Destiny of the Unbeliever
This study began over 20 years ago when, like many students of the Bible, I came to see three apparent contrary destinies (divine decrees) in the Bible for those who do not believe God regarding Jesus Christ—which actually is the case, if the various, respective verses are taken as they read in the common English versions (KJV, ASV, NASB, NIV, etc..).
Every popular organization claiming to be Christian maintains one of these three belief systems regarding the destiny of the unbelievers:
- Eternal Torment
- Universal Reconciliation (everyone who has ever lived will eventually be saved)
Does Scripture teach that the unbelievers will be made immortal for the purpose of suffering endless torment? Or does it teach that the unbelievers, following whatever degree and duration of punishment God may justly inflict, if any, will eventually be annihilated? Or does it teach that eventually, after all is said and done, everyone who has ever lived will eventually believe God and be reconciled to Him and His ways? Or are all of these belief systems missing the mark to some degree or another?
Many years ago I said to myself, “No wonder so many Christians believe in eternal torment!” It is clearly taught in the Bible!” But I also knew the doctrine of annihilation was "in the Bible," for I had read it there, many times. And to make matters even more confusing, several years later as I advanced in my studies I started to notice that the “Universalists” also seemed to have enough Scripture to proclaim the ultimate reconciliation of everyone, including the unbelievers.
Knowing that apparent contradictions in the Bible are due to either translation errors or one’s own understanding, I reckoned the problem was most likely due to my understanding. I knew that I was young in the Scriptures and still quite wobbly in my walk with God, so I decided to first familiarize myself with the positions and arguments of the most renowned and respected experts from each of the various groups. I was shocked to discover that these reputable Bible scholars (from three contradictory positions about eternal issues) were all equally adept at building a solid case for their beliefs. Each of them could logically “prove" their position by quoting from the usual English translations of the Bible. But which belief system was right, if any?
COMMONLY USED SUPPORT VERSES
The following three sets of Bible verses represent a small sampling of those most commonly used to support each of the three contradictory positions on the destiny of unbelievers. It can serve any Christian well to bear in mind that all three belief systems do have a biblical basis in the minds of those who believe them, for they all three appear to be proclaimed in the commonly used English translations of the Bible.
This first set of verses are a sampling of those used by mainstream Christianity to prove the unbelievers are to be tormented "forever and ever"; the second set are used to affirm the unbelievers will be annihilated and not eternally punished; yet the third set is used to support teachings which claim the entire human race will ultimately be saved. Of course, the various conclusions which people draw from these respective texts cannot all be right. Either there is some way to understand them all, and to interpret them all correctly so they do not conflict with one another, or else hopeless confusion will be inevitable.
1) Eternal Torment
This first set of verses is commonly used in mainstream Christianity, along with many other verses, to teach the doctrine of eternal torment:
Mark 9:43, 44: "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
Matthew 25:41: "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
Revelation 14:9-11: "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name."
These references, if taken as they read in the popular English translations, clearly teach the eternal torment of the unbeliever.
As a child I was exposed to several sermons about eternal torment. My initial childhood experience of "accepting Jesus into my heart", at the age of six, was a guilt and fear motivated attempt to escape from the torment of burning in Hell for eternity - I remember the day as if it were yesterday: My cousin had stayed at our house the night prior. We were throwing a ball in the house that Sunday morning (according to mom, a violation of divine ordinance in and of itself) and broke my mother’s favorite lamp. When my angry mother asked about the lamp we blamed my sister, who was then spanked and grounded for a week, "for lying about it." Later that day my cousin and I were in Sunday School, glorying in our brilliant escape from the wrath of mom, my Sunday school teacher overheard us - she was not amused. She grabbed me by the arm and starting yelling (in-front of everyone), "You are going to burn in Hell forever if Jesus comes back before you ask God for forgiveness! And you better mean it! You better ask Jesus into your heart right now young man! Before it's too late!" I didn’t know how Jesus was supposed to “come into my heart”, but my Sunday school teacher got mad when I asked, so I imagining it as a little jello-like Jesus floating around in there somewhere, somehow. This was a very scary thought to my six year old mind, but not as scary as being set on fire and burning in hell forever and ever, so I opted to "say the sinners prayer" and invite "Jesus" into my heart. I also remember a feeling in my chest from that little jello-Jesus coming in... or maybe that was just more fear.
