Jesus the Jewish Messiah: Saviour of the World

Contents of this chapter

48 Tough love is no longer necessary
49 What about natural disasters?
50 The Day of Judgment will Come
51 He has the whole world in His hands
52 I tell you the truth
53 A New Covenant
54 God’s mercy extends to all people
55 Love one another
56 Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing
57 Why so much suffering?
58 The final episode in God’s plan for His family
59 God’s standards are not the world’s standards
60 Is civilisation a thin veneer?
61 Sin will destroy us
62 A temple for the Lord
63 Jesus revealed God’s eternal plan
64 Sin brings suffering, pain and death
65 Repent and turn to God
66 Jesus was particularly critical of hypocrites
67 Dealing with the results of sin
68 Christianity is a religion based on forgiveness
69 Jesus also came to destroy the works of the devil
70 The intermediate state

47 Jesus the Jewish Messiah: Saviour of the World

Throughout the OT we follow the narrative as God creates and prepares His chosen people, Israel, for the most important event in world history. Many antagonists, who oppose Christianity, point to the apparent brutality and violence God used as He brought Israel into her land, claiming this as evidence for an absence of the love God claims to hold for humanity.

During the period of time when God was settling Israel in His Holy Land, He relentlessly directed the Israelites to remove the contamination that had filled the Canaanite world. Just as the amputation of a gangrenous limb also removes sound tissue, God must surely have removed the innocent along with the wicked, but this extreme measure would not be carried out again.

As a rule, God has allowed brutal cultures throughout the world to continue without His direct intervention (see), although the scriptures give us reason to believe He will intervene when the depravity is extreme (Gen 15:16, Lev 18:25). However, when He chose Canaan as the geographical location to establish His people, He could not allow the culture He was about to create to be contaminated by the horrific pagan practices of the people occupying the land.
Moses wrote:

“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now. Whoever commits any of these detestable sins will be cut off from the community of Israel. So obey My instructions, and do not defile yourselves by committing any of these detestable practices that were committed by the people who lived in the land before you. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 18:27-30) (see also Deut 20:16-18, Lev 18:21).

When He brought Israel into the Holy Land, God the Creator was preparing the ground for His own incarnation, which was to be the fulfilment of the prophecy made to Adam and Eve at the beginning of time (Gen 3:15). The removal of the people of Canaan, whose worship included burning their own children alive in the fires of Molech (see), is vividly described in the OT. The record of the elimination of the Canaanite cultures is, however, descriptive, not prescriptive. God did not instruct the Israelites to go out and conquer and destroy other peoples as an ongoing practice (Deut 10:15-20). His commands were specific and limited to destroying the despicable cultural practices contaminating the Holy Land God had chosen. Despite this cleansing, these practices would nevertheless prove to be an ongoing problem for the Israelites. God’s purpose was to prepare a holy environment where the nation of Israel could prosper and grow in the land He had chosen for Himself. After this time all other wars the Israelites were involved in were for self-defence.

As mentioned earlier, we find abundant evidence for the Flood, written graphically over the surface of our whole planet. This evidence serves as a constant reminder of humanity’s propensity for violence and evil. Before God called Abraham to be the father of the nation He would shape and relate to uniquely (Gen 12:1-2), the people in Canaan did what was right in their own eyes (Proverbs 14:12) and the result was a total breakdown in decency, mercy, compassion and justice in that region. The universal culture that was destroyed by the Great Flood incisively demonstrated the depths of depravity humanity can reach when people reject God. God brought that world to an end, but when Israel entered the Holy Land, God chose to remove only the Canaanites and their culture to make way for His people.

As a primary school teacher I often used behaviour modification techniques to help students who found it difficult to spend a full day cooperatively participating in classroom activities. Human society is constantly confronted with the need to shape and change unacceptable behaviours in community members and we have devised numerous ways of seeking harmonious and constructive solutions to the problem of antisocial behaviour. However, when children are involved, drastic measures must sometimes be taken.

There are times when the overwhelming needs of abused children must override the desires of their parents and these children are removed to safer places, in the hope that their home environment or their parents’ behaviour will improve. This is not ideal, but it is sometimes the best solution for the innocent children of abusive parents. Our Father has also been forced to take drastic measures when some cultures completely lose any sense of human decency.

From the time of the Fall, God has been patiently working out the Way for people to regain what was lost through their rebellion against Him. God is an Eternal Spirit and He has an eternal perspective. His perspective of human life includes an eternal reference, as He sees the individual in their fully realised, eternal state. When innocent lives are lost, people without this eternal perspective can see nothing more. But when one is born again of the Eternal Spirit the eternal perspective begins to grow and the truth gradually becomes clear, when God removes the innocent into eternity, He lifts them from pain and suffering into His loving arms.

The rebellious people God removed from Canaan, before establishing Israel there, had taken depravity and violence to the ultimate extreme; sacrificing their children to their gods was acceptable behaviour in their culture. God permanently removed the children from this horrific environment and He destroyed the culture to prevent these pagan practices becoming part of the new nation He was creating. Despite this extreme measure there were some Israelites who nonetheless followed the ways of the people they had usurped (2 Kings 23:10).

Throughout the OT God dwelt with His people, first in a tabernacle in the wilderness, and then, after occupying Israel, He directed the construction of the temple for Him to inhabit. God announced His desire to dwell amongst His people in a holy place (Exodus 25:8), and eventually He was born into their midst.

nativity1Jesus’ birth fulfilled over 400 OT prophecies concerning the coming of the promised Seed, the Messiah. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death and victoriously rose from the dead to finally enable the restoration of humanity to their intended place, as immortal children of the Eternal Living God. Because of His life and sacrifice, God can now be called our Father.

48 Tough Love is No Longer Necessary

During the OT era God’s tough love was necessary to ensure the right environment was in place for His only begotten Son to live, die and rise again. God was working out His rescue plan for humanity, and although He desires good for humanity, ultimate good at times demanded God’s drastic intervention. At times God had no alternative other than to brutally enforce His will on rebellious people. Despite this, the Israelites constantly polluted God’s message, so that when Jesus was eventually born into the world He created, only a handful of people in the nation He had carefully prepared and established even recognised Him as their God.

crucifixionAfter the death and resurrection of His Son there was never again a need for God to act harshly towards those who opposed His perfect plan. The true sacrifice Lamb had been slain (Ex 12:3-6; Rev 5:12, 13:8) and God no longer needed to hold back the excesses of humanity with direct action through human intermediaries. God never again called for the complete removal of a group of people. After Jesus’ resurrection He sent the Restrainer into the world and it is He who now holds back the forces of evil who seek to thwart God’s work (2 Thes 2:7). The Holy Spirit is now abroad in the world, enabling the peoples of the world to hear God’s Way of forgiveness and love and His wondrous plan for humanity.

49 What about natural disasters?

tsunamiSome people believe that God causes natural disasters in the world today as judgment on those who turn away from, or work against Him. This is not apparent from the NT scriptures. The Lord actually spoke about this idea when He was informed about a murder Pilate had committed. As Luke records:

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple.
“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:1-5)

The Lord addressed this common misconception by informing His listeners that we are all sinners and will all perish unless we repent. The Father does not single out people now to punish, the punishment will come when those who refuse to repent perish.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Mat 22:44, 26:64, Act 2:33, 5:31 etc) who has committed all judgment to Him. As John recorded:

….. the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son…..(John 5:22)

While Luke writes:

For He has set a day for judging the world with justice by the Man He has appointed, and He has proved to everyone who this is by raising Him from the dead.” (Act 17:31)

From these scriptures we learn that God is not acting in judgment towards wrongdoers today. Natural disasters affect all people, God is not using these occurrences to punish sinners. Jesus was clear, we all deserve punishment. Those who are saved by grace are pardoned because of Jesus’ death, not their own works. We live in a fallen world where death and suffering are an ever-present reality. God is reserving His judgment for the Day of Judgment, when the Lord Jesus Christ will be our Judge.

50 The Day of Judgment will Come

throneJesus often spoke of the Day of Judgment. It appears we will all give a full reckoning for our actions and words on that day. In the gospel of Matthew we find Jesus alerting the Pharisees to this truth; after they had been speaking lies about Him He warned them:

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. (Mat 12:36)

Peter adds:

…….. He knows how to rescue godly people when they are tested. He also knows how to hold immoral people for punishment on the Day of Judgment. (2 Peter 2:9)

There are two judgments mentioned in the Bible. The godly people will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10) to receive, not a judgment for their sins (as they have been forgiven), but rewards. This judgment will be similar to the one that was made in Paul’s day, when prizes were awarded to competitors at the end of a race. In NT times, when athletic competitions were conducted, prizes were awarded by the judge who was seated on a bema (the Greek word for judgment seat). At that time civil judgment was also made from this judgment seat (bema). In sporting competitions the judge not only awarded the prizes but was also responsible for ensuring competitors obeyed the rules of the competition. The Judgment of believers is often referred to as the Bema Seat Judgment, as this is the Greek word used when referring to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul refers to the Christian life as demanding the same sort of self-discipline needed of an athlete. He informs his readers that they are also working towards a goal, just as an athlete in a race (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:5; Phil 3:13-14), and that they will reap rewards far greater than any earthly prize.

However, the people Peter refers to as immoral, those who refuse forgiveness in Christ, will be held until the Day of Judgment before the Great White Throne (Rev 20:11). Therefore the judgment of those who have rejected Christ’s gift of redemption is referred to as The Great White Throne Judgment. It is before this throne that judgment will be made, the eternal destiny of the unbeliever will be revealed and the sentence pronounced.

As stated earlier, it appears God does not deal out punishment on people during this present time of grace. He may, however, remove His protective hand from people and allow them to experience the natural consequences of their own sin. As people pursue what is right in their own eyes, they grow further and further away from the promptings of God and any comprehension of His Truth. In his letter to the Romans Paul declares:

…..God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator Himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

God no longer needs to control the behaviour of rebellious people in order to fulfil the demands of the law. During the OT He was working towards the time of the incarnation. Since Jesus has comprehensively accomplished the work that was needed for God to offer eternal life to every person who chooses to follow Him, the Father no longer needs to judge and control the nations to prepare a place for the Messiah’s birth.

After Jesus’ triumphant work on Earth and victorious ascension, God continued His work through the Body of Christ by His Holy Spirit. This work is now to broadcast the truth throughout the world and every individual will be given full opportunity to choose to either draw near to or turn away from their Creator.

However, Paul told the Thessalonians that the lawless one would deceive many who will perish, because they choose to believe the adversary’s lies. He warned them that Satan would:

….. use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. (2 Thes 2:10)

God has created us with free will; our eternal destinies are in our own hands. This is God’s world and He has determined that we must live according to His Way, but He has given us enough information to know how to live under His blessing. Those who refuse to love and accept God’s truth may indeed be abandoned by God to Satan’s lies, the consequences of their own ill conceived lifestyles or the evils of fallen humanity. This is not limited to the trials of individuals; without the one true God’s merciful guidance, whole communities and nations can be torn apart by factionalism and revenge. Where Jesus’ teachings on the need for salvation, love and forgiveness are abandoned, humanism and other religious traditions have no power to overcome Satan’s deceptive alternatives.

At the end of time, when we face the judgment of God, we will have had every opportunity to be amongst those who stand before Christ at the Bema Seat Judgment. However, on Judgment Day many will find themselves before the Great White Throne.

51 He has the whole world in His hands

world in his hands

It is quite conceivable that in the world today God at times abandons people, withdrawing His protection and blessing from those who work against His plan to save humanity; He need do nothing other than allow unbalanced and uncontrolled natural forces to be set loose. He holds this universe together and we have no idea what He holds back. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:

For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17)

God created this world with intricate and complex systems that are interrelated and often co-dependent. Until this present time our planet has been robust enough to withstand our pollution and mismanagement, but God may allow our human greed and disdain for His creation to reap catastrophic consequences. Without His guidance and intervention we may cause our planet’s meteorological systems to become unbalanced and the ensuing changes could well cause unprecedented climatic conditions.

Alongside the ever-present consequences of the Fall, western culture is moving away from a biblical belief in the life and work of Jesus Christ and the moral vacuum this has caused will play a part in the end times. Despite the humanist-led move away from trust in Him, the Holy Spirit is presently active in the world as the salt and light of humanity (Mat 5:13-15), working on the hearts and minds of inquiring people to open them to God’s Truth. It is His role to convict people of sin. Without the Holy Spirit activating the consciences of people, a sense of what is truly right and wrong from God’s perspective would be lost. Jesus told His disciples:

But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. (John 16:7-8)

Although this world is in God’s hands, His Word tells us that a time is coming when God will completely lift His restraining hand and devastating spiritual forces will be unleashed (2 Thes 2:7). These evil forces will bring about a time of unprecedented darkness, and along with increased natural disasters and human immorality, this lifting of God’s protection will herald the end of this age (Matt 24) and the coming of the Day of Judgement.

52 I tell you the truth

Paul told the Romans that God may abandon people when they trade the truth about God for a lie (Romans 1:25). Truth is something our modern world has a great deal of difficulty with. Many modern scholars (even some of those teaching in church seminaries) insist truth is relative. They would contend that truth can be adjusted according to culture, perspective or disposition. Although modern society has generally abandoned the concept of absolute truth, God has never vacillated from this ideal. Jesus often began His discourses by saying, “I tell you the truth,” and He also proclaimed He is the Truth (John 14:6).

If we abandon truth, trading it for the lie that there is no Truth, we become slaves to that lie and God may abandon us to a path of increasing deception. God has ensured we have access to His Truth: through His Holy Spirit we have access to both the Living Word (Logos) and the written word (rhema). We can trust Him to lead us into all truth. Jesus promised that His truth would set us free. As John records:

Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, “You are truly My disciples if you remain faithful to My teachings. And you will know the truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The freedom the truth of the gospel brings is beyond measure. Knowing the Truth means we understand God has a plan and in His Word He has given us enough information about that plan to live lives that are pleasing to Him. We can either accept His plan and become part of His program or trade the truth about God for the lies our modern culture holds dear. Our merciful God has given us this time of grace to make a wise decision, but the Day of Judgment will come, He has declared this to be so, and He is the Truth (John 14:6).

In his letter to the Romans Paul describes God’s incredible patience with people. He laments that stubbornness will lead people to reject God’s grace and Truth and on that day of God’s righteous judgment the punishment will inevitably be administered.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. (Rom 2:4-8)

53 A New Covenant

jesus preachingDuring the OT era it was the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets that guided people. After Jesus came, God revealed the law’s role was to show us our need of God’s Son and Holy Spirit, it is through their work that we are able to live lives that are pleasing to the Father. While He was on Earth Jesus announced His new, freely available Way of living, when He ushered in the New Covenant (Heb 8:6-12), proclaiming forgiveness of sins and love for one’s enemies as the Way for the future. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that:

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. (Hebrews 8:7)

Jesus made it clear that John the Baptist, as the last of the OT prophets, was announcing the coming of a new Way of serving God and relating to our fellow humans. The time for priests and altars, sacrificial offerings and law keeping had passed when the Good News was proclaimed. Luke records Jesus’ words:

“Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in. (Luke 16:16)

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice when He gave Himself as our sin offering: all the OT requirements have been met in Him (Mat 5:17). It is finished (John 19:30).Throughout the OT era God gave the Jewish people a full understanding of His righteous requirements, but the NT writers revealed that we cannot keep the law. During the time God guided people by the law and the prophets, He knew they could not possibly keep the law, consequently He instituted the sacrifices and offerings. These elaborate rituals enabled people to maintain their relationship with Him. The continual need for substitutionary sacrifices also acted as a constant reminder that the penalty for sin is death. As Paul explains:

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He declares sinners to be right in His sight when they believe in Jesus. (Rom 3:20-26)

54 God’s mercy extends to all people

people in sunGod exists beyond time and space; He created both and is not bound by either. Therefore God’s righteous judgment and merciful gift of salvation extends to all people who have ever lived, or will live, before He calls an end to sin, suffering and death. Based entirely on the fact that Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice for their sin, God was able to offer His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life to those who lived before Jesus was born. Paul wrote:

David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who
are declared righteous without working for it: “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. (Rom 4:6-7)

David lived a thousand years before Jesus, but God is able to judge the hearts and minds of the people born before Christ and ascertain their response to His call. He can also judge the hearts of those who have never heard the gospel and is able to determine their reaction to His touch. Peter informs us that God is kardiognostes or heart-knowing, therefore He knows what is in the hearts of every person (Acts 15:8) and Paul adds:

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know His law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life. (Rom 2:14-16)

No one is beyond God’s grace, God knows the hearts and minds of every person who has existed, or ever will exist (John 16:30). He reaches out to every person and can gauge our responses to His call, we either turn to or turn away from our Creator. Jesus introduced a new way of responding for those who want to trust and obey the Father. During the OT era, drawing near to God meant living by His law and listening to His prophets. Jesus introduced an entirely new era and ushered in an entirely new way of drawing near to God and worshipping Him. He explained:

……. the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth….. (John 4:23)

55 Love one another

Group-HugJesus also introduced a New Commandment, which He announced is to “love one another” (John 13:34). A completely new era began with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was because of Jesus’ death and resurrection that God, who created us to love Him, is able to dwell within us by His Holy Spirit (1 John 4:16). Jesus can make our spirit a holy place because He has dealt with our sin, thus the Spirit of God can indwell us. When His Spirit lives in us we are able to love God through His Spirit (Mark 12:33; Romans 8:28; 1 Cor 8:2-3; 1 John 5:1-3).

After reading about Peter denying the Lord three times (just before Jesus’ crucifixion (Mat 26:34-75)), most people would doubt whether the apostle was actually suitable for the task of leading the church. However, when Jesus had risen from the dead He did not upbraid Peter for his lack of faith and devotion, instead, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Matthew Henry comments:

….He does not ask, “Dost thou fear me? Dost thou honour me? Dost thou admire me?” but, “Dost thou love me? Give but proof of this, and the affront shall be passed by, and no more said of it.” Peter had professed himself a penitent, witness his tears, and his return to the society of the disciples; he was now upon his probation as a penitent; but the question is not, “Simon, how much hast thou wept? how often hast thou fasted, and afflicted thy soul?” but, Dost thou love me? It is this that will make the other expressions of repentance acceptable. The great thing Christ eyes in penitents is their eyeing him in their repentance. …..Before Christ would commit his sheep to his care, he asked him, Lovest thou me? Christ has such a tender regard to his flock that he will not trust it with any but those that love him, and therefore will love all that are his for his sake. Those that do not truly love Christ will never truly love the souls of men, or will naturally care for their state as they should; nor will that minister love his work that does not love his Master (48).

Loving God is the beginning of the journey. When we choose to love God we are open to His guidance, and He shows us our need for the sin that separates us from Him to be dealt with. Only Jesus can deal with that sin, because only He has been assigned by the Creator for that role. Once we accept Jesus’ gift of salvation, we understand God’s love for us and His love sets the tone for our relationships with others. We must learn to love others as God loves them. This is not a sensuous love, it is what the Greeks called agape love. It is a love that, like God,  seeks the beloved’s ultimate good. Our Creator designed and made us with human affections that at times seem absolutely pure, but unless these affections are filtered through His love, we will not be seeking the ultimate good for the objects of our love. This ultimate, eternal good, is their reconciliation with the Creator, which in turn gives them access to eternal life.

Sin not only affects our relationship with God, it also influences our relationships with other people. Jesus proclaimed:

“You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Mat 22:37-40)

Through these verses we see the heart of God. He is a God of love and we must make sure the God we claim to represent as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the God who has revealed Himself as love. By loving others we fulfil the law (Rom 13:8), this is now God’s unambiguous direction for us to live holy lives that are pleasing to Him. God has called us to demonstrate His love, and by His Spirit He enables us to make this our priority. This love must be exceptional, not the sort of love the world practices, but a love that demonstrates the love of God. Jesus instructed:

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. (Matthew 5:46)

The love Jesus taught His disciples is the core of the Christian Church and it is this holy love that has changed the world. From historical documents we learn that very early in church history Christian charity was noticed and emulated by other faiths. It was most certainly noticed by the Emperor Julian, who reigned around the year 360AD. He wrote a letter to Arsacius, the polytheistic high priest of Galacia, instructing him to practice the same sort of charity and good works the Christians demonstrated.

