The traditional view in the church, with respect to Eternal Life, includes that:
All people have IMMORTAL SOULS, and
Sinners will suffer in hell for ALL ETERNITY.
The purpose of this article is to show that the wicked will not suffer eternally, for they will die an eternal death. To prove this, this article shows the following:
Only God’s people will receive eternal life.
God promises to give eternal life ONLY when Jesus returns and ONLY to those who persevere in doing good. Sinners will not receive eternal life. That implies that sinners will die.
Paul never wrote that sinners will suffer in hell for eternity.
He does NOT use the word “hell” even once.
Paul consistently warns sinners that they will die:
For example, he explicitly wrote, “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die.” And, “the wages of sin is death.“
The opposite of death is Eternal Life.
The opposite of the death, which sinners will die, according to both Paul and Jesus, is Eternal Life. This means that their death will be an Eternal Death.
This article also discusses eternal torment according to Jesus and according to the Book of Revelation.
Only God’s people will receive Eternal Life.
Some Bible statements promise eternal life without mentioning death as the alternative. In these instances, eternal life is promised only to God’s people:
“God, who will render to each person according to his deeds:
to those who by perseverance in doing good
… immortality, eternal life;
but to those who are selfishly
… wrath and indignation” (Rom. 2:5-8).
Immortality and eternal life, according to this verse, is not something which people already have, but something which God will, in the future, on “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (v5), “will render to those who by perseverance in doing good.”
The following are further indications that we do not yet have immortality, and that only believers will receive eternal life:
“We believe in Him FOR eternal life“ (1Tim 1:16).
“We are heirs according to the HOPE of eternal life“ (Titus 3:7).
“Take hold of the eternal life
to which you were CALLED“ (1Tim 6:12).
“God … PROMISED eternal life long ages ago” (Titus 1:2).
Since eternal life is promised only to those who persevere in doing good (Rom. 2:7), such verses imply that “those who obey unrighteousness” will NOT live eternally. That means that they will die.
Paul consistently warns sinners that they will die.
“Unrighteousness, wickedness, greed …
those who practice such things
are WORTHY OF DEATH” (Rom. 1:29-32).
“If you are living according to the flesh,
YOU MUST DIE;
but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body,
YOU WILL LIVE“ (Rom. 8:13).
“You are slaves of the one whom you obey,
either of sin RESULTING IN DEATH, or of
obedience resulting in righteousness” (Rom. 6:16).
“The WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH” (Rom. 6:23).
The opposite of death is Eternal Life.
In Paul’s writings, the opposite of this death, which sinners will die, is explicitly and consistently Eternal Life:
“As SIN REIGNED IN death,
even so GRACE WOULD REIGN … to eternal life” (Rom. 5:21).
“You are slaves … either of SIN RESULTING IN death, …
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God …
THE OUTCOME, eternal life.” (Rom. 6:16, 21-22)
“The wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23).
“The one who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8).
The Greek word translated “corruption” in this verse is phthora. Strong’s concordance defines this word as “destruction, corruption.” In 1 Corinthians 15:42 it is used to describe our existing mortal bodies as “perishable.”
The following is another verse to show that the opposite of the death, which sinners must die, is eternal life:
“Our Saviour Christ Jesus abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light” (2Tim 1:10).
This verse does not refer to “eternal life” as such, but “life and immortality” have the same meaning.
Since the opposite of “death” is “eternal life,” the death that Paul consistently warns about, is not the temporary death that faces all people. It is, rather, eternal death; that awful and irreversible death which only sinners will suffer.
Revelation refers to it as the second death:
“This is the second death, the lake of fire.
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14).
Jesus contrasted Eternal Life with Death.
“He who … believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life,
and does not come into judgment,
but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24)
“An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs
will hear His voice, and will come forth;
those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life,
those who committed the evil deeds
to a resurrection of judgment” (v28-29).
in verse 24, Jesus, similar to Paul, refers to eternal life, which He also contrasted with “death” and “judgment.” “Judgment” here, is therefore not the process of decision-making, but the execution of the judgment, namely that horrible and irreversible, eternal death.
In verses 28-29, Jesus said that all people who ever lived will be resurrected. Some will be resurrected to “life,” which is the eternal life of verse 24. But the others will be resurrected to “judgment,” which is the opposite of eternal life. Since life here is eternal, death here is also eternal.
Jesus, furthermore, said that God “is able to destroy BOTH BODY AND SOUL in hell” (Mat. 10:28). Here He did not mention man’s spirit, but the intention seems to be that God is able to destroy human beings entirely. Is that not also fairly obvious? How could it be impossible for God to destroy something which He created Himself?
Jesus Explained Eternal Hell
But if Jesus said that sinners will die an eternal death, why did He speak about eternal torment? Paul never mentioned the “hell”, but Christ most certainly did (Mat. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:5). He called it “the fiery hell” (Mat. 5:22; 18:9); “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48).
It is often assumed that Jesus, with these words, taught that the wicked will be tormented in hell for all eternity, but what Jesus said was that the worm is immortal; not the man. These are symbols. In ancient times people sometimes destroyed corpses by fire, but when wood was in short supply, a portion of the body remained. And due to the dry conditions, corpses sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed. Therefore the expression, the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,” simply means that nothing will remain; “both soul and body” will be consumed (Mat. 10:28).
Eternal Torment in the Book of Revelation
Some of the strongest evidence for eternal torment, as proposed by some, comes from the book of Revelation. This book does not use the word “hell” either, but it does say that the person who “worships the beast and his image:”
“… will 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 goes up FOREVER AND EVER;
they have no rest day and night” (14:9-11).
