Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 5 (To Die Is Gain and the Thief on the Cross)

To Depart and Be With Christ

Philippians 1:18-24
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

First things first. The text does not say “for to me to die is heaven.”  Many people eisegete the word heaven into the word “gain”. Consider the context though.

First, Paul tells us that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by his life or by his death. Already, because of his imprisonment, the gospel is advancing. He says this in verses 12 and 13 of this same passage.

Philippians 1:12-13
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

If that is what his imprisonment has done, then imagine what his death could do!

Secondly, the word “depart” in verse 23 is not a good translation. In fact, it is a downright lousy translation. The Greek word is analyō. It appears in only one other place in the New Testament, and this is in Luke 12:36

Luke 12:36 And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will RETURN from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.

Yes, that is correct. The word analyō actually means “return”. It never means depart. Nor should it ever be translated depart. It means return, not depart. Why then is it translated depart in Philippians 1? Isn’t the answer obvious? Most translators are traditionalists. They know most of their readers are traditionalists. So most translators translate the word analyō as “depart” rather than “return”, because that will be less offensive to their ears and the ears of their readers.

The word means return, not depart. .

The hard choice between life and death has Paul wishing for the return of Christ, because that would be the best choice of all three. But since that isn’t a choice he gets to make, he surmises that life is the better choice between living and dying, because living would be better for the Philippian believers.

The Thief On the Cross

Luke 23:
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save paradise-03yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

First things first, there is no punctuation in the Greek. Put that on hold.

The thief asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom”. That’s a pretty weird way of asking Jesus to remember you when He gets to heaven, isn’t it. What exactly did the thief mean by the phrase, “come into Your kingdom”? Consider Matthew 16.

Matthew 16
27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Now, whatever this passage in Matthew means, let us not say it means Christ has returned with His angels to judge the living and the dead. His second coming is, after all , what He meant by coming in His kingdom. That is clear from this passage in Matthew 16. Now, in whatever moment of time we wish to place the fulfillment of this prophecy (AD 70, AD 90, still future and as yet unfulfilled), the one place in time we cannot stick it is immediately following Christ’s death at the cross. After all, Christ did not both return with His angels to judge the living and the dead and also at the same time find Himself buried in a tomb.

Therefore, did Christ come into His kingdom following immediately upon His death? No. So the thief cannot have meant for Christ to remember him after Christ’s Spirit returns to heaven in a few hours immediately after He dies. What the thief must have meant instead was for Christ to remember him when He returned with His angels to judge the living and the dead.

Remember earlier when I said there is no punctuation in the Greek? Well, rather than the text reading “I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” it should read instead as, “I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

What did Jesus mean by Paradise? He meant what the thief meant, of course. He meant a future day when Christ will return with His angels to raise His elect and to judge the living and the dead.


About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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2 Responses to Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 5 (To Die Is Gain and the Thief on the Cross)

  1. Pingback: Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 4 (Was Jesus Destroyed?) | Cornbread & Bourbon

  2. markmcculley says:

    Always a good question—when it his happening? is it now or is after Jesus comes?

    Note that, after the wicked are cast into the lake of fire in Rev 20:15 and 21:8, they still exist—Rev 22:15.” Christopher Morgan similarly writes, “Those in hell remain in their sinful state, at least in the sense of their privation of love for God (see Rev. 16:11; 22:11).”16 Note again that Revelation 16:11 portrays something happening prior to final judgment, not following it. But what about Revelation 21:8, 22:11, and 22:15? Do these verses depict the wicked continuing to exist and sin after judgment?

    Revelation 21:8 certainly does not. In fact, it doesn’t portray any wicked people at all. It depicts the One on the throne speaking to John from the imagery, telling him who in the future will experience that which is communicated by the imagery. In other words, from within symbols portraying the future God tells John who will end up there. After all, he just promised in verse 7 that “he who overcomes will inherit these things,” a promise to those who overcome in the present that in the future they will inherit that which is communicated by the imagery, the same promise he told John to pass along to the church of Ephesus long before John saw the imagery.17 Verse 8, then, contrasts that promise to the faithful with the doom awaiting the unfaithful: those who remain wicked in the present will in the future be consigned to the second death.

    But what about the other two verses alleged by traditionalists to depict the risen wicked continuing to exist and sinning after being thrown into the lake of fire? The angel says to John in Revelation 22:11, “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy.” And then in verse 15 he tells him, “Outside [the gates into the city] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” Having earlier seen the risen wicked thrown into the lake of fire,18 and the New Jerusalem descend from heaven,19 must not these verses therefore depict those sinners continuing to exist and sin from within the lake of fire, outside the gates of the city?

    The answer is no, and even if they did they would serve as no challenge

    Many of us recognize that the devil, beast, and false prophet are depicted as eternally tormented in the lake of fire in the imagery, and that consistency demands that the same be true of death and hades and the risen wicked.20 We argue, however, that this is symbolism communicating their permanent destruction. As such, even if John did see the wicked continuing to sin in the lake of fire, the question of the imagery’s interpretation would remain.

    Having said that, John did NOT see the wicked continuing to sin in the lake of fire. At least not in Revelation 22:11 and 15, for they contain the words spoken to John on behalf of Jesus after the vision had concluded. The apocalyptic vision of the future had ended in verse 5 with the description of the New Jerusalem’s river and tree of life and the presence of God amongst his saints there. In verse 6 John refers to what he had just finished seeing as that which the Lord gave “to show to his bond-servants the things which must soon take place,” the same language with which he opened his letter.21 In verse 8 he says, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things,” and what follows is Jesus’ final message to John through his angel after the vision of the future was complete.

    In verse 9 the angel tells John not to worship him, saying, “I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren and of those who heed the words of this book.” He goes on in verse 10, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” The angel is talking about those who receive John’s letter before the prophecy’s fulfillment and who heed the message contained therein, even long before the resurrection, lake of fire and New Jerusalem. No wonder that after receiving those instructions John decided to open his letter saying, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

    And so in verse 11, when the angel tells John, “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy,” he is not describing the impenitent still sinning in the lake of fire. Rather, he is talking about those who don’t heed the message of John’s vision and instead choose to go on rejecting God. Likewise, when verse 14 promises that “those who wash their robes … may enter by the gates into the city,” it is referring to those who wash their robes now, not those who do so after the resurrection depicted in the imagery two chapters earlier. And verse 15 tells us who will not enter that city, and will instead end up in the lake of fire: “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

    But if the vision has concluded and John no longer beholds the New Jerusalem, why does the angel speak of those who are outside its gates in the present tense?

    Because although the heavenly city has not yet descended, the saints in SOME sense have already entered through its gates. The author of Hebrews assures his readers that “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”23 If the saints can be said to have come to the New Jerusalem now, even though it hasn’t yet descended from heaven, then so too can the messenger of Jesus tell John that the wicked are outside its gates.

    Colossians 1:21 (“you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind”), Ephesians 2:3 (“we too … were by nature children of wrath”), and Romans 5:10 (“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God”). Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick,” and Jesus says in John 8:34 that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”

    I believe we are born loving sin and hating God, and that no one will repent unless supernaturally and irresistibly drawn by the Father to do so.12 Jeremiah rhetorically asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?”13 That is about how likely it is that “you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil”—the only biblical answer. I see no reason, then, for believing that the risen wicked will repent, even as final punishment is being inflicted. I side with J. I. Packer in saying of those that think otherwise, “They fail to take the measure of the tragic twisting and shattering and consequent perversity of humans through the Fall, and of the tragic irrationality and inaneness of sin as the now radical ruling force in humanity’s spiritual system.”

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