points instead of being a historical record in and of itself as the three Synoptic Gospels were), so it seems pretty obvious that heaven is only for those who have been quickened, and isn’t for those who are currently dead.
In fact, if people were to remain conscious after death, God would cease to be their God while they waited for their physical resurrection, since He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (even though, to Him, all are considered alive from a proleptic perspective, as 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). Strangely enough, 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 world (or age) 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 which tells us that something is going to happen, even if it hasn’t literally occurred yet in our time, we can still consider it to already be 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 raised, even Moses shewed at the bush…”) makes it very clear that Jesus is talking about the fact that these three patriarchs would eventually be physically resurrected, not that they’re still actually alive in another dimension (He didn’t say, “that the dead are living in another dimension”; He said, “that the dead are raised,” referring to a future resurrection). Jesus’ whole point is that, if they 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 that those who have “gone to sleep” are indeed dead and gone until their resurrection, because the only way that Moses’ statement about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could possibly be used as proof of the resurrection of the dead is if the three of them 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 for God to be their God, 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 said in the previous verses, and also remember that a physical resurrection in an immortal, glorified body is what Paul was, and the living members of the body of Christ currently are, looking forward to, you can see that he was figuratively comparing our current mortal bodies to earthly houses, and saying that he was looking forward to no longer being “at home” in his mortal body, but instead wanted to be at home in his glorified “house not made with hands.” When Paul talked about “houses” and “homes” in 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 “ever be with the Lord” was through resurrection (or through the quickening of his mortal body, if the Rapture 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 for people today to understand (17th-century English isn’t something 21st-century people always find easy to grasp), and some people will assume that by, “yet what I shall choose I wot not,” Paul meant he hadn’t yet decided which option he was going to select, as if it was up to him. But whether he lived or died wasn’t actually up to him at all — it was up to the Roman government. Literally all Paul was saying there is that he wasn’t going to let it be known whether he’d personally rather continue living as a prisoner in bonds, which seemed to be helping 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 two options, which was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” since, if the Rapture 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 time of the Rapture does in spades. It’s easy to get confused about verses like this if you ignore the context (of both the surrounding verses, and of Scripture as a whole), but once someone comes to realize the truth that death is actually death and that “ye shall not surely die” is a satanic lie, they can then begin to interpret these passages in ways that are consistent with the rest of Scripture.
Christians don’t only misquote Paul in order to try to prove the immortality of the soul, however. Many also misquote Jesus, 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 like Revelation 6:9–11 to defend the idea of the immortality of the soul as well, but if this passage were meant to be read literally it would mean that martyred ghosts are all trapped underneath an altar, and that these ghosts can wear physical clothing. This passage is obviously meant to be interpreted symbolically, with the “souls” of the martyrs no more literally talking to God than Abel’s soul was talking to God from the dirt in Genesis 4:9–10.
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 dust (meaning to the ground), the soul returns to “hell” (since יָשׁוּבוּ רְשָׁעִים literally means ”the wicked return,” the phrase “is turned into” in that verse in the KJV is simply a poetic expression meaning “is returned to,” telling us one’s soul returns to some place or state referred to as ”hell” in this case; this verse just tells us that our consciousness returns to the non-existence from whence it came, which is all that most of the passages which talk about the dead going to hell are referring to — and before someone brings up the fact that this verse is talking about “the wicked,” keep in mind that it still tells us they’ll return to hell, which means they had to have come from there to begin with, so regardless of who this particular verse is talking about, it still means that the hell the dead end up in can’t be what most Christians assume it is because it means they’ve already “been there” before, figuratively speaking), 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 presumably 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 in heaven? Remember, Scripture doesn’t discriminate between “saved” and “unsaved” spirits when it says they return to God upon death (to claim that only the saved spirits return to God is to read one’s presuppositions into the text). And what does that say about us if our spirit and soul can go to separate places but are both conscious (are we made up of two conscious beings that can be split up when we die, yet only one will be punished for sin in hell while the other is in heaven with God)? This is just one more reason why the traditional view makes no sense. Instead, it’s better to believe what Scripture actually says: that souls can actually die. On top of that, if those who are saved (relatively speaking) “go to heaven” as soon as they die, then death isn’t really an enemy to be defeated (and, really, destroyed) at all, as Paul told us it is, but is instead a friend finally bringing us to God (and to “ever be with the Lord” before the time Paul said this would actually occur), with our eventual resurrection just being icing on the cake rather than being the actual cake itself that it’s supposed to be (the resurrection and quickening of our human bodies has become nothing more than a small sidenote in most of Christendom, when it’s what we’re actually supposed to be looking forward to).
This all means that Jesus Himself actually died as well, I should add. That might sound like a strange statement to make, I know, because pretty much all Christians believe that they believe He died, but if the immortality of the soul is as unscriptural as I’ve just demonstrated it to be, being a human, this would have to apply to Jesus’ soul as well — He also would have had to have ceased to exist as a conscious being when He died, the same way we do when we die — which is something that few Christians have considered, and even fewer will agree with, but this just means that they likely haven’t been saved yet, at least not under Paul’s Gospel (please bear with me here as I explain this further). You see, Paul’s Gospel tells us that not only did Christ die for our sins, it also tells us that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day. Now, every Christian out there will claim to agree that these words are true, but few of them actually understand what they mean, and can you really believe something you don’t understand? Yes, we all agree that the words that “Christ died for our sins” and that “He was buried” are true, but how many of us actually agree that “He was buried”? Most believe that His body was buried, but they also believe that He Himself went somewhere else altogether (most believe He went to another dimension called hell for those three days, even if it was in a part known as “Abraham’s bosom,” as a conscious being, although others believe He just went to a place called “paradise,” presumably referring to an afterlife dimension called “heaven,” rather than to hell). The problem is, Paul didn’t say that only Christ’s body died, he said, “Christ died”; and he didn’t say that only Christ’s body was buried while He Himself went somewhere else, he said, “He was buried,” which means that He Himself was placed in the tomb, not that He Himself went somewhere else while His body was placed in the tomb (“He was buried” is a passive statement as far as Christ’s person goes, so even if you believe that Christ Himself actually ended up in the tomb temporarily as a ghost, the wording of that passage can’t be interpreted to mean He followed His body to the tomb from the cross as a ghost, then went somewhere else from there after His body was buried, or even just remained in the tomb as a ghost for three days, because the way it’s worded tells us He had no involvement in being buried at all, other than passively having it happen to Him; so unless his pallbearers also had some sort of mystical object they used to drag Him into the tomb as a ghost after He died — which wouldn’t fit with what John 19:30 says, since it says He “gave up the ghost,” not that He became a ghost — it can’t legitimately be said that “He was buried” unless He was His body and nothing more at that point, as I’m claiming). Paul didn’t just randomly include the words “He was buried” in his Gospel for no reason (all Scripture is inspired by God, and every word God inspired to be written down is meant to be there, which means every word is there for a reason, rather than just being arbitrarily thrown in there by the human writer as would be the case if those who believe in the immortality of the soul were correct). If Christ’s (and not just His body’s) burial wasn’t a crucial part of his Gospel, Paul would have just written that “Christ died for our sins and rose the third day,” and left those particular words about His burial out altogether, since mentioning that fact would have then been entirely superfluous (not to mention deceptive). There’s a reason that Paul included the words “He was buried” as something he claimed those who are saved when they believe his Gospel have to believe, and the reason is that we have to believe (which means we have to first understand) what those specific words actually mean.
