Is Hell Eternal? Part 3 What Happens at Death?

Developing a doctrine based on a phrase or two taken out of context can be very dangerous. Using just a few verses without comparing to the whole context of the Bible is like cherry picking. The term is actually “proof-texting.” Usually people develop a doctrinal idea that they like first, then search for texts to prove or support their ideas. That is what happened as we saw in the case of Ezekiel 18:4. In its context, it says nothing about the soul at death.

Jeremiah 31:29, 30 expresses the same idea. “In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” The ideas expressed in both Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31 deal with the concept of personal responsibility for sin. It is not about the state of the soul after death of the body.

If people are annihilated, when does that happen? Does it take place as soon as a person dies? Or does it take place sometime later? If, as the article said, that the second annihilation takes place at the Lake of Fire, where is the soul in the meantime? If it is annihilated at death, then God will have to resurrect them just to judge them and cast them into the Lake of Fire only to annihilate them for good.

Another option is “soul sleep” where the person “sleeps” in the grave only to be awakened at judgment to be cast into the Lake of Fire and annihilated forever. Never is there a period of torment or punishment, only going out of existence. states:

“Soul sleep” is a belief that after a person dies, his/her soul “sleeps” until the resurrection and final judgment. The concept of ‘soul sleep’ is not biblical. When the Bible describes a person “sleeping” in relation to death (Luke 8:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6), it does not mean literal sleep. Sleeping is just a way to describe death because a dead body appears to be asleep. The moment we die, we face the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27). For believers, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). For unbelievers, death means everlasting punishment in hell (Luke 16:22-23). (

Some groups teach that God breathed into Adam and that he became a living soul. They understand that to mean that the “body-soul” dichotomy does not exist, that they cannot be separated. So when the body dies, the soul dies as well. So what did Paul mean in Philippians 1:23 to “depart and be with Christ”? To depart means to leave one place and go somewhere else.

Critics of soul immortality say that Paul used the word “analuseo” which means to “break apart” or to “break down” as in analyzing a problem by breaking it down. They say that the being or soul just breaks down at death and no longer exists.

Again, another hermeneutic problem is to take a modern understanding of a word and impose it on an ancient meaning. In the first century, analuseo was used to describe the breaking down of a military camp at the end of a campaign or battle. The camp broke apart and the soldiers moved to another place. It was also used of a ship unloosing its mooring and setting off on a journey. The idea is that the body and soul become loosed and the soul departs from the body.

Peter also used the word “departure” to refer to his death. In 2 Peter 1:15, he wrote: “And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” The King James Version uses the word “decease” which means to depart from life. More importantly is the Greek word “exodon” which is similar to the word exodus. An exodus is a going out, a departure or emigration. This is how the New Testament writers understood death. It was not an unconscious existence or a lack of existence. It was moving, departing from one state to another.

Paul also spoke of death as being “absent from the body” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 KJV). How can a believer be absent from the body if the soul is destroyed at death? At death, the soul and body “break down” and the soul either goes to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8 KJV), or to Hades, as in the case of the rich man in the parable of Lazarus.

In the future there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous (See Revelation 20:5 and 20:12-15). First Thessalonians 4:14-17 tells us that when Christ comes at the Rapture, he will bring with him those “which sleep in Jesus.” They will be resurrected, and those who are still alive will be transformed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). How can Christ bring with him those who have fallen asleep if they are sleeping in their grave on earth, better yet, how can he bring them if they are annihilated? They must have existed with him in some state after the death of the body.

At the resurrection of both sets, the souls and eternal bodies will be reunited to exist forever in that state. Those whose names were found in the Lamb’s Book of Life will go on to the new heavens and the new earth (Rev.21:1). Those whose name “was not found written in the book of life [will be] cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). That is where the eternal state begins. You will either exist eternally and consciously in the new heavens and the new earth, or forever in the lake of fire where “the smoke of [your] torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and [you will] have no rest day nor night” (Rev. 14:11).

Is your name written down in heaven? If not, it can be.


Is Hell Eternal? Part 2

The last time we looked at this question, we discovered that the passage in Ezekiel 18 referred to in an article has nothing to do with the state of the soul after death. That passage deals with personal responsibility for one’s own sin. No person was to die for the sins of his or her parents. Each person must answer for his or her own actions.