This “fire and brimstone” refers to the “lake of fire and brimstone,” where “the devil … the beast and the false prophet … will (also) be tormented day and night FOREVER AND EVER” (20:10). How do we reconcile this with Paul’s consistent view that sinners will die, and with Christ’s statement that God will destroy body and soul in hell?
Our response is that Revelation is a book of symbols, and the following shows that the eternal torment in revelation is symbolic:
(1) Smoke rises forever.
It is not the people that will be tormented forever and ever. Rather, it is the smoke of their torment that goes up forever and ever.
Babylon’s smoke will also go “up forever and ever” (17:18; 19:3), but she is not a literal person that can be tormented. Babylon is a symbol of the anti-God religious system that has ruled over the kings of the world of all ages.
Furthermore, the “ten horns … will burn her up with fire” (17:16), which means that she will be fully and completely destroyed. This happens even before the return of Christ.
The ever-rising smoke is, therefore, a symbol. It means that the horrific destruction of people, who are loved by God and His people, will never be forgotten. People will remember it for as long as they live, and they will live “forever and ever.”
(2) Beast tormented forever
As a further example of the figurative nature of this eternal torment, the beast will also be “tormented day and night forever and ever” in “the lake of fire and brimstone” (20:10), but the beast is not a literal person. It is a symbolic representation of worldly powers that have opposed God for thousands of years. (Compare Revelation 13:2 with Daniel 7). The beast, therefore, cannot literally be tormented forever in an eternal hell. This eternal torment must be understood as a symbol.
(3) Lake of Fire
The people with the mark of the beast are “tormented with fire and brimstone” (14:9). “Fire and brimstone” is the lake of fire (19:20) into which these people are thrown (20:15). This lake of fire is twice identified as “the second death” (20:14; 21:8). This means that this death is different from the first death. All people are resurrected from death (Rev. 20:5; John 5:28-29). Therefore, all people live twice. But the worshipers of the beast also die the second death (19:21; 20:9). After the judgment of the dead (20:11, 12), their death becomes final and irreversible when they are thrown into the lake of fire (20:15).
Furthermore, once a being is cast into the lake of fire, he is never again seen doing anything. For example:
The beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire” when Christ returns (19:11). Thereafter they never again do anything in Revelation.
The devil is cast into the lake of fire one thousand years later (20:10) and never again seen.
The same applies to the people with the mark of the beast, who are cast into the lake of fire after the judgment (20:15; cf. 20:11).
(4) Tormented in the presence of the Lamb
revelation 14:10 says that the worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous. God gave Christ “authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27), and this is what He will do. “The end” will only come “when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).
Summary of this article
Do people have immortal souls? This article shows that the wicked do NOT have eternal life inherently and will NOT be tormented eternally, justified as follows:
Only God’s people will receive eternal life; and
They will only receive eternal life when Christ returns.
This means that people are not currently or inherently immortal. It also means that the wicked will not become immortal, which implies that they will die.
Secondly, Paul never wrote that sinners will suffer in hell for eternity. Rather, he consistently:
Warned that sinners will Die, and he
Contrasted this death with Eternal Life.
This implies that sinners will die; not the temporary death that faces all people, but an Eternal Death; that awful and irreversible death which only sinners will suffer, which Revelation refers to as the second death.
Jesus and hell
Thirdly, Jesus also contrasted “death” and eternal life. He said that all people who ever lived will be resurrected. Some will be resurrected to eternal life, but the others will be resurrected to death, which is also eternal, for God “is able to destroy BOTH BODY AND SOUL in hell” (Mat. 10:28).
But then, why did Jesus speak about “the fiery hell,” “the unquenchable fire,” “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched?” It is often assumed that Jesus, with these words, taught that the wicked will be tormented eternally. However, this is symbolic. In ancient times people sometimes destroyed corpses by fire, but when wood was in short supply, a portion of the body remained. And due to the hot, dry conditions, the corpse sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed. But when God destroys the body and soul in hell, the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” These human beings will be completely destroyed.
Revelation and hell
Revelation claims that the worshipers of the beast:
“… will 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 goes up
FOREVER AND EVER” (14:9-11).
This also is symbolic. Revelation is a book of symbols. This is true of the book in general, but the following shows in particular that this eternal torment is symbolic:
Smoke – Babylon’s smoke will also go “up forever and ever,” but she is not a person. Babylon is a symbol of the anti-God religious system. Furthermore, she will be totally destroyed by the ten horns. The ever-rising smoke symbolizes that the horrific destruction of people, who are loved by God and His people, will never be forgotten.
Tormented – The beast will also be “tormented day and night forever and ever,” but the beast is not a literal person and therefore cannot literally be tormented.
Fire and brimstone – This is the lake of fire, and is twice explained as “the second death.” Once a being is cast into the lake of fire, he is never again seen doing anything.
Presence of the Lamb – The worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous.
The idea of immortal punishment results from the concept of the immortal soul. That man has an immortal soul was the generally accepted Greek philosophical view in the world in which Christianity arose. Although it is foreign to Judaism and Christianity, it soon became accepted in the church and is today defended in the Church as orthodox. However, it is actually the first lie recorded in the Bible, when the serpent said to Eve, “You surely will not die” (Gen. 3:4).
An immortal soul is illogical. How can there be anything which God created which He cannot again destroy?
The concept of an immortal soul is also a rebellion against God. The promise of the Bible is a resurrection from death, which depends on God’s miraculous power, but the concept of the immortal soul says that we do not need God.