Later on in life, after having read and studied the Bible myself for several years, the time came when I began to think a bit more deeply about the true nature of God, and to study more carefully certain other passages in the Bible, at which time a second set of verses were drawn to my attention for study and consideration.
Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Matthew 3:12: "Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Note that the chaff is burned up--not burned forever.
Matthew 10:28: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Again, the wicked are to be gotten rid of, just as bad fish are to be thrown away to decay and disappear, as Jesus taught in Matthew 13:47-50. Similarly:
2Peter.2:12: "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."
The discovery and research of these passages of Scripture and others like them prompted me to start digging a bit deeper. This ongoing search for truth about the destiny of the unbelievers led to this next set of verses.
3) Universal Reconciliation
In this set of verses, and many similar passages, if the words "every" and "all" are understood to mean "all without exception" and not "all without distinction", they can easily be used to teach that everyone who has ever lived will ultimately be saved:
Ephesians 1:10: “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”
Colossians 1:20: "And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven."
1Corinthians 15:20-22: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
Romans 5:18: “Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
For every verse in the Bible that seems to teach eternal torment or annihilation, one can find several verses to support universal reconciliation. But remember, one text is just as Biblical as another. Unless there is a way to explain them all correctly, we will be left with hopeless confusion. Which one of the three sets of verses would you like to be true?
KEY #1: BIBLICAL USAGE
In all languages, it is usage that determines meaning. For example, the King James Version records Paul saying in Romans 1:13 that he had often "purposed to come to you, but was let hitherto." Today, we would say "hindered," instead of "let." In just three centuries, usage has completely changed the meaning of the word "let." It may be spelled the same, and pronounced the same, but the meaning has been changed to mean the opposite.
Do the Hebrew and Greek words translated “Forever” mean unending?
Since usage always determines meaning, Biblical usage, certainly, always determines Biblical meaning. Please allow me to illustrate using the term “forever”:
"Forever", and the related terms "eternal" and "everlasting", often occur in verses in which it cannot possibly mean unending. I’ll cover this matter in more detail in the next section; but for now, a few illustrations should suffice. In the story of Jonah, while in the belly of the fish, Jonah declares, "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me forever" (Jonah 2:6). Jonah, however, was in the fish only three days and three nights. Similarly, in the case of a Hebrew slave who loved his master and who did not wish to go free at the end of the seventh year, we read: "His master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever" (Exodus 21:6). Of course that couldn't be longer than the slave's life span. Again, when Solomon built the temple unto the Lord, he began his prayer of dedication with the statement: "I have surely built Thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for Thee to abide in forever" (1Kings. 8:13). And the Lord answered Solomon: "I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou has made before Me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put My Name there forever " (1Kings 9:3). Yet Solomon's temple lasted for only about 400 years.
Here is a point that should be clear to any intelligent, honest person. A word that is used to mean, in one case, three days and three nights, in another case, a man's life-time, and in still another, a period of about four centuries, surely does not mean unending or eternal--no matter what English word is used to translate it. Usage determines meaning.
KEY #2: “ETERNAL” AND “EON” ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS TERMS
The terms “forever”, “eternal” and “everlasting” in most modern English language Bibles are translated from the Hebrew word olam and the Greek word aion, which mean "age", or "eon." For evidence of this refer to Young's Analytical Concordance, or any similar concordance. Incidentally, Robert Young in his "Literal Translation of the Bible" always translates these words by "age" and never once as "ever," "everlasting," or "eternal." The Hebrew "olam" comes from a root meaning "hidden." The word therefore means a period of time, but a period of unknown or hidden length. The word was often used to mean a man's lifetime because it was an unknown period. The adjective aionios is often translated "age-lasting" or "age-during," but would be more properly translated "pertaining to the ages," that is, something that occurs within the ages, but not necessarily lasting even throughout one entire age, let alone forever.
