WHEN A MAN DIES, he is taken by an enemy, the enemy death. Death is so powerful that none can escape. However, Jesus has overcome death and He will rule as a king until death is destroyed. "The last enemy that will be abolished is death."--1 Cor. 15:26 NASB
Those Bible teachings are truly enlightening. They are truth for our mind and light for our life. They remove the darkness of error and misunderstanding. God never said that 70 years of inherited sin and disobedience deserved an eternity of conscious punishment. Every day more people are learning that the Bible never taught a hell of torment. Enlightened clergy acknowledge that an appreciation of God's love is far more effective in motivating people to do good than is a terror of Him.
Many Christian religious leaders have perceived the majestic character of the one true God--His justice, wisdom, love, and power--through its manifestation in His activities and promises. Consider the following statements on the much-misunderstood subject of judgment after death by but some whose conviction caused them to write openly on the teaching.
"The idea that forgiveness is impossible in the next life [that is, in the resurrection] has only to be stated...to be rejected."<1>
"Our goal is to grow into the likeness of God..ow many of us are even in sight of that goal when we die?...If there be no growth or purification in the waiting life, what hope is there ever for any of us of fitness for the presence of the all-holy God?"<2>
"It seems hard and unjust that a man's salvation, a man's life, should hang on the age into which he is born; that the sinners of Sodom, for example, should have had a worse chance than the greater sinners of Capernaum. ...the New Testament teaches us to believe that men who die in their sins will be adjudged to a state in which for an age...they will be exposed to a corrective discipline far more searching and severe than that to which they are now exposed, and by which we may hope they will be recovered to righteousness and life."<3>
"How stands the case with the overwhelming majority of mankind, who have lived and died in the condition in which they were born and educated, and who never heard of Jesus Christ" and of "those vast multitudes in nominally Christian countries, in which the gospel which has been proclaimed has failed to set forth...the character of God as a God who is holy, loving, just and true...The righteous Judge of all the earth will condemn no man for not having accepted a gospel of which he has either never heard, or of which he has heard only an imperfect version...What then awaits them?...I can only conceive...a condition of things beyond the grave in which they will enter upon a more favorable state of probation than has been vouchsafed [granted, furnished] them here..."<4>
"I trust that by God's mercy, and through Christ's redemption, the majority of mankind will ultimately be saved...I believe that in some way or other, before the final judgment, God's mercy may reach them, and the benefit of Christ's atonement be extended to them, beyond the grave."<5>
"...anything that we can learn from any source within or without us respecting God, in any way sanctions the popular dogma of an irreversible doom at the moment of death."<6>
"Personally, I do not believe that Jesus taught the doctrine that human destiny is fixed at death, that...the chance of moral change is withheld from men, and that those who die in their sins are condemned to everlasting torment. I believed it once, but I thank God I believe it no longer...Apart from the awe and mystery attaching to death, there is no reason for assuming that at its crisis man's destiny is irrevocably fixed."<7>
You and I became involved with death when we were born. That is because we came from the family of Adam. Adam himself was dying--he himself had been condemned to death--and he could only pass on to his offspring the life which he possessed.
Adam had been created by God perfectly able to obey God. He possessed that ability. He was mentally and morally an image of God. He was intelligent. He had a mind, a will; he could think, reason, and make decisions. He could direct his own actions. Having been created with those capabilities, he was in God's likeness, but, having a human body or organism, he was a human being.
The Bible uses simple words to explain man's creation to us. "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."--Genesis 2:7
Man is a soul. He "became a living soul." He has life. He is not mysteriously constituted. He is similar to the lower animals, but his higher organism and intellect with the capacity for eternal life caused him to be in the image of God. Disobedience in the simple test would bring a dreadful penalty. Man would die. The whole being would die, as God had commanded Adam: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die [margin, dying thou shalt die]."--Gen. 2:16,17
The Old Testament assures us that the faithful ancient prophets understood that the soul that sinned would die (Ezek. 18:4). Greek philosophers, however, had a different idea, an idea that conflicted with God's revelation. They thought that a human consisted of several components, one of which could not die. The Greeks denied the Bible teaching that man is a soul and that man dies because of sin. The expression "immortal soul" originated from those Greek ideas. It does not appear in Scripture!<8>
The Apostle Paul encountered a group of Greeks in Athens who believed the error taught by those ancient philosophers. Paul declared to them a god about whom they knew little. Paul told them about the one true God's wonderful purpose of eternal judgment in the time of resurrection, of which God had given assurance by raising from the dead the one whom He had appointed to conduct that judgment. The Greeks thought they knew better. Unwittingly, they had accepted Satan's lie. They believed that people do not die. So, they mocked and laughed when they heard about the resurrection of the dead. For they believed that if deceased people weren't really dead, they did not need a resurrection.--Acts 17:22-32
This controversy clears up when the simple Bible teaching is accepted- -"The soul that sinneth, it shall die." That warning would be meaningless if God made man an immortal soul. But that is not what the Bible teaches. Its record is so plain and simple: "Man became a living soul," not "an immortal soul."
