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?