We have already spoken of "forever" in connection with Jonah in the belly of the fish; of a Hebrew slave serving his master "forever"; and of the Lord accepting Solomon's temple, "to put My name there forever." Another illustration is the Aaronic priesthood. According to the King James version, Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests "forever," It says, "Their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Exodus 40:15). Yet we read in Hebrews 7:11, 12 that the Aaronic priesthood is changed to that of Melchisedec. There would be no contradiction if the statement in Exodus were translated, as it should be, "to the age, throughout their generations." That is, throughout their generations as long as that age lasted. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and His disciples used, the Greek word aion was the word used for the Hebrew word olam. According to Hebrew and Greek usage, therefore, these words mean a period of time, a period of unspecified length, the duration of which is determined by the fact or condition or person to which the term is applied.
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is my personal favorite, but to show how confusing this whole matter of "ages" is in the KJV New Testament let us look at the word aion a bit more in detail. In the Greek text from which this version was prepared, the noun form is used 128 times, while the adjective form aionios is used 71 times. In the King James Version aion is translated "age" only twice. Thirty-eight times it is translated "world." In the Scofield Bible we find 35 marginal corrections for the noun and three for the adjective, leaving about 160 passages where the translation is misleading and no corrections are made.
But there is still more confusion, as a little study of the Ephesians letter will show. The word aion is used six times in the first three chapters as follows: In 1:21 we read "not only in this world (aion)" where it should read "age"; in 2:2 we read, "according to the course (aion) of this world (kosmos)"; it should be "according to the age of this world"--not the world before the fall of Adam and not the world after the millennium, but this present evil world and its wicked ways; in 2:7 it is translated as it should be, "in the ages to come." In 3:9 we read "which from the beginning of the world," where it should read, "from the ages." In 3:11, we find, "according to the eternal purpose," where it should read, "the purpose of the ages," while in 3:21 we discover "world without end" for the phrase, "to the age of the ages." To add to the confusion, the word genea, which means "generation(s)," is translated "age" twice in the third chapter: in 3:5 "which in other ages," and in 3:21 "throughout all ages." Is there any wonder that people do not know what the Bible teaches about the "ages"?
In various places, the American Standard comes nearer to giving us the accurate understanding of the noun, but never once correctly translates the adjective, either in the text or in the margin. Both the English and the American Revised Versions correctly have, "to the consummation of the age" in the margin, yet leave the wrong translation, "end of the world," in the text. Neither version translates Ephesians 3:21 accurately, "to the age of the ages."
We have no difficulty in understanding "King of kings" or "Lord of lords." Everybody knows that they mean the greatest King of all kings, and the highest Lord of all lords. It ought to be equally clear that "the age of the ages," means the greatest age of all ages, the great consummation of the ages when God brings to completion what He has been busily engaged in during all other ages. Of course, if you grew up in mainstream Christianity as I did, it may be as hard for you as it was for me to accept the Biblical teaching of God's ages; nevertheless, many things in your Bible will continue to be confusing, and apparently contradictory, until you see this truth of the Scriptures.
God was before the ages. "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory" (1Corinthians 2:7). The accurate translation is "foreordained before the ages." "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ before the world began" (2Timothy 1:9). But again, the accurate translation is, "before eonian times." "In the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2), should read: "before eonian times." God was before the ages.
God made the eons or ages because of His plan regarding the Christ. "God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things, because of whom also He made the worlds [ages]" (Hebrews 1:1, 2). "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God" (Hebrews 11:3). But it should read, "the ages were planned [or, "attuned"] by the Word of God." God made the eons based upon the advent of Christ crucified as payment for the sins of all mankind.
Christ reigns for the eons. "And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:33). This should read, "He shall reign over the house of Jacob for the eons"; indeed, for "Then cometh the end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father" (1Corinthians 15:24). The kingdom will then continue under the Father's rule, and it will have no end.
The eons [ages] mentioned in the Bible will end. A literal translation of Hebrews 9:26 would read something like this, "But now, once, in order to bring a conclusion of the eons [plural], He was manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
There are so many Biblical statements that become clear when one grasps the truth of the ages. For example, there seems to be a conflict between the statement in Joel 3:10, "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears," and the statements in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3, where reverse instruction is given, the swords are to be beaten into plowshares, and the spears into pruning hooks; however, when one sees that the first statement applies to one age, and the other two statements apply to another age, there is no conflict. Also, for example, when Jesus was talking about the so-called "unpardonable sin," He said, "But whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." The Scofield Bible translates "age" in the margin instead of "world," just as the American Standard does, and that makes sense. He will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come; he will carry his sin still unforgiven all the way into even the proceeding age.
