The Age of Accountability: Conditional Immortality: Heaven on Earth; the Destruction of the Damned

8/8/2010Lesson 4: At the end of time, heaven comes to earth

The usual teaching is that God will destroy the earth and we’ll all leave to live with God in heaven forever. That’s not really what the Bible says.

(Rev 21:1-4 ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Now, “new” is the Greek word kainos, meaning refreshed or renewed or remade. It’s not used of “made from scratch.” And we see heaven descending down to the renewed earth and God coming to live with man — the very opposite of man ascending to heaven to live with God. How did that happen?

(Gen 1:1 ESV)  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

(Isa 65:17-19 ESV) 17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”

(Isa 66:22-24 ESV) 22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain.  23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.

24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

The Bible begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth. Isaiah later prophesies that it will all end with the creation of a new heaven and new earth. But not everyone will get to enjoy the renewed creation. Rather, there will be “dead bodies” with undying worms and unquenchable fire outside the renewed heavens and earth.

Revelation 21 tells us that this happens by the power of God at the end of time, with heaven being joined to the earth so that God and man may live together — as they once did in the Garden.

(Rev 22:1-2 ESV) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

The tree of life from the Garden will, of course, be there, because we’ll be restored to Eden, where we’ll walk with God in the cool of the morning as Adam did.

The same conclusion is evident from another direction —

(Rom 8:20-23 ESV) 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Paul pictures the end of this age as the freeing of the creation from bondage! He’s not saying that this creation will be destroyed. Rather, it will be freed as though by childbirth.

Paul sees this as analogous to our own redemption, when our bodies will be redeemed. Rather than leaving our bodies behind, our bodies will be redeemed, just as the creation itself will be. There’s not a hint of the usual teaching that the creation will be disintegrated and we’ll leave our bodies to live in disembodied bliss in heaven. Rather, our bodies and the creation will be transformed and freed from the corruption of this world — and God will join us in the newly re-created heavens and earth.

The obvious question is how to take 2 Peter 3:10-13, which seems to plainly predict the destruction of the present heavens and earth. I addressed that question in detail a few months ago in —

2 Peter 3:10-13 – Introduction

The New Jerusalem

On Reading Figurative Language

A New Creation

Spiritual Bodies

Shining Like Stars

A Hypothesis

Re-translating Peter

Lesson 5: Where is hell?

If the saved enjoy eternity in a renewed, transformed heavens and earth, walking with God, where is hell? Where does it fit into the new cosmology of the heavens and the earth? Well, as so often happens, we find the answer in Deuteronomy.

(Deu 4:23-24 ESV)  23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.  24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

God describes himself as a fire that consumes or devours. God destroys his enemies. Thus, we see in Isaiah 66, again, how the world will end —

(Isa 66:15-16 ESV)  15 “For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.  16 For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.”

But fire doesn’t “consume” unless it destroys. The wonder of the burning bush is that God’s fire didn’t consume it! Just so, at the end of time, the fire of God will slay God’s enemies. They will die.

(2Th 1:5-10 ESV)  5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering–  6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,  7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

“Fire,” of course, is a reference to the many passages (far more than I’ve quoted) to God’s wrath visited in the form of consuming fire. “Destruction” means, well, destruction. It doesn’t mean torment. It means to be destroyed.

(1Ki 13:34 ESV) And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.

(Jer 51:55 ESV) For the LORD is laying Babylon waste and stilling her mighty voice. Their waves roar like many waters; the noise of their voice is raised,

(Jer 48:32 ESV)  More than for Jazer I weep for you, O vine of Sibmah! Your branches passed over the sea, reached to the Sea of Jazer; on your summer fruits and your grapes the destroyer has fallen.

(Eze 6:14 ESV) And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

(1Co 5:5 ESV) you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

(1Ti 6:9 ESV) But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

We interpret “destruction” to mean “torment” but that’s just not what the word means. Perpetual torment is what the pagans believed would be the fate of the damned.

This just leaves us with “eternal.” We want to translate it “everlasting,” but that’s not the real meaning. The word is aionios, coming from aion, meaning “age” — as in an aeon. It’s most literally translated “of the age” or “in the age.” And normally (not always) the age the writers have in mind is the age that begins when Jesus returns at the end of this age. Hence, in the New Testament, it usually means “of the next age.”