And before someone tries to protest, saying that Jesus had the power to resurrect Himself, which means He must have been conscious, pointing out Jesus’ claim in John 10:18 that He had power to take His life again, the word “power” here just refers to the sort of authority or legal right that someone “in power” has to have an action they wish to be completed actually be performed, not to having the strength or ability to perform that specific action themselves. Just because a king is said to have the power to tax the citizens of his country doesn’t mean he personally goes to every single citizen of the country and forces them to give him the money directly; it just means that he has the legal authority to expect they’ll pay their taxes (what Jesus said literally just meant: “I have the right to lay [my life] down, and I have the right to receive it again”). Likewise, when Jesus said in John 2:19 that He would raise His body three days after His death, it’s important to remember the fact that “He was buried,” and that any passage we read about His resurrection has to be interpreted in such a way that it doesn’t contradict this crucial part of Paul’s Gospel, which means that Jesus could only be referring to raising His body in the sense of getting up off the slab in the tomb after His God and Father resurrected Him from the dead. The context of this passage wasn’t about His ability to resurrect Himself anyway; if you read the whole passage you’ll see that it was simply about the fact that He wouldn’t remain dead if those people He was speaking to killed Him.
Of course, some will now ask, “But didn’t Jesus preach to spirits in prison while He was dead, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:19?” Well, no, He didn’t. First of all, He didn’t preach to them until after He was quickened (which didn’t happen until after He was resurrected from the dead), as we can see from the verse before that one. Secondly, He was preaching to spirits, not souls of dead humans. And since the spirits of dead humans return to God in heaven rather than go to some prison, the spirits He was preaching to must have been angels, which is exactly what Peter tells us they were: they were the spirits who sinned in Noah’s time by breeding with human women and creating the giants (who became mighty men of renown, also sometimes known as the Nephilim), and who were then locked up in yet another “hell” from the ones we’ve already discussed because of their sin (this particular “hell” being translated from the Greek word ταρταρόω, which is transliterated as ”tartarus” in some Bible translations). And thirdly, all passages have to be interpreted in light of Christ’s burial anyway, so it goes without saying that any attempts to argue that Jesus was actually conscious while He was dead are nonstarters because of that fact alone, and that any passages we think might imply He was actually still alive have to be interpreted accordingly.
But is it really so important that we should care what Paul meant when he wrote that Christ died and was buried? Well, yes, very much so! First of all, it’s only when we realize that Christ truly died that we can appreciate His faith in going to the cross. You see, He knew that, unless His Father resurrected Him, He would have stayed dead forever, and, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:21–23, this is the faith that saves us: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ [not “by faith in Jesus Christ”; this is all about Christ’s faith, not our own] unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” Unfortunately, because most Christians don’t actually believe that Christ truly died for our sins and was buried, instead believing that only His body did and was while He Himself lived on and went someone else altogether, none of these particular Christians can be said to be a member of the body of Christ yet, since they haven’t truly believed Paul’s Gospel.
All that being said, if hell isn’t a “place” that unrighteous humans exist after they die, then what about heaven? What and where is it, and how do we believers go there? Nearly everyone who believes in God has asked these questions at some point in their lives. The answers they’re normally given, unfortunately, are generally vague guesses or assumptions, or simply statements saying “we can’t know for sure.” The truth, however, is that Scripture actually answers these questions for us, and the answer is so simple that I can actually show you heaven right now. How? Well, let’s take a look at some of the passages of Scripture which tell us the answer to that question:
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. — Genesis 1:20
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. — Matthew 24:30
So when we see the word heaven, we can see that it’s sometimes referring to the sky, where the birds and clouds are (the atmosphere, in other words).
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained — Psalm 8:3
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth — Genesis 1:14–17
As we’ve already determined, heaven is “above” us, but it isn’t only a reference to the atmosphere, but to outer space as well.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. — Genesis 1:1
This tells us that there are only two overall “places” one can be: on earth, or in heaven. And if one is in the sky or in outer space, they’re not on earth, which only leaves heaven for them to be in.
And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. — Luke 24:51
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. — Acts 1:9–11
This also reaffirms that heaven is a reference to what is “up above” the ground we stand on. As we can see, after Jesus ascended up into heaven, the disciples were gazing up into the sky (heaven), as the angels also confirmed they were. So, simply put, if someone wants to see heaven now, all they have to do is look up at the sky.