The question naturally arises...
How many ages are there?
Different Bible students might vary widely in their opinion here, and I would be the last to claim infallibility; however, here is what I have discovered thus far to be true according to the Bible:
Throughout history, God has changed the “rules” by which He wants people to live. Every student of the Bible realizes this to one degree or another. For example, before the Church of the Body of Christ to which you and I belong started in Acts 2, God required animal sacrifice, but now He no longer does. Even a cursory study of Scripture shows that God has “administered” the people of earth differently at different times, and so many theologians call the time period covered by a given set of rules an “administration” or “dispensation.” The systematic theology that recognizes these different administrations or dispensations is referred to as “Dispensationalism.”
Examples of God changing the rules from administration to administration abound. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve to eat plants only (Genesis 1:29), but after the Flood, God changed the rules and allowed man to eat meat also (Genesis 9:3), and He still allows us to eat meat today. Another clear example concerns the Sabbath. Before the Mosaic Law, there was no specific law concerning the Sabbath. When God gave the Law to Moses, He changed the rules, and commanded that anyone who worked on the Sabbath should be put to death (Exodus 31:14). Today, in the Administration of Grace, God has changed the rules again, and it is not a sin to work on the Sabbath (Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:16 and 17). Of course, it is still a good idea to take a day of rest… or two <grin>.
Another clear example of God changing the rules from administration to administration involves the rules concerning marriage. Before the Mosaic Law, God allowed men to marry a sister or other close relative. Abraham, for example, married Sarah, his half sister (Genesis 20:12). A man could also have more than one wife in those days. God changed the rules when He gave the Law to Moses, and forbade marrying a half-sister (Leviticus 18:9) or other close relative (Leviticus 18 and 20), but He still allowed a man to have more than one wife. In the Administration of Grace in which we live today, God has changed the marriage regulations again. Today He advises against polygamy, saying that each man is to have his “own” wife and each woman her “own” husband (1Corinthians 7:2).
When Christians do not recognize or understand the administrations in the Bible, they cannot resolve its apparent contradictions, and become confused. It is of the utmost importance that the Christian who wants to understand the terms of the New Covenant (that which governs this present age) first understands the administrations in the Bible. If he does not, he may well end up obeying a command in the Bible that was not written to him. For example, what if a Christian took more than one wife, saying that the Bible said it was okay to do, and quoted Exodus 21:10? Should a Christian marry more than one wife just because a verse somewhere in the Bible says it is allowable? No, because we must consider where the Bible says that, and to whom was God addressing that regulation. If a person has psoriasis (sores and flakes on the skin), does he have to wear torn clothes, not brush his hair, cover his mouth with cloth, live outside of town, and cry “Unclean” when he walks down the street? Yet that is what the Bible says (Leviticus 13:45 and 46). Thankfully, those commandments were part of the rules God gave to the Nation of Israel, and God has given the Christian Church a different message to live by. Neither do we have to wear tassels on the outside of our garments (Numbers 15:38), nor do Christian men have to go to Jerusalem three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16). The people of the Nation of Israel, under God’s Law, were commanded to do these things, but now God has changed what is to govern Christians to "the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2), which is all about grace and believing the gospel, not law and works.
As far as I know, there are only eight biblical ages/administrations. There may be others that I am not yet aware of, but one thing that is for certain, the Scriptures speak often of this present age, and they speak of ages past, and ages to come. Here are the eight that I have seen and worked in the Scriptures:
1. Original Paradise (Creation to the Fall),
2. Conscience (Fall to the Flood),
3. Civil Government (Flood to the Mosaic Law),
4. The Mosaic Law (the giving of the Law until Pentecost),
5. The Administration of the Grace of God (from Pentecost until the Rapture),
6. Tribulation (from the Rapture to the end of Armageddon),
7. Christ’s Millennial Kingdom (lasts 1,000 years),
8. Final Paradise (will last forever).
KEY #3: UNDERSTANDING "JUDGMENT"
Regardless of the position people maintain (Eternal Torment, Annihilation, or Universal Reconciliation), one thing is for sure, "every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward" (Hebrews 2:2). The Bible is clear that judgment for sin is inescapable. As a matter of fact, there are more judgments than even most Christians have generally recognized. Some judgments are past, some are continuously present, and some are future. It is misleading to speak of "The Judgment," as though it were only one event coming sometime in the future.