It does not, by itself, tell you how long something lasts, although it’s often true that it’s speaking of something everlasting. After all, the next age will be everlasting, as will be many things in it. And this means that “eternal” can often be replaced with “everlasting” and the verse will make good sense — because what it’s speaking of is both of the next age and everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that “eternal” means “everlasting.”

“Eternal death” therefore means death in the next age, that is, a second death, once in this age and a second in the coming age after Judgment. And unlike the first death, which is temporary, the second death will last forever. “Eternal life” means, of course, life in the next age, which will last forever. Of course, the damned don’t receive eternal life, even though conventional thought is that they’ll live forever, too! No, they receive eternal death or eternal destruction — they are destroyed in the next age and unlike death in this age, the effects of the second death are everlasting.

Thus, “eternal punishment” means “punishment in the next age” not “punishment that lasts forever” although, like eternal death, its effects last forever. Consider —

(Heb 6:1-2 ESV) Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,  2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Judgment is “eternal” because it will be for the next age, not because God will continue to judge forever. In fact, once he judges us at the beginning of the next age, judgment will be finished.

(Mar 3:29 ESV) “… but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” —

The sin is not eternal because you sin and sin and sin forever. It’s eternal because it has consequences for the next age.

Therefore, “eternal destruction” doesn’t mean to destroy forever. That would be a contradiction in terms. If the thing being “destroyed” lasts forever, it’s not destroyed! Rather, eternal destruction is destruction that occurs in the next age with consequences that last to the end of the age. You’ll be destroyed never to be rebuilt.

Therefore, we see in 2 Thes 5:1-10 a prediction of a destruction of the enemies of God. At the end of time, there will be a fire that purges the unredeemed elements of the heavens and earth, and God will renew what remains, renewing the heavens and earth and renewed his children with new bodies not made of flesh and blood. And then he’ll enter the cleansed, renewed world to be with mankind forever. And this is exactly what the Old Testament says, too.

Next: What is damnation really like? (Don’t think damnation will be painless.)

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to The Age of Accountability: Conditional Immortality: Heaven on Earth; the Destruction of the Damned

  1. konastephen says:

    I follow you, and agree with Wright’s understanding of the resurrection and of the new heavens and new earth as united. I don’t quite follow you on damnation. I’m fine with paring away any pagan notions of heaven and hell, for the bible certainly does speak of a bodily resurrection and not of souls or spirits flying off into the clouds; but this does not necessitate conditional immortality. I don’t see how we can have it both ways! Eternity for the good, annihilation for the bad. Are we willing to bet on this? What do we gain if we’re right?
    In Eastern Orthodox, I thought that they taught that both the saved and unsaved went to the same realm—the difference was that the saved would see God as a brilliant goodness and worship, and the unsaved would experience agony and darkness. It has nothing to do with God punishing us, but of free-wills lost in deceit and delusions. Hell is what happens when God’s justice is not accepted.

    On this topic I’d rather remain somewhat agnostic like C.S. Lewis. For neither making hell look scary nor making it look relatively easy gets anyone to heaven—what is important is that God has prepared a way to escape our utter ruin. We preach Christ crucified. All this just seems to be a mere rearranging of the furniture in hell.

    A number of the comments in the previous posts seem deeply concerned with the issue of hell and justice—likening it to justice here and now. But this seems misdirected. In the here and now we do require laws (because of [Original] sin) and we must mete out justice proportional to crimes. However, when it comes to man and God things are different—and that’s what we’re talking about here with heaven and hell. If people have a problem with understanding hell and a just God, then what do we say when they start reading the bible?

    A man and wife eat one piece of fruit and get thrown out of paradise.
    But when a man kills his brother he’s given what amounts to diplomatic immunity.
    A king kills another man to sleep with that man’s wife, and then he says he’s sorry and only the bastard child dies.
    But when a man stretches out his hand to steady a holy item he’s killed on the spot.
    A man and wife tell a little white lie to make themselves look mildly better, they get zapped.
    A man counts his people and so 70, 000 die.
    (We could go on and on…)

    How on earth do we reconcile these stories with our sense of justice—of being proportional to the crime???

    Justice is an important part of any God-fearing persons mentality (Micah 6:8), and because we live in a fallen world that justice looks more or less how we see it today (Greco-Roman with a touch of Christianity). Justice between man and man is one thing—but when we get to the End of Days our response to the Holiness and the Glory of God will be anything but just. For those who have clung to Jesus in this life will not be treated fairly with regards to their sins but will be forgiven; and those that did not seek after God will be left without a standard of justice to appeal to…

  2. John says:

    The problem with a literal hell is that even those who claim to believe in one do so only when they are on their religious plane.

