Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 23:  Death and Resurrection
Fundamental Belief #26 The wages of sin is death.  But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed.  Until that day, death is an unconscious state for all people.  When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord.  The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later.
[Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 6:15-16; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Psalm 146:3-4; John 11:11-14; Colossians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:1-10]

Seventh-day Adventists reject the popular belief that the human soul is immortal and leaves the body at death, bound either for the bliss of heaven or the tormenting fires of eternal hell.  Such a view not only contradicts the truth of the gospel, but paints a horrible picture of God.  This belief has no clear Scriptural support, but the Bible does clearly state that:

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6
For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.  Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.

In both Old and New Testaments, the primary meaning of the word “soul” is “the life principle with which we are born.”  The original languages of the Bible (Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New) apply the same word “soul” to both human beings and animals.  In fact, the first time the word soul appears in Scripture it refers to animals created on the fifth day of Creation week:

Genesis 1:20
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures [Hebrew “soul”], and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”

When God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life, Adam became a living “soul” — a living being:

Genesis 2:7
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [“lives,” actually, as it’s plural], and the man became a living being.

Most Christians believe that every human being has an immortal soul; though the human life principle, or soul, created in Adam was only conditionally immortal.  God made it clear that, the day human beings ate the forbidden fruit, they would surely die (that is, the life principle, or soul, would become mortal, subject to death):

Genesis 2:16-17
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

This is exactly what happened when Adam sinned.  According to Paul, Adam’s sin not only led to his death, but spread death to the entire human race:

Romans 5:12
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned....
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Scripture tells us that God “alone has immortality”:

1 Timothy 6:16
[God...] who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.  To him be honor and might forever.  Amen.

But the good news of the gospel is that He so loved the world that He:

1 John 5:11-12
And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has [eternal] life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have [eternal] life.

Immortality, or eternal life, is, therefore, a gift experienced only through faith in Jesus Christ:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Paul writes:

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The idea that human beings possess immortality comes from Greek paganism that infiltrated quite early into the church.  After the apostles died, Church Fathers of primarily Greek extraction assumed leadership, and the idea of an immortal soul took root in Christian theology.  In Greek mythology, the god Zeus struck his enemies, the Titans, with a lightning bolt and reduced them to ashes, as punishment for tearing apart and eating his immortal son, Dionysus.  Out of these ashes, Zeus created man.  Hence, part of man, the soul, belongs to Dionysus and is, therefore, good and immortal.  But the body, made of the Titans, is evil and mortal.  The Church Fathers introduced this dualistic concept of man into the Christian church.

Controversy Over Immortality

Several years ago, a famous Protestant theologian, Oscar Cullman, published a book in which he contrasted the death of the great Greek philosopher Socrates with that of Christ.  The title of the book said it all:  Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Body?(Epworth Press, 1958).  Because Socrates believed the soul is immortal, but imprisoned in an evil body, he believed death was something to celebrate.  He held a banquet on his death bed.  Christ, on the other hand, suffered severe mental anguish as He faced death in Gethsemane, for he faced the possibility of permanent death — a good-by to life forever:

Luke 22:39-44
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Cullman’s book produced a great deal of controversy among Protestant scholars and forced them to re-study the long-held belief that humans possess an immortal soul that leaves the body at death.  Many came to see that such an idea has no biblical support, and evangelical scholar Edward Fudge went on to publish a book, The Fire That Consumes (Providential Press, 1982).  In his book, Fudge presents a biblical and historical study of the doctrine of final punishment.  Inserted in the first edition of this book is a separate letter from the author to his fellow scholars.  In part, it states:

Edward Fudge, insert in The Fire That Consumes
Dear Colleagues:  For 1,500 years, most Christians have assumed as true a doctrine which is nowhere to be found in the Word of God, sprang from explicitly pagan pre-suppositions, slanders the character of God and the blessed Trinity, prevailed in Protestantism for political not biblical reasons, and has been rejected by an increasing number of such faithful scholars as Graham Scroggy, John R.W. Stott, Phillip Hughes, F.F. Bruce, John Wareham, Dale Moody, and Pluck....

Would you be as startled as I was to discover these facts from Scripture and church history?  The Old Testament uses or utilizes some 50 Hebrew words and 75 figures of speech to describe the ultimate end of the wicked, and every one sounds exactly like total extinction.  When our Lord taught on this subject, He generally used Old Testament language which most naturally describes complete disintegration of the entire person in the fire of the age to come.  No passage of Scripture teaches the inherent or natural immortality of the soul, or of any other aspect of the human creature.  The notion of everlasting torment appears explicitly in Christian literature for the first time in writings of the Apologists, who expressly based it on the platonic assumption that the soul is immortal and cannot be destroyed.

