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Death is Sleep and Hell is not Eternal

In this article, we’re going to look at death and the afterlife. We’re going to look at what a man actually consists of. We’re going to see what part of him dies. We’re also going to look at what happens after death, to see where one goes or does not go. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines dying or death as: to stop living; to stop functioning; end or destruction. The Christian church, for the most part, defines death differently. They define it as: a separation. When we die, the predominant view in the Christian church is that our inner person (soul/spirit) separates from our body and lives on. Our physical, flesh and blood body dies (ceases to function) but the inner person moves on to another realm, either into some type of punishment or into some type of paradise, continuing to live on. The inner person is deemed to be immortal, which means that it cannot die. This definition and view of the church, traditionally called, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, has led to other teachings and practices which have become prevalent in the church, such as going to heaven when you die, purgatory, the paying of indulgences, and never ending punishing in an eternal hell-fire. What is the truth about death? Do we completely cease to consciously function when our breath leaves us or do we experience a separation where our body dies, but our soul/spirit lives on? And are heaven, purgatory and eternal punishing in hell-fire true destinies for the righteous and the wicked? This is what we’re going to try and unravel today.

To begin, let’s first look at how God defines man. In Genesis 2:7 we read that, “God formed man out of the dust from the ground, and breathed in his face the breath of life, or the spirit of life; and man became a living soul.” Man is made of the dust of the earth and is made alive by given the breath of life from God (breath being the Hebrew word ruwach which is also translated as spirit). Man’s formed body + the breath of life = one living soul. This is what a man is. Man is a soul. Man is not a body that was given a soul, neither is man an immortal soul surrounded by a body. Man is the combination of body and life breath (or spirit) and this makes him a living soul. Now this is significant because the Christian church, for the most part, has adopted the view that man is made up of at least two separable parts, a body and a spirit/soul. But the scriptures do not support that idea.

Then God goes on to define what death is. After Adam and Eve sinned, God had told them that they must die and then in Genesis 3:19 He says, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground from which you were taken. Earth you are, and to earth you shall return.” This is how God defines death, a returning to the ground, an ending of conscious existence. Please notice that God speaks nothing of an immortal soul that will live on forever, He simply states that when you die, you (the whole person) will return to the earth from which you were taken. So God defines death as the end of a person’s functional existence because of the removal of the breath of life (or the spirit) that He gave. Once again, the Christian church makes the claim that the physical body dies but the soul/spirit lives on consciously in another realm. But as we see, God, Himself, mentions no such thing.

We will now examine what else scripture has to say about death. The Hebrew Old Testament is very consistent in how it explains death. In Psalm 146: 3-4 we read, “ Do not trust in rulers and in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation. His breath shall go out of him, and he shall return to the earth. On that day his thoughts shall perish.” This psalmist concurs exactly with God’s definition of death in Genesis 3:19. Solomon, at one time the wisest man who ever lived wrote, “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals: one thing befalls them; as is the death of the one, so also is the death of the other, and there is one breath to all. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to the dust.” (Eccl. 3:19a, 20) And finally in Daniel 12:2 we read that at the time of the end, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to disgrace and everlasting shame.” At the time of the end, the dead shall be awakened, but until that time they are asleep, or dead, in the dust of the earth, according to what was revealed to the prophet Daniel. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we read of immortal souls living on in either paradise or torment.

We find these same thoughts throughout the New Testament also. Jesus Himself said, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29) Jesus agrees exactly with Daniel 12:2 which we just looked at. People die, go into the grave, and at the time of the end when Jesus returns, will be resurrected back unto life. Those in the grave will hear His voice, not the supposed immortal souls in heaven. Jesus speaks nothing of a conscious existence before His return. Paul taught this same thing. In 1Corinthians 15:20,22-23 he writes, “ But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ, the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” Christ is the first fruits of those to be risen from the dead. The rest, those who are Christ’s, will rise afterward, at His coming. Until then they are asleep in the grave. I want to look at one more passage that is exceptionally clear. Peter in his very first sermon in Acts chapter 2 was speaking about king David, asserting that he was both dead and buried, but that he had foretold of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and then in verse 34 Peter says these words, “For David did not ascend into the heavens.” Peter has just finished telling us how king David was dead and he states here that David did not go to heaven when he died, clearly saying that David did not ascend into heaven. No one immediately goes to heaven or hell when they die. That will not happen until Jesus Christ returns. Peter just confirmed this to us. The patriarch David is still in the grave to this day, asleep, awaiting the return of Christ and his eventual resurrection unto eternal life.