Emperor Julian

Emperor Julian

Julian was Constantine’s nephew and like all emperors he was also Pontifex Maximus, chief priest of the state religion; but unlike his uncle, Julian took his role as head of pagan worship seriously. During his two year rule he made attempts to take the empire back to its pagan roots by developing a pagan priesthood and ordering the building of new pagan temples and the refurbishment of those that had fallen into disrepair under Constantine. After seeing the effect Christian charity had on people, he decided that caring for one’s neighbour was an excellent way to present the pagan gods in a better light and attract followers to his revitalised pagan religion (see).

56 Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing

wolfThe teachings of Jesus have played an incalculable role in shaping modern society. While history provides us with endless accounts of people claiming to be Christians, but carrying out appalling acts in the name of Christ, there is nothing in Jesus’ teachings that mandates either forcible conversion to the faith or coerced adherence to biblical doctrines. Instead, the saved are asked to love the unsaved and be an example of goodness to those around them. The teachings of Jesus Christ are diametrically opposed to wanton bloodshed and Jesus, knowing human nature, warned there would be interlopers; He called them wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat 7:15).

Jesus was very clear when He stated:

You have heard the law that says, Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:43-48)

Many people who have called themselves Christians throughout history have not followed these direct instructions from the Lord. This brings into question their actual standing in Christ. We may call ourselves Christians, but unless we are actually following the teachings of Jesus and show by the love in our lives that we are born again, we are not actually Christians in the biblical sense of the word (Luke 13:24-27, Mat 7:22-26, 1 John 3:14-18). Jesus warned that it was not what we claimed about ourselves that would enable us to enter His kingdom, it was how we lived our lives.

On the Day of Judgment it will be actions and deeds that identify the true believers, Jesus said:

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. “Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’ (Mat 7:20-23)

Although many countries in the western world have based their laws and ethics on Christian principles, the NT teaches that there is no such thing as a Christian country. A person becomes a Christian by making a personal, individual decision. This decision enables them to become part of the Body of Christ, the universal church, but this is not an organisation, it is something only God can see and it is not bound by denominational parameters or national boundaries. Nor does membership of a denomination necessarily indicate a person is a member of the Body of Christ, only those who are born again are part of God’s eternal kingdom (John 3:3).

True Christianity (Christianity that is based on and reflects the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that are revealed in God’s Word) has actually contributed to science, education, health care, government, the judiciary, prison reform, the end of slavery, human rights and even animal welfare; as it provides a philosophical basis of mercy, justice, compassion, equality and personal responsibility. According to the teachings of Jesus, every member of society should be treated as the object of God’s love; Jesus gave no grounds for exclusion. Neither ethnicity, nor gender or age, was to be considered when sharing the love of God with a neighbour. Every person is equal before the Father and Creator.

Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy:

God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us. (1Ti 2:4-5)

Our Father wants us to extend His love to all people everywhere. For us to portray God as anything other than a loving Father is to miss the core of Jesus’ teachings. There will be a Day of Judgment, a time when our Father calls an end to all suffering, pain and death. Then He will destroy this world that is terminally tainted with sin and create a new heaven and a new Earth, but until that day we are called to love. Until that time God patiently holds back His righteous judgment because He wants everyone to be part of His eternal kingdom. As Peter informed us:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the Earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter 3:9-10)

57 Why so much suffering?

HopeA common question in our present, post Christian culture is, “How could a loving God allow people to suffer?” The people who ask this question usually assume they care more about the people around them than the God of the Christian Bible. Such ignorance is understandable in today’s humanist culture. However, God must surely find it far more heart wrenching than us to see His beautiful creation, and particularly the people He created in His own image, so burdened with pain and suffering, but He is allowing this time of sorrow to continue for our benefit.

God regards people from an entirely different perspective to these kind-hearted unbelievers, He is concerned with the eternal destinies of the individuals He created. He has allowed each one of us to see the devastating results of sin now, so that we can make an informed choice for eternity. He has also assured us that this time of pain and suffering will pale into insignificance in the world to come (Luke 18:30; 2 Cor 4:16-18). Jesus and the disciples were far more focused on the world to come than many liberal theologians would lead us to understand.

When he was in prison contemplating the possibility of execution Paul wrote:

Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more. If I continue to live in this life, my work will produce more results. I don’t know which I would prefer. I find it hard to choose between the two. I would like to leave this life and be with Christ. That’s by far the better choice. But for your sake it’s better that I remain in this life. (Philippians 1:21-24)

God is focused on eternity and on bringing people to Himself, He does not wish anyone to miss out on realising their eternal potential. The only thing now standing in the way of people receiving God’s gracious gift of eternal life is their own choice. God has shown us the Way by coming to Earth and revealing His truth. We can choose to believe God’s truth (that Jesus sacrificed His life so that each one of us can live eternally), accept Jesus as our Saviour and be part of His eternal kingdom, or we can reject His glorious gift. We can choose to believe Satan’s lies, which ultimately lead to suffering and death. This world of pain and suffering will not go on indefinitely, but for this short time, God has allowed suffering and lies to persist to show what a world without His holiness must become.

Jesus was quite sure about the source of the lies we believe. He told some Jewish people who refused to believe His words:

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe Me! (John 8:44-45)

By constantly rejecting God’s gentle touch, people allow their spiritual awareness to become so atrophied they can no longer hear their Creator speaking to them, they hear only Satan’s lies. In this 21st century world, The Bible and the teachings of Jesus are often ridiculed and any understanding of the fact that we are created beings, rather than the sole creators of our own destinies, is widely decried. The sad truth is that without God’s gift of eternal life we “will surely die.” God has made it clear – with His gracious gift we are destined for an eternal life in a new heaven and Earth with Christ our loving Saviour – apart from Christ there will be no life (1 Cor 15:28).

58 The Final Episode in God’s Plan for His Family

This present time of grace will eventually come to an end (Mat 13). There is still a frightening future awaiting humanity. God has revealed His intention to finally destroy everything that is evil, everything that is not under His sovereign reign. Jesus authoritatively stated that:

….. Heaven and Earth shall pass away…. (Mat 24:35a)

This will be a total cleansing, leaving nothing but that which has been made pure through Christ. Pain, suffering and death will be dealt the final blow.

GodsAngelsJesus told the disciples:

The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will remove from His Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. (Mat 13:41)

In the Revelation we find:

….. the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev 11:15)

However, Peter tells us:

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of His command, and He brought the Earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then He used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and Earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. (2 Peter 3:3-7)

Peter gives us the outline of God’s plan; God created a perfect world and tragically, humans caused sin to contaminate it, infecting all of God’s creation. Eventually human sin became so violently devastating, God caused the Great Flood to cleanse the Earth of the contamination humanity had created, destroying all but those who remained loyal to His commands. Once again the human family grew and dispersed, but people were still tainted with a sin nature and this problem needed to be addressed.

After the Flood, God called out first a nation (Gen 18:19) and then a body of believers to spread His message of grace and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, who will return to complete God’s plan. Scoffers may ridicule this idea but those who listen to His Word and accept His rescue plan will live on through God’s final solution for evil, when ultimately the present universe will be destroyed by fire; but out of this fire will rise a phoenix, a new creation, untainted by sin and death. Peter goes on to say:

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new Earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)

Our Father is reluctant to destroy this present creation (2 Peter 3:9), but humanity has shown again and again that to be outside the reign and rule of the Creator eventually brings hate and oppression, injustice and cruelty. Our Father has a plan and He will bring it to fruition, even though it will cost Him more than we can imagine.

©Justinen Creative: Licensed from

©Justinen Creative: Licensed from

We don’t have to look far to discover that even those who begin with the best of intentions often end up discriminating against some members of their society, and numerous times throughout history revolutions have simply led to new tyrants in the seats of power. We cannot turn fallen humanity into altruistic communities without God’s intervention.

Outsiders looking on may believe they would not tread the same path as newly self-elected dictators. They believe they would not end up seeking to dominate others, but this is often just self denial. Survival of the fittest is an ever present reality when it comes to human society and very few people are truly prepared to completely sacrifice their own ideals or comforts for the greater good. The Bible points out that a community will function without the strongest members seizing control of resources if the Creator is given the role He is meant to have. In the biblical model for community, leaders should be gentle, hospitable, generous, peaceful, sober and honest (1Timothy 3). When the Lord Jesus is acknowledged as the head and each member is viewed as equal before Him, there is a good chance those who are first amongst equals will exercise the attributes Paul outlined in his letter to Timothy.

We were not designed to live apart from God; we were designed to live in fellowship with God and follow His ways, and it is in living according to the Way Jesus revealed that we find our full potential individually and as a community. When we have a loving relationship with God we can live in the way we were designed to live. Living in harmony with others can be difficult, even for committed Christians, especially when cultures clash. However, having a common agreement on expectations and behaviour does make this easier. It is reaching this common agreement that is the challenge. Christians have been given that common agreement in God’s Word and in the ideal Christian community differences can be resolved by prayerfully turning to the Word for guidance.

Bible Reading GroupWe are also more likely to make wise choices for ourselves and our fellow humans if we make those choices within God’s influence. Of course there is no doubt that many people who are not Christians make some good decisions and are mostly loving and kind, but that is because God created us to be so (Mat 7:9-11) and He gave us our consciences to help us understand right and wrong. As Paul points out:

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know His law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Rom 2:14-15)

God has also designed the world powers to function according to His guidelines for justice and the rule of law (Romans 13). People need rules to guide them if they are to live harmoniously, side by side. Whether it’s a country, commune, classroom or convent, rules (or laws) give people clear boundaries and individuals can find freedom to act respectfully and responsibly within the agreed form. Most western societies have their roots in Christian principles and although unbelievers would contend that human culture independently developed the ideas of justice, mercy and forgiveness, biblical Christians recognise that these concepts were sown into our cultures through God’s direct intervention from the very beginning of time. These are not human constructs, they are the result of God’s direct guidance and supervision.

Even though Christians have the Creator guiding them, they are still prone to making mistakes. The followers of Jesus continue to contend with what The Bible calls their sinful natures (Romans 8:4-5). In the light of Jesus’ New Commandments it is obvious that Christians often fall far short of God’s ideal. However, the main difference between believers and unbelievers is that believers know and trust the biblical Jesus, who is the Truth. They also understand the truth of the gospel message, which tells us we are all sinners, but Christians know they are sinners saved by grace.

It is because of this grace that the followers of Jesus seek to live lives that are pleasing in God’s sight while they remain on this planet, and they confidently expect to be part of God’s new creation because God is able to make them holy. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)

Paul was able to face hardship and the threat of death because he kept his eyes on Jesus. It is this sort of faith that keeps believers from despair in the face of adversity.  Although they don’t always act according to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit, Christians understand that this is because the Holy Spirit indwells their “fragile clay jars” and sinful natures can still dominate. Consequently, the body of Christ is composed of imperfect people, but they are people who have a relationship with their Creator and they understand that this is God’s world and He has the right to dictate the standards He expects of the people He created. Believers must readily acknowledge that they need God’s Holy Spirit to enable them to live lives that are in line with God’s standards, while striving to live holy lives and love others as God loves them.

59 God’s standards are not the world’s standards

The Bible teaches that God’s standards are different to worldly standards. In his letter to the Romans Paul declared that everyone has sinned and that we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). John also wrote:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Jesus told His disciples that after He ascended to be with the Father He would send them a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the divine Trinity (see). When talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit Jesus said:

…..when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in Me. (John 16:8-9)

In His Word, God tells us that if we reject the gospel message we are not living the way He designed us to live. God has gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate this message to us. The Eternal God was born into the world, taking on mortal, human flesh, so that He could preach the gospel of God’s love to humankind and give His life so that we could experience that love and receive His gift of immortality. Jesus explained that because He had come from God to proclaim the truth, sin would henceforth be defined as rejecting Him and His message of universal sin and humanity’s need for salvation. He said:

They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates Me also hates My Father. If I hadn’t done such miraculous signs among them that no one else could do, they would not be guilty. But as it is, they have seen everything I did, yet they still hate Me and My Father. (John 15:22-24)

He also said:

I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:32)

In the opening chapters of this book we explored the consequences of Adam and Eve’s rejection of God’s command. In the Garden of Eden there was only one “thou shalt not,” when Adam and Eve did what they were expressly commanded not to do they severed their relationship with God and sent humanity on an entirely different path. Death entered the creation and there would be only one way to regain access to eternal life.

Jesus came to explain that everyone needs God’s forgiveness and He also revealed that God has provided only one Way for us to receive that forgiveness (John 14:6). It is only as we acknowledge our need and accept God’s forgiveness through Christ that we can be cleansed from the sin that will keep us from eternity. The people who hear His voice and respond to His love are the ones who can acknowledge they are sinners. It is only when we recognise God’s right to make demands on our lives and the fact that we are separated from Him without Christ as our Saviour that this becomes evident.

60 Is civilisation a thin veneer?

Most people who keep an eye on world news would be aware of the incredible potential for civil unrest when justice systems break down or there are no police to enforce laws. The horrific potential for a Lord of the Flies type regression to savagery, where groups lacking any rule of law descend into barbarism, is not uncommon. The three deaths that took place at some stage in the riots and looting in Melbourne, Australia, during the police strike of 1923 illustrate this point (see). Civilisation can appear to be a thin veneer when order breaks down or the basic necessities of life are scarce.

Anyone who has eyes to see can recognise that evil is an underlying reality in our world. We need to act wisely to protect ourselves from criminal activity. We have locks on doors and do not roam the streets late at night in certain districts. Children are regularly abused and in our modern, “civilised” world, many are sold into slavery, and this sort of behaviour is not limited to the third world, where people are often very poor and struggle to meet the demands of raising children (see). One need only look at the greed and corruption that is endemic in governments, multinational companies and world leaders to see that often philanthropy is simply a means of being re-elected or a way of boosting self-esteem.

Many non believers would see themselves as “good people,” and point to others as the perpetrators of the world’s problems. This is not the biblical view, God tells us that we are all tainted with sin, we all need God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to deal with our own selfish, sinful natures, and Paul tells us that this is not a battle that is ever conclusively won in this life. There is no place for self-righteousness or complacency in the body of Christ. In his letter to the Romans he explains this problem.

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:19-25)

Paul made it clear that even though this battle is a part of our daily lives and we are far from reaching our destination, we should continue to strive towards the goal of expressing God’s love and holiness:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Phillipians 3:12-14)

61 Sin will destroy us

Sin and repentance are challenging concepts for people to come to terms with in today’s world. Like many words from the Christian lexicon people outside the church have a partial but skewed idea of the biblical understanding of sin and repentance. Even within the church sin has been presented in a variety of ways. Sin is mentioned nearly 400 times in the KJV Bible and from the beginning of time people have been aware of its reality.

Sin is basically rebellion against God; The Bible teaches that this rebellion separates us from God and inevitably leads to death – sin will destroy us (Ez 18:24, 30; 33:12-13; Prov 13:6; Heb 10:27; 2 Peter 2:3, 12; Jude 1:10). God made us dependent upon Him for our very existence and when we refuse to acknowledge this dependence (as Adam and Eve did) and choose to follow our own desires, we step out of God’s Way and begin to sin. The OT speaks of a “sin against God.” Jeremiah was asked:
What is our sin against the LORD our God?” And God instructed him to

…. give them the LORD’s reply: “It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to Me. They worshipped other gods and served them. They abandoned Me and did not obey My word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to Me..” (Jer 16:10-12)

Sin in the OT was clearly a refusal to listen to God’s prophets and follow His law. However, in the NT, the writer to the Hebrews explains that it is no longer disobeying the law that is evidence of rebellion against God, but rather a hardened heart and unbelief towards the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ:

…. Moses served faithfully when he was entrusted with God’s entire house. But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the One who built everything is God. Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested Me in the wilderness. There your ancestors tested and tried My patience, even though they saw My miracles for forty years. So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from Me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in My anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter My place of rest.'”

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Remember what it says: “Today when you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard His voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when He took an oath that they would never enter His rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed Him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter His rest. (Hebrews 3:2-19)

We each have a choice, we can listen to and accept the message God has sent to us through His Son, or we can harden our hearts and rebelliously reject His Word. Our Father has done all that is necessary to make us aware of the fact that He desires a relationship with every person who exists (Luke 20:36; John 1:12; 11:50-52; Romans 8:14-15; Gal 3:26; 1 John 5:19-20), it was for this reason that He designed and created humanity.

62 A temple for the Lord

Although God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after they turned away from Him, Exodus 25:8 tells us that He desired to dwell amongst their descendants. To this end He gave detailed instructions on how they should construct the tabernacle so that He could “tabernacle” (encamp) amongst them in the wilderness. God then organised the Jewish people to enable Him to encamp in the midst of the nation He had created (Numbers 2) as they travelled to the Holy Land He had selected for His chosen people.

Steins depiction of the Tabernacle

Steins depiction of the Tabernacle

John carries this theme forward into the NT, where we find once again the one true God tabernacled with His people, when Jesus took on human flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) amongst them (John 1:14). Right now our Father is calling humanity into fellowship with Himself through His Son. As Paul declares:

God is to be trusted, the God who called you to have fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. (1Co 1:9)

The fellowship to which God is calling us is like no other. God manifested His presence to the people of Israel at Mt Sinai (Ex 20:18-22) and informed them of His intentions to bless and guide them (Ex 20:1, 24). Our Father dwelt in the midst of His chosen people in the tabernacle they constructed in the wilderness, after which He caused a temple to be built in Jerusalem for Him to inhabit (2 Sam 7:13).

Solomon's Temple

Solomon’s Temple

The Lord Jesus Christ took on flesh and tabernacled in the midst of the nation of Israel. After His ascension He sent the Holy Spirit, through whom He is creating an eternal temple to inhabit; this temple is composed of His followers, those blessed by a unique relationship with the Creator of the universe. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1Co 3:16)

Paul also explained to the Ephesians that this new temple would be composed of saints from throughout time. Until then the Jews viewed themselves as the only true followers of the one true God. Jesus opened the door for anyone and everyone to be part of the family of God and Paul announced to the Ephesians:

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ. For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups.(Eph 2:11-15)

Paul goes on to explain:

Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself. We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit. (Eph 2:20-22)

Sin prevents people from fellowshipping with God. God will not inhabit a temple that has not been sanctified and made holy by His Son.

63 Jesus revealed God’s eternal plan

During His ministry on Earth Jesus revealed the next phase in God’s plan for His creation. Human beings are distinct from all other creatures, God made us in His own image (Gen 1:26) to become His children. From the very beginning, God designed human families and He intended them to function with a bond of familial love and trust.

serviceGod also ordained marriage as a covenant relationship (Mal 2:14), so that the earthly family He designed would be a type of the eternal family of believers He is creating.

God made Adam and Eve sexually complementary, He created them male and female and He blessed their unique union with children. Marriage is a divinely ordained relationship in which two people can produce the most miraculous of all human creations – another human being (Gen 4:1). God has designed marriage as the core of the human family and it is this relationship that God points to as the core of the eternal family. Throughout The Bible, believers are referred to as the Bride of the Redeemer. It is the marriage covenant that God refers to when He describes His relationship with the body of believers who come back into relationship with Him through His Son. This is a relationship based on love.

In the OT we find:

For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is His name: and the Holy One of Israel is thy Redeemer; the God of the whole Earth shall He be called. (Isa 54:5)

While Paul writes to the Corinthian church that they have a covenant of love with Christ:

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)

And to the Ephesians he writes:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)

Finally John’s record of the Revelation reveals:

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:7-9)

God designed families as the foundation of society. He gave people the ability to love and nurture family members and when He came to Earth He often referred to the eternal family He was creating (Mat 5:9, 45; 7:11; 18:3; Luke 6:35, 20:35-36 and see John 11:52). Jesus told a gathering of people that His mother, brothers and sisters are those who do the will of the Father (Mat 12:48-50; Mark 3:33-35). The Father created earthly families to demonstrate the love and trust that will be the central core of the eternal family. It is this bond of familial love that will unite redeemed humanity to the Eternal Father: those who are born again discover within themselves a deep love and trust for God the Father. This is the same sort of love and trust children have for parents who love, nourish, protect and provide for them.

