Sunday at CrossHope Chapel we looked at Genesis 2:7 and the composite of man which the King James explains as “dust” plus “breath” equals “soul.”
We later went into overtime when I couldn’t refrain from answering a question about the Lake of Fire and the loss of consciousness following the second death. Actually, I was asked what my thought was so I answered, as best as I could without trying to elevating my answer to a level of required agreement.
I have been stewing on my answer to this question since I first begin reading the Bible so when it was asked, I took that as the Holy Spirit’s confirmation that it was time to answer.
Here, I am going to give a quick recap of the conversation, although I realize that I am also raising more questions, especially if you weren’t present Sunday.
When I was a freshman in college, I remember the college President speaking to an assembly of the new students and he said “Welcome to the process of stirring up your WhiteLily minds.” He explained what he meant for us Yankees, by saying that the most popular brand of flour sold in that part of Tennessee was WhiteLilly Flour so learning was like baking with the flour that required stirring up before you arrive at a place of being able to enjoy delicious fresh biscuits.
I share that because I think it is a good thing to stir up our minds and think, even if we don’t come to the same consensus. The dumbing down of America’s church pews is seen in that the early church were people of high thinking and low living, but today we have become a people of low thinking and high living. The art of thinking seems lost.
On the presentation of doctrine, I fear that too many pulpits are filled with parrots who repeat what they’ve heard from others. They serve up the frozen biscuits with tasteless preservatives because they don’t have the time or know-how to up WhiteLily minds.
At question was the belief that was presented to one of our own that at the resurrection of the wicked (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:5) the unsaved will simply lose all consciousness and by virtue of that, escape personal judgment.
My response was that I disagree with a belief that the wicked will immediately lose all consciousness at the second resurrection. Although I did attempt to explain some plausible reasons why the wicked may eventually lose all consciousness in that Lake of Fire or what is commonly referred to as hell.
Judgment and Punishment
When we specifically look at the second resurrection at the end of the 1000 years as laid out in Revelation 20 we see that their judgment commences in Revelation 20:11-15, and verse 12 states that “the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (ESV). This is why Jesus actually referred to this second resurrection as “the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28 ESV).
The second resurrection has a purpose, and that is their judgment, their punishment. The wicked are raised at the end of the 1000 years to face judgment for their rejection of Christ and their part in harming what is Christ’s. The wicked will not escape judgment.
Justice has two sides: a reward for the victim (in this case the first resurrection) and a punishment for the perpetrator (in this case the second resurrection).
When you look at the natural progression of events of the 1000 years, Revelation 20:7-10 seems to point to a concluding battle of Armageddon, that picks up where it left off at the beginning of the 1000 years, and timed with the second resurrection. The wicked would have be died “with the spirit of his mouth” and destroyed “with the brightness of his coming” when Jesus returned for the saints and when Satan had already commenced the battle of Armageddon (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
If this is the case, there would be a considerable amount of time after their second resurrection and finding themselves marching (or supporting) under Satan’s banner in his final assault against “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2 ESV), and then face judgment before being thrown into the Lake of Fire.
This scenario is followed up with the Earth purified by fire (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1-4) and alluded to in Malachi 4:1-3 after Heaven takes its place on the New Earth and the New Jerusalem becomes the throne of God.
[By way of parenthesis… If you are interested I have two previous posts titled “The Millennium: A Sequence of Events” and “Dispensationalism and Historisicm” at my blog that may help fill in the gaps I left in the above paragraph.]
So what could plausibly be some reasons why the wicked would eventually lose all consciousness when conventional thinking in Christendom has been that the wicked will exist consciously in eternal torment?
Immortality of the Soul
According to Scripture immortality is only possessed by God (1 Timothy 6:15-16) and we seek that as our desire to be saved in Christ (Romans 2:7). The Greek philosophers taught that all men lived eternally, regardless of being good or bad, and that concept simply found its way into Christendom through Catholic theologians.
Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived somewhere in the area 400 BC, taught that every man had a soul (psychē) and the soul was a mystical immaterial eternal essence not subject to extinction.
Scripture, on the other hand, gives mention to the soul as a living being. Ezekiel 18:20 says that the soul can die. Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said that the soul can be destroyed.
While Plato, Greek philosophers, and Catholic theologians like Augustine taught that every man had a soul that was immortal, the Bible says otherwise. There is no verse in the Bible that credits mankind with any possession of immortality – the quality of eternal existence and never subject to death. 1 Timothy 6:12 states that the Lord “only hath immortality” and that we receive the gift of immortality at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53-54) because we have received it by faith (Romans 6:23).