Another critical testimony from scripture that I want to bring out is that the Bible teaches that only one has immortality, or can never die and that is God, Himself. Paul in 1Timothy 6:15-16 speaking of God the Father says, “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality.” This verse is very clear also. God, alone, has immortality. Human beings do not have immortal souls. Now Jesus Christ has also been raised to immortality, as the first fruits from mankind, but the consistent testimony from the scriptures is that those who are Christ’s will not receive immortality until Jesus returns and there is no mention at all of the wicked having any hope of immortality. 1Corinthians 15:51-54 is a final confirmation that man is not inherently immortal. Paul writes, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ’Death is swallowed up in victory.’” Death and mortality will be swallowed up in victory when Jesus returns and not before then. Then those who are Christ’s will be raised to immortality. The blessed hope of the Christian is the return of Jesus Christ because of this very fact, but this has been significantly lost because the church, for the most part, believes that when Christians die, they are already immortal and immediately go to be with the Lord forever. Their hope has been realized according to the church, but this is simply not true. Christians should be eagerly looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ because that will be when their full redemption will be realized.

So the question remains, if all this is true then why does the vast majority of the church believe differently? In Colossians 2:8 Paul warns, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” A famous Greek philosopher Plato is the one who had popularized the philosophy that man has an immortal soul. When the gospel spread to the regions of Rome, Greece and beyond, people started to incorporate this teaching into the church. In approximately 180 AD the church father Irenaeus, upon hearing of this, had condemned this teaching of the immortality of the soul as heretical but by the time AD 250 had rolled around this teaching had infiltrated so deeply that it had already become the predominant view in the church, and it has remained that way until this day. Even with the clear warning from the apostle Paul to avoid the teachings of human philosophy, the church ignored that warning and this false doctrine which has led to numerous other false doctrines became accepted by the church. The Roman Catholic church later capitalized on this teaching by introducing the doctrine of purgatory, which lead to the devilish paying of indulgences so that people could supposedly reduce or eliminate the suffering of their dead relatives, who had not attained sainthood. The doctrine of eternal torment in hell-fire also came about because of the church believing that human souls were inherently immortal. The thinking goes like this, since the Bible is clear that the wicked will one day be cast into the Lake of Fire, if the human soul is immortal, which means it can never die, then those who are cast into this Lake of Fire at the end will have to burn and suffer forever and ever. But is this true? Has God ordained that human beings, who do not receive His Son and who lived wickedly, burn in torment in a Lake of Fire forever and ever? I have been convinced that this also is simply not true and now I’m going to go on and show you why I’ve come to believe that.

First off, I find it very significant that almost every time the Bible speaks of the eternal consequences for the wicked it uses a word that denotes an ending, a total consummation. In the Old Testament we find in psalms 34:16 that the Lord “will cut off the memory of evildoers from the earth.” In psalm 37:9-11 we’re told of the consequences for the righteous as well as the wicked, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more, and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there, but the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” So the wicked will be cut off, there will be no more memory of them and they will be no more. Not even a hint of conscious eternal torment in these verses. Here are a couple more- Isaiah 1:28 reads, “But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together and those who forsake the Lord will come to an end.” MalachI 4:1 concurs, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff, and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the Lord of Hosts, so that it will leave them neither root or branch- it will leave them as nothing -vs. 3 goes on to say that the wicked will be turned to ashes under the feet of the righteous. Ashes, to me, points to total destruction, not eternal torment.