After the Fall the bond of love and trust Adam and Eve had enjoyed with God was drastically severed, leaving the human family cut off from their Creator, but God had already put a contingency plan in place. From before the beginning of time He had already decided how He would bring the people He created back into His family and it is only through love and trust that people will respond to the Father and become part of God’s eternal family. Jesus’ incarnation facilitated the reforging of the bond that unites us through love with our Creator and we are now able to call the God of all creation our Father. As Paul explains:

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus. And now He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Saviour. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

God has laboured long and hard to create the eternal family He desires. Some unbelievers say this sounds more like the megalomaniacal indulgence of a somehow incomplete entity. Perhaps these people have never longed for a child. One is not incomplete without a child to love, but the desire to express that love is deep and strong and I can’t believe it is purely selfish. God has made it possible for fallen humans to fellowship with Him as a loving Father by dealing with the problem of sin. This problem is our problem, not His. We are the ones who lose by rejecting this offer. God will not lose, He simply wants to give, as a loving Father longs to give to a child. We are the ones who have turned away, but by taking on the sin issue, God has made it possible for us to return and be part of His eternal family. As the apostle John puts it in his gospel:

God created everything through Him (Jesus), and nothing was created except through Him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. ….. He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son .(John 1:3-14)

64 Sin brings suffering, pain and death

Sin is not something that God can easily dismiss, otherwise He would not be God. God is holy, this makes God’s absolute purity and sin totally incompatible. For God to say there is nothing wrong with sin, His whole nature would need to change and God is unchangeable (Hebrews 13:8). God sees sin for what it is; sin leads to suffering, pain and death.

The origin of all sin is a turning away from God. A biblical understanding of this rebellion is that in turning away from God we inevitably turn towards the evil one. As Paul puts it:

You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:2-5)

Refusing to acknowledge and deal with sin makes it impossible for us to draw near to God. Sin (or our inclination to trust our own ideas rather than God’s Way) can and will control us. The very first person to be told that sin was waiting to control him was Cain. When Cain and Abel brought offerings to God, Cain’s offering of produce from the ground was found to be less pleasing than Abel’s offering of a fat lamb. The Bible is not absolutely clear as to why Cain’s offering was less acceptable than his brother Abel’s, although the NT gives us a hint that Abel offered with faith in his heart and by implication Cain did not (Heb 11:4). John tells us that Cain had been living a life that was more in tune with the enemy than with God (1 John 3:11-12) and Cain’s attitude to God was clearly revealed by his response to God’s rebuke.

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:6-7)

God told him he should take control of sin but Cain continued in his rebellion against God and went on to become the first murderer. Cain showed no repentance and was eventually banished from the presence of the Lord. This was a punishment Cain found almost impossible to bear (Gen 4:13), but it was the inevitable consequence of sin, a person who persists in sin moves themselves further and further away from the possibility of communion with the holy Eternal Father.

God knows where sin leads and He has made it clear from the beginning of human history that sin must be dealt with or it will overwhelm human society. God has chosen to deal with sin individual by individual, He ensures each one of us has an opportunity to repent (that is, acknowledge that sin is a destructive force within our lives and our communities), turn away from sin and turn back to Him. God is the only One who can see the real motives and intentions of people (Romans 8:27) and therefore God is the only One who can judge rightly, and according to His judgment we each need to avail ourselves of His gracious gift of salvation.

God doesn’t hide sin and pretend it doesn’t exist, this ignores the problems sin creates, God uncovers and confronts sin. He can do this because He is a competent and just judge and at times, in the OT, when sin began to completely overwhelm human communities, God conclusively dealt with it. We can trust that when God reveals and judges sin He passes a just sentence on sinners.

Sodom and GomBefore God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah He sent His angels to determine the true extent of the sin of the people who lived there. God knew those who had gone beyond the possibility of a return to Him. Wickedness develops its own momentum and the wicked lose their ability to hear God’s call.

Abraham was concerned that God might destroy the righteous along with the wicked and he questioned the Lord:

Surely You wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, You would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely You wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the Earth do what is right?” (Gen 18:25)

God assured Abraham that He would not destroy the righteous and He removed all the people who listened to His messengers and obeyed Him before destroying the cities.

This conversation between the Lord and Abraham reveals God’s intentions; He was determined to deal with this overwhelming manifestation of evil, not allowing it to flourish and pervert His creation. The wickedness that had become endemic in the cities of the plain was like a stinking cesspit before the Creator, which He chose to tolerate no longer. These cities had reached the point of no return and their destruction was swift, but before this destruction God took the righteous people out of harm’s way.

Another aspect of sin is that it tends to be contagious, if left unchecked it can spread throughout a population and eventually the people no longer have any sense of God’s Way. Nazi Germany is a good example of this. Many of the German people had been so swayed by the propaganda they had been systematically fed, they could no longer see the Jewish people as fellow humans.

genocideSodom and Gomorrah may have had a devastating influence on the ancient world if God had not intervened. This is God’s world and He did not allow corruption to overtake it again as it had before the Great Flood. In such a world the innocent suffer horrifically and any awareness of God’s Way is completely lost; rather than seeking holiness, people encourage each other to do evil. Paul outlined this truth in his letter to the Romans when he wrote:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom 1:18) ….. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:32)

Sin has consequences, it dramatically damages relationships, families and communities; it cannot be lightly dismissed as of little consequence. The modern attitude to sin is that it is actually about people enjoying themselves; this short-sighted view of rebellion against the Creator inevitably brings pain and suffering. A perfect example of this is sex outside of marriage. Young women often suffer and babies are aborted because people are simply “enjoying themselves.” This is just one of the many ways people choose to rebel against the Creator’s design and purpose.

Thankfully God has made a way for sin to be recognised as the destructive force it is and be conclusively dealt with. Without an understanding of the destructive power of sin there is no way for it to be truly eradicated. For God to simply dismiss sin would not only allow it to flourish and overwhelm all that God called good, it also flouts the concept of justice.

The penalty for sin recognises its destructiveness and ensures the wicked do not go on forever receiving the same benefits as the righteous. Sin must attract a severe penalty to show how severely it has damaged humanity and God’s good creation, but God has ensured this penalty does not mean the end of humanity or His majestic creation. Our Father, in His infinite mercy, has continued to give sunlight and rain to both the just and the unjust (Mat 5:45) during this time of grace. Above all God has Himself met the legal requirement for our sin and can now offer forgiveness to those who recognise sin’s destructiveness and sincerely repent. Without repentance there is little chance the sin that waits to ensnare us will not reoccur. As Jesus said:

It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ (Luke 24:47)

65 Repent and turn to God

jesuss-hugThroughout the OT God called His people to repent, telling them that sin would bring about their destruction unless they turned away from their sins. Ezekiel writes:

Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign LORD. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! (Ezekiel 18:30)

As the NT opens we find John the Baptist carrying this same message of repentance. Matthew records him saying:

Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. (Matthew 3:2)

Jesus and the disciples repeated the message. Mark records:

So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. (Mark 6:12)

Sin is the act of turning away from God, and The Bible teaches it is this that will eventually destroy us. God has revealed we each hold personal, individual responsibility for our sin in an eternal sense. Jesus unveiled the eternal consequences sin brings for each person. He unambiguously taught that we will perish unless we repent and turn to God. He is not saying that those who sin will immediately drop dead, He is pointing out the eternal consequences of holding on to rebellion against God. As Luke records Jesus’ words:

And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. (Luke 13:3b, 5b)

The biblical word for repentance in the original Greek is metanoia, which means we are going in the wrong direction, we need to turn right around and head in God’s direction. We all need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live holy lives that are pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit cannot indwell a person who is not prepared to turn away from their past life by first recognising their own sinful nature and then determining to allow God’s Spirit to take over their being and turn them towards their Creator. As Paul explains:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Gal 5:24-25)

Living in a fallen world has inevitable consequences for everyone. We were all born with bodies that are mortal and will die, and we are surrounded by people who, like ourselves, are less than perfect, but God allows the trials of this mortal life to test and purify believers. Paul told the Romans:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.(Romans 5:3-4)

Peter likens the trials God allows believers to endure to the purifying of gold.

refining goldThis process is called testing, and it is through this testing that the impurities in the metal are either skimmed off or burned away (Proverbs 17:3), leaving the rich beauty of the pure gold to shine through.

…..and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time. Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:4-7)

Both Peter and Paul remind us that a Christian must walk through this vale of sorrows with an eternal perspective. Although pain, suffering and death accompany us on the way, we are destined for glory when we are in Christ.

Genesis relates the story of Joseph, who had endured many trials, but nevertheless understood God’s greater plan. Like most people (even those who know and trust God), Joseph showed his human nature when he indulged himself by taking a small revenge and playing games with his brothers before revealing his true identity to them. Eventually, he assured his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, that:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (Genesis 50:20)

Joseph and his brothersOur Father is able to engineer the negative things that happen in this life to produce positive results. Although there is no doubt God would prefer His creation was not marred by sin, He is able to use the evil sin has produced to help us grow into better people and bring about a greater good.

However, God has revealed His intention is to restore His creation to its original perfection. Death, suffering, pain and decay became an intrinsic part of the fabric of this world when Adam and Eve sinned – God intends to remake the very fabric of His creation – but first He must remake the people who will inhabit it. To do this He has given us one Saviour and one Way. Peter explained this to the Jewish crowds who surrounded him after he healed a crippled man. He said:

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and He will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For He must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through His holy prophets. (Act 3:19-21)

At present God is patiently allowing time to flow on so that many more people have the opportunity to repent. But He will not allow evil to continue forever.

©Lars Justinen: Licensed from

©Lars Justinen: Licensed from

As mentioned earlier, Peter assures us that:

The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)

Jesus is creating a whole new order of beings, those who are born again (John 3:3). These people will be prepared to let go of this world: they will move on into the new creation, having understood that the things of this world were destined to pass away. To put God’s Eternal Spirit into people who have not been born again would serve no purpose, the old person would destroy the new. It is only through repentance and rebirth that we can be made ready for God’s Eternal Spirit. Jesus explained this through a parable.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved. (Mat 9:17)

Jesus paid the price for our sins and anyone who chooses can turn to Him if they are prepared to accept that sin is a reality in their lives that needs to be dealt with. Paul explains:

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

Jesus did not ask Christians to spend their lives identifying the sins of others. He was very clear that it is our own sin we should be dealing with.

For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Immediately after this speech Jesus reminded His listeners that they should also be aware that not everyone will receive His message. Many people will cling to their sinful natures and the gospel will be rejected. He told His listeners that although we should not judge we need to exercise discernment.

Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. (Matthew 7:6)

It is clear that not everyone will accept God’s truth concerning sin. Many people have violently opposed God’s message and this violence is often accompanied by virulent denials of the pearls of wisdom Christ came to impart.

pearlIn our post-Christian world we find the sharing of the gospel message more often meets with rejection than acceptance. As our culture moves further and further away from its Christian roots the moral guidelines that have underpinned our culture are being eroded and people are being given less opportunities to hear the gospel. But we know that this “falling away” from the Christian base of western culture is also one of the predicted signs of the end of days (2 Thes 2:3).

The church is also being tested. As the concept of a state religion is abandoned, genuine faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is not something our new, progressive culture generally admires. Faith is now more likely to be a personal, conscious decision than it was in the 20th century. Many believers see this as a good thing, insisting the church does not need “pew sitters.”

66 Jesus was particularly critical of hypocrites

The Greek word that is translated into English as “hypocrite” means an actor. God is not impressed by people who “act” in a pious fashion. Jesus taught that people who act in a “religious” manner, with the intention of impressing others around them, are especially abhorrent to God (Mat 6:1-4, 7:5, Luke 11:39-52, 13:15). Being “religious” is not what God wants from His children, He wants us to love Him and to love others as He loves them, this is the true badge of a godly church. God certainly wants people to be holy and live according to His guidelines; it is as we do this that we grow into our own ultimate potential. However, being “holy” does not mean acting in a pious fashion, while scorning the sinful nature of others (Luke 18:10-14). Being “holy” means we understand that everyone, including ourselves, is subject to the ungodly impulses of our sinful natures, and then admitting that we need our loving Lord to help us keep our eyes on God and His Way.

In the end it was the religious leaders who worked so hard to have Jesus crucified. When the Chief Priest and his retinue led the people to demand the death of the Jewish Messiah (John 19:6) and implored Pilate to pronounce a death sentence, they could not actually carry out the execution themselves (John 18:31), had they done so the Jews would have stoned Jesus to death. They were so far from the Truth they failed to realise that their actions would cause a number of OT prophesies to be fulfilled when the Roman soldiers crucified their Creator on a wooden cross (Is 53:5, Ps 22:14-18, Zec 12:10, Num 21:7-9, John 3:14-15).

Far from recognising and announcing the long awaited Messiah, the religious leaders used their positions to hold on to privilege and power. Jesus was threatening their power base and although they claimed to represent God on Earth, they did not recognise Him when He was in their midst. born of godThis should stand as a constant reminder to all Christians. God is not interested in our church organisations or outward demonstrations of piety, He is looking into our hearts and minds. As we relate to God through His Holy Spirit, we cannot avoid the deep truth that our human natures are actually sin natures. We want our own way rather than God’s Way and often our very best efforts in humanitarian endeavours have selfish motives.

67 Dealing with the results of sin

The well known Christian message is that Jesus died as a sacrifice to make atonement for our sins (1 John 2:2). The concept of sin in today’s world is a watershed in an individual’s worldview. Those who believe sin is a reality have often accepted Jesus’ teachings, but even if we reject the gospel the unavoidable fact is that the results of sin are vividly evident in the world around us, and if we are honest, within our own hearts.

A question most people must face at some time is, “How do we deal with the results of sin?” Modern western culture is divided on how society should judge antisocial behaviour. While some say offenders have no choice (they are hard wired from birth to do the things they do) and should not suffer the consequences of their behaviour, some shock jock enthusiasts insist that if there really is a God, He should send some sort of destructive ray from His heavenly abode to zap out of existence any person considered unworthy to live in their version of a civilised society.

Anyone who has worked with criminal offenders has usually discovered that many of the people who commit crimes have had terrible lives, often suffering abuse and violence at the hands of the very people who should have shown them just what love is. It is not surprising, when hearing the stories of these unfortunate victims of dysfunctional families, that they learn antisocial behaviour from the early abuse they suffer. Despite this, simply dismissing criminal behaviour will not deal with the problems it creates, nor enable the perpetrators to discover their own best potential. Insisting offenders are hard wired for antisocial behaviour does not help them to find a more peaceful way of living and the nature/nurture question has not been categorically resolved. Offenders need to understand the consequences of their actions and be given strategies to change their destructive ways – sin must be seen as the destructive force it actually is.

barristers-outside-courtWhere justice is not properly pursued the innocent can suffer appallingly. We see evidence of this reality all over the world where judicial systems fail to protect women because penalties for rape are inadequate and the police do not seriously pursue offenders (see). Justice is necessary to ensure everyone has a chance to live in peace. In most cultures punishment is designed as a deterrent and should be seen to fit the crime. This notion of fairness is common in most societies; people who commit crimes should be seen to pay some sort of compensation so that they understand the effect their behaviour has had on their victim or the society in which they live. For the common good, some offenders definitely need to be incarcerated until they are able to live without causing harm to others, but most western societies would agree that prisons should not be breeding places for even worse behaviour, they should be institutions that help people discover another way of living, even though some may choose not to change their behaviour.

From a biblical perspective, God has shown us that people can change and He is immensely patient with people. He gives them ample opportunities to repent during this life – to turn away from their wicked and destructive paths and live new lives in Him. How we live in this life has a direct influence on our eternal destinies and in the end we will all stand before God for judgement (Romans 2:3).

68 Christianity is a religion based on forgiveness

Most western legal systems were built on the notion of universal justice and the idea that once a person faces the court, s/he is innocent until proven guilty. Both of these concepts can be found in the Old and New Testaments. Throughout The Bible we find instructions outlining the principle that those who commit serious crimes should expect to pay a price that fits the crime. However, in interpersonal relationships the NT way is to forgive those we perceive as wronging us. Jesus was quite explicit in this teaching, He said:

….. if your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sin against you seven times in one day, and seven times he turns to you saying, I repent; then forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4)

It is because of God’s forgiveness towards us, and the fact that we now have an entirely new life in Him, that Christians are expected to extend forgiveness to others. Jesus clearly taught this principle:

Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:35-37)

There is no place in the Christian’s life for personal revenge. If someone has wronged us or one of our loved ones, we can forgive them, even if their crimes mean they are committed to a term of imprisonment (see). Forgiveness is something that not only releases the offender into God’s hands, but also the victims and their families are less likely to be consumed by the hate a lack of forgiveness can bring, and they may even use the pain and grief produced by the crime to help others (see) .

In OT times the Jewish people were instructed to love their neighbours and not to seek revenge (Lev 19:18) and Jesus re-emphasised this precept as a central core of His Way. The Bible teaches that the consequences of evil will ultimately be met by those who continue to practice iniquity (Deut 32:34, 35), if not by the law or natural consequences in this life, then ultimately from the hand of God, who alone is destined to avenge the injustices of humanity. It is not our place to avenge wrongdoing. Certainly we must bring people to justice and their crimes may attract a punishment, but this punishment is from the state, we have not mandate to become God’s avengers. The NT teachings are very clearly about restorative justice, recognising that wrongdoers can choose to change their ways by repenting and it is clear that Jesus recognised that repentance may need to be an ongoing choice for some people.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul instructed the people to put aside enmity and replace it with kindness and forgiveness. He wrote:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Eph 4:31-32)

This is not a “natural” response to another person who has harmed us in some way. This way of dealing with wrongs that are perpetrated against us takes an act of will. Jesus has instructed His followers to make that act of will, and forgiveness and empathy are now considered an admirable part of modern, western cultures. It is my contention that this is the case because Christian ethics have influenced western cultures for thousands of years. Not all cultures in the world today see forgiveness as admirable; some see it as a sign of weakness and are more inclined to promote revenge. In some cultures revenge killings can go on for generations, destroying communities and nations. However, sin cannot be dealt with by simply promoting Christian values, despite the fact that these values can transform cultures, sin must be acknowledged individually and dealt with conclusively.

69 Jesus also came to destroy the works of the devil

satanThe Bible teaches that sinners are actually “of the devil.” John makes this clear when he writes:

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

Satan’s vicious work on Earth began when he deceived Adam and Eve and he has continued throughout time to attempt to thwart the purposes of God. God the Father is in the process of creating an eternal family through His Son, and Satan is bent on destroying that family. If we are not committed to God’s Way we are subject to Satan’s influence and will be condemned along with him.

Christians can also be the subject of Satan’s deception. In one of his letters Peter advises:

Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. (1 Peter 5:7-9)

The writer to the Hebrews gave us further insight when he proclaimed:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could He die, and only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could He set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. (Hebews 2:14-15)

When Satan deceived Adam and Eve they rejected God, followed Satan’s advice and brought sin, suffering and death into the world (Rom 5:12). Because of this Satan had the power of death (Heb 2:14), but Jesus took away that power through His sacrifice on the cross and triumphal resurrection. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who now holds the keys to Hades and death (Rev 1:18) and He is working to bring an end to death forever (Rev 20:14).

The Bible declares we are of the devil when we follow his ways rather than God’s ways. Even though many people today would find this concept either highly amusing or offensive it is the truth from God’s perspective. When Peter tried to prevent Him from going to the cross, Jesus told Peter he was inspired by Satan. Matthew records:

From then on Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, and that He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day He would be raised from the dead.

But Peter took Him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to You!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from Me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to Me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Peter thought he was protecting Jesus, but the Lord knew the Father’s plan for humanity and He had a greater purpose in mind that Peter could not see at the time. When we do what seems right in our own eyes, as Peter did, often we are actually falling into Satan’s snares. We think we are “doing our own thing,” or the right thing, following our own paths and determining our own destinies, and to some extent we are. However, our eternal destinies are actually either one of two possibilities, we will live eternally with God or we will perish with Satan (John 3:16, Rev 20:10-14).

The Good News is that even though Satan has an army of fallen angels to assist him in keeping people from God’s family, Jesus came to destroy his work. At present God is holding back the powers of evil that are active in the world. There will, however, be a time when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains evil (2 Thes 2:7) and the current time of grace will come to an end. Although the modern world views him as a mythological character, The Bible teaches that Satan is a powerful entity who is at war with his Creator. Revelation reveals:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. (Rev 12:7-8)

Satan is mentioned from the beginning of The Bible to the very end. He is called the serpent when he first makes his appearance in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1) and the primeval, or ancient serpent at the very end (Rev 20:2). Throughout The Bible he is also referred to as Lucifer, the devil, Beelzebul, Belial and the dragon. Peter calls him our adversary, he writes:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

The understanding that Satan is an adversary is illustrated by the two most common of his names. Satan literally means “adversary,” it comes from the Hebrew verb שׂטן, sāṭan, which means “to lie in wait” (as an adversary); thus the Greek words Σατᾶν (Satán) and Σατανᾶς (Satanás) are derived from it and also mean “adversary.” The Greek word for devil διάβολος (diábolos) also means “adversary” or “accuser.” Although Satan seems to spend a great deal of time accusing the brethren (Job 1 and 2, Zech 3:1), Christians have a strong and proven weapon to use against him – faith – and Jesus promises to support and uphold believers in their struggles against the adversary.

