Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 4 (Was Jesus Destroyed?)

Timing sometimes matters. I was recently made aware of a complaint a friend had received in response to a sermon he had preached where he had briefly mentioned one aspect of conditional immortality. Here is the gist of the complaint.

“If the wicked deserve to be annihilated, then logically Jesus must be annihilated too, because He bore the punishment those that He suffered for deserved, annihilation. I do regard this as blasphemous and a false gospel, because it leads logically to the belief that Jesus ceased to exist and then came back into existence, forcing us to conclude He was recreated.”

The complaint demonstrates both confusion and ignorance concerning the conditional immortality view.  Note, for example, the complainant’s use of the term “annihilation”.  I have not argued for annihilation, nor did my friend even mention the word.  Rather, annihilation is a term the complainant used.   He inserted the word into my friend’s sermon.

I cannot say the complainant is entirely to blame for this, because some folks do use the term annihilation, but I think this does a great disservice to the Biblical view of conditional immortality.

twinkiWere I to literally hold to annihilationism, then I would indeed have to conclude Jesus Christ did indeed cease to exist, and that His return to existence did preclude at least the possibility that He was recreated. This is the problem I believe folks who use the term annihilation fall into.

Nowhere does the Bible say the wages of sin is annihilation. Rather, it states the wages of sin is death. Well, you might ask, doesn’t this really amount to the same thing, because isn’t death really just simply the cessation of existence? No, it does not amount to the same thing at all, for the Bible does not speak in terms of annihilation when it says death.

1 Corinthians 11:28-30  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

1 Thessalonians 4:15  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:16-18   For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

Mark 5:39  And when he had entered, He said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

The Bible often uses the term “sleep” in place of the word death.  This sometimes causes confusion.   We find not only the unbelieving in Mark 5 confused about this, but also the disciples, as well.

John 11:11-15 After saying these things, He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”  The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”  Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He meant taking rest in sleep.  Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”

We may argue sleep is a metaphor for death.  Perhaps a better term is unconsciousness.  If you have ever had surgery, then you will understand what an unconscious sleep is.

But even if we concede this, we will still have to admit the Bible does not speak of death in terms of annihilation.  Whatever else may happen when we sleep, the one thing we cannot say is that we cease to exist. The theology of the early Christians reflected this thinking. They referred to their burial spots as koimeteria, or “sleeping places”. Koimeteria has come down to us in English as cemetery.

But in addition to sleep, the Bible also uses a second term; “second death”.

Revelation 20:13-14 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

This can be a bit confusing at first to grasp until we keep in mind that Revelation is using imagery to convey ideas.  It isn’t gravesthat there are two states of death, one called first death and another called second death. Rather, in the Bible, death is just death.  This second death, in other words, is really just a continuation of the first death.  Or to put it still another way, the first death is death that gets interrupted by Christ’s return, before God then sentences the wicked who have just been raised from the dead to go back to being dead, this time forever.

John 5:28-29 an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Daniel 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

According to John 5, Daniel 12, and plenty of other texts in addition, death is something both the just and the unjust will undergo. That is, we will all die. However, this death we will all die is not permanent for some.  Both the just and the unjust will be raised at some point in the future; namely, at Christ’s return; but while the elect will then put on immortality at the moment they are raised, the non elect will instead be judged and then sentenced to return to a state of death.  From this second state of death there will be no resurrection. This so called second death is not an extra form of punishment in addition to death. Rather, this second death is just simply death extended to a period of eternity.

So which death then did Jesus have to undergo in order to atone for His people’s sins? In other words, did He have to permanently die in order to save His people? No. He simply had to die, because the wages of sin is death. The reason why the non-elect will be raised only to then be returned to death is that Christ did not die for their sins.  They died guilty for their sins.  They remain guilty for theirs, because their death cannot atone for their sins.   But this does not mean Christ had to remain permanently dead or cease to exist in order to atone for His people’s sins. He only needed to die once.


About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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4 Responses to Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 4 (Was Jesus Destroyed?)

