Question: In one of your recent talks that I attended, you quoted “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” and “The wages of sin is death.” You then said that this means “separation from God forever.” On what grounds do you define “death” as an immortal existence? Re total annihilation vs. ever-burning hell, we do not believe that “the natural man” has innate immortality because of scriptures like: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezk 18:4); “but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28); and “He that converteth the sinner from error shall save his soul from death” (Jas 5:20). Please give scriptures proving that “mortal man” is really of and by himself immortal!
Response: Unfortunately, your definition of death and immortality does not agree with the Bible. In the very day that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit they died—but they were not annihilated, as you define death in your attempt to escape the biblical statements about eternity in the “lake of fire.” What did it mean that Adam and Eve were dead, yet still living? Spiritual death brought instant separation from God the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against Him by eating of the forbidden fruit. In this earthly life, however, there is hope of that spiritual separation being ended by reconciliation with God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for sin and “tast[ed] death for every man” (Heb:2:9). Those who reject Christ will experience “the second death” (Rv 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8), which is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rv 19:20; 20:10,14,15).
Your idea of “immortality” assumes that the lost must be immortal in order to exist eternally in hell. Not so. The word “immortal” occurs only once in the entire Bible (1 Tm 1:17) and is a description of God who alone is eternal, having neither beginning nor end: “Who alone hath immortality...” (1 Tm 6:16). The immortality that God gives to man refers to the new body that can never die (1 Cor:15:53,54), received by the redeemed. Angels, demons, Satan and mankind were created, and therefore have a beginning. There is not one verse in the Bible, however, to indicate that their existence ever ends—but endless existence is never referred to as “immortality.”
Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (Jn:5:25). He was, of course, referring to the spiritually dead hearing the gospel and receiving eternal life. Those who reject the gospel remain in spiritual death. Of them Jesus said, “The hour is coming [clearly a future “hour,” because He leaves out the phrase “and now is”], in the which all that are in the graves...shall come forth” (Jn:5:28,29). This is the yet future resurrection of the saved at the Rapture to eternal life in heaven; and later (after the last rebellion at the end of the millennial reign of Christ) of the damned to eternal death in the lake of fire.
John clearly states, “I saw the dead [i.e., those who remained in spiritual death by rejecting the gospel], small and great, stand before God...” (Rv 20:12). This is at the end of the world, the final judgment. These people are both spiritually and physically dead, but they are not annihilated. Instead, they are standing before God and being judged according to their works to determine the level of punishment each will eternally endure. Those standing in that judgment have been taken from hell itself (“and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them” - Rv 20:13). The lost are “dead” and in hell, but they are still conscious. At the final judgment they are brought forth to stand before God, then cast into the lake of fire—and there is never a hint that their consciousness will ever end.
Christ tells us of these poor souls through the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. This is not a parable, because He never used names in a parable, but is about real people who have lived on this earth and died. Even if you were to turn it into a parable, what would it illustrate? The very thing you don’t want to believe, i.e., that the punishment of the lost is eternal: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Rv 20:14). When “death and hell” are “cast into the lake of fire,” the “rich man” to whom Christ referred will be among these doomed because he went to hell when he died: “...the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments...” (Lk 16:22,23).
In warning about hell, Christ referred to the “fire that never shall be quenched” (Mt 18:8,9; Mk 9:43-48). We are told that in the lake of fire “the beast and the false prophet...shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rv 20:10). We have every reason therefore to believe that the lost who are taken from “death and hell” to the final judgment and then cast into the lake of fire will also be tormented in that flame forever. This can only be the “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41) which Christ warns man to avoid at all cost.
We dealt with this subject in detail in the article for April 2001, which you may have saved or will find in the Reprints we offer with an Index.