It might help to list a few of the judgments of God upon sin. First of all, there was the judgment pronounced upon Adam in the Garden of Eden. That judgment has been operating ever since, and will continue to operate until the consummation. Then there was the special judgment of the Flood, and the special judgment on Sodom. There have been judgments upon Israel, such as the Captivity, and the Dispersion. One terrible judgment known as Jacob's Trouble is still to fall upon Israel (Jeremiah 30:7).
The Judgment of Christians
The typical mainstream Christianity church member has the idea that there is only one judgment at the great white throne; and that there everyone, good and bad, Christian and non-Christian, will meet and be separated like sheep and goats. That is not Biblical teaching.
The Bible teaches three judgments to be faced by every Christian. One is past; one is continuously present; and one is future. In one we are judged as sinners; in one we are judged as sons; and in one we are judged as servants.
1) Judged as Sinners
This judgment is past for every Christian. "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1Peter 2:24). But He did that 2000 years ago--and I do not know that you and I can do anything to add to its effectiveness. Do you? "For He hath made him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us" (2Corinthians 5:21). "There is therefore now no condemnation (sin-judgment) to them who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Why is there no condemnation now? Because Jesus Christ bore it then, over 2000 years ago, so we do not have to bear it now. We thank him that he has already borne it for us.
2) Judged as Sons
Through Christ, God has made those who believe His children. "For we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). "Beloved, now are we the children of God" (1John 3:2). He has already made us His children, completely unified and identified with Christ. He desires that we think, and, thereby, walk as such. The “prodigal son” was not son-like, but he was still a son. In order to help us avoid the same type of pitfalls and to help us receive His best for our lives and the lives of others, God works within us according to this “son-judgment.”
"For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1Corinthians 11:-31, 32). In other words, when we do wrong, if we recognize it, we do not condemn ourselves, for we are righteous in Christ, however, we do condemn that which God points out as a pitfall for us. God has our best interest at heart, Father knows best and works with us in light of the big picture. God prods us to recognize and forsake those things that are detrimental to our walk. And if we do not recognize it, or fail to follow His lead, then He may even "chastise" us--which word comes from a root word meaning chaste or pure.
This next passage from the book of Hebrews is perhaps the clearest on the matter, for it shows both the nature and purpose of this "son-judgment":
Hebrews 12:5-11: "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son [this is son-judgment], despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure: but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby."
3) Judged as Servants
This is the judgment that is still future. It is essentially a reward ceremony for believing the gospel, not a judgment on sin. Romans 14:10-12 "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
The believer will stand before the "judgment seat", the BEMA. This Greek word bema is the word for the judgment seat of athletic competitions - the place from where rewards are issued. On the day when Christ returns to gather his church, the issue will not be condemnation or no condemnation, but the issue will be rewards for things believed and performed according to truth in Christ. And there will be a burning away of everything else (those things which are not a product of believing on Christ).
1Corinthians 3:11-15: "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work [not his sin] of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Salvation is from sin; reward is for genuine gospel produced service. May God grant us a greater awareness of the fact that genuine service is built upon and produced by believing those things which are true about God, true about the Lord Jesus Christ, and true about ourselves and each other (not according to how we are in the flesh, but how God says we truly are as a new creation in our unification with Christ).
The Judgment of the Nations (Matthews 25:-31-46)
There will be a judgment for those remaining and living on earth during the tribulation age. There will also be a resurrection and judgment for "the just and the unjust" after the millennium age, at "the Great White Throne." (See Acts 24:15 and Revelation 20:12. There is also more on this in the final section of this hub.)
Judgment in General
Every sin ever committed receives a just recompense of reward. There is no escape. But it is a mistake to believe that every sin will be judged at one and the same time in the future. For instance, Jeremiah pronounced the curse of God upon Israel thus: "For Mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from My face, neither is their iniquity hid from Mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double" (Jeremiah 16:17, 18). The part of Isaiah's prophecy that looks beyond the Captivity begins as follows: "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1, 2). Now if her iniquity is pardoned, and she has received double for her sin, do you think God will demand punishment again for that sin? No, the true God of the Bible is not like that.