Most people, of course, think of heaven as a place the righteous dead go to, but you won’t find any Scripture that tells you the dead go there (the truth is, only the living can go to heaven, at least in a conscious state, and those in the body of Christ will go there at the Rapture, and will finally “ever be with the Lord” there). That said, it isn’t a place you’d want to go right now in your current body either (aside from a short trip there in a plane or a space shuttle), since one would need an immortal body that could survive and thrive out there if you were planning to stay long. It also isn’t the perfect, sinless place most people think it is, at least not yet, since the devil and his angels haven’t been cast out of the heavens yet, for one thing, and many spiritual beings there still haven’t been reconciled to God yet either (and you can’t be reconciled without first being alienated, by the way — and I should also add that “reconciled” means the parties on both sides of an estrangement or disagreement are at peace with one another), although it will be pretty great for the body of Christ when we have our new bodies that can enjoy it out there with our Lord as we fulfill our impending ministry to help reconcile the spiritual beings out there to God. This means, by the way, that Christians who like to claim God can’t allow sin into heaven (which is not an assertion I’ve ever seen made in Scripture) seem to have forgotten that, if Satan needs to be cast out of heaven, it means sin has already been in heaven, as is also confirmed by the fact that the book of Job says he was there too. Similarly, the claim they often make that sin can’t exist in heaven because God can’t look upon sin is also an unscriptural one, since the words are actually, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil,” with “to behold” in this verse simply being an expression meaning “to approve of.” His omnipresence and the fact that He sees everything would make this a very problematic verse as well, if most Christians were correct about this (although this is obviously referring to the sort of evil that falls under the category of moral evil rather than morally-neutral evil, and it’s important to know that not all evil is sinful since “evil” and “sin” are technically two entirely different things, unless you believe animals can sin, and don’t realize that God actually takes responsibility for the existence of evil, and are also unaware of the difference between God’s preceptive will and His providential will, but I’ll leave it at that because this is a much bigger topic than we have the time to get into here).
This, of course, raises the question of where people got the idea that the dead go to a place called heaven from in the first place. There are a few reasons for this, but the main two are verses that refer to God being in heaven, as well as a misunderstanding of the passage where Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he’d be with Him in paradise.
Since we know that the body of Christ will go to the heavens, and also that people will be living with God in the New Jerusalem, most Christians have assumed that these references must be talking about a place the dead go, not realizing that these things both take place within the physical universe (the body of Christ goes to the heavens to complete a ministry there, but not until after they’ve been resurrected from the dead and/or quickened; and the New Jerusalem descends from the heavens/outer space to the New Earth rather than being a place anyone who is dead goes to). That said, yes, God indeed is in heaven. He has a throne room (which can also be referred to figuratively as “heaven”) and a throne somewhere out there in outer space, presumably in the New Jerusalem while it waits to descend to the New Earth, and it also seems likely that He manifests a part of Himself in some sort of manner that the spiritual beings there can perceive, but He ultimately transcends the whole universe at the same time.
As far as the second misunderstanding goes, I’m not going to get into all the details here, but paradise 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. This means that Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross about being with Him in paradise couldn’t mean what most Christians assume it to mean. We have to interpret this verse in light of everything else we’ve just covered, which means that, based on the way the it renders Jesus’ statement, we’re forced to interpret this verse in the KJV figuratively, meaning that, from the thief’s perspective, it would feel like the same day when he woke up from his sleep and began to live with Jesus in paradise, either in Israel during the Millennium, or on the New Earth (and for those who think it would mean that Jesus was being less than truthful by speaking figuratively here, ask yourself if He was also then being untruthful when He spoke figuratively to call Himself a door?). This is also confirmed by Jesus’ statement that He hadn’t ascended to the Father yet in John 20:17, not to mention the fact that we’re told His soul went to “hell” when He died (which we now know simply means that His consciousness ceased to exist when He died), not to heaven (or paradise), and if Jesus did not go to paradise on that day, the thief could not have been with Him there either, verifying that this could only be a prophetic statement about a time in the distant future when paradise begins on earth. (And yes, I know that Jesus had been resurrected when He made that statement about not having ascended to the Father yet, but it’s still not a statement He could have made honestly if He had ascended as a ghost, which we know He didn’t do anyway.)
Now, there are those who actually agree with me on the topic of what death and paradise are, but who think this passage should still be translated differently. You see, some will point out that there are no commas in the original Greek, and tell us that Luke 23:43 would be better translated as saying, “Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise” (just like Paul used similar expressions in Acts 20:26 and Acts 26:2, not to mention all the times expressions like this were used in the “Old Testament” books, such as in Deuteronomy 4:26, 39–40, 5:1, 6:6, 7:11, 8:1, 11, 19, 9:3, and so on and so forth), simply meaning the thief would be with Jesus in paradise on the New Earth in the future. That said, we don’t actually have to change the punctuation at all in order to understand what Jesus was getting at since, regardless of where the comma is located, we still have to interpret this verse in light of the rest of Scripture, which means that whether we move the comma or leave it where it is in the KJV, the end result is the same, with the thief ending up in paradise with Jesus in Israel during the Millennium (or on the New Earth) either way, so I’ll leave it at that.
The fact of the matter is, nobody mentioned anywhere in the Bible was ever recorded as looking forward to an ethereal afterlife state in a place called heaven, or as being afraid of being punished consciously in an afterlife realm called hell, nor had any Scripture prior to the story of the rich man and Lazarus ever even suggested that people would go to either of these supposed afterlife realms to live happily or to suffer in while dead either (and the fact that the concept of an afterlife realm for ghosts wasn’t ever even hinted at in the Hebrew Scriptures should really tell you everything you need to know about the idea — 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 this fact. 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). And so, the simple fact is, every single person who dies goes to hell, whether they’re a believer or not, because the word “hell” in this case simply refers to the state of being unconscious because one is dead (when it’s not being used figuratively for other concepts, of course, such as when it’s referring to the valley in which certain carcases will be consumed by creature and conflagration after Christ’s second coming). And only those who do believe Paul’s Gospel will get to go to heaven, but not until after they’ve been resurrected (presuming they’ve died before the Rapture, of course) and/or made immortal, because the only way for someone who is dead to go to heaven would be to put their corpse on an airplane or space shuttle, but they wouldn’t enjoy it particularly much (although this does mean that someone who has died can technically be in heaven and hell at the exact same time, not that they’d know they were in either “location”).