With these truths in mind, Gen. 2:7 is easily understood. "God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [Hebrew, neshamah, meaning "the puff of life" or "the power to live"], and man became a living soul."
When a man dies, the power of life in his being ceases. Usually death occurs from an interruption of the natural processes which sustain life. That power of life originally came from God, and because He will give life again in the resurrection, Scripture says that the power of life returns "unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). Our Savior's words on the cross confirm that to be true. He said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Life ceases at death. There is thereafter no life at all until it is given again by God's resurrecting power.
Those simple teachings of the Bible as to what happens when a man dies explains other questions. We learn that man has no knowledge, no life, no sensibilities when dead. He can not be tormented for ever and ever, nor for a day; no, not even for a moment. We need not worry about the Dark-Age idea which long seemed so strange and foreign to the concept of the loving and merciful God that the Bible reveals. The creedal teaching of "hell" gives place to an understanding of the Bible hell, which is quite different. Hell is simply the condition or state of death. It is not a place or condition in which people are tormented.
The Bible is the one trustworthy and true source of knowledge about the human condition. In the Bible we learn that all people die the same death. Whether they are good or bad, saint or sinner, all who die are in the same condition: death. All who die are in the Bible hell-- death.
Faithful Jacob, believing that his special son Joseph had died, expected to die in his grief and go into sheol. "And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave [Hebrew, sheol] mourning. Thus his father wept for him."--Gen. 37:35
God's righteous servant Job prayed to go to sheol to escape distress, and wrote that both good people and bad people are together in death. "O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [sheol], that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (Job 14:13-15), and "Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent [receive] me? or why the breasts that I should suck? For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, With kings and counsellors of the earth, who rebuilt ruins for themselves; Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master."-- Job 3:11-19
The Bible tells us that, in death, man has no preeminence over beasts. Death is the same for both. The one preeminence which man does have in regard to death is the promise of resurrection. Christ died to redeem Adam and all mankind from sin and death. The Bible is silent regarding any redemption of the lower animals.
Animals too are souls [Hebrew, neh-phesh, meaning "soul"]. Neh-phesh is often translated "living creatures," as in Gen. 1:21 and six other places in Genesis, describing sea mammals, fowl, and beasts. God sees them all, including man, as "living souls."
Resurrection is God's great blessing for Adam's family, of which are all the human dead. Those who teach that the dead are not dead deny the resurrection of the dead.
Note what the Apostle Paul meant in writing that Jesus is the "firstfruit of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). He had in mind the "after fruitage," a later blessing to come as a result of Jesus' death. There were others who would be resurrected from hell, which is precisely what Jesus had taught.
And Jesus' words testified that the subsequent resurrection work would be of two kinds: "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."--John 5:28,29 NASB
These verses inform us of the manner in which death and hell are destroyed. They are cast into the lake of fire. "This is the second death." Everything cast into the lake of fire is burned up. Everything burned is taken out of existence. All such cease to exist. That is why such symbolic language is employed. It should not be taken literally. The symbols denote complete, that is, "everlasting" destruction.
This article's opening Scripture promised the destruction of our enemy death. A prophet foretold it: "Oh death, I will be thy plagues; O sheol, I will be thy destruction."--Hosea 13:14
Our Master's resurrection promise in John 5:28,29 was noted foregoing. It promises that all of Adam's family will have an opportunity to obey and gain life. While they have been dead there has been no change in them at all. When they come back in resurrection they will be judged individually, but not according to what they did when they were ignorant of God's will and purpose. No! People will be judged by how they respond to the knowledge of the Lord's glory when they understand it.
The Bible assures us that then they will all learn and understand. "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." "When the judgments of the Lord are in the earth, the inhabitants shall learn righteousness."--Isa. 11:9, 26:9
And it is reassuring that the same prophet, Isaiah, also predicted the destruction of death: "He [God] will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day, 'Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'"--Isaiah 25:8,9 NASB
To such a wonderful testimony we can only answer: "How wonderful! How truly like a loving God to propose such blessings for man through Jesus Christ's sacrificial offering of Himself." Indeed, it is through Jesus that all of God's promises can be fulfilled.
"God...wishes all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth. For there is one God, also one Mediator of God and of men, a man Christ Jesus, the one having given Himself a ransom on behalf of all, the testimony in its own times."--1 Timothy 2:4-6 Marshall Interlinear
How wonderful that in God's due time all mankind "may...call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent."--Zeph. 3:9
Some Bible versions inadequately use the words "immortal" or "immortality" to represent the Greek aphthartos or aphtharsia. Such verses, rightly translated, read as follows: 1 Tim. 1:17--"Unto the King eternal, incorruptible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever"; 2 Tim. 1:10--"...our Saviour Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel"; Rom. 2:7--"To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek after glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life."
RSV--Revised Standard Version, 1952
NASB--New American Standard Bible, 1958
Marshall Interlinear--Samuel Bagster & Sons, London 1958