It is generally accepted that Satan is a fallen angel but The Bible does not actually say this explicitly. Some commentators believe Ezekiel 28:13-14 refers to Satan when it mentions a beautiful, guardian cherub who was given musical instruments and had direct access to God. We usually assume cherubs are some kind of angel and they appear often in The Bible as representatives of God’s presence. The Ezekiel passage goes on to say that although this cherub was created as a perfect being, iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15), which adds strength to the contention that God’s creation was originally perfect.

Revelation 12 informs us that Satan was cast out of heaven and Jesus also refers to Satan “falling from heaven” (Luke 10:18). No doubt this occurred after Satan’s rebellion, but the timing of this event is not clearly stated. Along these lines Peter writes that there are angels who have sinned against God (2 Peter 2:4) and John adds that the devil has sinned from the beginning (1 John 3:8). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that Satan can come to us as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14); this is one of the reasons we need discernment and God’s guidance when dealing with the supernatural.

As Satan’s major activities appear to be attempting to counterfeit and thwart God’s works, he must have incredible self assurance, arrogance and pride to presume to stand against the Creator, but he has never resiled from this path, and it seems he has become almost the antithesis of all that is good and wholesome. He takes the good things God created and turns them into trashy, shallow pastimes. He seeks to inspire hate and lust rather than love, he is the father of lies rather than truth and his pride is the direct opposite of the humility we need in order to recognise we are the creatures and not the Creator.

As Christians we know two important truths, Satan has no power over the saved (1John 4:4), and he never was nor ever will be equal to God. Satan is a created being who rebelled against his Creator and he will ultimately be completely vanquished (Rev 12 & 20). When people turn away from God Satan is always there to fill the gap. In a very real sense Satan and his minions (and God’s holy angels) are the only extra terrestrial beings that have ever visited the Earth. While modern scientists waste billions of dollars looking for extra terrestrial life (as children on the planet die from hunger and disease), many are totally blind to that life when it is already here amongst us.

magpieOften, when sitting in the garden watching the magpies (our Australian version – Gymnorhina tibicen), I have observed them tilting their heads from side to side in obvious concentration, as they listen for prey underground. It wouldn’t matter how hard I concentrated, I could never detect grubs in the soil under our lawn, no matter how intently I listened. The magpie has an ability humans don’t possess, it can easily detect the presence of creatures that are totally indiscernible to humans. In just the same way those who are not attuned to the existence of supernatural entities are totally oblivious to their presence.

Once this extra sense is turned on a whole new world of reality is opened up, and this is only the beginning of the journey, as not all supernatural entities are benevolent. It took me a number of years to learn the importance of discernment, after I realised there was a world of spiritual beings surrounding me. Demons and angels are constantly present in our world, whether we are aware of them or not, but only Jesus has power over them (Mat 8:29; Mark 1:35, 39; 3:14-15; Luke 4:41; James 2:19). He alone can keep us from the evil one (John 17:15), as Satan and the fallen angels who accompany him are all created beings and are therefore subject to their Creator.

Most people assume Satan has immortality, but what God has created, He can also destroy. When attempting to understand Satan’s eternal destiny the following two passages from the OT may be worth examining. Some commentators believe these refer to Satan.

You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought fire out from your midst; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the Earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever. (Ezekiel 28:14-19)

I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:11-14)

There is a possibility that Satan and the fallen angels may suffer for a time and then be completely annihilated. For a creature that has enjoyed great power, who views himself as immortal, the death sentence would be a devastating punishment. But God is perfectly just, and perfect justice may be served by Satan experiencing the full portion of the pain he has caused, his life may be “prolonged for a season and a time” so that he will experience torment in the Lake of Fire (Mat 25:41) before he forfeits his life at the final punishment, capital punishment.

Throughout world history Satan has been the ruler of the dark powers who work to deceive and lead people astray. Paul warns the followers of Jesus to be ready for the battle. He writes:

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Eph 6:11-13)

In The Bible we find Satan continually endeavouring to tempt people to reject God’s guidance and Word. He tempted Adam and Eve and they listened to His lies and doubted God’s Word, with devastating consequences. When he tried to tempt Jesus by misrepresenting God’s Word, Satan was answered with Scripture.

temptationJesus patently demonstrated His respect for the power and authority of God’s Word by addressing Satan with quotes from the scriptures. Matthew records:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights He fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But Jesus told Him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took Him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If You are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order His angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.'”

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.”

Next the devil took Him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to You,” he said, “if You will kneel down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only Him.” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. (Mat 4:1-11)

Our modern society refuses to even acknowledge Satan’s existence. He is therefore able to work powerfully throughout the world deceiving and at times even indwelling people. Luke tells us:

Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. (Luke 22:3-4)

Since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Holy Spirit has been holding back the powers of evil, but in the last days, when God withdraws the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, there will be a time of great chaos and turmoil in the world. Those who have opposed Jesus’ teachings will finally have their way; they will have a world without “God botherers” bothering them. Paul explains:

The secret power of evil is already working in the world now. But there is One who is stopping that secret power of evil. And He will continue to stop it until He is taken out of the way. (2 Thes 2:7)

God’s ultimate plan is to bring Satan’s influence over the world to an end, but at this present time He appears to be allowing Satan to tempt and oppose humankind so that the true nature of people’s hearts and minds may be tested. Before the Father determines the time is right for this present world to be brought to an end and Satan’s activities are completely terminated, there will be a short period when the Restrainer is removed and Satan’s activities will be at their most powerful. Before we examine the Biblical teaching on the end times there is one other area to consider.

70 The intermediate state

The Bible’s teaching on the fate of believers between death and the resurrection can be difficult to fathom. Although believers are assured they will ultimately be with Christ in His kingdom, where He is preparing a place for them (John 14:2), opinions differ on the place of the believing dead. In theological circles, the time between the death of the physical body and the resurrection of a believer is called the intermediate state.

The concept of the tripartite nature of human beings is alluded to throughout the scriptures (1 Sam 1:15; Ecc 6:9), but Paul gives a more direct teaching on the subject when he writes to the Thessalonians:

…and the God of the peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be kept blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ; (1Th 5:23)

While the writer to the Hebrews adds:

For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two–edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Some believe that the spirit and soul of believers go to be with the Lord immediately after death and later, at the resurrection, they are reunited with their transformed, resurrected bodies. Others believe the soul “sleeps” until the resurrection, this idea is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:14, where Paul writes about those who “sleep in Jesus,” although this appears to contradict Jesus’ words when He assured the criminal who was crucified next to Him:

I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise. (Luke 23:43).

There are also those who believe heaven is not a physical place and claim we do not need physical bodies to be present there. This group suggests that disembodied saints are present as soul and spirit with the Lord in heaven until they are reunited with their bodies, which have been “sleeping” in the grave awaiting the resurrection. However, we do not know if angels have some form of physical bodies in the place we call heaven. They certainly appear with visible bodies when they interact with people throughout The Bible (Num 22:31; Judg 6:11ff; 13:3ff; 2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chron 21:15-30; Zech 1:9ff; Mat 28:2-7; Luke 1:11-20; Luke 1:19-38; Luke 2:9-14; Acts 5:19). We do know that God is Spirit (John 4:24), but we also know that Jesus took His resurrected body with Him to heaven (Acts 1:9–11); therefore He, at least, probably has a physical body in the heavenly dimension.

To resolve the issue of the two apparently contradictory scripture passages related to the intermediate state, it seems quite reasonable to speculate that, as God is not bound by time and space, Jesus could take believers to be with Him “today,” while earthly time moves on thousands of years in a Rip van Winkle fashion. After death, believers may step out of time and then back into time for the first resurrection before the Rapture. We could all die and be immediately resurrected and raptured on the same “day,” at the same “time,” even though from our earthly perspectives our deaths could be hundreds, if not thousands of years apart. For God to explain this concept to a world where the idea of time as a dimension had not yet been developed, He may have used the word “sleep” as a metaphor for stepping outside of our current state of conscious existence into timeless reality.

This understanding of the intermediate state lasting no more than a blink of an eye for everyone throughout history could also apply to unbelievers. The place of the unbelieving dead may not be within time as we understand it, but could also be beyond time. Unbelievers may be resurrected immediately after they die and the concept of a place of the dead (where the deceased are held until their resurrection) may be just that, a concept, which was useful until the deeper reality of life after death could be more fully explained after Jesus’ resurrection. Whatever may prove to be the case we will all be resurrected to stand before our Creator when Jesus returns.

For both the believer and the unbeliever, the state of being that exists between death and the resurrection is a temporary state. Beyond this present Church Age, which is the period of time when God is bringing in the harvest of souls for His Eternal Kingdom (Mat 9:37, 38; 13:30, 39; Mark 4:27; Luke 10:2 John 4:35), is an eternal destiny that The Bible describes in prophecy and Jesus refers to as eternal life (John 3:16). For those who believe the gospel and consequently accept God’s gift of salvation, that destiny is filled with hope and love. However, the eternal destiny for those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ is an area that every unbeliever should seriously examine. Jesus explained that those who do not receive the gift of eternal life will inevitably perish (John 3:16).

Every person alive owes it to themselves and their loved ones to be well informed about what Jesus Christ had to say concerning life beyond our present state of existence. Jesus is the only person who has made the claims He makes about His authority to inform us of this vital aspect of our existence. He is also the only person who has been to the grave and returned to life, announcing He had made a Way for His followers to do the same. The issue is not which version of His story we choose to believe, because there is only one that has God’s stamp of approval, and that is The Bible’s version. The issue is about the person Himself, we can either accept that Jesus was who He said He was, God incarnate, or we can reject Him and His gifts of salvation and eternal life.



48 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. (1662 – 1714), e-Sword edition.

What is the second death?

Contents of this chapter

101 Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Hell
102 The rich man and Lazarus
103 What is the outer darkness?
104 Purification, annihilation or eternal torment
105 The Biblical view of immortal souls
106 The Old Testament
107 The New Testament
108 The Lake of Fire
109 The Justice of God
110 Does ignorance of God’s law excuse us?
111 God gave us stewardship over His creation
112 What purpose does punishment serve?
113 Punishment can be exclusion, exile and expulsion
114 Restorative and retributive justice
115 The apostles are silent
116 The Judgment Seat of Christ

100 What is the second death?

The term second death is used in the Revelation four times:

  1. The first is an encouragement to the overcomers in the church of Smyrna (Rev 2:11). Those faithful servants, who stand fast against Satan, even to the point of giving their lives, will not be hurt by the second death.
  2. The second is an assurance to the Tribulation Saints who do not take the mark of the beast, but are martyred then raised in the first resurrection (Rev.20:6) The second death has “no power” over the saints who have a part in the first resurrection.
  3. The third usage (Rev 20:14) describes the final destruction of death and hell. They are cast into the Lake of Fire where the second death eliminates death (1 Cor 15:26, Rev 21:4) and, we can assume, hell also (there is no reason to believe their fates are different).
  4. Finally (Rev. 21:8) unbelievers are also cast into the Lake of Fire to experience the second death.

The first death is, of course, the death of the body. No one could deny the reality of the bodily death of people, who have lived throughout the ages, but many questions surround the fate of their spirit and soul. Christianity teaches that human, mortal life will end with death, because death entered the world following Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. The Bible tells us that individuals have a choice between two resurrections, two judgments and two eternal destinies following physical death.

graveyardAll of humanity will have been offered the free gift of eternal life, enabling them to be part of the resurrection of the righteous – the first resurrection; the alternative is the unbeliever’s resurrection, after which those who have rejected Christ’s gift of salvation will perish (John 3:16) in the second death (Rev 21:8). Believers are resurrected to eternal life before the thousand year millennial reign of Christ, and unbelievers are resurrected to condemnation and the second death after the thousand years have passed (Luke 14:14; 20:35-36; John 5:29; Acts 24:15; 1 Cor 15:12-13; Heb 11:35; Rev 20:5-6).

As with the eastern and New Age religions, many Christians believe The Bible teaches that humans possess an immortal essence. The popular understanding of this concept is that humans have immortal souls; although Christians who subscribe to this belief claim it is the spirit that is immortal. Those believers, who accept the doctrine of the immortal spirit, broadly accept one of three understandings of the second death. These three views are that unbelievers will experience:

  1. being cast into outer darkness, living eternally separated from God.
  2. a purification or cleansing process in the Lake of Fire, which destroys rebellion and brings unbelievers to faith by an understanding of Jesus’ love for them.
  3. an eternal existence of perpetual torment in the Lake of Fire mentioned in the Revelation.

A fourth possibility for the fate of the unbelieving dead is sometimes referred to as annihilation. Those who subscribe to this understanding, claim the biblical verses concerning the second death indicate that none of the three proposals listed above are scriptural. We are told the second death destroys death and (probably) hell, so that they are “no more”. People who accept the concept of annihilation suggest there is no biblical reason to assume the second death will have a different effect on human spirits, they can legitimately be assumed to be “no more”. People who accept annihilation as the biblical teaching on the second death also believe the doctrine of the immortal spirit is not a biblical concept. They suggest the second death means the absolute, eternal end of life for the unbelieving individual.

The period between death and resurrection for the unbeliever is usually referred to as hell or the grave. Let us examine The Bible’s teachings concerning this period before looking into life beyond the grave. Revelation 20:13 tells us:

The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds.(Rev 20:13)

From this verse we learn that the grave, which is also referred to as the place of the dead, is a temporary abode. Eventually, every person who has ever lived will be resurrected from the grave to stand before their Creator, who will determine their eternal destiny. The Bible looks at two aspects of the grave. Occasionally the sepulchre, the physical structure surrounding the grave is mentioned, but by far the most common use of the word “grave” concerns the place of the dead. This abode is often referred to as hell.

101 Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Hell

The four words in The Bible that are translated as hell are Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus. The last term, Tartarus, is found in 2 Peter 2:4 and refers to a place where angels who have sinned are kept in gloomy darkness until the Day of Judgment. It does not seem to have any relevance for the children of Adam and Eve.

Sheol is used throughout the OT and is generally accepted as the place of the dead, both righteous and wicked. It occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Bible and the KJV translates it as “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times and “pit” 3 times. Most modern versions of The Bible translate Sheol as the grave. OT saints hoped to be delivered from Sheol (Psalm 16:10, 30:3, 49:15, 86:13, Prov 15:24, Hos 13:14), but there was no clear OT teaching concerning a fulfilment of this hope. It was not until Jesus had died and risen that a full understanding of God’s provision for human life after death was revealed. Until that time there were only hints and hopes.

Gehenna, in Jewish theology, refers to a place of punishment for immoral people. According to some rabbis this punishment lasted no longer than twelve months, after which sinners were purified and ready to move on. By NT times it is likely that some of Jesus’ listeners would have been aware of this intertestamental rabbinic teaching.

gehenna5The origin of the word Gehenna was the smouldering rubbish dump just outside the walls of Jerusalem. This city dump was situated in the Valley of the son of Hinnom (in Hebrew “ga ben Hinnom”), which was known as Gehenna (a derivative of the Hebrew phrase). Refuse, dead animals and the corpses of criminals considered unworthy of burial were cast into this repellent valley. Most people aspired to a tomb that showed status or at least was part of a family plot (2 Sam19:37), while Gehenna would be reserved for criminals and outcasts. The bodies cast there did not pile up perpetually, but were visibly reduced to ash, and the place it symbolised was never seen by the Jews as a place of eternal torment. No Israelite would expect those who were cast into this fiery pit to live there forever, it was a place of dreadful death and destruction. To be thrown onto this dump would have been abhorrent to Jews, who had clear guidelines concerning the burial of the dead.

The valley of Gehenna was chosen as the Jerusalem rubbish dump because of its grisly past. It was here that wicked, rebellious Israelites had burned their children alive when worshipping pagan gods (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chron. 28:3. 33:6, cf. Jer. 7:31, 19:5ff). The shameful history of this valley meant it was a fearful place and it came to be seen as the place of the damned in Jewish literature. To be cast into Gehenna would be the worst possible scenario for a person after death and would have brought disgust, shame and dishonour to the dead person and their family.

Jesus only used the word Gehenna when speaking to the people of Jerusalem and surrounding towns, who would be well aware of the city’s dump. These people would never have considered Gehenna as a place where life went on eternally, to them it was a place where all life ended and was completely consumed (or was purified and moved on, if they accepted the rabbinic teachings on the afterlife in Gehenna rather than the OT teachings). Jesus used this word for hell eleven times when addressing a Jewish audience, but this in no way endorsed the shameful practices of the past or the traditions that had grown up around the concept; it would, however, have evoked a sense of horror at the thought of this being the destiny of the wicked dead.

Hades is the brother of Zeus in Greek mythology. He was the ruler of the nether world, which was referred to as the domain of Hades.hades

In Greek mythology Hades was a place for the dead, which was divided into two compartments, one for the wicked and the other for the blessed. In the NT the Greek word Hades is used 11 times (4 times by Jesus and 4 times in Revelation) and it is the equivalent of Sheol in the OT. Hades is often mentioned alongside death (Rev 1:18, 20:13, 20:14) and in Revelation 6:8 Hades and Death are actually personified.

While the Sheol of the OT had generally been thought of as the domain of the dead, the NT reveals that the abode of believers immediately after death is with Christ and God (Lk 23:43, 2 Cor 5:6-8, Phil 1:23, Rev 6:9, 7:9 ff, 15:2 ff) and not in a compartment of Hades. In NT times this Greek word for the place of the dead was often used, but the pagan Greek understanding of this place is not part of biblical teaching.

Jesus used both words, Gehenna and Hades, when speaking of the afterlife for unbelievers. He may well have been alluding to the time before the judgment when He used the word Hades, which is the place of the dead. When relating the final destiny of individuals after the judgement He used the word Gehenna to remind us that the second death takes place in the Lake of Fire.

102 The rich man and Lazarus

In Luke 16 Jesus used the term Hades when He told the story of two men who died and moved on to the afterlife, one was a rich man and the other a beggar called Lazarus. There has been considerable debate about whether this story is actually a parable, an account from real life or prophecy. The story follows four other stories, which are clearly parables, The Bible actually tells us this fact in Luke 15:2. Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son to show the love and grace of God towards sinners. He then turned His attention to the scribes and Pharisees, who had been murmuring against Him about the company He kept. The last two parables regarding the wasteful steward and the rich man and Lazarus are directed towards these self righteous, religious men. Both stories admonish the listeners to prepare in this life for the life to come, while the Lazarus parable adds condemnation for covetousness and pride.

Jesus came up against these religious leaders again and again. While claiming to know God they failed to realise that He was, in fact, standing before them. They were so preoccupied with their own earthly standing they could not see that they were sealing their fate concerning their eternal destinies. In John 8 the Pharisees asked Jesus just who He thought He was, they were highly offended that this “man” could claim to be God. Their hearts and minds were so far from the God they claimed to represent they totally missed the truth; Jesus was not a man pretending to be God, He was God, who had chosen to become a man, so that they could have eternal life and be part of His Eternal Kingdom.

There are those who reason that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is not a parable, because, unlike every other person in a parable, Lazarus was named. Jesus no doubt had a reason for doing this, but the idea that it would indicate we are hearing a story from life is in no way supported by the beggar being given a name. Perhaps Jesus gave a name to this destitute man because, more often than not, beggars remain nameless during their lives on Earth. In this story it is the rich man who remained nameless, while the poor beggar, Lazarus, was given a name. This, in a sense, emphasises the transience of wealth and power on earth. What we do know is that this is not the Lazarus whose amazing story is told in chapter 11 of John’s gospel. The Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead was a man of means; he had a home in Bethany with his sisters, where Jesus often spent time.

