Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Second Death

Death, as we know it, would indeed be the end of our existence were it not for the fact of the resurrection. It is the resurrection that turns death into a temporary sleep, so to speak. The second death differs from the first death, not in nature, but in results.

The first death is a temporary sleep, because it is followed the the resurrection. The second death is permeant and irreversible extinction, because there is no awakening. The second death is the death resulting from the final judgment which prevents evildoers from living in the new earth to come, a punishment that ultimately results in eternal, irreversible death.

The stern punishment awaiting the enemies of righteousness, whose temporary resurrection results only in a return to death and its punishment, their full and final defeat. The wicked will be resurrected mortal in order to receive their punishment which will result in their ultimate annihilation.

In the Old Testament, the word “sheol” is the underground depository of the dead. There are no immaterial, immortal souls in sheol, simply because the soul does not survive the death of the body. Nowhere in the Old Testament is the abode of the dead regarded as a place of punishment or torment.

The concept of an infernal ‘hell’ developed in Israel only during the Hellenistic period. The condition of the dead in sheol, the realm of the dead, is one of unconsciousness, inactivity, a rest or sleep that will continue until they are resurrected. The prospect that one day a vast number of people will be consigned to the everlasting torment of hell is most disturbing.

Traditionalists read “eternal punishment” as “eternal punishing.” When the adjective “aionios” meaning eternal or everlasting, is used in the Greek with nouns of action, it has reference to the result of the action, not the process. The wicked will not be passing through a process of punishment forever, but will be punished once and for all with eternal results.

The destruction of the wicked is eternal “aionios,” not because the process of destruction continues forever, but because the results are permanent. “Eternal” often refers to the permanence of the result, rather than the continuation of a process.

It is evident that the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is eternal, not because of its duration, but because of its permanent results. “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23a). The fire to which Jude refers is obviously the same kind of fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is evident that the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is eternal, not because of its duration, but because of its permanent results. It is important to note that the Greek word “aionios” literally means “lasting for an age.”

Roman emperors being described as “aionios”; what is meant is that they held their office for life. Unfortunately, the English words “eternal” or “everlasting” do not accurately render the meaning of “aionios”, which literally means “age-lasting.”

The notion of the eternal torment of the wicked can only be defended by accepting the Greek view of the immortality and indestructibility of the soul, a concept which is foreign to Scripture. Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view, because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies, whom he does not even allow to die.

Consider the moral implications of the traditional view of hell, which depicts God as a cruel torturer who torments the wicked throughout all eternity. The thought of such a torment being deliberately inflicted by divine decree, is totally incompatible with the idea of God as infinite love.

Many Christians will be sorely disappointed to discover that their beliefs in the afterlife are a delusion. When this happens, it will cause personal crisis to Christians accustom to believing that at death their souls break loose from their bodies and continue to exist either in Heaven or in the torment of Hell.

Redemption is the restoration of the whole person, and not the salvation of the soul apart from the body. If at death the soul of the believer goes up immediately to Heaven to be with Jesus, one hardly can have any real sense of expectation for Jesus to come down to raise the dead believers that were in Jesus, and transform the living believers that are in Jesus.

Traditionally, evangelical and other religious persuasions teach, that at the resurrection, their material bodies are reunited with their souls, thus intensifying the pleasure of Heaven or the pain of Hell. Why are evangelicals so adamant in refusing to reconsider the Biblical teachings on the restoration of the whole person?

To abandon souls being reunited with their bodies, also entails abandoning a whole cluster of doctrines resulting form it. The total impact of dividing humans into body and soul has promoted all sorts of false dichotomies in Scripture. To be an “Evangelical” means to uphold certain fundamental traditional doctrines without questioning.

Any one who dares to question the Biblical validity of a traditional doctrine can become suspect as a “heretic.” It is impossible to estimate the far-reaching impact that the doctrine of unending hellfire has had throughout the centuries in justifying religious intolerance, torture, and the burning of “heretics.” The rationale is simple: If God is going to burn heretics in Hell for all eternity, why shouldn’t the church burn them to death now?

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