    For example, a member of the Church of Christ can sit in a "Bible Study" with a Baptist or Methodist and have no problem letting that person know that he or she will go to hell if they do not "obey the gospel". Then go home and listen to their favorite country singer, watch their favorite actors on TV, or applaud their favorite politicians and political talk show host without one thought as to that persons eternal destiny. The same is true for people in other denominations who can easily infer a person is lost in the flames of hell if that person does not accept Christ as Lord and Saviour.

    In other words, you have to split your mind into two distinct worlds to believe in a literal hell…the religious one in which it is supposed to be taught and defended; and the one where acceptance is practiced in order to exist.

    I prefer the faith in which all of life is Holy. A person's life, and death, is God's.

  3. konastephen says:

    I fully agree. We should not compartmentalize our life into spiritual and physical spheres, where never the twain shall meet. But the same goes with a view of a literal heaven—a putting the world to rights! For how do we believe in a good God who is working to, and will put the world to rights, and not challenge those caught in the ephemeral charms and distractions of our age that work against His plan and will?

  4. guy says:


    i'm lost at this point about how anything you've covered here determines answers regarding the age of accountability issue.


    i don't see how not bringing to the forefront of my consciousness the eternal destiny of everyone i meet or know of somehow means i've stopped believing in a literal hell or means that such a place does not exist.


  5. John says:

    That people can listen to a political radio personality they idolize and consider a hero of their political cause, or sit in a music concert of their favorite performer, then, if pushed, admit that this person, if she or he died right now, would go straight to hell, flies in the face of all that is holy and reasonable.

    All of life is imperfect, yet holy. How can that be? The answer is LOVE, the greatest of all things. It works within a universe made holy by God's presence by the imperfect embracing the imperfect because God, who is as self evident as light, is recognized in it all.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    More posts to come. Takes a while to explain the position, as the traditional view is so deeply engrained it's hard to even imagine alternatives.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    I'll be getting back to the AOA issue — but it matters. At least it creates alternative possibilities to consider. But it's not time to explain yet. Thanks for your patience.

  8. rey says:

    "a putting the world to rights! " (kona)

    NT Wright is interesting when he says many in the ancient world embraced Christianity out of a desire for a more just government. God can "put the world to rights" like no human government could, and so on. The problem is we can't believe that to be the Christian message today because both our oral message and our scriptures (James 2:10 for example) have been altered to assert a God who is not MORE just than human government, but LESS much much LESS.

    Adolf Hitler burned people in ovens just for being Jews. To be a Jew was to be guilty of all other crimes as well. The principle of James 2:10 is much the same. If we commit one sins God considers us guilty of all sins it says. And essentially, to here Protestant and especially Calvinists tell it, being human is a sin.

    So Adolf Hitler burned Jews in ovens for being Jews, for being born as descendants of Isaac. And we are taught that God will burn men in ovens for being human, for being born as descendants of Adam.

    This is a putting to rights? Nay, this is almighty Naziism.

    If only we could get back to this message that NT Wright says the earliest Christians believed! Now there is a message to convert the soul!!!!!!!! But our message today is worthless.

  9. konastephen says:


    So you think the traditional view of hell makes God into Hitler? I repeat: God's decree, unlike what we see here, will be just. But if we start to say, "but I wasn't sinful—those weren't my personal sins—I wasn't as bad as that guy", then we'll watch those hands ready to heal fade away. And as our justifications and demands for being saving increase, so too will the fire erupt inside us, with nothing to quench it.

    Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we will receive the due reward of our deeds; but we preach Christ crucified, Him who did nothing wrong.

    Unlike the injustice we see here, we have a God that wants to heal and reconcile His creation. But sin is a human problem, it runs through all of us. The twin concepts of the Imago Dei and Original Sin—that all people being created in God's image and being called good, and the fallenness of all humanity—are the very ideas that should keep us from being Hitlers—these ideas unite us! They unite us in our origin, in our plight, and in our hope.

    The ‘Age of Accountability’ then should perhaps be called the ‘Age of Stubbornness’—this is the age where we should worry that the stubbornness of the heart will no longer receive God’s grace if faced with judgment. This is the age where judgment is responded to in resentment. Ressentiment…

  10. guy says:


    i'm at a loss. i have no idea what it is you're claiming or arguing. It sounds like i'm supposed to actively bring to the forefront of my mind that every non-Christian i encounter is going to hell, provided i believe in such a place. i read your claim that if i do not do so, i am unreasonable. i have no idea why that is the case and can't discern from your words any premises. Help?