©Providence Collection: Licensed from

©Providence Collection: Licensed from

Jesus told this story of the rich man and Lazarus to illustrate the point that money should be used to help the needy, not to support sumptuous, extravagant lifestyles during our time on Earth. The OT had plenty to say about looking after the poor and needy and Jesus was reinforcing this concept. Although they no doubt did give to the poor, Jesus had just admonished the hypocrites for “blowing their own trumpets” while doing so. In order to appear righteous in public, they would have someone blow a trumpet in the street, so that no one could miss them as they gave alms to the poor (Mat 6:2).

In this parable Jesus was emphasising the point that God knows people’s hearts, and their final destiny will depend on how He views them, not on how the world views them. God is not impressed by piety, position, prosperity or power, and perhaps if that is all we seek in this life, we will forfeit true riches in God’s Eternal Kingdom, which is to come.

Many traditionalists use this story to support the doctrine of eternal torment, but it does not actually say the rich man would be in torment eternally. The Greek word for torment used here is básanos and it is only found three times in The Bible. The word means “touchstone” and indicates a trial by testing the purity of something. Such a trial would not go on indefinitely, nor would the Jews, who were aware of the rabbinic teachings on purification in the afterlife, view this as a teaching on eternal torment. This form of trial is aimed at revealing the truth and Jesus was assuring His listeners that an individual’s standing before God will be openly revealed and conspicuously evident in the afterlife.

As with all parables, allegory is utilized throughout the story, but it is clear the main thrust concerns Jesus’ rejection of the sort of religious piety that ignored the spirit of the law and the prophets, while overemphasising more trivial matters (Mat 23:23; Luke 11:2-42). When we look more closely at some of the details of the parable, the use of symbolism is clear. Abraham’s bosom is not actually a place where believers are seated on Abraham’s lap immediately after death, and the fiery inferno in the parable need not be seen as a literal picture of hell. Although the Greek view of Hades included something similar to these two compartments, which was a common concept of hell in Jesus’ time, it was not a concept the listeners would have found in the OT. Some Jewish writings do hold an adaptation of this concept, but Jesus did not reveal the true picture of the afterlife until after His death and resurrection. Even today, most would agree that it is very unlikely believers will ultimately be found seated on Abraham’s lap, while looking down upon those suffering torment in the flames after their death. This is certainly not the sort of heaven we understand from the rest of NT scripture, but it would have been common as the Greek understanding of Hades and the afterlife. As He often did, Jesus was telling a parable, using a well known idea from day to day life, to illustrate a principle.

It is telling that Jesus uses the word Hades here and not the word Gehenna. As mentioned before, Hades seems to be used when Jesus is referring to the place of the dead before the resurrection and judgment, while Gehenna appears to refer to the Lake of Fire, which is the final abode after the Day of Judgment.

God has not made this aspect of the afterlife completely clear in the scriptures. From NT teachings we can discern that the place of the dead for unbelievers is actually a temporary abode, a sort of holding place until the resurrection of the dead on the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:5). Ultimately hell will be destroyed, and therefore it is not an eternal abode. At the end of this present creation the place of the unbelieving dead will cease to exist, it will be cast into the Lake of Fire along with the unbelievers (Rev 20:12-15).

103 What is the outer darkness?

One possibility that has been suggested as the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead, is that after judgment they will be cast out into a place where they are eternally separated from God, in “outer darkness.” There are three verses in Matthew’s gospel that may be at the root of the idea that the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead is a conscious, eternal existence in outer darkness. These verses are all records of Jesus’ words and the first is:

But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 8:12)

Next we find:

Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mat 22:13)

Finally Matthew records Jesus saying:

Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mat 25:30)

In each of these verses Jesus is instructing the listeners concerning the fate of the Jewish people who have had the light of the OT scriptures, and have heard His preaching, but have nevertheless refused to accept that He is the long awaited Messiah. By rejecting the light of the gospel they are condemned to the outer darkness of ignorance and error concerning God’s divine plan for humanity.

The word “darkness” in these verses comes from a Greek word that means shadiness or obscurity. For those who reject God’s Messiah there is only a darkened or obscured understanding of the great plan of Yahweh to create an eternal family for Himself. In the end, when they finally understand their folly, there is nothing left but weeping for those who refuse to come into the Light, while many will gnash their teeth in anger at God for not doing what they think He should do.

In John’s gospel Jesus gives a further hint about the darkness that influences our thoughts and deeds in this present world. He says:

He who believes on Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18-19)

John also records:

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)

Once again Jesus explained that we can choose to remain in the darkness of disbelief, but He offers each one of us the “light that leads to life.” The darkness of the grave is also referenced in the term outer darkness, but unbelievers will not remain forever in the grave, they will be resurrected for the Day of Judgment. Regarding this outer darkness as an eternal, conscious existence, separated from God, cannot be sustained in the light of 1 Corinthians 15:28, which looks forward to a time when God is all in all. Darkness is often contrasted with light in the scriptures and it usually represents the absence of God’s wisdom and light. Eternal darkness cannot exist when God is all in all. This doctrine also assumes that every person possesses an immortal spirit. We will examine this concept shortly.

104 Purification, eternal torment or annihilation

Apart from outer darkness, the three main scenarios for the fate of the unbelieving dead are:

  1. purification
  2. eternal torment.
  3. annihilation

If we accept that the Lake of Fire is a place of purification we overlook the fact that people can and will reject Christ (Mat 10:33, John 6:64), and it is only those who are in Christ who will survive the final destruction of this present, fallen creation. Adherents of the purification concept are usually called Universalists, and they suggest that purification allows people to see Jesus as God and that all of humanity will naturally accept Him once they have met Him. This is not consistent with scripture. There are numerous passages that speak about there being many who will perish or be destroyed. One such passage is:

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will send you a prophet, just as He sent me, and He will be one of your own people. You are to obey everything that He tells you to do. Anyone who does not obey that prophet shall be separated from God’s people and destroyed.’ (Act 3:22-23)

The Bible teaches that people will choose to reject Christ. They have free will and they will exercise that free will to go their own way rather than God’s Way. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul discusses the secular world’s view of the gospel. He writes:

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Co 1:18-24)

This passage is clear, some people (those headed for destruction) will reject the Messiah, God’s Son. Thus the question remains, “What is the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead?”

If we are to believe the Lake of Fire is a place of eternal torment, we must make allowances for evil to go on eternally, after God has brought it to an end. God does not see torment as good, He has distinctly revealed in His Word that He takes no pleasure in disciplining His children. Our Creator wants all of humanity to turn back to Him (1 Tim 2:3,4; 2 Peter 3:9) and live righteous lives, but when we refuse He acts reluctantly (Gen 6:6). After describing their appalling behaviour He pleaded with Israel:

Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within Me, and My compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash My fierce anger. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. (Hosea 11:8-9)

God held back from the destruction of Israel many times, but eventually He allowed destruction to overtake the nation when they refused to follow Him. Israel is strategically placed in the Middle East and has always been surrounded by powerful neighbours. God need only loose His restraint on these warlike neighbours to bring about His chastisement on the rebellious nation He created. It is with reluctance that God allows us to suffer and His heart is torn as He lifts His hand of restraint or brings about judgment.

Another area to be considered is that if the “second death” is synonymous with “eternal torment”, it must be some kind of never-ending process. The OT prophet Isaiah declared that death will ultimately be eliminated, it will not exist after God destroys this present creation. Although the Revelation adds the word “second”, it does not mean this death is exempt. Isaiah declared:

He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people shall he take away from off all the Earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. (Isa 25:8)

The second death cannot therefore be something that will continue forever. After it has done its work, death, even the second death, will be swallowed up forever.

As mentioned earlier the doctrines of purification and eternal torment are based on the idea that some part of the human is immortal. Many cultures and religions around the world today believe we have immortal souls; however, many biblical Christians have a different perspective. In one of his newsletters Dr Edward Fudge so beautifully explains:

We are mortal, dependent creatures, who exist at God’s will, through his power and by his grace. Although we consist of earthly elements, we bear the divine image. Yet from Adam forward, we humans have denied our mortal limitations and coveted the place of God.

Dr Fudge presents the case for the last of the three potential destinies for unbelievers listed above. He asserts that unbelievers will be annihilated (see) in the Lake of Fire. I came to this conclusion myself before I found his teachings, and I find it the most biblically convincing. Those who accept this final possibility for the destiny of the unbelieving dead see the words of Jesus in John 3:16 as a literal and correct understanding of the gospel, without the gift of eternal life, unbelievers will perish, completely and eternally. And death will be no more (Rev 21:4). Dr Fudge also asserts that the idea of an immortal spirit is not a biblical concept. Many other religious traditions teach that the soul is immortal but does the Holy Christian Bible teach the concept of an immortal spirit?

105 The Biblical View of Immortal Souls

Dr Fudge contends that the idea of immortal spirits was introduced into the Christian community in the second century by converted Greek philosophers like Tertullian, whose pagan backgrounds were influenced by the doctrines of Plato and Socrates, both believers in human immortality. In the 1st century, Jewish tradition was mixed, however, most Jewish and OT scholars believe that immortality of the soul or spirit is not an OT teaching (see), but rather a philosophical concept included in some extrabiblical Jewish teachings. There is also good reason to believe the NT church rejected the concept of human immortality and it would be difficult to construct such a doctrine from NT scripture.

The OT does not discuss the afterlife in any great detail, leaving Jewish scholars plenty of room for speculation, thus many rabbis stress that Olam Ha Ze, or life in this world, is far more important than Olam Ha Ba, or the life to come (see). Jews are exhorted to concentrate on the here and now, and to strive to live good and productive lives, while appreciating the time on Earth God has given them.

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’ time on Earth, both Jewish and Christian traditions have developed many and varied teachings about the spirit and soul. Contact with other communities of faith has brought the concepts of immortal and even pre-existent spirits into consideration.

Many secular scholars insist the majority of Jewish and Christian traditions are derived almost entirely from Zoroastrianism and other, earlier religious teachings, but once again this idea rests on certain assumptions. The dominant humanist assumption that influences this claim is the assertion that God is a human construct. This assumption is the antithesis of the Christian understanding of God as the Creator, who revealed Himself and His truth to specific individuals throughout time. After carefully preparing a nation, He was born into their midst as a man, so that He could endorse and further reveal that truth, then die and rise to life to redeem humanity.

As a biblical Christian I now understand that God has been revealing Himself to individuals since Adam and Eve first walked with Him in the garden. Over the millennia since that time, when humans filled the earth after the Flood, people groups carried stories of God and His dealings with humanity into the four corners of the world. These communities have then passed the stories down to their descendents with embellishments and alterations over time. However, since God Himself came to Earth, endorsed the existing OT scriptures and instructed the writers of the final, authoritative books of the Word of God, we know where to find the absolute truth concerning spiritual and historical matters. Consequently, we should look to The Bible to discover what it teaches concerning human immortality.

106 The Old Testament

Let us begin at the beginning. In the book of Genesis we find Eve conversing with Satan:

We may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden,” the woman answered, “except the tree in the middle of it. God told us not to eat the fruit of that tree or even touch it; if we do, we will die.” The snake replied, “That’s not true; you will not die. (Gen 3:2-4)temptation of eve

From the beginning of time Satan has been lying to humanity about our mortality. He told Eve she and Adam would not die if they disobeyed God; but death, pain and suffering have plagued humankind ever since they believed Satan’s lie. Another interesting aspect of this exchange is that Eve told Satan she was not to touch the fruit of the tree. This stipulation was not part of God’s original decree (Gen 2:17), thus Eve had made God’s command sound far more restrictive than it actually was.

After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God set in motion the consequences He had warned would follow their disobedience. This disobedience was not so much about them actually eating the fruit, but rather, about them choosing to ignore God’s guidance and believe Satan’s lie. And so God decreed:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen 3:19)

God did not assure Adam and Eve they possessed an immortal spirit that would go on forever. Instead, after their disobedience, they received the explicit declaration that they would return to the dust from which they came. During the creation week the Creator had miraculously transformed this dust into human beings, and although this was distinctly different to the way He created everything else, there was no mention of immortality.

© Bill Osborne: Licensed from

© Bill Osborne: Licensed from

To be more precise, God informed the people He had created that they would eventually return to the dust from which they came. Only a few verses on, we find God ensuring Adam and Eve would no longer have free access to the famous symbol of immortality mentioned in Genesis.

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Gen 3:22-24)

In these verses we discover humans were cut off from the source of immortality at the very beginning of time. This was a direct result of their turning away from their Creator and rejecting His guidance. They had chosen to follow their own understanding and rather than trusting in God’s directions, they believed Satan’s lies. The consequence of their actions was that they no longer had access to the Tree of Life, which was the symbol of immortality. In John’s gospel Jesus tells Thomas “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me”. (John 14:6) It is as we live in Christ that this Life is imparted to us and we can once again have access to immortality.

Later in Genesis we find God promising Abram:

….. thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.(Genesis 15:15)

Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, Moses and Josiah were all “gathered to” their people after death (Gen 35:29; 37:35; 49:33; Num. 20:24, 28; 31:2; Deut. 32:50; 34:5; 2 Chron 34:28). This could be understood as a family gathering beyond the grave, but perhaps God had introduced the hope of an afterlife to the children of Adam and Eve as He developed their understanding of the promised Seed (Gen 3:15) and a resurrection and renewed access to eternal life. In the book of Genesis this hope is only briefly glimpsed, and later, when Abraham is discussing the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with God we find:

And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes: (Gen 18:27)

Abraham appears to express a sense of the transient nature of humanity, which perhaps enables us to view the earlier text as the dead joining their ancestors in death when they go to their graves.

Samuel records:

Jehovah killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to Sheol, and bringeth up. (1 Samuel 2:6)

This is the first clear reference to the possibility of life beyond the grave. In Samuel we find God can kill and God can resurrect a human being. Samuel understood that the Creator is the One who holds life and death in His hands; He created life and He can take it away and bring it back again.

From Job we learn:

Drought and heat consume the snow waters: So doth Sheol those that have sinned. (Job 24:19)

Here we find the idea that the sinner can only look forward to being consumed in the same way snow waters are consumed by heat and drought.

The Psalms also include many verses concerning the fate of the unbelieving dead.

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Psalm 2:9)

The writer declares that those who are “against the LORD, and against his anointed” (Psalm 2:2) will be shattered like a pottery vessel – they will return to dust. David also writes:

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: In Sheol who shall give thee thanks? (Psalm 6:5)

And from Solomon we find:

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecc 9:5)

These verses appear to indicate that there is no consciousness in Sheol.

Also from David we learn:

For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall not be. (Psalm 37:10)

Once again the wicked will “not be,” there is no mention of an ongoing existence. Some may suggest that this statement is from the perspective of those who remain alive on Earth, proposing that while the dead may no longer be evident to the living, they may continue to exist beyond our awareness. The problem with this idea is that it is based entirely on the pre-existing assumption that we actually are immortal beings. This idea is most definitely not evident from the text. David continues:

But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish–like smoke they vanish away. (Psalm 37:20)

Once again the wicked are warned they will perish – this verse actually elaborates on the idea by telling us they will vanish away like smoke. To accept the concept of human immortality one needs to change the understanding of the words “perish” and “destroy” that are used repeatedly throughout The Bible. If we accept that the unbelieving dead continue on in some state of perpetual existence beyond the second death, we must also admit they can never perish, nor be destroyed.

The Psalms continue:

They are appointed as a flock for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; And the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; And their beauty shall be for Sheol to consume, That there be no habitation for it. (Psalm 49:14)

As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! (Psalm 68:2)

But they flattered Him with their mouths, and they lied to Him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they faithful in His covenant. But He, full of pity, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; yea, many times He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath. For He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away and does not come again. (Psalm 78:36-39)

When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever: (Psalm 92:7)

Let sinners be consumed from the Earth, and let the wicked be no more!! (Psalm 104:35a)

Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked. (Psalm 106:18)

But from Solomon we find:

Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death. (Proverbs 10:2)

In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death. (Proverbs 12:28)

Solomon is extending the hope of deliverance from death. These verses make no sense unless the death mentioned is eternal death. We know the righteous do not live on forever in their mortal flesh. The death from which they are delivered is the second death.

However Isaiah writes:

The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day. The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. (Isa 10:17-18)

…but with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the Earth: and He shall smite the Earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked. (Isa 11:4)

My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. 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. (Isa 51:5-6)

For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD. (Isa 66:15-17)

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses 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. (Isa 66:24)

This verse is often quoted to make a case for the dead having some form of perpetual existence. However, the verse does not say the carcasses go on living forever, they are dead bodies. In fact this verse reminds me of the refuse dumps that have existed from time immemorial and were still reasonably common during my childhood. There was just such a garbage dump in a Sydney suburb not far from my childhood home, where animal carcasses and rubbish were thrown. If we had gone to “look upon the carcasses” in that dump we would not have seen living animals, instead we would see dead creatures in the process of being completely consumed.

gehenna3I can distinctly remember that the dump smouldered continuously, year after year. At one time the carcass of a circus elephant was added to the perpetually smouldering fire. The elephant was completely consumed, first by the fire that was heaped up around it and was not quenched (as it was continuously being fed with new fuel) and then by the worms that consumed what was left as the fire moved on to more flammable material in a different part of the dump. Eventually, as the fire returned to burn new material deposited over the elephant carcass, even the bones would be turned to ash and ultimately nothing but ash would remain, while the worms and fire continued their work.

In our text we find the worms feeding on the carcasses do not die, their role and that of the fire was to completely consume the dead. As explained earlier (under the heading Gehenna), in biblical times not just animals, but also the bodies of those who were considered unworthy of a proper burial, were thrown on these city dumps to be consumed by the fire and worms. At times the corpses of enemies who had been killed in battle were also disposed of in this way. The worms and fire would be seen to consume all that remained of the bodies of those considered unworthy of a grave. Although the bodies would be completely turned to ash and dust, the fire and worms could go on.

It is worth noting here that this passage does not say that the worms will “never” die. There is a Hebrew word (עוָֹלם ôlām ) that gives further meaning to the word “not” used in this text; the addition of this Hebrew word literally changes the meaning of “not” to “will not ever” or “never.” This word is used in other parts of the OT (Judges 2:1; 2 Sam 12:10; Ps 15:5) but in the above verse the text simply reads, “will not die.”

In Genesis 42:20 Joseph directs his brothers to, “Bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.” Later, when God is giving Moses instructions for the priests of Israel in Exodus 30:20 we read, “When they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die.” Also we find Zedekiah assuring Jeremiah in Jeremiah 38:24, “Let no man know about these words and you will not die.” No one would assume from these verses that Joseph’s brothers would live forever, nor did the priests Moses was referring to or the prophet Jeremiah suddenly become invulnerable.

As Chris Date points out:

….the promise is not of everlasting life ….. Joseph’s promise was that his brothers would not die by his hand as suspected spies, if they followed his instructions at that time. God’s promise to Moses was that a priest would not die while performing his service, if he washed his hands as part of that service during the course of his natural life. Jeremiah was not put to death by the officials of the king of Babylon before Jerusalem was captured, because he did not reveal the nature of his conversation with Zedekiah until its capture. (He continued to live, but this had nothing to do with Zedekiah’s advice.)

When the statement is recorded in Scripture, that someone or something “will not die,” a specific context is in view; no life is promised beyond that context. And in Isaiah 66:24 that context is the consumption of a corpse. Their worm, it is promised, will not die in that context, will not be prevented by death from consuming its host. This is an assurance that the abhorrent process of decay will continue unabated until the corpse is completely consumed; the worm is promised no life beyond that. (see)

In our verse, Isaiah also refers to the fire that will not be quenched. An unquenchable fire consumes all in its path until the fuel is spent and the fire burns out. The fires that burn in the Australian bush are often unquenchable, when they cannot be put out they continue to burn until the fuel is spent and eventually they die down leaving only the smoke and ashes.bushfire

Jeremiah (Jer 17:27) warned Israel that if they rejected his words and refused to keep the Sabbath holy, a fire that “will not be quenched” would be kindled in the gates of Jerusalem. This prophecy was later fulfilled by the Chaldeans (Jer 52:13) when fire utterly destroyed the city. The fire did the work God had decreed it would do, it could not be quenched until its work was done and it finally went out.

Ezekiel also spoke of an unquenchable fire that would burn the forest of the south, burning every green tree and every dry tree (Ez 20:47,48) in its path. This image is not of an eternal, ongoing judgment, but rather a judgment that will endure until its consuming work is completely accomplished. The emphasis here is that these fires cannot be put out, they will not be quenched; they will do the work God has decreed of consuming the fuel set before them.

