A couple of weeks ago I began discussing the varying ways in which the Bible goes about defining death. This particular study was brought about by some interaction that I shared with a fellow blogger over the teaching about Conditionalism/Annihilationism. Unfamiliar with that topic to some extent I began doing some digging. I ordered various books from our public library (I have a limited budget for book purchases and this is a nice way of circumventing unnecessary spending).
I also used my privileges as an enrolled student awaiting this spring’s graduation to download various scholarly works on the subject. Some of the books that I’d ordered from the library have been read and I’ve began taking notes. Unfortunately, events beyond my control stifled my studying habits a bit. Other priorities have overtaken my normal reading and writing, but this week has provided me a bit of a reprieve.
The other articles related to this are HERE, and HERE. In them I take some time revealing my thoughts so far on the issue of death as described in the Bible. This post will address the third point on my outline under the heading, Death: Result (wages) of Sin. If you have not read my thoughts on biblical death, and you have not clicked on the links above, then the outline is provided under the Appendix heading below. Scroll down and check it out.
The Set Up…
The late Edward Fudge, a proponent of the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position seems to look at death in Scripture in only one sense—the cessation of life; non-existence. Fudge finds support for his views in the divine punishments delved out in the Old Testament. He sees God’s retributive action against groups (the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah) for violating God’s law as descriptive to what happens to all in eternity. He is convinced that
“As we become familiar with these Old Testament symbols of judgment, we will be better able to understand the meaning of the same language in New Testament texts. And we will escape the easy temptation to explain biblical expressions in ways that have no basis in Scripture. More important, we can avoid interpreting biblical images in ways that contradict their ordinary usages throughout the Bible.”
One of the things that I noticed as I was reading through his thoughts on biblical death is that he makes a huge category error in linking temporal divine judgments in the OT, with eternal divine judgment in the NT. The one speaks of God’s wrath in a finite sense, the other in an infinite sense. At best what these passages show us, and I believe that this is the intended purpose of the Holy Spirit and the authors under His stead, is that God takes very seriously His Law-Word. To violate it on one point is worthy of death, for in so doing you are guilty of breaking it all (James 2.10).
The Final Type of Death Pertaining to Adam’s Sin (NT)
Why is Hell spoken about by Jesus more than any other? In the past I have mentioned that God’s speaks progressively in the Bible. Which means that God’s revelation has a beginning and an end. In the beginning we learn a little about God, a little about man, a little about the creation as a whole. However, as we progress through history God teaches us a little more. He fills in details where necessary and leaves others blank on purpose. But the one thing that He does do is hash out the details regarding several important things. How does He do this? Through Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 1.1-3). The final unveiling of the Lord Jesus is found in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:11-20; 22.6-21).
Fudge acknowledges that what Jesus says is of paramount importance. He writes,
“If we accept Jesus’ authority, we must believe that Hell is real and that it will be the ultimate fate of the lost. Indeed, Jesus tells us more about the final end of sinners than any other speaker in the New Testament. But is it possible that we have read into Jesus’ word meanings that we merely assumed to be correct about the nature of that fate?”
On the first part of Fudge’s comments we find agreement. Hell is real. It is not just a verdict—the fate of the lost—but a place of unrest. Jesus being incarnate deity has absolute authority as He is before all things, rules over all things, made all things, and upholds all things (Col 1.16-17). Therefore, as Paul rightly tells the Colossians, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1.15). In other words, Jesus has absolute authority over all things.
This was demonstrated through His teaching (Matt 7.29). This was demonstrated through His actions (Luke 4.36). He even had authority over mankind’s sinful state of being:
“Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’” (Luke 5.20-24).
This authority he also delegated to His apostles and His disciples (Luke 10.19; Matt 28.18-20), who bore His name to all nations, in whose documents we now possess in the New Testament writings.
Since Jesus is over all things what did He have to say regarding death? Simply put to remain in our sins is a guarantee to die in them:
- “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8.24).
Descriptions of this Death…
Jesus offers His hearers a variety of ways that this death shall be known. He calls this death “outer darkness” (Matt 8.12; 22.13; 25.30), an image repeated by His apostles (2Pet 2.4, 17; Jude 13). He referred to death as a “fiery furnace” (Matt 13.42, 50), “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9.43-49), which is later identified as the “lake of fire” (Rev 19.20; 20.10, 14-15; 21.8). An abode of torment and suffering where “weeping and gnashing teeth” are common expressions used by the Lord to describe this fate (Matt 8.12; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30; Luke 13.28). That the idea being conveyed in the New Testament is conscious suffering seems unavoidable when “weeping and gnashing teeth” is preceded by “In that place there will be…” which speaks of a continued state of being, not a temporary situation.