  11. rey says:

    "So you think the traditional view of hell makes God into Hitler?" (kona)

    Worse than Hitler. Hitler burned Jews in a temporal oven simply for the "sin" of being descendants of Isaac. But the traditional view of hell has God burning men in an everlasting oven for the "sin" of being descendants of Adam.

    Now, Paul says in Romans 1 that when men worship a creature rather than the Creator they become depraved in their thinking. This surely is true, for those who worship a book rather than God have become so depraved that they are incapable of realizing that they make God out to be worse than Hitler! They are so in fear of an inanimate object composed of paper and ink that they are afraid if they though rationally and adoringly of God as he actually is, the book might send them to hell. Surely Paul is right when he says the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3-4)

  12. Rich W says:


    But the traditional view of hell has God burning men in an everlasting oven for the “sin” of being descendants of Adam.

    Whose tradition says this? It isn't mine.

  13. Jay Guin says:


    It's entirely unfair to accuse anyone here of worshiping a book. The accusation is unfounded and unChristian. People who believe that the scriptures are God's self-revelation (as I do) do not worship the book by accepting its claims as true.

    And while I disagree with the traditional view as to the nature of heaven and hell, I do not want any association with the accusation that the traditional view makes God out to be worse than Hitler. It's just not true. Hitler didn't give up his son to save the lost. The orthodox view sees God as going to great lengths, at great personal cost, to rescue the lost from hell. Therefore, it's an unfair accusation, and not at all helpful to the discussion.

    I'd appreciate your advocating for your view without making such accusations.

  14. John says:

    The literalist, and, or fundamentalist, has developed a second nature of living, back and forth, in two worlds…the religious one in which hell exists as a point of doctrine; and the real world where it does not exist which allows the person to exist with reality. The ability to jump from one to the other, depending on circumstances, is part of that nature.

    When that person is with another, communing with another, listening or sharing, human being to human being, out of the religous sphere , hell does not exist. This is where the truth lies.

  15. John says:

    In my post above I meant to say in the last paragraph "outside the religious sphere". I was Typing too fast.

    With that in mind, let me say that religion is a gift of God, as is life, and that religion or worship, should never be at odds with should celebrate it. In this way religion and life are one. Religion is life…life is religion.

  16. guy says:


    i have no idea why any of what you said is necessarily the case for someone who believes in hell. How does it necessarily follow that my sharing time with a non-Christian implies there is no hell or that i no longer believe in it? Does belief in hell force me to avoid people? How does that follow?


  17. rey says:

    "And while I disagree with the traditional view as to the nature of heaven and hell, I do not want any association with the accusation that the traditional view makes God out to be worse than Hitler. It’s just not true. Hitler didn’t give up his son to save the lost." (Jay)

    A being who is unjust and cruel enough to send people to eternal torment for the trivial reasons asserted by the traditional view is incapable of making a sincere offer of salvation and therefore the putative slaying of his own son to save us is meaningless in the traditional system. In fact, if such a being did slay his son, he must have only done it as part of an elaborate hoax, thus indeed making him far worse than Hitler.

  18. Jay Guin says:


    I'm placing you on moderation, meaning your comments won't appear until I approve them.

    While I disagree with orthodox eschatology as well, I won't tolerate repeated insults of those you disagree with, especially in such vituperative language.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Matthew 25:44-46 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    Mark 9:43-48 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched where ‘ Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where‘ Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—‘ Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ ”

    Revelation 14:9-11 “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. 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 ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

    Eternal Hell is very real indeed…where they will not die and the fire is not quenched, tormented forever and ever!

  20. abasnar says:

    When Anonymous and I agree it is high time to celebrate 😉

  21. rey says:

    "Eternal Hell is very real indeed…where they will not die and the fire is not quenched, tormented forever and ever!"

    These passages say the fire is never quenched and that the worms eating the bodies do not ever die. They do not say the bodies themselves never die.

    In other words, what about Matthew 10:28? "But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

    According to the traditional view this verse must be twisted and contorted. We must make destroy mean torment by some strange wrestling with the text and putting it in a headlock.

    In this vein, perhaps the only actual reference to hell in the Old Testament, Isaiah 66:24 says:

    "And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

    We are talking about men who are killed by the fires of hell but their corpses last much longer, not being consumed by the fire but by everlasting worms for a long long time.

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