The Age of Accountability: Conditional Immortality: Responding to Objections

8/8/2010Alexander has posted several objections to my understanding of conditional immortality. As always, Alexander’s concerns are thought provoking and weighty. I’ll work through them one at a time.

Are the lost resurreccted bodily as well? I see no reason why not:

John 5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice,
John 5:29 and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.
Is there any “physical” difference between the two resurrections? No. Both groups rise from their graves => the resurrection is a bodily resurrection both for the saved and the lost.

Indeed, the damned are resurrected — but not to immortality. Rather, they die the second death following judgment. They willl typically die very painfully — but their punishment will be proportional to their wickedness. I’ll cover the proportionality question in a future post. The gist of it is that the damned will be destroyed and die, but most will die painfully and yet justly. God will be who he is, and he is a just God.

Rev 19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs in his sight, wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshipped his image: they two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone:

The beast and the false prophet are two humans. They did not die in the battle, but were taken alive and thrown in to the lake of fire. A thousand years later (I am a convinced historical-premillenialist) the second resurrection takes place:

I doubt that the beast and the false prophet are humans.

(Rev 13:1-4 ESV) And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.  2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.  3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.  4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

(Rev 16:13 ESV)  13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs.

I don’t want to get into trying interpret all of Revelation here. I’ve addressed this argument at this earlier post. The people who oppose Jesus are said to die. The powers that stand against the Lamb — demonic powers — suffer an everlasting punishment.

(Rev 20:9-15 ESV)  9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,  10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.  13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

In v. 10 John says the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented forever. But humans are judged in v. 13 (in marked contrast to v. 10), and damned humans are thrown into the lake of fire — but it says nothing here about the duration of their punishment, only that they suffer God’s wrath. Indeed, these people weren’t named in the “book of life,” and so they have no life, only the second death — a painful death in a lake of fire.

(Rev 21:8 ESV) 8 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The traditional view is that the damned don’t die but are tormented while alive and conscious forever. Rev. 21:8 says that the wicked suffer death.

Mat 18:34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due.

It may be a little disturbing to hear Christ speak of tormentors when speaking about hell; and I am convinced He chose this imagery for a reason. Considering how enormously huge the servant’s debts were it sums up to eternal punishment.

It’s a stretch to insist that “till he should pay all that was due” necessarily means forever. It sounds more like he’ll be punished according to the amount owed.

Mat 25:30 And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

This is one of quite a number of verses where the Lord speaks of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Why not of destruction if that’s what hell is really all about? It is interesting also, that he uses substantives to describe this and not verbs – saying: This place is characterized by weeping and gnashing of teeth. So it is not about a short time of weeping while being sentenced to destruction, but about being sentenced to a place of weeping.

The punishment of the damned will be painful — and verses such as this mean what they say. The question is whether the punishment never ends, and nothing here suggests everlasting torture.

Mar 9:47 And if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out: it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell;
Mar 9:48 where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

This is reference to the last verses of Isaiah:

Isa 66:23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith Jehovah.
Isa 66:24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the dead bodies of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

The fire will burn forever.
The worms will always have plenty to eat.
The bodies burn continually without being consumed
And they are dead

Yet it is a place of weeping
a place of torment
a place of gnashing teeth
a place of knowing that you are lost

I agree that Jesus is specifically referring to Isaiah 66. Let’s take in a little more context —

(Isa 66:22-24 NIV) 22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

First, God says he we create a new heavens and new earth — referring back to Isaiah 65:17. Then he says that the kingdom will encompass all nations – as promised to Abraham. But those who rebel will die and become “dead bodies.” The Hebrew is the word for “corpse.” The rebels will die and become corpses!

And yet their “worm will not die nor will their fire be quenched” with the result that they’ll be “loathsome.” Now, it doesn’t say that the rebels won’t die. It plainly says that they do die. Rather, it’s the worm and fire that consumes them that lasts forever — because this is what makes them loathsome.

A good comparison of the prophetic language is —

(Isa 34:9-10 ESV)  9 And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch.  10 Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever.

Here Isaiah is speaking of the destruction of the nation of Edom, declaring that its “burning pitch” and “sulfur” “shall not be quenched … forever.” But this doesn’t mean that the Edomites suffer everlasting torture. Rather, he’s saying that the memory of Edom’s destruction shall last forever. It is not, in fact, still on fire, but the memory remains with us even today.