Nevertheless, every sin that has not already been punished, as those of Israel mentioned above were punished, or sins that have not been accepted by unbelievers as having been paid for by Christ, will be punished. Some will receive their just recompense in the crises connected with the tribulation and millennium ages, and some in the great day of judging that follows the millennium. These will be "eonian punishment," which is mistakenly translated in our ordinary versions as "everlasting punishment." It is not "everlasting punishment," but more accurately, "eonian chastening."
One hesitates to use the word "hell" in speaking of the judgments. In the King James Version, the Hebrew sheol, and the Greek hades, gehenna, and tartarus, were all translated "hell," while popular church teachings makes the lake of fire mean "hell" as well. Any careful student of the Bible is aware of these things. So that, no matter how carefully one tries to explain, he is sure to be misunderstood if he uses the world "hell." This is because, to the ordinary person, "hell" means a lake of fire and brimstone in which the damned (condemned) will suffer forever.
Of course, no one knows just what judgment will be like, nor will one know until one enters into it. Still, we ought to have a few trustworthy ideas, based on the teachings of the Bible about the subject, and about the nature of God:
1) Judgment will bring punishment, deserved punishment; but it will not be meaningless torture.
The Riverside Daily Press for November 23, 1940, had an Associated Press report from San Francisco as follows: "A Father's Curse was the legacy left by Dennis Donohue III, fifty-four, member of a well known family here, to his two daughters by a former wife, in a will filed for probate in Superior Court: 'And to my two daughters, Frances Marie and Denise Victoria Donohue,' he wrote in his own hand, `by virtue of their unfilial attitude toward a doting father, and because they have repeatedly thwarted my efforts to see them, I leave the sum of one dollar each and a father's curse. May their respective lives be fraught with misery, unhappiness and poignant sorrow. May their deaths be soon and of a lingering, malign, and torturous nature. May their souls rest in hell and suffer the torments of the damned for eternity.'"
Of course, such an attitude is not that of a true father; it is only that of a fiend. But what may not be clear to all is that, in this respect, this broken man is a perfect example of the God of popular theology. This man, because his children were unfilial, he consigns them to the torment of "hell fire," forever. In like manner, this false "God of orthodoxy" consigns people who fail to believe, for whatever reason, to unending torment. No more terrible insult was ever given to the God of all love and grace, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2) Judgment will be just.
"The Lord will count, when He writeth up the people, that this man was born there" (Psalms 87:6). That is, God will remember the heredity and environment of each individual. We read in Hebrews 2:2 that "every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward." Judgment will be just.
3) In order to be just, judgment will be graded to suit the offense.
In Luke 12:42-48, Jesus taught us that the servant "which knew His Lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." This one fact about judgment alone rules out eternal torment, for by its very nature, eternal torment cannot be graded.
4) All of God's judgments will be purposive; they will accomplish something.
"For when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isaiah 26:9). "Lord, in trouble have they visited Thee, they poured out a prayer when Thy chastening was upon them" (Isaiah 26:16). "Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness" (Hebrews 12:9, 10).
5) Judgment will destroy enmity and rebellion.
"For He must reign till He hath put all His enemies under His feet" (1Corinthians 15:25).
When enmity and rebellion are destroyed what is left to hinder faith and trust?
The pity about this whole matter is that many folks who claim to be missionary and evangelistic in attitude, and who insist that they want to see the unbelievers saved, nevertheless tend to anger if they are told that unbelievers will not be suffering eternal torment. It is God's Goodness in Christ that leads a person to truly accept God and His ways, not fear of eternal hellfire. Since the cross, being afraid of God is always a matter of unbelief, regardless of who you are and what you presently believe. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1John 4:18). When people learn about God's goodness, they revere Him, they become "awestruck", but never afraid of Him. Too many Christians are like Jonah when he got angry at God for sparing the wicked city of Nineveh.
