In the last blog I wrote about the promotions going on of “Conditional immortality” which is the idea that humans were not made with an immortal soul but at the time of the resurrection those who are raised as righteous people will receive an immortal soul. It seems that the primary basis for teaching this idea is that it then provides a means to say that those who die unprepared to meet God or go to heaven won’t go to a hell of unending torment but will be raised to be thrown into hell where they are immediately burned up and destroyed eternally.
It is argued that the fact hell is referred to as destruction leads to that conclusion. Look at 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and see if you can see conditional immortality in this text. “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
Notice the destruction referred in this text is specific. It isn’t about wiping something out of existence, but about one never having access to the Lord’s presence again.
There are three New Testament references to the punishment of the wicked after death that have special significance to this whole topic. The first is in I Peter 3:18-21. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that eight persons were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Focus on who Peter is talking about. It is the spirits of those who disobeyed God have during the days of Noah. They have been kept in a spiritual prison all this time and Jesus in his spirit went to them to proclaim something. We aren’t sure what he proclaimed. There is no indication that he offered them an invitation to move from the prison or become God followers in the after life. But the fact they were spirits in prison who had been disobedient in Noah’s day annihilates the idea that between death and resurrection we simply go out of existence waiting for the Lord to come again. As with the rich man and Lazarus the ones who died went immediately to punishment or reward.
The second passage that I believe up ends the conditional immortality notion is in 2 Peter 2:4. Peter was discussing false teachers who had entered into the church and were destroying the faith of many. He described them as blasphemers who were bringing on themselves swift destruction. In verse three he said, “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Then look at verse 4. “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.” Peter proceeds to tell of other instances of people turning from God and being punished for it. But notice in verse 4 angels who fell were cast into hell and kept in chains until judgment. Remember in Matthew 25:31-46 when Jesus described the coming judgment what he said to those on the left when he was ready to send them away. “Depart you cursed into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hell wasn’t made for humans who sinned. It was made for rebelling angels and their leader, the devil. Notice their punishment wasn’t being thrown into the fire and consumed but of being held with eternal chains of darkness.
The third passage is found in the Book of Jude and is much like 2 Peter 2. In verse 6 Jude says, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” He immediately compared that punishment with what was had by Sodom when it was destroyed.
What should cause a lot of reflection on our part is how closely the description of the angels in punishment is to the description of Satan and the false prophet in Revelation and how close their description is to the pictures of punishment of the people who died in rebellion to God
When God said in creation, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” He followed through and formed man of the dust of the ground. It wasn’t that dusty creature that was made in God’s image. He put in man a soul, an inner man that doesn’t age or wear down but is renewed each day . In death that soul or inner man doesn’t go to the grave but does go the Lord Jesus. Whether the time between death and the resurrection is of comfort or of pain is determined by how we lived on this earth.
Notions that it wouldn’t be right for God to punish our sins with such eternal punishment seem to me to fade when you look at the punishment of angels who left their place before the Lord. They weren’t offered redemption or any way to escape the punishment they had. I suspect our problem in grasping God’s punishment still ties more to us trying to fit God into our image than in what is really true of God.