This also means that Enoch and Elijah didn’t go to 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 from this article. Genesis 5:24 is not an easy verse to understand, but based on everything we‘ve covered so far, we know that Jesus is the only human living in heaven (at least in the part of heaven outside 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 faith while also saying that everyone in the list died. And it’s recorded that King Jehoram received a letter from Elijah after the time that Elijah was caught up in the whirlwind to heaven, so, again, based on everything we now know about who is in heaven, this means that Elijah pretty much had to have been deposited somewhere else on earth to live out the rest of his life in safety too, just like Enoch, and that he then also eventually died.
With all that in mind, if anyone still believes in the doctrine of never-ending torment in hell, it must mean they want it to be true, because anybody being honest with themselves will admit that there’s absolutely zero scriptural basis for continuing to believe it after reading everything I’ve just written. I would be very interested in hearing how they justify their continued belief in the doctrine if they do still believe it at this point, though. As far as everyone else goes, however, we do still have to determine what the Bible teaches will ultimately happen to people who don’t get saved under either the Gospel of the Circumcision (and perhaps even ends up dying a second time in the lake of fire) or under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision (at least from a relative perspective), so let’s take a look at some more passages to find that out.
The first passage to consider is 1 Corinthians 15:22 where Paul wrote that, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (to be ”made alive” means to be made immortal, for those who aren’t aware, since it’s translated from the same Greek word — ζῳοποιέω — that being “quickened” is translated from). It’s important to notice that this passage doesn’t say, “even so shall all in Christ be made alive.” If it had, one might be able to 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 — aside from the relatively few people who will experience the Rapture or Second Coming without dying — as well as sinfulness because of that mortality), they also have no say in experiencing the effects of the last Adam’s action (eventual immortality and sinlessness).
Of course, most Christians want to place the blame for our mortality, death, and sinfulness on each of us as individuals rather than on Adam, but that’s not what Paul taught. You see, Paul told us in Romans 5:12 that the reason humans sin is because we’re mortal/dying, and we’re dying because Adam sinned (“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” — 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 (yes, that’s what God’s warning to Adam, which is rendered figuratively in the KJV as, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” meant, as we’ve already covered). It wasn’t that they “died spiritually,” as most Christians assume (an assumption that doesn’t answer the question of why they became mortal when they sinned, since if the threat was simply “spiritual death,” then mortality was an entirely different punishment that wasn’t actually covered in the warning God gave them at all); it was just that they gained mortality leading to eventual physical death. It’s important to realize that 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). Of course, it’s true that most Christians have interpreted the last two parts of this verse to mean, “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned,” in order to preserve their doctrine that we’re ultimately to blame for our own mortality and death (and many Bible versions have even mistranslated it to say just that), but aside from the fact that this would render the verse literally nonsensical (I can’t see any way that the phrase “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned” can legitimately follow “wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” and still make any sort of sense at all, at least not based on any rules of English grammar that I’m aware of), if we die because we sin, the first part of the verse would also be entirely superfluous, and might as well be cut out of the verse altogether, since that part of the passage would tell us basically nothing about why we sin (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.” But if we were to instead interpret the last two parts of the verse as meaning, “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned,” we’ve suddenly lost the whole narrative, since this doesn’t tell us why all have sinned the way the literal reading of this verse does. That “all have sinned” because “death passed upon all men” answers that question, but reversing the order (making sin the cause and death the effect rather than death, or mortality, the cause and sin the effect) just makes a mess of the whole thing, leaving us with the question of why we sin, which was what Paul was trying to explain in the first place with this verse (and to quickly explain why mortality leads to sin, as the literal interpretation of this verse tells us it does, it’s simply because, while we can avoid sinning some of the time, being mortal makes us too weak to avoid sinning all of the time). 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 we should simply stick with what the KJV actually says here and interpret it accordingly (meaning that “death passed upon all men,” and “for that reason all have sinned”), giving us answers to both the question of why we’re mortal, as well as the question of why we sin, and also keeping the blame for our mortality, death, and sinfulness squarely where Paul meant for us to understand it belongs: on Adam.
This is also backed up a few lines later, in verses 18–19, when Paul wrote that, just as judgement to condemnation came upon all men because of the offence and disobedience of one, and not because of their own offences or disobedience, righteousness and justification of life will also come upon all men because of the obedience of one, and not because of their own obedience — which would have to include obedience towards any commands to do anything specific in order to get saved, including commands to choose to believe anything specific, at least as far as salvation from an absolute perspective goes — telling us that only two people are responsible for our current and future states: the first Adam and the last Adam. (And for those who want to blame our mortality on our own sins rather than on the first Adam, I’d be curious to know what they believe the condemnation that came upon all men because of the offence and disobedience of one/Adam actually even is, exactly.) Now, some like to claim that one has to first choose to receive the gift, based on verse 17, 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, having to choose to receive it would also be something one had to accomplish in order to be saved, which by definition would make it a work one had to do in order to be saved, and the most difficult work one could ever do at that, based on the fact that so few are ever able to “choose to receive the gift” and “get saved” (at least as far as the traditional Christian understanding of what salvation is goes). This means it’s time to recognize that the idea of salvation being based at least in part upon something people have to do for themselves — even if it’s just something as supposedly simple as having to choose to believe the right thing — rather than being based entirely upon what Christ did for us is really something one must read into the text based on one’s preconceived idea that salvation depends on us and our wise decision to believe and/or do something specific rather than depends 100% on what Christ did. (This also means it’s time to stop ignoring the scriptural truth of election, although the thing everyone gets confused about when it comes to soteriological predestination is that it’s actually about when someone experiences salvation, not about if they get to experience it: although some people are chosen by God to get a special, early experience of salvation, meaning to experience salvation from a relative perspective, and while not everyone will get saved from a relative perspective, Paul is teaching here that everyone will eventually experience salvation from an absolute perspective, even if not until the end of the ages.) This is another parallelism, something Paul seemed to love using to prove this particular point in various epistles, where the “all” and the “many” in the second part of a sentence have to be the same “all” and “many” in the first part or else the parallelism would fall apart.