KEY #4: ELIMINATING FALSE IDEAS ABOUT GOD
"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (i.e., false gods, or false ideas about the true God; 1 John 5:21). The most important aspect of the three proposed doctrines regarding the destiny of the unbelievers is not what their consequences might be in relation to the unbeliever, but what their consequences would be in relation to God. The most important thinking in the world is the thinking people do about God. True ideas of God lead to nobility of life; false ideas of God lead to the opposite.
What we believe and teach about the destiny of those who do not accept God and His ways is a reflection of our understanding of God's solution to the sin problem. God has been opening the eyes of His people to His love and grace in Christ, more and more, day by day, since the reformation first began over 500 years ago. The gospel is being made known in our times like it has not been known since the First Century Church; however, we still have much more to consider regarding the destiny of those who do not believe God. Nevertheless, one thing should be clear by now to any true Christian, and that is this: eternal torment offers the most illogical and fiendish solution to this dilemma, to say the least. For we can see now by the light of the abundance of gospel truth being taught in the church today, whatever the penalty for sin is, Jesus Christ endured it to the full in order to become the Saviour for all of mankind. If the penalty for sin is eternal torment, Jesus Christ could not be anyone’s Saviour, for He was not eternally tormented.
Such a God who would inflict eternal torment might well be feared, but could He ever be truly loved? No wonder the little girl who heard her father preach about eternal torment wished that God were as kind as her father.
One other factor should be noted at this point. In the eternal torment doctrine, God is supposed to cause the unbelievers to suffer in the fire and brimstone for all eternity without His feeling any concern over their suffering. Does this sound like the same God who gave His Only Begotten Son to suffer and die at Calvary for the sins of the world? Is this the God you know, He who would leave burning in hell forever the greater part of His own creation and not give it a second thought? "Little children, keep yourselves from false ideas about God".
KEY #5: JESUS CHRIST PAID THE PRICE FOR EVERYONE’S SINS - NO EXCEPTIONS
The "sacrificial work" of the Son of God was finished on the cross (John 19:28-30). Salvation is available to every living human being. Faith is an essential element in the process of people receiving it. Through Christ, God grants every person the right to either accept Him and His ways or not (See Acts 16:31; 10:43; 15:9; 13:39; John 8:24; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40; 20:30,31; Romans 3:22-28; 4:3,16; etc.). Note carefully these clear statements of Scripture:
2Corinthians 5:-14-21: "Christ died for the sake of all, consequently all died... God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them."
1Timothy 2:1-7: "Who gave Himself a Ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
John 3:16, 17 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
Romans 5:1, 2: "By faith we are justified and have access to this grace."
Ephesians 2:8: "By grace are you saved through faith."
In the manner of Jesus' death at Calvary we see God dealing righteously with sin. What a dreadful thing sin is to call forth such a severe penalty! For Jesus did not suffer and die because of any wrong he had done. "He knew no sin" (2Corinthians 5:21). He did not submit to death because he had no choice: "No one is taking my soul from me, but I am laying it down of myself" (John 10:17, 18). "Christ died for the sake of the irreverent" (Romans 5:6-9). "He was given up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justifying" (Romans 4:25).
God's cure for death and His remedy for unrighteousness are now testified of by the finished work of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. For those who believe on Christ, his accomplished work alone is the basis for their righteousness before God, not their own works. Believing this to be true is the greatest key for people who desire to walk with God. "...those accepting this superabundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the one, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:16, 17; 6:1-23). "A righteousness of God is manifest... through the faith of Jesus Christ, for all, and on all who are believing, for there is no distinction, for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus...toward the display of His righteousness in the present season, for Him to be just and a Justifier of those who believe Him regarding Jesus" (Romans 3:19-28). "Now to the worker, the wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as a debt. Yet to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (Romans 4:4, 5). "Having been now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him. For if, being enemies, we were conciliated to God through the death of His Son, much more, being conciliated, we shall be saved in His life" (Romans 5:9-11).
To those who believe in what Jesus Christ has accomplished on their behalf, the Scriptures declare: "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (see 1Corinthians 1:18-31).
The gospel reveals Christ alone as the righteous basis upon which God makes salvation available for all mankind (see also 1Timothy 4:9-11 and 2:3-7; Romans 5.12-19; 1Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 2-5-11; Colossians 1:15-20).