God is surely moving the Protestant world in the right direction on this important subject.  As long as the Christian church holds onto the idea that humans possess an immortal soul, it will continue to undermine the gospel and the true sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Christ’s Abolishment of the Second Death

For if a man possesses an immortal soul, death must be defined as the separation of the soul from the body.  But Scripture defines death as the cessation of life.  The wages of sin is death, good-bye to life forever — what the New Testament calls “the second death”:

Revelation 20:12-15
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

On the cross, Jesus tasted this second death for everyone:

Hebrews 2:9
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Paul, therefore, can conclude that Christ:

2 Timothy 1:10b
...Our Savior, Christ Jesus, ...has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Since Christians still experience the first death (a state of unconscious “sleep”), the death Christ abolished on the cross can only refer to the second death — the eternal death that is the wages of sin:

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Note how Ellen G. White so beautifully describes the supreme sacrifice of Christ on the cross, a truth the devil has enshrouded in darkness by convincing the Christian church to believe in an immortal soul:

The Desire of Ages, Page 753
“Upon Christ our substitute and surety was laid the iniquity of us all.  He was counted a transgressor, that He might redeem us from the condemnation of the law.  The guilt of every descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart.  The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with a consternation.  All His life Christ had been publishing to a fallen world the good news of the Father’s mercy and pardoning love.  Salvation for the chief of sinners was His [Christ’s] theme.  But now with the terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face.  The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Savior in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man.  So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt.

“Satan, with his fierce temptations, wrung the heart of Jesus.  The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb.  Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice.  He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal.  Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race.  It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.”

Furthermore, if man does possess an immortal soul, and if the wages of sin is eternal torture of the soul in the fires of hell (as most Christians believe), then Christ, who suffered the wages of sin for mankind, should be burning in hell today and must continue to do so for eternity!  Otherwise, God is being unjust in letting Jesus’ soul suffer in hell for only three days, while the unrighteous have to experience this torture throughout eternity!

By convincing the Christian church that man possesses an immortal soul, Satan has laid the foundation for the greatest deception to come, spiritualism.  Already the teachings of the New Age movement, based on the idea that man possesses an immortal soul, are sweeping across the United States and infiltrating the church.  The idea that humans possess an immortal soul is not only incompatible with Scripture, it creates major problems regarding the truth of the everlasting gospel.

Scripture clearly teaches what happens when a person dies.  David, for example, pens these words:

Psalm 115:17
It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence....

The “gospel prophet” Isaiah of the Old Testament contrasts the dead with the living: “For the grave cannot praise you (God), death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.  The living, the living — they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness (Isaiah 38:18-19, NIV).

Isaiah 38:18-19
For the grave cannot praise you [God], death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.  The living, the living — they praise you, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about your faithfulness.

The Hope of the Resurrection

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul dedicates almost a whole chapter to the issue of death and resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:12-58
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.  But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn:  Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  For he “has put everything under his feet.”  Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.  When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?  And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?  I face death every day — yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained?  If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Do not be misled:  “Bad company corrupts good character.”  Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God — I say this to your shame.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body will they come?”  How foolish!  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  Not all flesh is the same:  People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.  There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.  The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  So it is written:  “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.  The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.  The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.  As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Apparently, some believers in the Corinthian church did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  In response, Paul clearly Paul states that the blessed hope of the Christian is not death, but resurrection.  Paul’s whole argument is based on the death and resurrection of Christ Himself, the foundation of all Christian experience:

1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Notice what Paul writes on this subject:

1 Corinthians 15:12-23
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.  But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

Clearly, for Paul, the Christian’s hope has nothing to do with a soul departing the body and going to heaven at death.  His hope lies in the resurrection, as he writes the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

From these passages, and others, two things become absolutely clear

  1. Christians who die are considered to be sleeping in Christ until the resurrection morning.  This truth clearly appears in the Gospels, in the raising of Lazarus from the dead:

    John 11:1-26
    Now a man named Lazarus was sick.  He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)  So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
    When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
    “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
    Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight?  Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.  It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
    After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
    His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”  Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
    So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.  But let us go to him.”
    Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
    On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
    “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
    Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
    Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”
  2. As we have already seen, all Christian experience should be based on the truth as it is in Jesus.  That which Christ has obtained through the gospel is to be the experience of all who receive Him by faith:

    1 Corinthians 3:11-13
    For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

If Christ’s soul went to heaven at death, this would be the experience of the saved, and the blessed hope would be realized at death, rather than at the Second Coming.  But Christ is emphatic, for example, in telling Mary right after His resurrection that He had not yet been to the Father — His soul had not been with the Father while His body was in the grave:

John 20:11-17
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Some Christians claim that Christ’s soul did, indeed, go to hell during the three days His body was in the grave.  But this idea comes from a misinterpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20:

1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive in the [Holy] Spirit.  After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.  In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water....