The plain gospel verse of John 3:16 says that only those who receive Jesus will have immortality or eternal life. The gift of eternal life is a big motivation for a mortal. It is the motivation that God intended the gospel to have and we see that in Luke 7:36-50 where a women referred to as “a sinner” began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears.
In the account of Luke 7:36-50 Jesus tells Peter about a story of a debt collector who forgave two who owed him, one a large sum and the other a smaller sum. Peter rightly says that the one who is forgiven most, loves most.
This is why when read the accounts of Jesus healing people we have Him stressing one point, Your sins are forgiven you. God wants our salvation to be motivated by love – His love for us and our reciprocated love for Him. He wants us to be drawn to Him out of love so we will have a relationship with Him based on trust not fear.
Fear of consequences on earth is not necessarily a bad thing. It says, If you do this crime you will end up in jail, and does make us think twice about it. Fear of being punished in a relationship is a little different because it doesn’t build a mutual trust or a confidence that lasts. It says, If don’t get it together I will abuse you again and you know you can’t do anything to stop me.
If one has a platonic view of immortality, than there is no longer any appeal to wanting to have eternal life because it’s already possessed. Back in the 1990’s there was a popular “evangelistic” film going around called something like “Hell: Alive in 400,000 Degrees Fahrenheit.”
Every Baptist church in my town hosted that film, but I wonder how many people were scared into saying a sinner’s prayer. Of course I personally know someone who credits that film as saving them, but apparently that fear motivation didn’t last because they are back to living with devil, just as they were the day before the film.
Fear motivation also messes with Christians. When that film was making its rounds I had a call-in talk radio show called Ask the Bible. One lady called the show and told of how she has had nightmares for her wayward deceased son and how she is consumed with worry over her other children’s fate of torment.
Eternal Hell Fire
Biblical references to hell refer to the punishment as being eternal, but not the person being punished. The punishment is eternal, not the the punishing. The Apostle Paul refers to hell as “the punishment of eternal destruction” and not an eternal destructing (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).
Even with the use of the word forever, we have examples of Scripture where it means until it is complete, but not necessarily eternally on and on. Those examples are Exodus 21:6 a slave forever, 1 Samuel 1:22, 28; serve in temple forever, and Jonah 2:6 in the belly of the whale forever. We use the words in the same way today and I see it all the time when couples promise to each other forever.
In Jude 1:7 and 2 Peter 2:6 we have the example of “eternal fire” that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah as a judgment that has eternal effects but is not burning today. Peter calls them “examples for those who live ungodly” and we can YouTube archaeologist showing us the sulfur from the intense heat of those flames.
When we hear the term “unquenchable fire” as in Mark 9:43, 48 we have the example of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Jeremiah 17:27 points to it as a fire that “shall not be quenched” to mean that it will completely do its job with everlasting effect.
It is also likely that the wicked will receive their punishment in the Lake of Fire according to the degree of their sin. Perhaps the intensity and duration will be different according the individual wickedness. It doesn’t take a Yale law student to recognize an injustice in giving a hungry destitute candy thief the same penalty as the murderer who killed 3000 people by hijacking a plane into the twin towers.
The problem has been that ever so often a minister stands up on TV or some other medium and declares that hell is not real – like Rob Bell. Then we have a back lash from other ministers – like Francis Chan – who declare anyone a heretic for even questioning the doctrine of eternal torment.
So we all keep getting stuck with store bought stale bake goods when the Scriptures really do present the right balance of mercy with judgment, and justice with punishment, and an eternal end of sin.
I’m baking biscuits here, stirring up some theology and likely making a little mess in the process, but it is OK if don’t want to eat any of this.
It is always my intention to “rightly dividing the word of truth” in accordance with 2 Timothy 2:15. I fully understand that all of us, me included, have an incomplete grasp of God’s ways because of our finite minds, and one of the hallmarks at CrossHope Chapel is that it is OK if we each hold variant opinions on non-salvific topics.
I have not felt the need to address this doctrine and you will not find me addressing it again unless I am asked or we specifically come across it in our Sunday teaching text.
When I hear a fellow believer talk of the fear of hell fire and its eternal torment I fully understand what they are saying. Neither of us has plans to be there. We all ought to fear hell.
Besides, the example of Jesus with His disciples was to address truth as it was asked or brought up. Jesus was not that person who felt the need to correct everyone about everything without consideration of its value to a person’s redemption.
Hell is a real place for real sinners with a real punishment. I completely disagree with those who say there is no such thing as hell or that it only figurative teaching with no literal punishment.
There is a Heaven to gained and a Hell to be avoided. However, I have to agree with some who question the aspect of its duration because of the evidence I see in the biblical text, and now you that.