The three positions presented at the beginning of this hub contradict each other because they all contain error in either understanding or translation to some degree or another. I know that many of you will not get enough information from this hub alone to agree with what follows, but one could write an entire book of additional information on the true destiny of unbelievers and related issues. This hub is already longer than most people can stomach, so here is the conclusion:
Those who believe the gospel in this life are saved and receive eternal life with God. They are justified by God's grace (Romans 3:24). They are reconciled to God (Colossians 1:21). They receive the Spirit of God, and are set free from the dominion of sin in their lives (Romans 8:9-11 and 6:1.23). They will experience receiving a new spiritual body when Jesus Christ returns (1Corinthians 15:52-57 and Philippians 3:21). They will share the glory and the labor of their Saviour both now and throughout the ages (eons) to come (Ephesians 2:14 and 3:8-11).
Unbelievers will be resurrected from the dead and judged at the time of the great white throne. Please read Revelation 20:11-15, bearing in mind that dead means dead, thus the word "resurrected". God will then deal with them justly according to their deeds, good or bad. And for you haters, pardon me for pointing out this next wonderful truth, the standard for this judgment will be the same as it is now, the good news about the GRACE of God in Christ (see Romans 2:1-16, noting most specifically verse 16). Then those "whose names are not written in the book of life", those who still refuse to accept salvation by grace through Christ Jesus, will be cast into the lake of fire to die a second death, not to be "tormented", let alone "eternally tormented" (see Revelation 20:14, 15 and 21:8). The Bible does not tell us what this lake of fire is; however, we do know that it cannot literally be a physical lake of fire because 1) the devil and devil spirits are spiritual beings not physical beings, and 2) this is the same lake of fire that they will be cast into for being tormented "for eons and eons" (This means a VERY VERY long time, but exactly how long, nobody knows, God's Word is silent on the matter. But like most Christians, I too do not consider any length of torment time for Satan and his minions to be too long, so I can certainly understand why people want this to mean "forever and ever"; but, it says what it says and means what it means, no more and no less.). We also know that "fire" is often used in the Bible figuratively, in some records it means "destroy", in others it means "purify". The lake of fire, as pertaining to human beings, is referred to as "the second death". Again, dead means dead; in addition, the number two is used throughout the Scriptures to communicate "established", this sounds pretty final to me, however, it could very well mean to die unto Christ as we present day believers have. I'll have to opt that fire means to purify in this instance. But one thing is certain, God's love and grace in Christ are much farther reaching than we presently can see.
The Scriptures do not communicate that the last chance to believe is before dying the first death here upon earth (that teaching is from man-made theosophy). However, "the great white throne" is the final happening recorded in the Scriptures wherein unbelievers have the opportunityt to accept God and His ways. Can you imagine anyone choosing to refuse God at this stage of the game? I can't, but apparently some die-hard want-to-be gods will. Thus the lake of fire. But for those of you who do not believe on Christ already, and think you would if it all proved out to be true, why wait? There is proof available now, just as there was for "Doubting Thomas." If you are hungry for truth but need proof, ask God, He will give it to you. Some people believe that the word "faith" means "blind faith", but "faith" is actually translated from the same Greek word translated "believe". People have confused the issue, but "faith" and "believe" mean exactly the same thing-- believe God. Believe because of what you see with your physical eyes and/or believe because of what you see in your mind's eye, makes little difference. Listen, unless you died in childhood before you even had a chance to hear the gospel, or you have some other valid reason for not believing God about what Jesus Christ accomplished, why go through whatever judgments might be distributed, now and later, why pass-up on having a presently spectacular life with God, and eternal rewards, why, when it is available to hear the gospel and believe it now? Ask God to teach you who He is and about His ways. It is His will that ALL people are saved and come to know the truth. He will never refuse any honest and humble inquiry.
There is the one thing commonly agreed upon by practically every Christian organization: the blood of Jesus Christ is always presently available to all living human beings, for salvation, for the full payment of sins and release from the penalties thereof. God's forgiveness and blessings are available to everyone NOW through CHRIST.
More by this Author
We will be seeing in this series that God is the same powerful and delivering God that we read about in the Old Testament. All the promises of God find their “yes” and “amen” in Jesus Christ....
As believers we believe God. We received our new life in Christ by faith and we walk in it by faith. We allow what God says is true about us to be that which determines how we see ourselves and each other.