Let us resume our examination of OT passages relating to human immortality, in Jeremiah we find:

Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. I will utterly consume them, saith the LORD: (Jeremiah 8:12-13a)

And from Ezekiel we discover:

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Eze 33:11)

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, His desire is for all to turn from evil and live. Ezekiel declared that those who continue in their “evil ways” will die.

Hosea informs us:

But the people of Israel have bitterly provoked the LORD, so their Lord will now sentence them to death in payment for their sins. (Hosea 12:14)

Hosea reiterates God’s original decree, death is the penalty for sin.

Now they continue to sin by making silver idols, images shaped skillfully with human hands. “Sacrifice to these,” they cry, “and kiss the calf idols!” Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney. (Hosea 13:2-3)

The prophet Zephaniah gives a vivid description of the end of days:

I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of His jealousy, all the Earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end He will make of all the inhabitants of the Earth. (Zeph 1:17-18)

The word “day” in “the day of wrath” mentioned here is the same Hebrew word that is used for the creation days. This is a literal day when God will swiftly destroy all that is not preserved by His Spirit. The Earth will be consumed and a full end will be made of all evil before God creates the new heaven and the new Earth. God has revealed that He will use His wrath in a powerful and effective cleansing and purification of His creation.

Malachi also refers to the day when fire will burn up “all that work wickedness:”

For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal 4:1)

And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I do make, saith the LORD of hosts. (Mal 4:3)

Both these verses in Malachi mention the activity of a day. On that day all evil and wickedness will be consumed by the fire, so that only ashes remain.

To the very last book of the OT there is no mention of human immortality. The fate of the wicked was quite frequently to be reduced to dust or ashes and returned to the ground from which humans were created. However, there was hope for the righteous in the OT; some were assured they would rise again. Daniel was instructed:

As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.” (Dan 12:13)

David had a heart after God (1 Sam 13:14). He instructed his son Solomon (1 Chron 28:9) and others to seek the Lord.

O give thanks unto the LORD, call upon His name; make known His doings among the peoples. Sing unto Him, sing praises unto Him; talk ye of all his marvelous works. Glory ye in His holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. Seek ye the LORD and His strength; seek His face evermore. Remember His marvelous works that He hath done; His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth. (1Ch 16:8-12)

No doubt because of this close relationship with God, David had a sense of life beyond the grave. He believed he would be reunited with his dead son (2 Sam 12:23). Solomon also hoped for life beyond the grave, in Proverbs he writes:

The path of life leads upward for the wise; they leave the grave behind. (Pro 15:24)

For the Jewish people the hope of being reunited with family in the afterlife was also intertwined with the ongoing lives of their descendants and the restoration of the nation of Israel to its pre-eminent state in the Middle East. In Isaiah we find:

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. (Isa 35:8-10)

Throughout the OT a number of godly people expressed hope for life beyond the grave, but the fate of the wicked dead was rather ambiguous. It would be difficult to construct a doctrine of immortality for the unbelieving dead from the OT. However, there are a number of Hebrew words for “the dead” and one in particular appears to relate to departed spirits. This word is rapha and it is used in a number of OT passages (Job 26:5; Ps. 88:10; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:14,19). Departed or disembodied spirits are mentioned as gathered together in “the congregation of the dead” (Prov 21:16), but Isaiah explains they are nonetheless subject to eventual destruction. He declared:

Those we served before are dead and gone. Their departed spirits will never return! You attacked them and destroyed them, and they are long forgotten. (Isa 26:14)

By contrast those who “die in the Lord” will rise up and sing for joy:

But those who die in the LORD will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the Earth will rise up and sing for joy! For Your life-giving light will fall like dew on Your people in the place of the dead! (Isa 26:19)


107 The New Testament

By Jesus’ time there were a number of major sects amongst the Jewish people, but the ones we will look at here are the Sadducees and the Pharisees. These two groups are thought to have originated about 200 BC, during the time between the recording of the Old and New Testaments, when the Maccabees ruled in Judah. The Jewish-Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, mentions them, as do a few rabbinic texts, but they are mostly remembered because of their presence in the books of the NT.

Paul was a Pharisee who undoubtedly understood the differences in the beliefs of the Sadducees and Pharisees. In the book of Acts, Luke records Paul using these differences to his advantage:

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees: and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great clamour: and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ part stood up, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: and what if a spirit hath spoken to him, or an angel? (Acts 23:6-9)

From the preceding passage we learn that the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, angels or spirits, which would appear to indicate they rejected the idea of spiritual beings other than God and therefore the concept of an afterlife and  human immortality. By contrast, the Pharisees believed in spirits, angels and a resurrection, but this does not necessarily serve as evidence for belief in human immortality. It appears the Pharisees embraced the ideas of holy and unholy supernatural entities and godly people being brought back to life, but they did not necessarily believe that every person would continue to exist in some form after death.

There is a great deal of speculation about the beliefs of the Jewish people during Jesus’ time on Earth. Like all people groups, there is no doubt they had a vast range of beliefs within their community. They had been under the influence of Babylonian, Greek and Roman cultures and may have adopted concepts from each of these traditions, but we are here interested in The Bible’s teachings.

A few commentators have suggested that the NT reveals a belief in departed spirits becoming ghosts. Like the Hebrew language, there are a number of words for “the dead” in NT Greek, but the Greek word that has prompted the idea that the NT refers to disembodied human spirits or ghosts is phantasma. It is this Greek word that is used when The Bible records the story of Jesus walking on the water and the disciples’ fearful reaction because they thought He was a spirit (Mt 14:26; Mk 6:49). Some Bible versions translate phantasma as ghost, but a more accurate translation today would be spirit.

Artist/Photographer: Providence Collection ©Providence Collection: Licensed from

Artist/Photographer: Providence Collection
©Providence Collection: Licensed from

There is good reason to believe the disciples thought Jesus was either an angel or a demon, both of which would cause fear and trembling. The Jews had a tradition of demons taking on human form and carrying off children in the night. They certainly did not at first believe it was a human person walking on the water and there is no reason to believe they thought He was the spirit of someone who had died.

There are many verses in the NT, which continue the theme of the eventual, total destruction of the wicked dead that is carried throughout the OT. From Matthew through to Revelation numerous verses depict our ultimate destinies as either eternal life, or death. Paul used the terms death, perish and destruction when discussing the tragic, eternal destiny of unbelievers. A plain reading approach to scripture would view all of these terms as clearly indicating an end of life and not some form of immortality. All the verses that include such terms must be reinterpreted to fit the doctrines of either purification or eternal torment.

When discussing the concept of eternal torment there are a few verses that are usually mentioned by traditionalists to reinforce the doctrine of immortality. Having dealt with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the concept of Gehenna earlier, we will put aside the contentious parable and verses referring to that odious place for the moment and concentrate on one particular verse in the NT, which is frequently quoted by traditionalists as supporting the concept of human immortality. In Matthew 25:46 Jesus says:

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Mat 25:46 English Standard Version)

The Greek word translated as “punishment” in this verse is kolasis and in NT times this word was commonly used for the act of pruning. It comes from a root word meaning to dwarf or curtail and can be translated as “cut off.” The question a believer must ask is, “What does this eternal punishment mean?”

Dr Fudge addresses this issue when he writes:

Of the 70 occurrences of the adjective “eternal” in the NT, six times the word qualifies nouns signifying acts or processes rather than persons or things. The six “eternal” acts or events are:
1. salvation (Heb 5:9)
2. judgment (6:2)
3. redemption (9:12)
4. sin (Mark 3:29)
5. punishment (Matt 25:46)
6. destruction (2 Thess 1:9).
In four of the six, “eternal” refers to the results or outcome of the action and not the action itself. “Eternal judgment” does not mean that the judging will last forever, but that its outcome will. “Eternal redemption” does not mean that the process goes on without end—for the redemptive work was done once and for all—but that its issue will have no end forever. “Eternal salvation” is the result; we do not look for an eternal act of “saving.” And the “eternal” sin is called that because its guilt will never be forgiven, not because the sinning continues throughout eternity.

Given this regular usage of “eternal” to describe the results of an action or process, we suggest that it is perfectly proper to understand the two disputed usages in this same ordinary way. The “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess 1:9) of the wicked does not mean that Christ will be forever in the process of destroying them but that their destruction, once accomplished, will be forever. The wicked will never reappear. Paul’s phrase “eternal destruction” is in fact a clearer picture of Jesus’ generic term “eternal punishment” in Matt 25:46. This destruction is not accidental, nor is it self-inflicted. It is the penal outcome of God’s judgment. It is punishment, in this instance capital punishment. And, unlike even the capital punishment man may inflict, it is irreversible capital punishment. It is, truly, “everlasting” or “eternal” punishment, “everlasting destruction,” the second death from which there is no resurrection or return forever. It is the very fate we have met time and time again throughout The Bible. The wicked’s destruction will be just as long-lasting as the life of the saved. We give the dualism full weight, in keeping with the regular usage of the word “eternal” with nouns of action and in light of Jesus’ clear statement in Matt 25:46 placing “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” side by side. Never, ever after, in all eternity, will the wicked be.(60)

Matthew 25:46 could then be paraphrased as:

These will pass away to be cut off from life eternally, but the righteous will enter into eternal life.


They will go to the punishment that has eternal results, while the righteous will enter into eternal life. (Mat 25:46)

Once again this verse actually highlights the momentous decision each person must make. We can choose between light or darkness, goodness or evil, God’s Way or Satan’s way, life or death.

©Steve Creitz: Licensed from

©Steve Creitz: Licensed from

The overwhelming tragedy associated with the loss of individual potential can never be overstated; we were each created with a unique, eternal potential, which we can choose to realize – or forfeit. This verse tells us that those who reject the Lord of Life’s offer of eternal salvation will be cut off from their eternal potential forever; they will never, ever realize what they could become in eternity. The punishment for choosing Satan’s lies rather than God’s Truth has devastating, irreversible, eternal consequences.

Many other NT verses indicate that death is indeed the absolute end for those who do not accept the gift of eternal life. Matthew writes:

…whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing–floor; and He will gather His wheat into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire. (Mat 3:12)

This verse is part of a short diatribe from John the Baptist when he sees the Jewish leaders coming to him for baptism. He warns them that his baptism and their Jewish heritage will make no difference to their eternal destiny; they must bear godly fruit to avoid the unquenchable fire. He is emphasising the need for true repentance that leads to true holiness and he warns them that He who is coming will judge their hearts by fire.

Once again this is the fire that cannot be extinguished; this fire will burn for as long as the fuel remains. There is no indication that unbelievers will be given an eternal spirit that can endure the flames forever, they are spiritually dead and as with chaff, we would expect the fire to totally consume body and soul, leaving only ash. As Jesus said:

And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mat 10:28)

The word Jesus uses for hell in this verse is Gehenna, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would know exactly what happened to anything that was cast into that awful place (see Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Hell). They would know bodies were completely consumed by the maggots and fire in the Jerusalem city dump that bore this name, and here Jesus declares that the soul can also be destroyed in the Gehenna of the afterlife this disgusting place had come to represent.

Jesus also said:

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: (Mat 25:41)

This verse reveals that the everlasting fire was actually created for the devil and his angels. Sadly, the unbelieving dead will also find their end in this place. This end will be swift but sure as Jesus tells the people:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

The gospels of Matthew and Mark both record Jesus informing His listeners that they should deal severely with any obstacle that would hinder them entering eternal life. He said:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43-48)

Jesus references Isaiah 66 when He warns that anything that is likely to take us to hell should be seen as expendable; something that must be dealt with and destroyed, even to the absolute extreme of sacrificing a part of our own body. He uses this improbable case to emphasise the importance of His teaching. This warning reminds me of news reports I have heard that relate stories of people who have been trapped, and are forced to remove one of their own limbs in order to free themselves, so that they might live. In just the same way, Jesus declared it is far better to lose a small part of the body, which will ultimately be transformed into a perfect, whole body, than to ultimately lose access to eternal life.

Once again the word for hell in this verse is Gehenna and the listeners would have a clear understanding of what happened in that place. The continuously smouldering fires would destroy all hope of life. He explains that the worm will not die and the fire will not be quenched; they will effectively do the job of completely consuming absolutely everything that is subject to their destructive work. Whatever the hindrance keeping us from repentance might be, it is a small loss to relinquish it compared to the loss of our body and soul.

Although there is no mention of the spirit being immortal, the righteous in Christ are informed they will “enter into eternal life,” they do not already possess immortality, but must enter into life through the righteousness of Christ. There is no teaching here, or anywhere else in scripture, of God specifically giving an immortal spirit to the lost so that they can enter into eternal torment.

Jesus makes it clear:

For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Also in John we find Jesus’ words:

I tell you the truth, those who listen to My message and believe in God who sent Me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. (John 5:24)

Later in his gospel John records:

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again”. Martha saith unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:23-26)

lazarus risesJesus assured Martha that those who die as believers will be resurrected to eternal life in Him, after which they will never die again. However, after Jesus raised him in this passage, Lazarus did die again, but at the end of time, after the believers’ resurrection, he will never die again. Lazarus, and any other saints who were raised from the dead during Jesus’ time on Earth (Mat 27:52-53), will have experienced a second death of sorts, but this is a very different “second death” to the one that will take place in the Lake of Fire, that death will be eternal. No one will be resurrected to life again after that death, as the consequences of the second death are eternal.

Further on in John’s gospel we find Jesus saying:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6)

The listeners would surely have understood this to mean that this burning devoured the branches and there would be nothing but ash and dust remaining. Jesus gave no indication that this fire was unique, holding special properties that meant it did not completely consume the branches. Nor did He say that the branches had special properties that made them indestructible, like the burning bush. A plain reading of this passage would lead us to believe that He was referring to complete and utter destruction.

As we continue through the NT we find in Paul’s writing:

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned under law shall be judged by law. (Rom 2:12)

Here was the perfect opportunity for Paul to elaborate on the eternal torment awaiting the wicked dead, if he did indeed believe this was the fate of the unbeliever. However, in his letters Paul often declares the unsaved are destined to perish (1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15; 2 Cor 4:3; 2 Thes 2:10). This is the same word (perish = Gk apollumi ) that is used by James, when he describes the end for the beauty of flowers and grasses (James 1:11). Like the flower’s beauty, our lives are fleeting; miraculously lovely, but destined to disappear unless we are imparted with the immortality available only to those who accept the gift of eternal life from Christ Jesus. Without this gift of eternal life we will perish, just like the flowers of the field. God’s gift of mortal life in this world is marvellous indeed, but this life is short and fleeting, like the flowers and the grasses.

Later in Romans Paul writes:

For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)

Here Paul tells the Romans that death is the penalty for sin, he does not mention any change in God’s original declaration to Adam and Eve. We have learned from Ezekiel 18 that this teaching had continued throughout the OT and Paul, as a noted theologian of the early church, is reiterating this teaching. He is completely silent concerning inherent human immortality or any form of eternal torment. It is difficult to know exactly what the common understanding would have been at the time but it is probable that many of his listeners had not been influenced by the Greek idea of an immortal soul and they would therefore presume death was the end for those who were not partakers of the gift of eternal life. Paul certainly did not say anything to make it clear that this was not what he meant by death.

In fact Paul teaches that we are mortal, not immortal, he writes:

But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? (1Cor 15:54-55)

Paul was probably contending with the Greek influence in this passage, as the Corinthian church was in the heart of the ancient Greek world. He was making a definite statement; our bodies are corruptible and our souls are mortal. The sting of death is that it is the end of life: the victory is that we can have everlasting life through Jesus Christ. We are not immortal until we have “put on immortality” through Christ, and only then does death no longer have a hold over us.

The traditionalist might counter that the mortality referred to here is only of the body and soul, not the spirit, but Paul informed Timothy, using the same Greek word (athanasia = immortal ), that God alone is immortal:

He alone has immortality, dwelling in inaccessible light; no one has ever seen Him, as no one is able to see Him; to Him be honour and power forever. Amen. (1Tim 6:16)

Paul told Timothy that only God is immortal. Therefore we can confidently presume he was declaring the need for mortal humans to be born again in order to put on immortality. Paul was informing the Corinthians they should put on incorruptible bodies – their bodies were corruptible and they needed to put on incorruptible bodies; he then moves his attention to their souls, which also needed to be transformed from mortal to immortal souls. This transforming process is the province of Christ alone; no other can take a person who is composed of a corruptible body and mortal soul and transform them into a being with an incorruptible body and immortal soul, fully prepared for an eternal existence. But then the traditionalist may contend that it is the spirit that is immortal.

In another letter Paul explains to the Ephesians:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved. (Eph 2:4-5)

In this verse Paul explains that no one has everlasting life; we are spiritually dead because of our sin natures. We must be brought to life by our spiritual union with the immortal Christ, and it is His spiritual life that will then enable us to endure beyond the death of our corruptible bodies.

When writing to the Colossians Paul declared:

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

In the Good News Bible this verse reads:

You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; (Col 2:13 King James Version (KJV)/Good News Bible)

The Greek word translated as “quickened” (suzōopoieō) in the KJV comes from two root words, one is a preposition denoting union and the other word means to vitalize. Thus, quickening means to reanimate conjointly with or quicken together with. It is as we are in union with Christ through His Spirit that we are brought to eternal life spiritually. Until this rebirth, our spirits are cut off from God and function as a mere flicker of what they should be. This concept reminds me of the pilot light in my gas heater. It is a small flame that is separate from the main gas jets, but when the gas jets are opened the true flame burns brightly as the connection with the source is fully functioning. The NT teaches us that it is this quickening union that imparts us with immortality, without this union we are spiritually dead and the small spiritual flame that is not directly connected to the source of Life will eventually go out. However, although we are all born mortal, destined for death, those who hear and respond to God’s Son are born again of the Spirit and will live eternally through their union with Him. Jesus announced:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)

Some commentator interpret this verse as Jesus informing His listeners He will preach to the dead in their graves. This is not apparent from the text. Paul and Jesus both refer to those who do not have a spiritual, reanimating union with the Son of God as dead. These people where not physically dead, they were spiritually dead.

Luke records Jesus’ words:

And He said unto another, Follow me”. But he said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” But He said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)

No one already physically dead could be expected to bury a body. Clearly Jesus is talking about those who are spiritually dead.

As we move on through the NT we find in Paul’s writing:

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. (2 Thess 1:7-9)

The word for vengeance used in this passage has the sense of bringing justice to the situation. This is not revenge but divine, perfect justice – God will judge His creation according to His perfect justice and all that is outside of His redeeming work will suffer everlasting destruction. To view this everlasting destruction as some sort of ongoing, eternal process is once again to add to the text. Most people would accept that when something is destroyed it ceases to exist, it is broken down into its basic elements and it no longer functions. When this destruction is combined with a consuming fire, there is quite clearly nothing left at all. The result of the destruction Paul is warning about will be eternal.

Paul continues the theme of everlasting destruction:

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him by the splendor of His coming. This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them.(2 Thess 2:8-10)

As stated earlier, when writing to Timothy, Paul declared unequivocally that God alone is immortal. It is only as we love and accept the truth that we can be in union with the Lord of Life, who bestows on us the gift of eternal life and saves us from the way of destruction. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes:

…..He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. (2 Timothy 1:10)

It is difficult to know how this verse can be read any other way than to see it as a declaration of human mortality apart from union with Christ.

The writer to the Hebrews informs us:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Heb 10:26-27)

While Peter explains:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”(1 Peter 4:17-18)

Peter does not go on to answer his question here, but leaves it hanging. This would be a perfect opportunity for the acknowledged leader of the early church to set the ground rules and warn his readers about eternal torment, he does not. Like Paul, Peter is absolutely silent on the subject.

In his second epistle he writes about a number of people who have turned away from “the way of righteousness….. turning back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” He warns:

But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Pe 2:1)

Perhaps one of the most destructive heresies to enter the church is the idea that humans have inherent immortality. Satan wanted Adam and Eve to believe this lie and he has cleverly planted it in the traditions of the church, even though it cannot be found in the scriptures. Peter goes on to inform his readers:

So you see that the Lord God knows how to save those who are devoted to Him. He will save them when troubles come. And the Lord will hold evil people to punish them on the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:9)

After giving a vivid description of their activities Peter announces that these false prophets are:

….. springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved. (2 Peter 2:17)

If eternal torment were the ultimate end for these people surely something that is so overwhelmingly important, something that should be loudly proclaimed to all, would be clearly outlined here. But any mention of this eternally significant event is completely absent from Peter’s sermons and writing. He writes that they will bring “swift destruction” upon themselves, that “the blackness of darkness hath been reserved” for them and that the Lord “will hold evil people to punish them on the day of judgment.”

