"You have an immortal soul that will live somewhere forever either in heaven or in hell." How many times have you heard this kind of prelude to a Gospel presentation? It is assumed to be true by the vast majority of Christians, and propped up by a few "proof texts" (usually the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus). Unbelievers are told that if they do not accept Christ, when they die they will immediately go to hell and burn forever. But if they accept Him, when they die they will immediately go to heaven. Elaborate tales of out-of-body and near-death experiences continue to prop up this kind of thinking among Christians.
Yet, the Bible says that God alone has immortality and that He continuously gives life to all things. How then can an unsaved man be inherently immortal? The penalty for Adam's sin was "death." The penalty inflicted upon Jesus for the sins of the whole world was not eternal torment, but "death." The choice of destiny has always been between life and death, between destruction and immortality. God sent His Son so that we "should not perish, but have everlasting life." Paul wrote, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Why does anyone need the "gift" of eternal life if he already possesses immortality? The truth of God's Word is that mankind does not possess immortality. It is given by God only to those who are made worthy of such marvelous gift by His grace.
The destiny of the wicked is the Lake of Fire, which Revelation calls "the second death." Jesus referred to the place of destruction as "Gehenna," where body and soul are destroyed. Paul taught that those who refuse the knowledge of God and the Gospel of Christ will be "punished with everlasting destruction." Peter wrote that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was set forth as "an example to those who afterward would live ungodly." Jude added that the fire which completely burned up Sodom and Gomorrah was "an example of eternal fire." This example does not show continuous unending torture, but being quickly and totally consumed by fire.
The question of whether the wicked are tormented without end is determined largely by one's presuppositions about "immortality." Those who believe man has an immortal (indestructible) soul also believe in eternal torment. They have no other option (except universalism -- that all the wicked will be saved) since in their view man can never cease to exist. Therefore, both reward and punishment must be experienced forever. However, those who believe man is mortal (and that God alone has immortality and is the sole and continuous source of life) believe that the wicked will eventually be burned up and cease to exist. The Bible has a lot to say about this subject, much of which is contrary to what is commonly taught. The answer to this question has a profound impact on how we view God and His just nature. It is therefore critical to a proper understanding of God and a truthful presentation of the Good News of "eternal life."
The same presuppositions underlie the common idea that the dead are not really dead, but become ghosts, dwelling either in heaven or in hell until the time of the judgment. Again, this concept is not in the Bible. It is only inferred from a few passages that are grossly misinterpreted. The Bible teaches just the opposite view in plain literal statements. The modern view descended from Roman Catholicism which depends on it for its doctrines of purgatory as well as prayers to dead saints, including Mary. Yet, Catholicism did not derive this doctrine from the Scriptures or Apostolic oral tradition. They derived it from Neo-Platonism and paganism. The Bible states in many places that the dead are "asleep," to be “awakened" at the resurrection. It affirms that the dead "know nothing at all," "there is no remembrance" of God for the dead, that "the dead do not praise the Lord," that on the day of one's death, "that very day his cognition perishes," that "there is no work, or reasoning, or knowledge, or wisdom in the grave where you are going." Those who teach a conscious intermediate state must ignore all these passages and more, and instead build a case on inferences.
Unfortunately, the false hope that our dead loved ones are in heaven, enjoying the company of Jesus and all their loved ones, is very destructive to the true hope of the believer found in Scripture -- the resurrection to immortality. It is the resurrection of those who "sleep" that Paul says must be the source of our comfort, not that the departed are already in a state of glory. "Death is swallowed up in victory" at the resurrection, not before.
These subjects are explored in depth in the audio/video lessons that follow, and the counter arguments are answered with sound exegesis of Scripture.
PART I. Is Man "Living Flesh," or a Ghost in a Flesh Suit?
PART II. The Destiny of the Wicked
The Thief & Paradise
The Apostolic Fathers: Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabas
The Sons of God and Daughters of Men
Articles by Others: (AiR does not necessarily endorse these authors)
Martin Luther & William Tyndale By Michael Scheifler (Seventh Day Adventist)
Doctrine of Immortality in the Early Church By Dr. John H. Roller (Advent Christian Church)