Often, people take Bible passages out of context. If they do not like particular doctrine, such as the doctrine of hell, they look for verses to explain it away, or to lessen its severity. That process is called eisegesis, or in other words, reading something into a text that it does not say. Whereas another practice is completely ignoring a straightforward reading and understanding of a text.

For example, in Revelation 14:9-11, the Bible explicitly says that those who worship the Beast will suffer an eternity in hell. Verse 10 says that they will drink “the wine of God’s fury.” And they will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of God and his angels. Verse 11 says that the smoke of their torment will arise forever and ever, and that there is no rest day or night for the wicked.

If, as we saw last time, the wicked are annihilated, that would mean they are resting from torment. This passage does not indicate that they cease to exist. It clearly states they will suffer day and night.

A similar passage is also found in the book of Revelation. In chapter 20, we find an angel capturing Satan and throwing him into the Abyss for a thousand years. This period is called the Millennium when Christ will reign on earth during those thousand years. Notice that just before in Revelation 19:20, the Beast and the False Prophet were cast alive into the “fiery lake of burning sulfur.” This is the same place mentioned in chapter 14.

Now let’s return to Satan’s story. In Revelation 20:7. We see that after the Millennium, Satan is released from his prison, and he gathers the world’s armies one last time to fight against God again. Of course this is doomed to failure as he is captured again and thrown into the fiery lake where the Beast and the False Prophet already were. Revelation 20:10 says, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Notice the Beast and the False Prophet had already been there for a thousand years while Satan was in the Abyss. They had already been burning and suffering torment for a thousand years. They had not been annihilated. They had not been purged of their sin. Then God adds Satan to the mix, and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (verse 10). This passage says nothing about annihilation. It speaks of eternal torment.

The article in Signs of the Times magazine speaks of Revelation 20:14 as the “final annihilation.” That is circular reasoning. The author of that article holds a particular view as to what death means. Because he believes death means annihilation, then the second death must mean the final annihilation. His argument does not prove his point. Death does not mean cessation of existence. It means separation. It is a separation of the spirit from the body. I will have to deal with this topic in another column.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 gives a clearer view of what hell is like. Many who do not like the concept of hell say this is simply a parable, that it is not reality. My question then is, “what is this parable teaching?” If it is not about the conscious existence of the soul after death in either a place of comfort for torment, what was Jesus trying to say? In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story about an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Jesus never used actual names of people in the rest of his parables, so this must’ve been important. The fact is both of these men died, the rich man was buried (verse 22), and angels carried the poor man to Abraham’s side. They did not carry the poor man’s body so it must’ve been the spirit, which did not become annihilated at death. The rich man left his body in the tomb, and his soul was not annihilated, but rather went to hell (Gr. Hades). In that place, the rich man was conscious of Lazarus’ existence, he remembered his own brothers, and experienced extreme torment. He was not in a state of soul sleep; nor was he annihilated. He did not cease to exist. His body was in the tomb. His spirit was in Hades. This parable teaches a conscious existence of the person after the death, or separation of the spirit from the body. It does not teach nor support the idea of annihilation.

It’s also important to note that Abraham said no one could cross over from Hades either to paradise or return to the earth from Hades. This rules out the idea of purgatory. There is no period of suffering temporarily until one is purged of sin, and then can enter into paradise.

If death meant the cessation of existence, and there is no suffering in hell forever, why would Jesus die? What is there to save us from? On the contrary, saying that Jesus died for us so we could live forever with him puts the focus on mankind rather than God. Why not just let all human beings die and cease to exist? If the wage of sin is simply physical death, why not just let people die for their own sin? Once they die, just resurrect them or just leave them out of existence for eternity.

The reality is that Hell is such a terrible place, created for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41), that God did not want mankind to go there. Jesus stated that hell consisted of eternal fire prepared for Satan and his angels, not mankind. However, if you choose not to follow Jesus, you are, by default, choosing to follow Satan and his angels. Where they end up, you too will end up.

God does not want anyone to go there. He will not force you to follow Christ. It is up to you. Do you want to repent of your sin and follow Christ, or will you continue on your way and be separated from God forever?