What these Images are Meant to Convey…
Wooden literalism is when you take a word, a concept, a theme, or a symbol used in Scripture and try to build a chair out of it. Some take the words of Scripture and turn them on their head interpreting and applying them in ways that go well beyond what the biblical author intended. We see this during Jesus’ preaching/teaching ministry. He says “you have heard it said, but I say…” as a way of offering a corrective. He uses this to correct the people’s viewpoint on how they are to treat enemies, how they are to respond to slander, when divorce is allowed, what constitutes murder or adultery, etc. (see Matt 5.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).
People struggle with David’s words in this imprecatory Psalm:
- “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them as my enemies” (Psa 139.21-22).
They wonder how this bodes with the “All-consuming Loving God” of the NT? Another speaks of dashing the infants of rebels against the rock (Psa 137.9; see Isa 13.6; Hos 10.14; 13.6). How does this comport with Jesus of Nazareth? He who said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5.44; HCSB).
Understanding the imagery (i.e., the language) enables you to see that hating one’s enemy in sight of God, in the sense of seeking righteous judgment against those who do evil and do not repent, is a good thing. At the same time, it is a good thing for the children of God to act in a manner that reflects love towards even those who vilify, persecute and seek to take our lives. Loving our neighbor means treating them with respect and kindness in terms of God’s Law-Word (not stealing, not coveting, not murdering, etc.), but this does not mean we are required to sit around a camp fire singing songs and holding hands.
To Reject God your Maker, to treat His Law-Word lightly earns you the eternal condemnation you will receive. Refusing to acknowledge God in this life, refusing to confess Christ as Lord, such individuals are handed “over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1.28b-32; NASB; italics mine).
The Final Judgment…
What sort of death are they worthy of? Jesus gives us an answer before His crucifixion, the content of which we can compare after His re-glorification (cf. John 17.5; Rev 21.5-8; compare with Rev 4-5; 22.12-13). To His hearers Jesus explains the following:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. ‘Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… ‘Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels [cf. Rev. 20.11-15]…These [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life’” (Matt 25.31-34, 41, 46).
There are other passages we could turn to, but I think Jesus’ words here suffice.
In the NT Jesus describes the final fate of the sinner who dies in their sin. Unlike the divine judgments in the OT which were temporal, the death the Lord defines is eternal. This raises in my mind some very interesting questions regarding the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position, but I’ll address them at some other point in the future. For now, what we ought to see is that the Bible defines death in a variety of ways, the assumption that “death” is only a one size fits all is a false one. What Jesus and other NT writers describe as the final fate of the reprobate is meant to trouble the mind. These frightful images serve as a warning and a witness. We don’t take His meaning with a wooden literalism, but neither do we slight the warning by minimizing the effect that He (God in the Flesh) intends to portray.
There is one more point on the outline that I would like to discuss in the days ahead. Until then, I bid you adieu….
I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin
- In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.
- We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).
i. Major—Group Death Sentence.
ii. Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence
iii. Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.
3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible.
**Summation of the parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.
II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness
- In Christ we all die . However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.
 Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 29.
 Later on, I found out that my own observations were similar to those of Robert A. Peterson. He writes,
“It is crucial to the debate to consider what aspect of God’s punishment is in view. The great majority of the Old Testament passages that Fudge cites in support of Conditionalism do not speak of the final fate of the wicked at all. Instead, they speak of God visiting the wicked with premature death. At first glance Fudge’s list of ‘destruction’ passages from the Old Testament seems impressive. On closer inspection, however, few of the passages he cites are relevant to the debate.” Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 37.
 Protokos (Firstborn) is in interesting term. It can either refer to the order of being (Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham) or it can refer to preeminence (Isaac was the firstborn son of Abraham, the son of promise, as was Jacob over Esau). Used in a similar fashion in the Old Testament to identify David as supreme over all other earthly kings (cf. Psa 89.19-29). The context of Colossians 1:15-18 demands that preeminence—i.e., supreme authority—is the correct definition of the term.
All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
 For the interested reader this delegated authority was a reinstatement of the Dominion mandate originally given to Adam and Eve in the beginning, but perverted by sin. Christ led people, Holy Spirit filled people, are now equipped to live faithful lives under God to glorify Him having put to death sin. This will be discussed in a future post.