Because of their lack of understanding of who (and Who) Paul is placing the responsibility for both our current state and our eventual salvation on, most Christians mistakenly believe that only those “in Christ” will be made alive/quickened (completely missing the significance of the order of the wording in the verse), but the whole point of the parallelisms in these passages is to make it clear that Christ has at least the exact same level of effect on humanity that Adam had, meaning Christ’s action changes the exact same number of people that fall into the categories of “all” or “many” that Adam’s action did. (And if Christ’s action doesn’t change the exact same number of people that Adam’s action did, it means that Adam’s failure was ultimately more efficacious than Christ’s victory was, making Adam and his sin more powerful than Christ and His death for our sins.)
If you’re still finding this confusing, Paul’s parallelism here can also be expressed mathematically: “For as in a, x die, even so in z, shall x be made alive.” The set known as “x” is the exact same group (or number) of people in both clauses (with “a” and “z” being two different reasons for their two respective states at two different periods of time), not two separate groups of people who have to choose between Adam and Christ. In fact, since this is a parallelism, and because we know that nobody specifically made a conscious choice to “choose Adam” (I don’t recall ever thinking to myself, “I accept Adam as my lord and unsaviour,” which would have to be the case if we “even so” need to choose to “accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour” in order to be saved; and if it happens without our conscious decision to “accept Adam,” then, even so, our salvation would also have to happen without our conscious decision to “accept Christ”), or chose to die “in Adam,” but rather that we were all simply born that way, this also means that, “even so,” nobody can choose to be “in Christ” in this particular verse either. “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 precedes any sin of our own, and is in fact the reason we sin, as I was getting at previously, since otherwise newborn babies would be incapable of dying prior to their first sin and, at the very least, third-trimester abortions would be impossible to perform), and they will eventually be “made alive”/become immortal “through Christ” or “because of what Christ did” (“in z”) rather than because of any choice of their own. And the same applies to when Paul uses the word “many” instead of “all” in his parallelisms in Romans 5 as well (go ahead and put an x in place of the words “many” and “all” in the passages in Romans 5 to see for yourself). With this in mind, the only way the passage could possibly mean that only some people (believers) will be made alive is if the verse said, “For as in Adam only some die, even so in Christ shall only some be made alive,” or if it perhaps said, “For as in Adam all die, unevenly so in Christ shall only some be made alive” (the words “even so” there basically mean “the same way,” or “equally so,” telling us that the variable x has to be the same number on both sides of the words “even so”).
So why do Christians get confused by this verse? It’s due to a combination of the fact that they’ve misunderstood the various passages in Scripture about judgement and hell — and are 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 all of the above, for the moment, and assume that this passage actually is referring to being “in Christ” from a positional perspective rather than referring to our immortality being because of what Christ accomplished. Does that change anything at all about the end result I concluded it would culminate in (all humans eventually experiencing salvation from an absolute perspective)? Not even slightly. To put it simply, because this is a parallelism, we’d then be forced to read it as meaning: just as every human begins “in Adam” (and hence is mortal), even so every human will end “in Christ” (and hence will be made immortal).
But while Paul tells us that everyone who experiences mortality because of what Adam did will also eventually experience immortality because of what Christ did, he also tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:23–24 that there’s an order to when each person will be “made alive” (again, meaning being made immortal; this isn’t just talking about simple resurrection the way some Christians assume it is, because aside from the fact that ”resurrection” is translated from an entirely different Greek word than ”made alive” is — ἀνάστασις, as opposed to the word ζῳοποιέω that “made alive,” or ”quickened,” is translated from — we know that everyone , including those who will never die, such as those who will still be living at the time of either the Rapture or the Second Coming , will eventually be “made alive” based on verse 22, so being “made alive” obviously can’t be referring to resurrection because not everyone who will be “made alive” will be resurrected, since some of them will never actually die — which also tells us that the ”as in Adam all die” part of the verse is simply referring to being in a state of slowly dying, aka being mortal, because of what Adam did). Basically, there are three different groups of humans to be made immortal, and these three groups combined consist of all humanity (even though each group will be quickened in their own order).
The first group mentioned is “Christ the firstfruits,” which refers to the body of Christ (aside from the Head of the body, Who would presumably have to be excluded 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 quickened at the time of the Rapture. Both the resurrected dead and the still living in the body of Christ will experience this immortality at that time (the dead members of the body of Christ will be resurrected first, after which they and the remaining living members of the body of Christ will be “made alive”/made immortal), and will no longer sin from then on (because they’ll no longer be mortal). This event is God withdrawing His ambassadors from earth (as one does before declaring war), who then go on to fulfill their purpose in Christ in heavenly places.
The second group is “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” referring to those made immortal at the time of the resurrection of the just, near the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom, 75 days after Jesus returns to earth and the Tribulation period has concluded (people such as “Old Testament” saints, for example, and those who died believing the Gospel of the Circumcision). 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 made immortal at this point, but I’ve since concluded that only those who were dead and who will be resurrected will be made immortal at this time, while everyone else saved under this Gospel will simply remain alive (at least to begin with) in what’s known as an amortal state (meaning not immortal, since being immortal means to be incapable of dying, but also not mortal, which means to be in the process of slowly dying, either) thanks to partaking of the fruit and the leaves of the tree of life on a monthly basis, and won’t be made truly immortal until the final order of quickenings is completed much later. As for why I’ve come to this conclusion, I’ll just quickly say that if the reward for “overcoming” by some of those during the Tribulation will be to partake of the tree of life, and if one needs to continuously consume its products in order to remain healthy and alive as Scripture appears to say, yet the quickening of the resurrected dead happens instantaneously and forever, as is demonstrated by those in the body of Christ when they’re caught up in the air at the Rapture, it seems that there must two different methods of remaining alive during the Millennium and beyond (quickening as the first method, and partaking of the tree of life on a regular basis as the second). With that in mind, I should also say that some like to group the body of Christ in with this order as well, and believe it applies to everyone saved under both the Gospel of the Uncircumcision and the Gospel of the Circumcision — even if some are quickened three-and-a-half or more 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 quickened 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 quickenings mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, but Paul then speaks of a third and final group to be quickened when he wrote “then cometh the end” in verse 24, referring to a final group of humans to be quickened (“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, which the fact that εἶτα τὸ τέλος — which it was translated from — literally means “then the rest” also helps make clear). You see, if Paul isn’t referring to a final group of humans being resurrected and/or made immortal when he says, “then cometh the end” in that verse, it would have to mean “then comes the end of the world (or worlds)” or “then comes the end of the age (or ages)” or something similar instead (although I should add that this technically could be said to have a double meaning, since the end of the ages is when this final quickening occurs, and is something that the body of Christ has already attained in spirit, and will have also attained physically at their own quickening long before the actual final age ends, but the end of the ages isn’t the main point of this statement). Paul wasn’t simply referring to the end of the ages 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/quickenings among humanity to suddenly arbitrarily discussing an entirely unrelated topic (the triumph of Christ over His enemies, and the destruction of death, at a time in the distant future, but with no connection to the topic he was already discussing), then to go right back to discussing resurrection and quickening again as he does a few verses later.