Taking these three statements together we have a picture of Peter’s understanding of the destiny of the unbelieving dead. He begins by saying their destruction will be swift – no hint of eternal torment. After passing from this life the unbeliever is kept in the darkness of the grave (Job 17:13) until the end of time. A closer inspection of the Greek reveals this darkness will last until “the end of the age” (2 Peter 2:17).

Next Peter mentions the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:12), when unbelievers are punished. This is the Greek word kolazō, which means to curtail or cut off. What does this punishment curtail if it is not the eternal potential of each person who has rejected the gift of eternal life? This is indeed a terrible punishment, but one which can be avoided. The method of this punishment is “swift destruction.” God will not linger on the Day of Judgment, the die will be cast and destruction (Gk apōleia) will be swift.

Moving on through the books of the NT we come to the epistles of John from whom we learn:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:14,15)

John reiterates the teachings of Jesus and Paul. We are dead until we meet the Lord of love. He goes on to say:

And this is the testimony, that God gave 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. (1 John 5:11-12)

James adds:

My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

From Jude we discover:

….. Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7)

We know that the fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah was not an eternal fire in the sense that it went on burning forever and ever. The morning after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed Abraham looked down upon the valley where these infamous cities had been and all that remained was the smoke rising from the ashes (Gen 19:28). The fire burned only until all of the fuel was spent, but it definitely had eternal consequences. Neither of those cities was ever built again, nor has anyone lived in that place, it remains an example, even to this day, of judgement and total, permanent destruction by fire. These cities were so completely destroyed by the eternal fire it is now quite difficult to determine just exactly where they stood.

When we come to John’s Revelation we find:

The one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The overcomer shall not be injured by the second death. (Rev 2:11)

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the Lake of Fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Rev 20:10)

Although I have no feelings of horror at the idea of Satan and his evil cohort being eternally tormented, the word in this verse translated as ever (aion) actually means an age. God may eventually destroy all that is evil so that nothing is left that He does not totally indwell with His holiness. He would then indeed be “all in all,” just as Paul writes:

And when all things have been subjected unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subjected to Him that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all. (1Co 15:28)

Also in the Revelation we find:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death, even the Lake of Fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire. (Rev 20:13-15)

Generally, traditionalists accept that this is the point at which death is completely destroyed in the Lake of Fire. As stated earlier, death and Hades (hell) are often mentioned together (1 Cor 15:55; Rev 1:18, 6:8, 20:13, 14) and in the preceding verses we find their fates are united. If death is destroyed by the second death and is “no more” (Rev 21:4) then it is reasonable to assume Hades is also destroyed.

Finally, the people who were not found written in the book of life and thus experience the second death must also be consumed by the Lake of Fire. For them to go on experiencing some form of life, forever in either outer darkness or eternal torment, would surely be a contradiction in terms. They are not found in the book of life because they do not have eternal (immortal) life: they have not been born again of the Spirit of God. They do not have any form of life that will endure eternally and here they experience the second and final death (Mat 10:28).

John continues:

And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. (Rev 21:4)

It seems traditionalists believe mourning, crying and pain will continue eternally in some “other dimension,” outside the new creation, while the second death shall endure forevermore, even though this verse clearly states “death shall be no more.”

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)

The idea of each person possessing an immortal spirit cannot be supported by either the Old or New Testaments. This strongly held tradition entered the church very early in its history, but surely, now that we have free access to the scriptures and many excellent resources to help us examine them, we can see that it is a tradition that should finally be put to rest forever. In this life every person has a momentous choice to make: our eternal destinies are in our own hands. We can choose to accept the gift of eternal life from the only One able to offer it, or we can settle for the second death in the Lake of Fire. This second death is the end of life, there is no hope beyond this eternal punishment.

108 The Lake of Fire

When John is discussing the people who are cast into the Lake of Fire he always adds the term “second death.” Unless we continue the practice of redefining words, the plain meaning of the scriptures seems to indicate that unbelievers are destined for:

  • the place of the dead (hell), which can be viewed as a type of outer darkness (Mat 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17), the blink of an eye (as described earlier), or a kind of soul sleep.
  • at God’s appointed time they will be raised to judgment (Mat 25:31) at the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29), which occurs after the thousand year reign of Christ on Earth (Rev 20:5).
  • the unbelieving dead will then be judged according to those things that are “written in the books, according to their works” (Rev 20:12). As Matthew records the sheep will be separated from the goats (Mat 25:32-40).

Perhaps those people who have not had the opportunity to consciously accept Christ as their Saviour during their life on Earth will have responded to Him in some other way (Mat 25:40, 45) and they will discover their names have been written in the Book of Life. John records:

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. (Rev 20:12)

Following the Great White Throne judgement (Rev 20:11), the unbelieving dead are cast into the Lake of Fire, where they experience the second death. This death, as we have seen, is the absolute end for Death and (probably) Hell, and it seems reasonable to assume it is also the swift, eternal end for the unbelieving dead. There is no biblical reason to assume human beings possess immortal spirits, nor does The Bible teach that God will distribute immortal spirits specially equipped to suffer eternally. The second death would appear to be final, it has eternal consequences; these tragic souls will never again be raised to life.

I have heard many traditionalists complain that this understanding of the Lake of Fire gives the unbeliever “a way out.” Perhaps they assume God desires the suffering of those who have rejected Him to go on forever, which is the opposite of the biblical understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. Jesus clearly taught that He wants to forgive us and that God is forgiving. Ezekiel 33:11 declares unambiguously that God does not take pleasure in seeing His children choose death rather than life. He is not a vindictive God, as the doctrine of eternal torment infers, He is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, compassionate and abundant in goodness (Ex 34:6, Ps 86:15). We are told in the NT that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness and faith (Gal 5:22). If the manifestation of the Holy Spirit brings these qualities then these are the qualities of the presence of God. The doctrine of eternal torment slanders the character of the God who is thus revealed in The Bible.

109 The Justice of God

However, The Bible also teaches that God is not only loving, He is also just and He will execute judgment. He does not lightly excuse the guilty but ensures justice is done. In the book of Exodus we find:

I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Ex 34:7)

We cannot look at the beginning of this verse without paying equal attention to its end. This is a time to allow scripture to clarify scripture. Ezekiel 18 has a great deal to say about the principle of the sins of the father being visited on the child. Perhaps two verses in particular give further illumination on this subject. Ezekiel tells us:

The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behaviour, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey My decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. (Eze 18:20-21)

How do we reconcile these two passages? It is by looking at the NT that Christians can shine a light on such apparently contradictory OT decrees. From Paul’s writing we know that no one can be saved by their own righteous behaviour, we all need the righteousness of Christ to enable us to stand before the blinding light of the holiness of our Creator and live (Ex 33:20). But when we are in Christ, God’s forgiveness is bountiful, lavish enough for a thousand generations. The underlying truth here is that the children share in the father’s punishment, because they share in the father’s sins, and they both need the Saviour’s gift of salvation.

Ezekiel teaches that any child who turns away from the sinful ways of his father and obeys God will not be punished for his parent’s sin, he will “surely live and not die.” Equally Exodus teaches that any child who goes on sinning like his father, will share the father’s punishment. By allowing the effects of the parents’ sins to take their natural course, infecting and corrupting the hearts of the children, God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; he does not punish sinless children for the sins of their father unless they continue in those sins themselves.

As Pastor John Piper puts it:

For parents who love their children this is one of the most sobering texts in all The Bible. The more we let sin get the upper hand in our own lives, the more our children will suffer for it. Sin is like a contagious disease. My children don’t suffer because I have it. They catch it from me and, then suffer because they have it. (see)

Many times as a primary school teacher I observed at first hand the negative effects violent or abusive parents can have on their children. Children who grow up in homes where fists are the only conflict resolution method employed, often use this method when dealing with their own problems. Culture, values and disposition can all be passed on to children and grandchildren, but ultimately we are each responsible for our own choices in life.

Romans 3:23 and 5:12 announce that “all have sinned.” Each one of us is responsible for dealing with our own rebellion against God. It is this rebellion that makes us sinners and  blinds us to this truth.

©Kevin Carden: Licensed from

©Kevin Carden: Licensed from

Paul goes on to remind us in Romans 6:23 that sin results in death. To insist that justice must be done in the matter of human sin, and then insist that eternal torment is a just penalty for Adam and Eve’s rebellion (and our own), means one must accept that God originally gave Adam and Eve a clear understanding of the penalty for their rebellion, and then at some point in human history He changed that penalty, when scripture gives no record of this change. The Ezekiel 18 passage above reiterates the original decree, those who sin will surely die and Paul reinforces this concept. If God had changed this decree without making it clear, His actions would contradict a principle of scripture. God was very specific about the consequences for breaking the laws when He gave them to Moses and He was insistent that the prescribed penalty should be rendered, no more – no less.

A quick tour through internet sites on the subject of eternal torment reveals some interesting concepts of justice. One site proclaims:

God does not annihilate people, He respects the creatures he created and their own choice so much that he will never take their life away.

It is difficult to know just what this statement is based on, but it certainly does not appear to be biblical. Another site declares:

Eternal sin must be treated justly with eternal consequences. Since sin is against an eternal God and sin’s effects are also eternal, the punishment therefore must have eternal consequences.

To a certain extent I agree with this sentiment, The Bible teaches that sin will attract eternal consequences, however, as we have already clearly demonstrate, if the second death means eternal annihilation, this is most definitely an eternal consequence. Never again will that soul be brought to life. Tragically, they will be eternally cut off from both the love of the Father and their own eternal potential. However, the above site (and many others) insists that the eternal consequences must be eternal torment, no other possibility is considered acceptable.

Perhaps because my entry into the Christian life was anything but orthodox, my understanding of The Bible is also a little unorthodox, but it is also possible that orthodoxy has lost its way and is clinging to unnecessary, unbiblical traditions that God wants the church to abandon. These contorted vindications of eternal torment appear to have very little to do with biblical teaching.

Yet another site insists:

Would not sin against a holy infinite God result in an infinite sentence of punishment?

And also:

….our sin is deserving of infinite punishment because of the infinite glory of the One against whom it is perpetrated.

These appeals to the idea that we are rebelling against an infinite God and should therefore attract an infinite penalty for our sin do not reflect the scriptural concept of justice. Nor do most countries that have a heritage and culture that grew out of  Christian traditions employ systems of justice that are based on such principles. The status of the victim should in no way influence the extent of punishment for a crime. The perpetrator is not punished more if his or her offence is against a person who is wealthier or of higher social standing (or even one who is an Eternal Spirit). Some jurisdictions do appear to exhibit this sort of reasoning, when they render a far less severe judicial sentence for a crime against a member of their society who comes from a less affluent socio-economic class, while ensuring those of this less privileged part of the community suffer severe penalties for petty crimes; but The Bible does not support this kind of discrimination (see).

A case touching on this principle has recently been decided in the Australian courts. A prominent heart surgeon, Dr Victor Chang, was callously murdered by two men who had been hoping to extort money from his family. The man who fired the shot, which killed the much loved and respected surgeon, had served 21 years of his 26 year sentence when he came before the parole board. The people arguing against his parole attempted to use the surgeon’s standing in the community as a reason for prolonging the sentence and the parole being dismissed; but Australian justice insisted that the status of the victim should play no part in determining the penalty for the crime. The murderer was released after serving the prescribed sentence for his crime, irrespective of the standing of his victim.

The Bible teaches the principle of justice that matches the penalty to the crime. In Exodus we find:

But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise. (Exo 21:23-25)

Scripture is very careful to teach that the status of the person should have no bearing on the penalty, it is the crime that determines the punishment.

You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment. You shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty; but you shall judge your neighbour in righteousness.(Lev 19:15)

Another comment from the internet declared:

And wouldn’t limiting the duration of hell diminish the seriousness of sin?

This comment touches on two issues. The first is the duration of hell. Annihilation of the wicked dead would in no way affect the duration of hell. If hell is the place of the dead, this abode will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire after hell gives up the dead at the end of time. The duration of the Lake of Fire is uncertain, but it is reasonable to assume hell will be destroyed along with death in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14), because there will never again be a need for a “place of the dead.” Some may believe eternal torment refers to people continuing as some form of living dead, following their second death, assuming hell is subsumed or continues to exist within the Lake of Fire. This idea is not found in the pages of The Bible. A plain reading of scripture sees death and hell destroyed.

The second issue this comment touches on is how we understand the seriousness of sin. To believe that the eternal suffering of the wicked dead will serve as some sort of acknowledgment of the seriousness of sin is to totally devalue the death of Christ. It is the death of Christ that shows us the seriousness of sin. The fall of the creation from its perfect beginning and the suffering and death of living creatures and the human population are the products of sin; Christ’s death was the only possible price to pay for that sin. If God was able to deal with sin in any other way He would not have needed to send His own Son to the cross. Humanity could continue in torment in hell for eternity but this would in no way emphasise the seriousness of sin, the voluntary death of the innocent Creator has done that.

The question we must ask at this point is, “What is the offence for which the justice of God demands restitution?” The biblical answer to this question is that the offence is rebellion against the legal authority of the Creator God over His creation. Because of this authority, God had the right to dictate guidelines and laws and Adam and Eve’s rebellion was evident when they ignored God’s direct, specific command. The consequence of this rebellion was that sin became part of the human condition. Humanity was cut off from its original, dependent relationship with God through rebellion, which means we no longer have free and open access to God or eternal life. The Father has informed us that He will not allow sin into His holy presence. Isaiah states:

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that He cannot save; nor are His ears so dull that He cannot hear: but your iniquities have caused a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. (Isa 59:1-2)

In His Word God has decreed that sin and its consequences will cease.

©Rolf Jansson: Licensed from

©Rolf Jansson: Licensed from

Those who dwell in eternity will have renounced rebellion against their Creator, understanding that it is rebellion that leads to sin. Instead they will have chosen to live without sin, so that they can enter into a relationship of obedience to the Creator, through the Lord Jesus Christ. As John writes:

And you know that He was manifested to take away sins and in Him is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin and whoever sins has not seen Him, and does not know Him. (1 John 3:5-6)

God gave Adam and Eve clear guidelines on how they should behave in Eden, and He gave humanity the laws and commandments as sound guidelines for living in the world He created. There is nothing arbitrary about God’s laws. He created a universe that has natural laws, spiritual laws, moral laws and fixed consequences; living according to His laws and guidelines means the consequences of our actions are positive. We can no longer revert to living in ignorance of good and evil. Adam and Eve brought the knowledge of good and evil into the human sphere and we must now make choices that have consequences. The Bible makes it clear that God’s way is the only way to live in harmony with Him. It is He who determines what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is right and just.

110 Does ignorance of God’s law excuse us?

Ignorance of the law can have a mitigating influence, but most jurisdictions will exact a penalty for breaking a law, even if the crime is done in ignorance. Scripture indicates that ignorance of God’s laws can affect the punishment for breaking God’s laws. In the OT the penalty was different for those who broke the law in ignorance (Lev 4:27-28; Num 15:27 ff), ultimately God knows what is in a person’s heart. As Solomon says:

If you say, Behold, we did not know; does not He who searches the heart consider it? And the Keeper of your soul, does He know? And He repays to a man according to his works. (Proverbs 24:12)

In the NT Peter told his listeners that he understood they had crucified Jesus in ignorance, but he instructed them to repent of their sin. God ensured they could be forgiven of even this crime; they had sentenced an innocent man to death (a man who was actually their Creator), but His death had been part of the bigger picture they did not understand at the time (Act 3:17) and forgiveness was still possible. The Father was able to use even this crime to His perfect ends. People had made choices, some definitely not in ignorance, but God foreknew the choices that would be made and worked all things together for good.

Paul also mentioned ignorance of God’s law when he spoke to the Athenians (Act 17:30). He revealed to them that the unknown God they had been worshiping in ignorance was disclosing Himself to them and they need no longer worship lifeless idols. He explained:

Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now He commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead. (Act 17:29-31)

The main issue here is the need for repentance. We may reject God’s rightful authority in ignorance, but ultimately we will all need to repent of this rebellion. The eventual consequence of our rebellion will be either repentance and forgiveness or the second death; God will bring every person to a point of decision concerning this choice (2 Peter 3:9). I sincerely believe The Bible teaches that even those who are ignorant of their need for repentance in this life will have the opportunity to repent before being consigned to the Lake of Fire. When Paul wrote about his ignorance in his letter to Timothy, he stated that God was merciful because He knew Paul was truly in ignorance:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do His work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve Him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted His people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. (1Ti 1:12-13)

God is merciful towards our ignorance, but at some point He will reveal our need for repentance and ignorance will be removed. Each one of us will then be faced with a choice between continuing in our own way or going God’s Way. In the world today we find willful ignorance in many people. Highly educated and intelligent people cling to their godless beliefs and refuse to examine any alternative to their own worldview. This is hardly the attitude of an open mind. Many choose to ridicule those things they know very little about. The creation/evolution debate is a particularly good example of this. Some people claim they understand creation science, but on closer examination we discover that perhaps a few lines from a website form their view, while they choose to ignore the wealth of scientific evidence that has been made available by numerous highly trained and qualified scientists. Does the choice never to examine any alternatives indicate a weakness in their own worldview?

Satan has been anything but ignorant of God’s rightful authority over him as his Creator. While Satan has been wilfully at war with God, attempting at every turn to thwart the purposes of God and bring evil into the world, The Bible tells us that because we were created as dependent creatures, we also bring evil into the world when we rebel against our Creator’s directions. We have imposed our sin on God’s creation by turning away from our Creator. If the punishment is to fit the crime, could this mean that the Creator would then turn away from us?

The consequence of God abandoning us would inevitably be our total destruction. We were created dependent creatures and if we persist in maintaining our independence from God, we will lose all, because ultimately we cannot exist apart from God. However, until God brings this present creation to a close and those who reject the gift of eternal life experience the second death, we can turn back to God and reconnect with Him, thus reconnecting with the source of eternal life. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Hear what God says: “When the time came for me to show you favour, I heard you; when the day arrived for me to save you, I helped you.” Listen! This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved! (2 Cor 6:2)


111 God gave us stewardship over His creationbeautiful world

Through our rebellion we have despoiled God’s creation by allowing sin and suffering to enter into our lives and God’s world. At the very beginning of time God gave humanity the responsibility to care for His creation (Gen 1:28; 2:15). Apart from our rebellion there is a crime against God that is best explained by using a parallel for a similar crime in today’s world. Let us consider a group of people who have been found guilty of wilfully destroying every great work of art in a renowned public gallery. If this group had intentionally defaced these treasures we would expect the perpetrators of the crime to be prosecuted. If the vandals were incapable of restraining themselves and unable to hold back their propensity for defacing invaluable treasures, we would ensure they could never come near anything precious again.beach pollutionGod created a universe that is so profoundly beautiful it almost takes our breath away. When sin entered the creation, the defacing of this beauty was incalculable, going deeper than any conservator could ever repair. The only way to restore this damage and prevent any future defacing of the priceless creation God made, is to remove the perpetrators and remake the universe. God tells us that we are all perpetrators of damage unless we turn to Him and resume the role we were designed for.

We not only damage the physical creation, but we also damage our relationships with other people when we are cut off from God. There will be no half measures in the new heaven and the new Earth, only those who have completely relinquished their sin nature and taken on the new nature God wants to give us, will be fit for the new, undamaged creation. The Bible teaches that we cannot remake ourselves, apart from the indwelling Spirit of God we are incapable of making ourselves fit for the new creation. God will not create the new universe to accommodate evil, evil will be no more.

112 What purpose does punishment serve?

As mentioned earlier punishment acts as a deterrent and must fit the crime. If we are to be punished for rebelling against God and our part in the defacing of God’s magnificent creative work, what punishment would be appropriate and what purpose would punishment serve? This is the point at which the traditionalist demands eternal torment for the unbeliever, claiming this form of punishment as the ultimate deterrent.

A deterrent is only effective if the potential offenders believe the punishment will actually be administered. Few unbelievers in today’s world would accept such a possibility existed; therefore, fear of eternal torment is not a compelling argument for acknowledging Christ as the Saviour of the world. The potential convert would also come to the Father through fear rather than because of God’s love. This form of outreach is the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings (John 3:16).