But what about the New Testament? Well we find the same picture of total destruction, even in more abundance. The famous John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but will have everlasting life.” Notice the contrast is of perishing or of obtaining everlasting life. There is no mention here of everlasting torment. Now this contrast of either obtaining eternal salvation or suffering total destruction is found in many other places in the New Testament. Jesus said that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” and then he contrasts that with the narrow gate that leads to life, meaning eternal life. (Matt. 7:13-14) In Romans 6:23, the apostle Paul taught that the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment, but the free gift of God is eternal life.” James, the brother of Jesus said that, “there is only one lawgiver and judge, the One who is able to both save and to destroy.” Consistently, when the Bible contrasts the fate of the righteous with the wicked, the righteous is saved unto eternal life while the wicked either dies, perishes, or is destroyed. Now there are many other verses we could look at. Matthew 10:28 talks about God destroying both body and soul in hell. Philippians 3:18-19 speaks about the enemies of the cross of Christ having destruction as their end, we could continue to go on and on but I think you should be getting the point.

The only verse I can find which speaks of beings being tormented forever and ever is Revelation chapter 20 verse 10 which reads, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the Lake of Fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are also, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Now there are two things I want to say regarding this verse. First, these three beings could all very well be supernatural or angelic beings which would put them in a different class than mankind and subsequently maybe they will receive a different type of punishment. I personally don’t think that this is the case here but I’ll lay it out there as one possibility as an explanation for this verse. Secondly, and what I believe to be true, is that the book of Revelation is a largely symbolic book with clearly, many, many references that are not to be taken literally. Read it for yourself and I’m sure that you will agree. Now if we look back into the Old Testament we can see that the type of phrase that is used in this verse, about the torment being “forever and ever,” is used over and over again in the Old Testament but I want to look at one specific passage in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 34:9-10 we read about the judgment of the nation of Edom. Isaiah writes, “It’s streams will be turned into pitch, and it’s loose earth into brimstone, and it’s land will become burning pitch. It will not be quenched night or day. It’s smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate. None will pass thru it forever and ever.” Now obviously this phrase found in Isaiah wasn’t to be taken literally because the smoke of Edom’s judgment isn’t still rising today. This figure of speech of forever and ever is found in many other places in the Old Testament and it usually does not literally mean unending. If forever and ever is a figure of speech used throughout the Old Testament which does not literally mean forever and ever, without end, then in a vastly symbolic book like the book of Revelation, it seems very likely to me, that it should not be taken literally here either, it should be taken as a figure of speech from a writer, the apostle John, who was very familiar with the phrase and the meaning of it, from his vast knowledge of the Old Testament text.

To conclude on this hideous false teaching of eternal torment in hell-fire for the wicked, I want to look to the example of Sodom and Gomorrah in which both the apostle Peter and Jude refer to, as having been set forth as THE example of what is going to happen to those who continue to live ungodly. Jude writes in verse 7, “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” So here Jude tells us that the ungodly, just as Sodom and Gomorrah, will suffer the punishment of eternal fire. Now we know that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed and was completely burnt up. It is not still burning today. Eternal fire is the fire of God. The Bible says that “our God is a consuming fire”. Eternal fire means that the fire of God, at his disposal for all eternity will burn, and will not stop burning, until the object that it is consuming is completely consumed. It does not mean that the fire literally burns forever and ever. Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the consequence of the eternal fire, as the wicked will also and it was completely destroyed to ashes, and once again, the wicked will suffer that same fate also. They will face the eternal fire and will be destroyed to ashes. Sodom and Gomorrah was completely destroyed as Peter also confirms in 2 Peter 2:6 where he writes, “and if He (God) condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.” There it is, the wicked will face judgment, they will be punished, fairly, as Almighty God deems fit. They will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, or hell, as it is sometimes called, but they will not burn endlessly, in torment forever and ever, as the majority of the Christian church falsely believes and teaches. Man is not inherently immortal, as we have seen. That false teaching has led to this hideous teaching of eternal torment and it is simply not true. Immortality is a precious gift that will be bestowed to those who love God and who follow His Son. I pray that YOU are following him today!

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