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.


Author: mikemcg58

Authorized OSHA Outreach Trainer and bi-vocational pastor of Belvue Baptist Church in Hobbs, NM.

2 thoughts on “Is Hell Eternal? Part 3 What Happens at Death?”

  1. I enjoy all your articles and thank you for them. I have many of the same thoughts and scripture references; and how not so, since we are of the same Spirit (and mind). I have a question, though. Is Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus a parable? Or an account of what Jesus actually knew; that which He makes known to us. I find it interesting that the use of real peoples names (Abraham/ Moses) are used here to explain a reality. Thank you again and God continue to bless you Mike ~ Chris N. (FBC Ruidoso)

    1. I believe that it is a real account, although the rich man is not named in scripture. Tradition names him “Dives” I believe, but I am not sure where that comes from. It teaches that there is no passing from hell to paradise. I.e. no purgatory. Once a person dies, that condition is set. Hebrews 9:27. Email me sometime. I would love to come to your church and speak.

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