Another reason this can’t simply be referring to the end of the ages rather than to the final group to be quickened is his explanation that this “end” exists at the time when Christ has subjected all authorities and principalities and powers (referring to rulership by both humans on earth as well as spiritual beings in the heavens, including by evil ones) and gives up the kingdom to His God and Father, and that it occurs when all His enemies are finally put under His feet, and when the final enemy — death — is finally destroyed altogether. The problem is, 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 quickening 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 quickening 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 quickening. 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 age, which also helps demolish 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 age.)
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 destroyed at a point in time after “they that are Christ’s at His coming” have been quickened, not that they are subjected or that death is destroyed by that group being quickened (and remember, death is the last enemy to be defeated, yet there will still be more death and enemies continuing to exist long after the quickening of “they that are Christ’s at His coming,” including on the New Earth for a time). 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 be talking about the final (end) group to be quickened, meaning the rest of humanity (including both those who are dead — meaning those whose bodies were burned up in the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgement, and those who happen to die on the New Earth during the final age — as well as those who are still living, thanks to having partaken of the fruit and the leaves of the tree of life to keep from dying, but haven’t been quickened yet, referring to those whose names were written in the book of life but who hadn’t already been quickened previously, as well as those, and the descendants of those, still mortal humans who didn’t join Satan and die during his final rebellion at the end of the Millennium), finally quickened after the final age is completed and Jesus’ reign over the kingdom comes to an end because He’s defeated all enemies (including death) and has turned all rulership (including rulership over Himself) over to His Father, and God is finally “All in all” (yes, in all, not just in a lucky few; if Paul had not pointed out that the “all” he was writing about doesn’t include God, people could then turn around and say that “all” doesn’t actually mean “all” because it obviously couldn’t include God, so it could then also exclude people who die as non-believers as well if it doesn’t actually mean “all,” but because Paul does point out that God isn’t included in the “all,” yet doesn’t mention anyone else as being excluded from the group, we know that everyone other than God is going to be included in the “all,” even those who die as non-believers — and for those who like to argue that “all” in this verse can’t actually mean everyone because of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:6, what I just wrote about “all” including everyone other than God tells us that it has to be referring to all sapient creatures other than God regardless, but that aside, there’s no good reason to assume that the “all” in chapter 12 isn’t talking about everyone anyway, and based on what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty, it almost certainly is).
This means, by the way, that people who use passages that seem to tell us Jesus will reign “for ever” to prove that “everlasting punishment” will also never end “because those passages use the same words” are actually basing their argument on an obvious misunderstanding since Paul is clear that His reign won’t be never-ending, but rather will only last until He’s defeated the final enemy, meaning He reigns for the final two ages, but stops reigning after they’re over (it isn’t necessary to know this, but καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας in Luke 1 there literally just means, “and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages,” similar to how αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶναἰώνων in Revelation 1 there literally just means, “to Him is the glory and the dominion for the ages of the ages,” referring to the greatest two ages — meaning the Millennial Kingdom and the final age on the New Earth, before even that age comes to an end — as those who understand the doctrine of the ages are aware). This also demonstrates just how few people are aware that A) the passages which are translated as “everlasting” or “for ever” in the KJV have to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively based on this fact and the fact that Paul was clear that everyone will eventually be quickened, as well as that B) Paul saw much farther into the future than John did in the book called Revelation (John basically only saw into the beginning of the final age, whereas Paul saw all the way to the end of the “ages,” or “worlds,” after that final age concludes, as all ages must).
And since many Christians often make a similar mistake when they try to insist that, “If ‘eternal damnation’ isn’t actually never ending, then ‘eternal life’ would have to come to an end as well, and we’d eventually die,” I’m forced to point out that they really aren’t thinking things through when they make this assertion, since we’ve already determined that the “for ever” words in the KJV have to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively (or figuratively rather than literally), so we have to assume they aren’t talking about how long one lives (or how long one is punished) so much as about the form or quality of the life and judgements they experience will be (and, in fact, most Christians already interpret this term figuratively anyway, as we’ve already covered earlier in this article). And so, just because one’s time experiencing “eternal damnation” will come to an end, it doesn’t stand to reason that anyone with “eternal life” will eventually die (or lose their salvation, at least from an absolute perspective), because it isn’t verses about “eternal life” that promise us we’ll live forever anyway, but rather it’s verses about our impending immortality which tell us we’ll never die (at least after our quickening), as I pointed out previously. So, when people are eventually resurrected from their second death in the lake of fire to be “made alive”/quickened (which they’ll have to be in order for it to be able to be said that death has truly been destroyed, since as long as death continues to hold anyone prisoner, death hasn’t actually been defeated or destroyed at all, but rather continues to be an enemy), members of the body of Christ will still remain alive, although not because of any passage that speaks of “eternal life” but rather because of passages that tell us we’ll already have been made immortal. Basically, when someone reaches the end of the figurative “for ever” or “everlasting life,” that particular aspect of their salvation (the relative salvation that only a few will ever get to enjoy) will be over, but they’ll still remain alive because they’ll have bodies that can’t die (or, if they’re among those who have been saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision but haven’t been made immortal yet, they’ll finally be given immortality, along with everyone else). Similarly, the claim that “the everlasting God” would eventually die if “everlasting” doesn’t mean “never ending” is just as misguided. This verse in Romans isn’t trying to tell anyone that God will never die. Everybody already knows that God is immortal. As Psalm 102:27 told us many millennia ago, His years shall have no end, and the idea that Paul would be trying to tell his readers something that they already took for granted would just be silly. So just because “everlasting” isn’t a quantitative word, it can certainly mean something very qualitative even when it speaks of God, largely referring to His connection with the ages, in this case, based on the figurative meaning of the word “everlasting” in the KJV, and the fact that αἰωνίου θεοῦ literally means ”age-pertaining God.”