If “imprisoned spirits” means “souls in hell,” it would make no sense for Jesus to preach to them, since these spirits are already lost.  Peter says that Jesus was made alive “in the Spirit” (verse 19). 

The phrase “imprisoned spirits” refers to men and women who lived at the time of the Flood, who were prisoners of sin and disobedient to the call of Noah while he was building the ark.

In Scripture, the word spirit does not mean ghost or disembodied person; it refers, instead, to living beings:

1 John 4:1-3
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God:  Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.  And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

Peter is saying that, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus in Old Testament times “preached” to those who were prisoners of sin in the days of Noah, attempting to influence them to accept Noah’s message and repent.  Peter’s words have nothing to do with Jesus visiting hell after His death and preaching to fire-tormented souls.

According to the gospel, the human bios-life that Christ assumed at His incarnation died the eternal, second death on the cross, as the full wages of sin.  This bios-life encompassed the Adamic life of the entire human race, which Christ had come to redeem.  Thus, on the cross, the world (mankind) was judged, or executed, in Christ, meeting the just demands of the law in mankind’s substitute, Jesus Christ:

John 12:31-33
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

In Christ’s resurrection, God gave the world the immortal zoe-life of His Son, which He laid down.  Thus He raised the human race to eternal life in Him.

The Great Exchange

This is the great exchange that took place in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ:

2 Corinthians 5:14, 17
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. ...Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Timothy 1:8-10
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.  He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
1 John 5:11-12
And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

This death to sin and resurrection to newness of life is experienced by all who — by faith — have obeyed the gospel and have been baptized into Christ:

Romans 6:3-8, 17-18
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  ...But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

All this would make no sense if at death Christ’s soul, or life principle, had departed from His body.

Scripture says categorically:

Ezekiel 18:20a
The one who sins is the one who will die.

Consistent with that truth, Jesus counseled His disciples:

Matthew 10:28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus was warning His disciples against those whom Satan uses to try to rob believers of the eternal life they have in Christ.  The enemy does this by destroying their faith in Him:

Hebrews 6:4-6
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Likewise, the apostle James writes:

James 5:20
...Remember this:  Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

All these texts tell us that no part of man is capable of separate existence.  When a person dies, the whole of him — spirit, soul, and body — ceases to exist.  Yes, the power of the life-giving breath that comes from God goes back to the Creator, but the individual returns to the dust from which he or she was originally formed:

Ecclesiastes 12:7
...And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Mankind’s only hope of eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Apart from Him, all is sin, condemnation, and eternal death.

Scripture uses the terms “eternal fire” or “everlasting fire” to describe the final punishment of the wicked:

Isaiah 33:14
The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless:  “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?  Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
Matthew 18:8
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
Revelation 20:10
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

This has led many to believe that the punishment of the unrighteous condemns them to eternal torture in hell.  What they fail to notice is that the words eternal and everlasting have two distinct meanings in Scripture.  The two adjectives can indeed refer directly to the noun — in this case, “fire.”  Or, they can describe the effect being everlasting.

When we consider the many texts that deal with the final punishment of the wicked, we can only conclude that it is not the fire itself that is eternal, but the effect of the fire.  This is to say, when the wicked are destroyed by fire, their destruction will be permanent:

2 Peter 3:10, 12
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.  ...As you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

Take Jude 7, for example:

Jude 7 [Emphasis Added]
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.  They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Today, modern archaeology has confirmed that both Sodom and Gomorrah lie in ashes.  The fires that destroyed those cities are no longer burning, but the effects are permanent.  Sodom and Gomorrah remain destroyed.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Many Christians cite one of Jesus’ parables as biblical proof that sinners will be tortured eternally in hell.  We read in Luke 16 of a rich man and Lazarus — a story in which Christ’s primary concern is the stubborn unbelief of His listeners:

Luke 16:19-31
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers.  Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Not all of Jesus’ parables were based on true stories — among them, this one.  If we are to take this parable as literal fact, we must accept that heaven is Abraham’s bosom and that hell and heaven are situated so close to one another that residents of both can converse with one another.  How enjoyable will heaven be for the saved, if they must forever see and listen to their loved ones and acquaintances writhing in hell, a few yards away?  Clearly the story is illustrative, not descriptive.

