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” (Romans 6:23; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (John 3:16). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (Revelation 20:14). 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. []

No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson

On June 22, 2012, well-known and respected theologian and scholar D. A. Carson told his audience that, as far as he could see, in Scripture “there is no hint anywhere that people in hell genuinely repent.”1 As part of an exposition of Revelation chapters 21 and 22 he cited both Revelation 21:8 and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as evidence that “hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins.” To the contrary, Carson said, it is “filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fists in the face of God Almighty, in an endless existence of evil.”
Although he didn’t include it as part of that presentation, in the past he has also pointed to Revelation 22:11 (“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong”), writing of “the vileness they will live and practice throughout all eternity.”2 He has also elsewhere suggested the possibility that this perpetual lack of repentance on the part of the wicked, and their ongoing sinfulness, is part of the ground and justification for their eternally ongoing punishing.
Carson’s view raises several questions. How legitimate is his application of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Will those consigned to final punishment fail to repent and continue to sin following their judgment and sentencing? Does the Bible indicate that they will go on sinning forever, implying that they have been raised immortal? Even if it does not, if they continue to sin after judgment at all, wouldn’t they accrue additional retributive debt, requiring further punishment, during which their continued rebellion would earn them still further punishment, and so on ad infinitum throughout eternity?
Continue reading “No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson”

  1. Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22. []
  2. Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533. []

Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48

Phaenicia sericata larva ("maggot")
In my recent response to Matt Chandler’s otherwise praiseworthy The Explicit Gospel, I criticized what I believe to be several mistakes Chandler makes concerning final punishment. One of them, I argued, was that in citing Jesus’ words in Mark 9:48 Chandler fails to point out that the passage Jesus quotes “explicitly says that it is corpses whose ‘worm will not die’.”1 I made the claim that “The idiom communicates the shame of having one’s corpse unburied, and arguably the irresistible and complete consumption of those corpses by maggots.”
Many traditionalists, however, who do point out that the hosts of Isaiah’s undying worms were corpses, nevertheless insist that the imagery supports the traditional view of hell. Whether they believe maggots will literally feed upon the bodies of the wicked for eternity—albeit living, immortal bodies—or whether they believe the idiom symbolically points toward an eternity of conscious torment, either way it is argued that the text of Isaiah, quoted by Jesus, depicts ever-consuming worms which never die. The fire that isn’t quenched will be the subject of a future post here at Rethinking Hell; in the meantime, let us take a look at the gruesome idiom that is its parallel.
Continue reading “Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48”

  1. Date, C. (2012, July 15). “Explicit Mistakes: A Response to Matt Chandler.” Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 15 July 2012. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/explicit-mistakes-a-response-to-matt-chandler/ []

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 chapter 20. 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.” []