But in case anybody is still skeptical, Paul confirmed the salvation of all humanity beyond any shadow of a doubt when he wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3–6 that Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all. You see, when a ransom is fully paid, all those who are held captive are set free (unless the one paying the ransom has been lied to). So, if Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all humanity, as we know He did, and any humans at all are not “released,” so to speak, we’d then have to conclude that God has deceived His Son (which I trust nobody reading this believes to be the case). In other words, since Christ gives Himself a ransom for all, all must be saved, or else God and the Bible stand discredited as dishonest.
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 (“hath abounded toward us”) whom He chose to become members of the body of Christ. Simply put, this section of the chapter is all about how God has predestined certain people to experience certain blessings in Christ, blessings 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, burial, and resurrection, even before they believed it, they were then sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (which is a part of their relative salvation, “an earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession”). All that is to say, Paul’s little parenthetical in Ephesians 1:13 is simply telling us that “the Good News of [their] salvation” was already a fact for them before they heard it, and after they heard about the salvation that was already theirs from an absolute perspective, they trusted Christ and were sealed with the Holy Spirit, and hence were also saved from a relative perspective.
But even clearer than that example, Paul also wrote that God is “the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” in 1 Timothy 4:10. And honestly, it doesn’t get any clearer than this, with Paul telling us that God will save absolutely everyone, even if those who believe this Good News will get to experience a special level of salvation on top of that. If a teacher were to say at the end of the school year, “I’ve given everyone a passing grade this year, specially Lisa who got an A+,” we’d know that, while nobody else got an A+, they still all passed, since “specially” doesn’t mean “only” or “exclusively” (or “specifically,” as some claim, and those who think it does mean that should look up each time the Greek word μάλιστα 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 men would be a lie, because it didn’t say “God is the potential Saviour of all men, but really only of those who believe,” but instead plainly tells us that He actually is the Saviour of all men, and to be able to legitimately be called the saviour of someone, you have to actually save them at some point, which means to be able to legitimately be called “the Saviour of all men,” God has to actually save all men eventually.
As for those Calvinists who insist that Paul is only claiming “God is the Saviour of all kinds or sorts of men,” and that God only wants “all sorts of men” to be saved rather than actually “will have all men to be saved,” A) that’s clearly not what these passages say anyway (the words “kinds” and “sorts” aren’t there in the text), and B) they’re ignoring the second part of the verse where Paul says “specially of believers” 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 only of believers”), so they’re just reading their own preconceived doctrinal bias that not everyone will experience salvation into these passages because they have no other choice if they don’t want it to contradict their theological beliefs, just as Arminians do in their own way.
All that is to say, this passage once again verifies 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 (with those who believe getting a special, earlier experience of salvation, as well as potentially getting to rule and reign with Christ during the impending ages, figuratively referred to as “everlasting life,” or as “life eternal,” in the KJV).
And in the interest of coming to a conclusion at some point, I’ll try to wrap up with one final passage where Paul also used a similar sort of parallelism to the ones he used in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, this time in the first chapter of his epistle to the Colossians, to tell his readers that all of the rest of creation will be reconciled as well. In fact, I don’t know how someone can read verses 15 through 20 of that chapter and not end up a believer in the salvation (and reconciliation) of everyone, although it seems most people somehow miss the fact Paul is using a parallelism here (more specifically, an extended alternation, and, in fact, a chiasm if you extend your reading to all the verses from 13 to 22) — likely because they probably weren’t familiar with Paul’s consistent use of parallelisms throughout his epistles to prove the salvation (and reconciliation) of all until they read this article — to tell us that the same “all” created by Him are also the same “all” that are reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ’s cross, and that this passage tells us that not only are all humans (meaning all the things created in earth, as mentioned in both verses 16 and 20) both created by and reconciled to Him, but all the creatures in heaven (as also mentioned in both of the same two verses, referring to a list of spiritual beings that overlaps with another list of creatures who are described in Ephesians 6:12 as being the spiritual wickedness in high places) are also both created by and reconciled to Him, and there would be no need to reconcile spiritual beings in heaven who didn’t first fall away, so it can only be the “fallen” spiritual 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. Now, some do try to argue that verse 21 contradicts this conclusion, but that just means they aren’t reading the text very carefully, since A) it really should be obvious that the point Paul was making about the eventual reconciliation of all created beings concludes with the end of verse 20, and B) when Paul wrote, “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled,” they somehow miss the fact that he was simply saying his readers have been reconciled now, but since we’re not claiming that verses 16 to 20 say everyone has currently been reconciled anyway, the immediate reconciliation of his readers doesn’t preclude the eventual reconciliation of everyone else he promised would eventually be reconciled as well, so this is just a last ditch attempt to defend their desire for never-ending punishment to be true using Scripture (since any further attempts beyond this will almost invariably have to be based on emotional or philosophical arguments), by ignoring the context of each verse.
