Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked

Conditionalists believe that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (). Traditionalists, on the other hand, say the body that rises “dies not again,”1 confessing that “the evil ones … shall be made immortal” (emphasis added).2 Their language is unambiguous: “Every human being ever born lives forever;”3 “everybody lives forever;”4 the unsaved “will continue living in a state with a low quality of life.”5
Adherents to both views argue that the punishment Jesus Christ bore on the cross, in place of those who believe in him, poses a real challenge to their opponents’ doctrine. Conditionalists point out that Jesus was indeed executed, not eternally tormented. Traditionalists, however, point out Christ wasn’t annihilated, that he did not cease to exist.
Leon Morris writes, “The atonement is the crucial doctrine of the faith. Unless we are right here it matters little, or so it seems to me, what we are like elsewhere.”6 If one’s view of final punishment logically leads to an unbiblical understanding of the atonement, it must be rejected. Contrary to the claims of traditionalists, it is often they, not conditionalists, whose eschatology clashes with what the Bible reveals about the cross. Continue reading “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked”

  1. Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679. []
  2. The Belgic Confession, Article 37. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html []
  3. MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141 []
  4. Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3. []
  5. Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173. []
  6. Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5. []

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Wind Out of the Sails: A Response to Greg Koukl

I highly recommend Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason ministry and radio program. Greg and I don’t agree on a number of theological issues, but I greatly respect and appreciate his passion for teaching Christians the importance of careful thinking. As he’s been known to say, “Emotions are what make life delicious, careful thinking is what makes life safe.” Unfortunately, however, as is certainly the case with every generally careful thinker, Greg thinks less carefully about some issues than he does others.
In a recent episode, Greg explained that he sees spiritual warfare not primarily as battle during a direct and immediate assault by the devil against the individual believer but as the tearing down of lofty ideas that hinder the message of Christ. “Many of those who identify themselves as genuine followers of Christ,” said Greg, “have been undermined in their ability to communicate the gospel because of other beliefs, theological beliefs, that take the wind out of the sails of the Great Commission, to put it simply.”1 Among other examples of such beliefs, Greg included annihilationism:2

So the point here is, I see in, say the teaching of annihilationism…the hallmarks of spiritual warfare. That is, I see an idea now, that if taken seriously, takes the wind out of the sails of the Great Commission. It makes the gospel seem less important, or less urgent. Now who would have an interest in making the gospel less important or less urgent? Not Jesus. The devil. When I notice a doctrine coming in from the side that doesn’t seem to be consistent with classical Christian teaching and which doctrine seems to have the impact of taking some of the force out of the Great Commission, I immediately know that this is an example of spiritual warfare, and I need to resist it.

Annihilationism is false, then, according to Koukl, because it makes the gospel less important, less urgent, thus taking the “wind out of the sails” of the Great Commission. Let us examine this claim, and see if it is a compelling reason to reject conditional immortality.
Continue reading “Wind Out of the Sails: A Response to Greg Koukl”

  1. Koukl, Greg. Stand to Reason, June 25th, 2012, 12:50 []
  2. Ibid., 19:09 []

Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10

The nature of final punishment is a topic which falls under the theological category of eschatology, the study of last things. Also discussed as part of that category is the timing of the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies, such as the coming of the Son of Man foretold by Jesus in his Olivet discourse, the nature and activity of the beast of Revelation, and so forth. Perhaps constituting the majority view of the church in America today, futurists believe that most of these prophecies will be fulfilled in our future; preterists like me, on the other hand, believe most of these prophecies—but not all of them1—were fulfilled in our past, specifically in the first century surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.

As I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of conditionalism from the apocalyptic imagery of death and Hades in Revelation . This argument carries force regardless of one’s eschatological position concerning the timing of prophetic events, and I will make that argument in the future here at Rethinking Hell. In the meantime, however, because of my interest in this particular eschatological persuasion, I want to reach out to my fellow preterists and make a bold, provocative and controversial statement: You can’t be a consistent preterist unless you’re also a conditionalist.

Continue reading “Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10”

  1. I’m referring to what was historically termed preterism, which has in recent years been unfortunately called “partial” preterism. I am not a hyper- or “full” preterist. For more information, listen to Episode 3 of my friend Dee Dee Warren’s podcast or read her article, “Perfuming the Hog.” []

20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 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. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Lazarus and the Rich Man: It's Not About Final Punishment

I cannot count the number of times I have witnessed critics of conditionalism point to Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man as a challenge to our view. I understand and respect one explanation offered by some of my fellow conditionalists, even if I don’t yet affirm it: They would say that the parable borrows from a then-contemporary Jewish folktale of sorts in order to teach a moral lesson having to do with social inequality and is not intended to communicate anything about the conscious suffering of people like the rich man in the story. Unfortunately, however, traditionalists who find this explanation dubious think their challenge stands. Because of this, when my view of final punishment is objected to on the basis of this parable, I stress a different point: It’s not about final punishment.
Continue reading “Lazarus and the Rich Man: It's Not About Final Punishment”

Salted with Fire: Annihilation and Mark 9:49

Conditionalists frequently respond to the traditionalist argument from ’s undying worm and unquenchable fire. What doesn’t appear to come up as often, however, are Jesus’ words which immediately follow : “For everyone will be salted with fire.” Occasionally this verse is pointed to in defense of the traditional view of hell. As John Gill writes,1

that fire shall be to them, what salt is to flesh; as that keeps flesh from putrefaction and corruption, so the fire of hell, as it will burn, torture, and distress rebellious sinners, it will preserve them in their beings; they shall not be consumed by it, but continued in it: so that these words are a reason of the former, showing and proving, that the soul in torment shall never die, or lose any of its powers and faculties;

Leading up to my recent debate, when my opponent asked me how I understand this verse I did not yet have an answer. But with the help of some friends and fellow conditionalists I developed a confident response—and I’m glad I did because it came up briefly during cross-examination. Here I’ll explain in further detail the answer I gave.
Continue reading “Salted with Fire: Annihilation and Mark 9:49”

  1. Gill, J. (1999). “Commentary on Mark 9:49.” New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible. []

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’