As John Oswalt writes in the New International Commentary,

In v. 10, the primary emphasis is upon the perpetuity of the destruction. Each line begins with a stronger phrase denoting endlessness. Calvin notes aptly that the intensity of the language is used to produce an impression upon human hearts which are so hardened that plain language leaves them unmoved.

You see, everlasting destruction does not mean that the destroying process goes on forever. It means the effects last forever — Edom is destroyed never to be great kingdom again. The fire of its destruction “shall not be quenched” — but the literal fire went out thousands of years ago. But the destruction remains and will never be undone. Edom will not arise to live again.

And also compare —

(Isa 51:6-8 ESV)  6 “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.  7 “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.  8 For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.”

The contrast God makes is between his righteousness and salvation, which last forever, and the fate of his opponents. Those who oppose God will be eaten by “the worm” — meaning they will not last but will “die in like manner” just as a garment wears out.

When Jesus spoke, he expected to be understood in light of the prophecies to which he alluded. The destruction of the damned will be permanent and irrevocable. They will not come back to life. There will be no hope of restoration. And the fire and the worm will last because they will demonstrate to the heavenly host the shame that comes to those who rebel against God. “Their worm” is not their souls! “Their worm” is the worm that eats a corpse, as in Isaiah 66 — meaning they will always be rotting corpses.

Just so, “the fire” is the fire of gehenna — the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Their corpses will never escape gehenna — the wrath of God — because God’s wrath will not end. The second death will be a permanent death.

I must add that Isaiah 66 is one of the key passages that persuaded me that Edward Fudge is right. Jesus specifically refers to a passage about the end times — where the righteous live in the new heavens and new earth — exactly as described in the Revelation — and where the damned are “corpses.”

Now, again, the destruction of the damned will generally be extremely painful — agonizing. I’ll consider the nature of their pain in a future post, but the words of Jesus regarding how terrible damnation is should be taken quite literally. It is possible, you know, for punishment to be horrific and yet finite. Infinite, conscious torture isn’t essential to damnation being truly terrible.

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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6 Responses to The Age of Accountability: Conditional Immortality: Responding to Objections

  1. Larry Short says:

    Wow! Isaiah fills in gaps of Revelation. Now can you find the passage to explain Ezekiel?

  2. nick gill says:

    I'm curious – if we were dead in our sins and transgressions, and yet still conscious, etc., – why would the second death not share the same condition, only more so?

    I agree that the NT teaches that torment is of a limited duration, but I can't find a good exegetical reason to say that the "second death" is annihilatory when the "first death" isn't, and being "dead in sins and transgressions" isn't.

  3. abasnar says:

    I doubt that the beast and the false prophet are humans.

    Before I can take the time to go into more detail, I just want to address this detail, because if these two charakters are humans, then the (in my opinion) the matter is settled.

    The beast is described as a human, acting like a human and has the number of a human:

    Rev 13:18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

    Atthe same time the beast is an empire, so the person repreenting the empire is a human, the ruler of this empire. This becomes obvious from another description:

    Rev 17:9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated;
    Rev 17:10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.
    Rev 17:11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.

    So again it is clear, that the beast is a) the city (of Rome) – the empire and b) the ruler of this empire (Cesar). The seventh ruler was Nero and he will come again as the eigth.

    So I believe that there will be a future empire of enormous power that will resemble the Roman Empire, and the leader of this will be of the same character as Nero – thus 666 (Nero's number).

    If this is so, then this ruler will be thrown into the lake of fire and will be tormented day and night for eternity. Now, please note that the end of the beast is described as "destruction". This destruction is later clarified as:

    Rev 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    If Satan is a person (an Angel, but an individual), then the beast and the false prophet are likewise.

    The lost, raised after the millenium (bodily) will be cast into the same lake of fire to share the destiny of Satan and his followers:

    Mat 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
    Mat 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

    I think I can follow your reasoning, Jay, but I cannot fit it into these contexts. I must admit, I never really heard of this explaination, so this is pretty new stuff for me. But I am not convinced.

    Of course, part of my conviction is embedded in premillenialsm, and it might stand or fall with this understanding of the last things.


  4. Jay Guin says:


    You need more poetry in your soul. You take these symbols — and they are plainly symbols — far too literally and without regard to the OT background.