Again, I know that it’s difficult to resist the temptation to try to insert words into Paul’s epistles that aren’t there, such as the word “believers,” for example, into the second parts of the various parallelisms I’ve covered (or to change the order of certain words to say “shall all in Christ” rather than simply accept what it actually says), but there’s no justification for doing so, particularly when we consider the fact that there’s no scriptural basis for believing in never-ending punishment in the first place, since the terms “for ever,” “everlasting,” and “eternal” don’t mean “without end” in the Bible to begin with. Yes, there are passages that seem to tell us only believers will be “saved” or will experience “everlasting life,” but when we consider the qualitative/figurative meaning of those words, we can come to understand that everyone who doesn’t get “everlasting life” (and who might even have to spend time in one or more of the various “hells”) will still eventually be saved in another way, even if not for a very long time after those who do get to enjoy “everlasting life” will be. And so, even though the KJV tells us that some people will miss out on “everlasting life,” and will even end up in “everlasting” hell fire, we now know it also says that they, and everyone, will eventually leave hell (all of the hells) and experience salvation, thanks to God and Christ.
But the fact that not everyone gets to enjoy “everlasting life” is also something that should concern my readers, because there are certain qualifications for getting to do so. There are, of course, various types of “everlasting life” available to be experienced, depending on when one lives, anyway. You might get to enjoy the “everlasting life” that involves living in Israel during the Millennium if you happen to live through the Tribulation and take care of Israelites who are persecuted during the second half of it. This isn’t in an immortal body, however, although I think it stands to reason that whoever does get to enjoy this sort of “everlasting life” will likely be given access to the tree of life. Those members of the Israel of God who follow the Gospel of the Circumcision (aka the Gospel of the Kingdom) will also be given “everlasting life” in Israel during the Millennium (and will get to reign over the rest of the world from Israel), and those who die while believing and following this particular Gospel will even be made immortal upon their resurrection (while those who “endure to the end” of the Tribulation will get to remain alive as amortals, thanks to the tree of life, although both of the last two groups will eventually be made immortal, at the end of the ages).
However, there’s a final group of people who also get to experience “everlasting life,” and this entire group gets to enjoy it in immortal bodies. These people, of course, are the members of the church known as the body of Christ, and are those who have believed Paul’s Gospel. This is an extremely small group of people, though, and technically only those relatively few people to whom God has elected to give the faith to believe Paul’s Gospel can actually join it, because faith in what Christ accomplished is a gift from God (it isn’t only the salvation and grace that are referred to as being a gift in that verse; the faith clearly is as well), and even having to choose to believe the Gospel in order to be saved would be a work we had to accomplish on our own, and would then make us our own (at least partial) saviours since, if we aren’t saved because of what Christ accomplished prior to having faith (referring to salvation from an absolute perspective), it would mean Christ accomplished absolutely nothing that benefited anyone until they performed the final step of their salvation themselves, through their wise or righteous or humble choice to believe the right thing, whichever of those options it is you think is the source of peoples’ will to choose to believe the right thing that causes them to finally get saved (instead of their will to believe the Good News coming from the Source that Scripture says it actually comes from). However, while whether we experience this sort of “everlasting life” or not isn’t something we ultimately get to decide for ourselves (nobody chooses what they believe; they either hear or read something and believe it, or they hear or read it and don’t believe it, and nobody can choose to force themselves to believe something they don’t already think is true, at least not without some serious brainwashing, and possibly some powerful drugs), anyone included in this group will have believed (which first requires actually understanding) all of the elements of Paul’s Gospel at some point in their life, which means God will have given them an understanding of, and belief in, the following details about his Gospel before they die or before the Rapture occurs: 1) That “Christ died for our sins” means nobody’s sins are being held against them at all anymore (good and evil works will still be judged at the Great White Throne, of course, but sin and evil are two entirely different concepts, and should never be confused as being the same thing, although it is true that a lot of evil actions are sinful), and everyone will eventually experience salvation because of this, and entirely apart from anything they do on their own at that, including even choosing to believe this Good News. 2) That “He was buried” means He literally ceased to exist as a conscious being, and He Himself was placed in the tomb (and not just His body while He Himself went somewhere else). And 3) that “He rose again the third day” means, after spending three days truly dead, He was resurrected into a physical body, not that He simply now exists as a glorified ghost in another dimension (this final point was the whole reason Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, after all, because some people had stopped believing in the physical resurrection). If you’ve come to truly understand and believe Paul’s Gospel as I’ve explained it above, then you can rest assured that you are indeed among the elect and have joined the body of Christ.
If you’ve made it this far and disagree with basically everything I’ve written, however, I’m sorry to say that there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait until the end of the ages to experience your own salvation since you likely aren’t among those whom God has elected for membership in the body of Christ. But, just like everyone else, even you will get to enjoy salvation at that time (and if you happen to be alive at the time the Tribulation begins, perhaps you’ll actually be among those who get saved under the Gospel of the Kingdom, or who get to experience “life eternal” by helping the least of Jesus’ brethren, instead). This also means that, if you want those of us who have come to understand and believe what I’ve written in this article to change our minds and believe what you do about the topics I’ve covered instead, you’re going to have to do a good job of breaking down exactly where I went wrong in my exegesis here. The arguments I’ve made in this article are based on more than two decades worth of study on my part, and in actuality I discovered nearly none of them on my own, but actually learned almost all of them from other teachers within the body of Christ, and you can’t just expect those of us who have come to believe these doctrines to take your word for it that they’re wrong simply because you say so. You’ll have to actually do the work of explaining how we’ve misinterpreted all of the passages of Scripture that I’ve exegeted in this article in order to prove us wrong if you want us to change our minds and believe what you believe instead (which doesn’t mean just presenting us with various philosophical arguments, or appealing to our emotions, as Christians who don’t want to let go of their beloved doctrine of never-ending punishment tend to do when they realize they have no scriptural foundation for their soteriology). So the ball’s in your court, but I’m not going to hold my breath, because thus far literally nobody has even attempted to refute what I’ve said in this article.
But why did God seem to hide all this truth from so many, since so few people appear to be able to see much of it at all when they read their Bibles? To that I simply repeat Proverbs 25:2, in which we are told, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter,” and then suggest that perhaps God did this to reveal the true nature of our hearts to us when we’re finally judged, so that we’ll be able to see just how evil our preferences for how others end up can be. And your reaction to everything I’ve written above almost certainly will be used to reveal the truth about the state of your own heart during your years as a mortal here on earth to you at that time.