Believers in both the Old and New Testaments were instructed to fear God (Lev 25:17, 36, 43; 2 Cor 7:1), but this fear is better understood as an awe filled reverence of the might and authority of the Creator, a reasonable response to an intelligent understanding of the Eternal Spirit and the Greater Reality. A proper understanding of the love and power of God and His Christ should lead us to praise and worship (Luke 5:22-26; Rev 19:5), not dread and terror.

Although The Bible records numerous times when God intervened with judgement and punishment throughout OT history, this is not the dominant method God employs when dealing with humanity. God has continuously demonstrated His love by blessing and redeeming those who respond to His touch; however, His plans will be executed (Psalm 33:8-11; Is 14:24; Prov 19:21)) and those who chose to rebel throughout the OT scriptures were removed. God has been extremely patient and has not brought an end to humanity’s waywardness by bringing this present creation to an early end, but during this era, unrepentant and obstinate people have had to face the consequences of their rebellion. Throughout the OT God’s plan and purpose was never allowed to be thwarted by rebellious people (Jesus must go to the cross for all of humankind to have the opportunity of redemption). If they persisted in rebellion and posed a threat to the overall good of Israel and God’s plan for humanity, God removed them. Their punishment was often total destruction (Is 1:27-31).

Much of the punishment recorded in the OT was directed towards the Jews who had rebelled against God (Isaiah 42:42). Scripture reveals God’s purpose was always to bring His people back into a right relationship with Himself (Eze 14:6-11). Again and again Israel strayed from the path God had directed her to take and again and again God worked to draw her back (2 Chron 30:8, 9; Is 10:20, 21; 44: 21, 22; Jer 36:3; Hos 14:1-7). God was not punishing His people simply as revenge or retribution for their rebellion, His purpose was always that they would see the error of their ways and return to Him (Ez 18:30-32).

In The Bible punishment is often seen as a form of chastisement and the scriptures recount many cases when God chastised His people for positive purposes. In the Psalms we find:

Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest out of thy law. (Psalm 94:12)

I know, LORD, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me, LORD, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. (Jeremiah 10:23-24)

The NT continues this idea of God disciplining His children. The writer to the Hebrews states:

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:9-11)

The Father uses this positive form of punishment, or chastisement, as a way of turning sinful people into saints. Our God is a purposeful God, He is neither vicious nor vengeful, His actions are always part of His bigger plan. During the last 6000 years He has allowed His beautiful creation to be immeasurably marred by sin, thus the universal laboratory that is the Earth, has vividly displayed the effects of humanity’s rebellion. We live in a world where sin has been permitted to persist almost unchallenged (unless it posed a serious threat to God’s plans for eternity), the results of this living example are painfully clear to all; suffering and sorrow, pain and death surround us.

When people completely reject God’s offer of salvation, the NT informs us that destruction is the punishment God’s justice requires. It is our sin that has brought about the need for God to destroy this present creation and create a new one. Thus destruction will be the penalty for those who persist in rejecting the only Way God has created for us to live without sin and join the new creation, where sin will no longer be the devastating problem it has proven to be in this present creation. The eternal punishment for the unrepentant will be their total destruction before the new heaven and the new Earth are formed.

God has chosen to allow people who have not given themselves into His hands to guide their own lives, in so doing He has permitted humanity to plumb the depths of sin’s appalling consequences.riot

Despite His permissive sovereignty, God has been continuously active in restraining a great deal of evil through His civilising influence on human society. The humanist puts this civilisation down to human reason and an inner sense of right and wrong, which can be cultivated and educated to serve the community. The Bible teaches that there is a certain amount of truth in this assumption, but it also states that this innate sense of respect for human dignity and an understanding of ethical behaviour were given to us by the Creator (Romans 2:14-15).

Despite God’s design, which gave people a limited sense of right and wrong, many people choose to ignore their consciences and consequently they grow more and more incapable of living ethically. The Bible describes this as the conscience being cauterised or rendered insensitive (1 Tim 4:2). An observer of group dynamics would be aware of the reality of gang mentality. We see human nature at its most base extreme in Sodom, where gangs of men roamed the streets raping any new man who ventured into the city (Gen 19). Just one person can infect a whole group with encouragement to do evil. When writing to the Romans Paul laments:

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Rom 1:29-32)

Following this passage Paul goes on to explain that tribulation, anguish and destruction are the punishment for these crimes (Rom 2:9, 12; 3:16; 9:22). He describes God’s patience and tolerance in allowing us to continue in our rebellion because “His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin.” Once again God is portrayed as a merciful, longsuffering judge seeking the enlightenment of the unsaved, but eventually:

He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Rom 2:6)

Scripture teaches that God has allowed this time of rebellion and sadness in a fallen world to continue for a specific reason. Peter explains that God is patiently working and waiting for more people to turn to Him and repent (2 Peter 3:9). During this time God has not been idle, even though it would appear death and suffering dominate our world, He has been working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), as He uses the trials life in a fallen world inevitably produces, to enable His people to grow. Our God has a purpose in allowing evil to continue for a season, but eventually He will act and His wrath will also have purpose. He will use it to destroy evil and its associated consequences. It is difficult to understand where eternal torment would fit with this understanding of a just and purposeful God.

Eternal torment would serve no purpose for the sufferers, and God, from the very beginning of time, told Adam and Eve that the penalty for their rejection of His guidance and rebellion against His commands was death (Gen 3:3). Death is the end of life, and eventually death itself will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.

113 Punishment can be exclusion, exile and expulsion

In the OT, when people flagrantly rebelled, God’s punishment was often to exclude them from His presence. God told the Israelites that He would dwell with them in Israel and He brought them into that land. He chose Israel and the city of Jerusalem for His dwelling place on Earth and when His chosen people rebelled against Him they polluted the land, His Land, with their evil (Num 35:33, 34). God created the whole universe, and when He chose a small part of our planet in which to dwell, He had every right to manage it in a way that suited His purposes. When the evil of the people God had chosen to live in His Holy Land became intolerable to Him, and the people refused to repent, God sent them away from His dwelling place into exile in other lands (1 Chron 5:25; Neh 1:8; Ez 39:23,24; Dan 9:7). God’s purpose was not only to teach them that the consequence of their sin was removal from His presence, He also removed them so that they would no longer contaminate His Holy Land.

Jeremiah warned a group of false prophets who persisted in declaring they were prophets of God:

I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead My people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for My people. I, the LORD have spoken! “Suppose one of the people or one of the prophets or priests asks you, ‘What prophecy has the LORD burdened you with now?’ You must reply, ‘You are the burden! The LORD says He will abandon you!’ …. people are using it (their false prophecies) to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God, the living God, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. …. even though I warned you not to use it, I will forget you completely. I will expel you from My presence, along with this city that I gave to you and your ancestors. (Jer 23:32-39)

This is the ultimate punishment, and it is the same punishment God gave to the first murderer, Cain, who was also expelled from God’s presence.

Exclusion from God’s presence is mentioned throughout the OT and it often resulted in the destruction of the exiles (Lev 26:44; 2 Chron 30:7). When the people turned against God and His regulations, He withdrew His protection and blessings and eventually He punished them if they continued in their refusal to listen to Him (2 Chron 36:15-23). At times, after they had been carried away from the Holy Land, a remnant in exile repented of their trespasses and God brought them back into His presence. When God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28) there will be no place for the rebellious to be exiled or abandoned, there will be nowhere that is outside of God’s presence.

114 Restorative and retributive justice

The Bible teaches there are times for both restorative and retributive justice. Throughout The Bible restorative justice is prescribed for offences not causing physical harm to another person. The OT describes specific offerings that were decreed to restore those who confessed their guilt (Num 5:7) to a right relationship with God and a place in the community. Often, if property had been stolen or damaged, recompense was exacted, which could be several times as much as the amount originally in question.

When the crime included personal injury, manslaughter or murder retributive justice was called for throughout the OT. Once again the punishment was meant to fit the crime, and so we find an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life (Exo 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deu 19:21). This penalty may sound harsh today but it not only served as a deterrent, it also limited the punishment to fit the crime. It was against the law to extract a life for an eye or a limb for a finger, and one could not take revenge for murder or manslaughter on the culprit’s family, only the life of the offender was forfeited. The idea of destroying an individual, a whole town or an ethnic group for the crime of another person was totally unsanctioned.

The OT law actually made provision for a person who had killed someone accidentally and was consequently being pursued by the victim’s family or friends. A number of cities were set aside (Numbers 35:6ff) as a place of refuge for people who had inadvertently caused the death of another. This was not a complete acquittal for the offender, as the perpetrator would need to leave family and friends behind and remain in the city of refuge until a trial could be organised or until the death of the high priest (vs 28). There was also provision in the OT for a ransom or pecuniary compensation to be paid in cases of maiming, but not in the case of murder. Murder was always viewed as a capital offence (Num 35:31), but it was the murderer’s life alone that was forfeited, no other person was subject to punishment.

In the NT Jesus introduced a new emphasis on forgiveness rather than seeking revenge. As mentioned earlier His Way is the way of forgiveness. He directed His disciples to forgive, even though they might lawfully insist on justice being done in the case of an offence against them. To illustrate this point He told them:

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:38-45)

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage states:

…..we may avoid evil, and may resist it, so far as is necessary to our own security; but we must not render evil for evil, must not bear a grudge, nor avenge ourselves, nor study to be even with those that have treated us unkindly, but we must go beyond them by forgiving them……

This concept was actually mentioned in the OT (Pro 20:22; Pro 24:29; Pro 25:21, Pro 25:22), but Jesus is giving it added significance here. As Henry points out:

… is the second blow that makes the quarrel……let us trust God and his providence to protect us in the way of our duty. Perhaps, the forgiving of one injury may prevent another, when the avenging of it would but draw on another; some will be overcome by submission, who by resistance would but be the more exasperated (61).

Throughout The Bible the principle of justice is that the punishment should fit the crime, irrespective of the status of the victim, and justice should be seen to be done. Our rebellion against God is not an offence causing Him personal injury or death but our rebellion is a form of treason and we are guilty of criminal damage to the creation. There is no reason to believe that these offences should call for a punishment that entails torment that endures for all eternity. This was not the penalty God originally decreed would be exacted for rebellion. God does not use torment as a punishment throughout the OT. Instead we find rebellion against God, for which there was no repentance, brought exclusion, destruction or death (2 Chron 12:7; Ez 18:24).

In the NT forgiveness is called for when the crime does not cause personal injury, or the criminal is not likely to cause public mischief and therefore need to be restrained. The God who asks us to forgive, even when we have a justifiable reason to avenge ourselves on those who have offended us, does not torment sinners for eternity. The second death is just that, a second and final death, from which there is no hope of resurrection. This is the just penalty the God of justice and mercy decreed from the beginning would be exacted for rebellion against Him. This punishment means total exclusion from the new heaven and new Earth He will create in the world to come. We will either be made fit for this new creation, or excluded from it.

115 The Apostles are Silent

If the second death meant eternal torment, and it had been plainly outlined from the very beginning of time – rather than having been based on one questionable verse in Matthew – it could be accepted as the unmistakable consequence of an obviously momentous and catastrophic choice. This is not the case. God distinctly told Adam and Eve the penalty for their sin was death. Throughout the OT there are hints at the possibility of a resurrection after the death that so obviously awaits all people, but the NT informs us that immortality is only given to those who accept Jesus’ gift of eternal life. It also teaches that the alternative to eternal life is to perish by the second death and there is good reason to believe this death is eternal; when life is finally, completely extinguished, it will indeed be an eternal punishment.

If, when they carried the gospel message out into the world throughout Acts, the early church leaders had emphasised the horrendous certainty of eternal torment for all who rejected Christ’s gift of salvation; or they had written about it in their letters, we could say that God had given everyone an opportunity to hear and understand the new options. However, Peter and Paul do not mention eternal torment. Earlier, when examining the case for human immortality, I touched on the teachings of Peter and Paul concerning eternal torment and we discovered they were both silent on the topic. There are many places one would expect them to outline the vivid details of the hideous destiny awaiting those who reject the Saviour’s gift of eternal life, if the alternative was indeed eternal torment, but they do not.

This passage from Paul illustrates the point:

He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism. When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. (Rom 2:6-12)

God’s anger and wrath are not mindless emotions, He will not be venting thousands of years of pent up frustration. God’s anger and wrath will have the most prodigious purpose, He will finally destroy evil completely. As Revelation 11:18 says, He will destroy those who, through their own destructiveness, have made it necessary for Him to destroy the present creation.

King David had a close relationship with God and in the Psalms he wrote:

For His anger is but for a moment; in His favour is life: weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

John gives us further insight when he records:

For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Rev 6:17)

The OT saints and NT apostles depicted God’s anger and wrath as a short lived, but unimaginably powerful, resolution to the problem of evil. He will use His wrath with swift precision and there will be no need for it to be worked out for eternity. It will perfectly achieve its purpose in “the day of God’s wrath.”

Rather than an eternally drawn out time of punishment Peter tells us our lives are short and fleeting unless we have been born again of the Eternal Spirit.

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, Living Word of God. As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. (1 Peter 1:23-24)

And also:

He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall. They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. (1 Peter 2:8)

He is very clear when he later writes:

But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption. (2 Peter 2:12)

As an aside, this verse always brings to mind a terrifying incident that happened in my hippie days. I was living in a beach house with a friend and we had encountered a group of surfers who lived in a nearby town. My friend invited them back to our place and they arrived one wet afternoon when I was alone in the house. They were anything but friendly. They barged their way into the house and were intent on trouble.

One of the young men was called Ropehead and he decided he was going to rape me. I tried to reason with him but he was like an animal. I told him I had no intentions of giving in to him and he would be facing serious charges if he touched me. He grunted and raged and told me to shut up and lie down. In the end I told them I had a venereal disease that was extremely contagious and after smashing a few things they decided to go elsewhere for some “fun.”

These young men were like a pack of animals. Later, when I read this verse in Peter’s letter, the memory of this incident came flooding back and I knew exactly what Peter was saying. Some people do act like “brute beasts” when they listen only to their own base human instincts and refuse to listen to God’s moral guidelines. These surfers cared nothing for my feelings or wellbeing, they were totally bent on appeasing their own lusts. The fact that they did not hurt me had nothing to do with me, it was all about them. They went as far as they could without bringing retribution upon themselves. However, eventually people who live their lives like brute beasts will “perish in their own corruption,” along with the corrupted creation.

Peter goes on to say:

Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. (2 Peter 2:13a)

I was fortunate, the only harm done to me was that I was scared out of my wits and some household objects were destroyed. But people acting like brute beasts, who intentionally harm other people for their own satisfaction, will eventually meet their Judge, and Peter tells us their destruction is their reward. Those who are not prepared to accept Jesus’ gift of purification, so that they are made ready for God’s new creation, will be destroyed along with the old creation. Thus evil will be “no more.”

One of Peter’s sermons is recorded in the book of Acts, where we find:

….. You will not leave My soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your holy One to see corruption. You revealed to Me the ways of life. You will fill Me with joy with Your countenance.” (Act 2:27-28)

Peter is quoting from a Psalm here and is talking about Jesus’ resurrection. He explained to his listeners that it is through Jesus that they can find the “ways of life.” He instructs them to repent of their part in the death of Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ, and then informs them they should:

……. Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Act 2:40b)

The words “untoward generation” can also be translated as “warped age“. This phrase could perfectly describe our present times. In our current age people are in danger of being so caught up in the world’s passing promises, pleasures and pursuits they may ignore the importance of paying attention to their eternal destinies.

Peter preachingPeter’s sermon resulted in many souls realising the importance of attending to eternal matters and about 3000 people gave their lives to Jesus Christ and received His gift of eternal life.

Later, when Peter and John were going to the temple, they saw a man who had been lame from birth lying at the temple gate and they healed him. The man then went into the temple, leaping and praising God. This caused quite a crowd to gather and Peter once again took the opportunity to preach to the people.

Peter told the crowd that even though they had chosen a murderer to be released when Pilate asked if he should release Jesus, God knew they had done this out of ignorance. He explained that this was a fulfilment of OT prophecies, which actually predicted Jesus was destined to suffer. Peter went on to tell them that Jesus was now in heaven and He would return to restore all things. He warned the people that if they wanted to be part of this restoration they needed to repent of their sins and turn to God. Peter then pointed out that Moses had spoken of a Prophet, whom they would need to listen to, and he declared that this Prophet was Jesus. He cautioned them:

…and it shall be, every soul that will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed out of the people. (Act 3:23)

The captain of the temple guards and some Sadducees heard Peter preaching and were worried. Luke goes on to tell us:

These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. (Act 4:2)

Peter and John had been making and taking every opportunity to share the gospel message with the crowds in Jerusalem, but they said nothing about eternal torment. Instead they told the people that any soul who did not listen to Jesus would be utterly destroyed. They must have mentioned the resurrection of the dead, but there is no mention of the unbelieving dead being eternally tormented or separated into outer darkness.

As noted earlier Peter also wrote:

And by the same word, the present heavens and Earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. (2 Peter 3:7)

And finally he tells us:

And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

There is nothing ambiguous about Peter’s understanding of the unbeliever’s destiny. Peter and Paul both make it clear, the second death means destruction; they never mention eternal torment.

The writer to the Hebrews proclaimed:

With His own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. (Heb 9:12)

He then informs us:

… is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment. (Heb 9:27)

After which he warns:

There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume His enemies. (Heb 10:27)

And finally:

…..for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:29)

God’s enemies (Heb 10:27) are those who oppose Him. The Greek word in this verse translated as “enemies” comes from a word meaning opposition. This opposition towards their Creator will be what forces God to fulfil His original decree. Those who disobey Him will not continue to enjoy God’s gift of life, they will die. Our text informs us that they will be consumed when all that is outside of God’s rule and reign is destroyed by the consuming fire of His presence. Only those who are made pure by God’s Holy Spirit can withstand the consuming fire of God’s presence. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan 3) were able to withstand the fiery furnace that destroyed Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers, those souls who have been born again by His Eternal Spirit will be prepared and purified for His presence and will survive His final solution for evil and its consequences.

116 The Judgment Seat of Christ

Some believers complain that this understanding of the second death would mean that the atheists are right, they will have no existence after their life on Earth. This is not the case. The unbelieving dead will be resurrected to stand under judgement before the Great White Throne. Here they will finally be compelled to listen, and will then understand just what it is they have chosen to reject. There is no biblical reason to believe these resurrected unbelievers will be granted immortality at this point, The Bible does not say they will be given the gift of eternal life, or even eternal death.

We have a very limited understanding of God’s gloriously, wondrous gift of eternal life, if we are prepared to believe that the final realisation of what it is unbelievers will be losing by choosing the second death, rather than life in Christ, is not an unimaginable punishment in itself. But it seems the traditionalists want more, they believe people deserve to suffer eternally for rejecting God’s gift, while the believers enjoy a life of eternal love for accepting that offer.

This is human reasoning at its worst, and in this case, with virtually no scriptural evidence to support such a doctrine. We are imposing this desire for revenge on the God who has declared He loves us and wants to forgive us. To support this doctrine we must contort the scriptures over and over, reinterpreting the plain understanding of the words death, perish, destroy and consume. We all deserve the death God warned from the beginning of time would be the consequence of our rejection of His rule in our lives and His plan for the universe: we don’t deserve the glorious gift of eternal life our loving Father has provided for every individual in and through our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is because of His righteousness that we are no longer counted amongst the “wicked” and will be enabled to stand before the consuming fire of God’s presence, we have nothing to boast about. As Paul writes:

For who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1Co 4:7)

When Christians stand before the judgment seat of Christ they stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As Paul explains:

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and His gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one Man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. (Rom 5:17-18)

He tells the Galatians:

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. (Gal 3:27)

Adam’s sin brought death to the creation and death “ruled” as our ultimate destiny; but it is not Adam’s sin that keeps us from eternal life, it is our own sin, the sin of refusing to accept God’s way of redemption. Jesus Christ has been divinely appointed as the Redeemer and Judge. At the end of time, after the resurrection of the dead, the destiny of every person who has ever been born will be determined by God’s only Son. He is the just and compassionate judge, and ultimately we will all be faced with one of two alternatives, eternal life through God’s saving grace or the second, eternal death.


60 JETS 27/3 (September 1984) 325_334
61 Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. E-Sword.