    (Dan 7:23-28 ESV) shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. 25 He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.' 28 "Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart."

    Daniel uses language remarkably similar to the Revelator's description of the "beast" to describe four beasts, culminating in a ten-horned beast. And this beast is specifically a "kingdom." Each horn is a king. We might disagree as to which kingdom, but it's not a person. And it seems very unlikely that the Revelator would use an image so similar to Daniel's to mean something very different from a kingdom.

    Now, it's true that Satan is a person, Satan is not human. Satan has received immortality and therefore suffers punishment forever. But damned humans have not been given immortality and so are destroyed by the same fire that torments Satan forever.

    In fact, when I first learned of Edward Fudge's theory, I checked every reference to the lake of fire and everlasting punishment, and the only places punishment is said to last forever is in reference to Satan.

    (Mat 25:41 ESV) 41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    The fire lasts forever because of who is it prepared for. But that doesn't mean a mortal person thrown into the fire will remain alive and burn forever. The scriptures don't say that.

    Regarding Rev 17:11, you have to remember the context —

    (Rev 17:11 ESV) As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.

    The Roman Empire has indeed been destroyed. And the Revelator uses language that the prophets use for God's destruction of actual kingdoms — especially in Ezekiel, another apocalyptic work from which the Revelation draws its imagery —

    (Eze 32:15 ESV) 15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate, and when the land is desolate of all that fills it, when I strike down all who dwell in it, then they will know that I am the LORD.

    (Eze 31:2 ESV) "Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude: "Whom are you like in your greatness? … 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out.

    (Eze 29:12 ESV) And I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated countries, and her cities shall be a desolation forty years among cities that are laid waste. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them through the countries.

    (Eze 29:10 ESV) therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush.

    (Eze 28:7 ESV) therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor.

    (Eze 27:2 ESV) 2 "Now you, son of man, raise a lamentation over Tyre, … 36 The merchants among the peoples hiss at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.'"

    (Each quote from Eze uses same Greek word as in Rev 17:11.)

    The beast is a kingdom and will be destroyed — like Egypt and Tyre. And Ezekiel is not speaking of everlasting torment, but actual destruction.

    Now, to understand the imagery behind why God would say the beast would be cast into the lake of fire, I recommend the book God's Rivals — but we've gotten very far afield and it would take several posts to explain the symbolism in a convincing way — which I hope to do one day, but not as part of this series.

  5. abasnar says:

    You need more poetry in your soul. You take these symbols — and they are plainly symbols — far too literally and without regard to the OT background.

    And you say that to a songwriter … 😉

    Two remarks:

    Mat 25:46 applies eternal punishment to humans and this is tied closely to Satan's eternal punishment in Mat 25:41.

    Neither our Lord Jesus nor Paul seem to bother whether the Scriptures they quote are poetry, apocalyptic in style or historic. They quote any passage as Scripture. So, even if the true meaning of a text is only symbolic, they normally don't say this in their application of it.

    It might well be, that these categories are a bit "artificial" and stem from Greek scientific reasoning. I have the impression that this is not the way the Bible is meant to be read (at least not primarily).

    As an illustration:

    The Bible sopmetimes reads like a formula:

    (a+b)x 49 – z = a+o+77

    You cannot solve this puzzle, can you? Me neither. We have to find out, what a, b, o and z mean in order to see how this formukla works out. As long as we can't see this, we should not replace the letters by wild guesses, but simply speak of a,b,o and z.

    This sounds like a very literal approach to scripture, but is – in my opinion – the only way of not interpreting what cannot be interpreted before it happens (or shortly before).

    Fudge is presenting a theory, and you are thrilled by it. I say: Well, yet another theory. Why not stick to a,b,o and z and leave the precise fulfillment in God's hand? That's why I am a premillenialist, because the theories to explain the 1000 years in a symbolic way (as far as I understand them) simply don't work. At the same time, I am open to God's way of fulfilling Rev 20 that will most likely not be literal (I don't expect it to be), but I don't trust in theological theories either.

    It is the same with eternal punishment. The way I understand the texts (and others) do not fit Fudges theory. He might be right after all – and God will be praised for it. He might be wrong in the end .- and God will be praised as well.

    But until we know and join the Heavenly worship, I stick with the literal reading of Scriptures as Paul and Jesus also did (sometimes in a – from a Greek point of view – really weird way …).


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