  1. Pingback: Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 3 (Lazarus and the Rich Man) | Cornbread & Bourbon

  2. markmcculley says:

    David Wells, Christianity Today, March 20 1987 — “If God is as good as the Bible says, if his character is as pure, if his life is as infinite, then sin is infinitely unpardonable and not merely momentarily mischievous. To be commensurate with the offense, God’s response must be correspondingly infinite. Annhilationism instead looks instead for a finished, finite, temporal response. An infinite response, however, is what we see happening at the cross. Was Jesus annihilated? Jesus could exhaust infinite punishment because he himself was the infinite God? Jesus did not bear a punishment MERELY LIKE that which sinners deserved. Jesus did not bear a death that was MERELY ANALOGOUS to theirs..”
    Mark: To be “commensurate”, is Jesus still dying on the cross and will He do so forever?
    If Jesus is not still dying on the cross, how is His death even LIKE that of non-elect people dying but never getting dead?
    Where does the Bible talk about “infinity”? And where does the Bible talk about the suffering before the death being “infinite”? When did the “infinite punishment” of Jesus begin and when did it end?

  3. markmcculley says:

    if death means destroyed, then Jesus Christ was either destroyed in both natures or in His human nature only. But if Jesus was destroyed in His human nature, the two natures were divided and separated for three days. And if death means the elimination of existence, there is no continuity between the humanity of Jesus before and after resurrection. And that would mean that the resurrection would not mean recreation but new creation (out of nothing)

    Ed Fudge wants to be agnostic (indifferent either way) about the intermediate state of Jesus.

    Incarnation is change. But that’s one thing, and death of the incarnate is another thing, an entirely new level of discontinuity and change,,,,

    If the resurrection of Jesus was Him getting His human nature back (added to His divine nature), how is His resurrection the first-fruits of (or in any way like) our resurrection, since we don’t have a divine nature to get added back to?

    I agree with the Barthian Bruce McCormack that we cannot keep up a wall between the “ontological Trinity” who decided to become incarnate in the Son, from the “economic Trinity in which the Son is incarnate”. God’s decision to become incarnate is not only sovereign (or arbitrary) because God’s decision to do that reflect’s God’s character and nature.

    Adam did not start out condemned, Adam became condemned. I am not speculating here about the mystery of iniquity and how Adam was created. I am not talking about Adam’s nature, but about Adam’s status before God and God’s law. I Corinthians 15: 45 So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.

  4. markmcculley says:

    But the tradition is strong. Tradition says—-1 unbelievers will not live forever. They will die forever.

    2: the unbeliever does not “live” forever.the unbeliever will exist forever. Existence is a different from living or being immortal.”

    3. the non-elect cannot be consumed, because that would mean that they wouldn’t keep being tormented; therefore being consumed in the Bible means being tormented forever. The non-elect cannot be completely destroyed, because that would mean they would perish, therefore being destroyed in the Bible means the process of destruction which is never finally completed

    4.. There is a difference between spiritual death and physical death and eternal death, therefore death is not death. Since there is a difference between “spiritual resurrection” (regeneration and new birth) and physical resurrection, therefore resurrection means “going to heaven as soon as you die” . And since the non-elect will also be raised, this means that the second death is eternl life in hell.

    Since we all begin in Adam, guilty and corrupt, does “spiritual death” mean that we are born in “eternal hell torment”?

    Since we all physically die, does that both elect and non-elect have souls that keep on living after they die?

    Since the elect are “placed into the death of Christ”, are they placed into “eternal torment in Hell”? Do the elect when joined to Christ’s death become “spiritually dead”? Did Christ suffer “eternal torment in Hell? Did Christ really die or does His death simply mean that He became separate (for while) from God? if Christ only suffered an equivalent of “eternal torment in Hell”, does that mean that God’s (nominalist and sovereign) grace merely “accepted” the punishment of Christ as the same as the punishment of the non-elect? Since the punishment of the non-elect will never be finished, does that mean that the punishment of the non-elect will never be infinite? Since there will always be more to repay, does “I will repay” mean that “I will have never repaid”?

    Henri Blocher: One can sense a paradox in the concept of permanence in destruction— “a deathless death, an endless end, a ceaseless cessation. Death lives, the end always begins, and cessation knows not how to cease.”

    Lutheran Johann Gerhard— After a hundred thousand, thousand, thousand years they shall simply suffer renewed torments without end! The very thought of the endlessness of their pain will torment them more than the eternal pain itself. What can be conceived of as more intolerable than thus to die that you are always living, and thus to live that you are always dying? That life will be lifeless, and that death will be deathless

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