The Incompatibility of the Gospel and an Eternal Hell

Let us sum up, then, seven reasons why the belief in an eternal hell for the wicked is incompatible with the good news of the everlasting gospel:

  1. Such a belief undermines the justice of God.  If the punishment of the wicked is to burn forever, and if Christ paid that price to save mankind, Christ should be burning in that fire today.  But the wages of sin is death, not eternal torture.  The punishment for sin is saying “good-bye” to life forever.  This is what Christ tasted for everyone on the cross:

    Hebrews 2:9
    But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
  2. If the soul goes to heaven or hell at death, the last-day judgment is pointless.  Yet, according to Paul, the final judgment does occur at the coming of Christ.  He says:

    1 Corinthians 4:5
    Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.  At that time each will receive their praise from God.
    Romans 2:16
    This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
  3. Not only does the last-day judgment become meaningless if a person is rewarded or punished at death, the resurrection of righteous and wicked becomes likewise pointless.  Scripture teaches clearly that the righteous will be rewarded at the Second Coming of Christ, while the wicked will be punished after the millennium — after the thousand years of Satan’s exile is complete and Christ returns the third time to eradicate sin and usher in everlasting righteousness:

    John 5:28-29
    “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
    Revelation 20:7-9
    When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth — Gog and Magog — and to gather them for battle.  In number they are like the sand on the seashore.  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.  But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
  4. If the souls of the righteous are already in heaven, the Second Coming of Christ ceases to be the blessed hope of the gospel.  Yet, all through the New Testament, Christians are admonished to keep their eyes focused on the Second Coming of Christ as their blessed hope:

    John 14:3
    And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
    Philippians 3:20-21
    But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
    Colossians 3:4
    When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
    Titus 2:13
    ...While we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ....
  5. According to the apostle Paul, at the Second Advent:

    1 Corinthians 15:53
    For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

    The word “incorruption” [in some translations] is equated with the word “immortality”; but if human beings already possess immortal souls, the blessed hope becomes meaningless.  Having an immortal soul also implies that there is something inherent in mankind that is good.  The result of this false teaching leads to legalism and salvation by works.  Scripture makes it plain that human beings are sinners from head to foot and that:

    Romans 3:20
    Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
    Galatians 2:16
    ...Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
  6. The Bible makes it clear that eternal life, or immortality, is a gift of God to sinners, through the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ:

    John 3:16
    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    2 Timothy 1:10
    ...But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

    They do not possess immortality, but by His grace.  According to the apostle John:

    1 John 5:11-12
    And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
  7. Finally, every heresy that has crept into the Christian church originates with Satan, the enemy of the gospel, who wishes to distort it.  By convincing the Christian church to believe that mankind possesses an immortal soul, the enemy has enshrouded in darkness the supreme sacrifice of Christ.

    For if humans possess immortal souls and “do not surely die,” and death is simply the separation of soul from body, then Christ’s humanity did not die the second death, and His sacrifice consisted primarily in His physical suffering.  Yet, the suffering of crucifixion is consistent with the suffering of millions of men and women who have been tortured to death.  The two criminals crucified on either side of Christ, in fact, suffered longer than He did, and their legs were broken while they were still alive.  Their suffering certainly equaled that of Christ, and perhaps surpassed it.

Christ’s supreme suffering consisted of experiencing the second, or everlasting death, as the wages of sin.  He is the only human being who has ever truly tasted it, and He tasted it for all.  The belief that men and women have immortal souls is an extension of the first lie Satan invented to deceive Eve in the Garden of Eden.  In tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, Satan urged:

Genesis 3:4-5
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Ever since, Satan has urged the human race to believe likewise and has blinded the eyes of millions to the glorious truths of the gospel.  Note Paul’s concern for the Corinthian believers:

2 Corinthians 11:3
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that “death is an unconscious state for all people,” but the gospel frees all believers from the fear of the enslavement of death:

Hebrews 2:14-15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Because Christ conquered the grave, all believers can confess in full assurance with Paul:

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Human beings naturally fear death, but this natural fear is unlike the fear of those who have no hope.  The love of God and the hope of the resurrection neutralize the terrors of death:

1 John 4:16-18
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment:  In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

The resurrection hope led men and women of faith to valiantly face death during the first three centuries of the Christian church, when many were persecuted and martyred.  They would sing hymns as they faced their executioners.  They were not super-beings, but ordinary people who had experienced the joy of salvation in Christ and had been delivered from the fear of death (see Hebrews 2:14-15, above).

The last generation of Christians will demonstrate this same steadfastness as they face the great tribulation.  They know in whom they have believed.  They know that He is able to save them to the uttermost, for He ever lives to make intercession for them:

Hebrews 7:26
Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

May this be our experience in Christ as we face the uncertain future.


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