The Lake of Fire and The Second Death
The controversy surrounding hell has led me back to the Bible for research! This controversy is an attack on the very nature and character of God. Is He just? Can He be trusted? Can we believe Him? Every attempt will be made to answer these questions by letting the Bible explain itself.
This is an important issue. God draws people to Him with His love, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." Jn. 6:44. If we do not feel His love, we will not be drawn to Him. When He is mischaracterized, people will be afraid to come near Him, as the Israelites were, "Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die... Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it." Deut. 5:25, 27. How will we ever be saved if we do not know how much God loves us? "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1 Jn. 4:9-10.
Let us begin by admitting that we all fear death; some fear the first death and others fear the second. However, most of us do not know the difference. Did God tell us we should fear death? He pleads with us to escape the second death when He asks us to choose life, "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:" Deut. 30:19. God can't be warning us about the first death since He tells us everyone faces the first death unless they are alive when He returns, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:" Heb. 9:27. Why would we have a judgment, after our first death, if there is not a second death? Unless He was planning to torture us in hell for all eternity.
So, what is the difference between the first and the second deaths? We all have a purpose in God's plan. Suppose we choose to accept Jesus as our savior. In that case, our purpose becomes ever more apparent as we transform into His likeness, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Cor. 3:18 and "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Cor. 5:17.
God's plan includes each of us if we are willing to do our part, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Jer. 29:11 and "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end. There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." Prov. 19:20-21. He gives us this life to fulfill our purpose, which requires us to accept Jesus as our savior, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Rom. 10:9. Saved from what? Saved from the second death, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Jn. 3:16-17. "Should not perish" or saved from death unto eternal life, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Jn. 5:24. Saved from death, not eternal torment.
If not eternal life, then what? Which is more loving, to let your children suffer excruciating pain for all eternity or to die a second death? How many have said we would rather die than suffer for years with a debilitating illness, much less for all eternity? Why do we feel this way? What does God have planned for His rebellious children? Is God loving, just, and merciful? Or, is God hateful, vengeful, and monstrous? Jesus tells us that God loves us as He loves Jesus, "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." Jn. 17:23. How can He love us when He sees all the evil things we do? Because He is love, "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." 1 Jn. 4:16.
Does God really kill His children? "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matt. 10:28 and "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die." Eze. 18:4 and "The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy." Ps. 145:20. It seems clear that He can destroy the soul. Why does He tell us about this? "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." 1 Jn. 3:8.
He wants us to know that those who choose the devil over God will be destroyed. "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:" Ps. 92:7, "destroyed for ever."
"For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts." Mal. 4:1-3. "The day that cometh shall burn them up...they shall be ashes."
"Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Matt. 3:12. "Burn up the chaff."
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it... Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." Matt. 7:13-14, 19. "That leadeth to destruction," not eternal torture.
"He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Matt. 13:37-42. "Shall cast them into a furnace of fire" and the wailing and gnashing of teeth will occur when they learn their fate.
"And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth." Rev 11:10. We can learn from this verse that torment can express mental anguish, not just physical pain. Can we imagine the mental torment those resurrected after the Millennium will experience? They see the New Jerusalem and know their choices in this life have sentenced them to the second death, thus the wailing and gnashing of teeth. The kind of anguish Jesus exposed on the cross when He said, "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Matt. 27:46.
"For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned." Heb. 6:7-8. "Whose end is to be burned" leaving only ashes.
"I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Lk. 13:3. If we do not repent, we perish, not suffer eternally.
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." Jn. 10:27-28. Life is contrasted to perishing, not eternal suffering.
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 6:23. The wages of sin is death, not eternal suffering. And, since this is compared to eternal life, it has to mean after the judgment.
"But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." Heb. 10:39. "The saving of the soul."
"And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." 1 Jn. 5:11-12. "Not life" means death, not eternal torture.
"For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;" 2 Pet. 2:4. So, "reserved for judgment" means something waits for them beyond being in hell.
But, why? Because love cannot be forced; it must be freely given. God must allow us to decide for ourselves; will we accept God's love and return it, or refuse His love and have this life only. So, He gives each of us this life to make the decision. The decision process begins when we answer the question of creation or evolution, "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." Gen. 2:7. So, God provides the breath of life. He not only created us, but He also sustains our lives. Without Him, we would cease to exist, "He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Ps. 23:3. He always keeps a remnant alive, for His name’s sake, because He has an eternal plan that must be completed, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." Rom. 11:5. His plan is to give eternal life to those who freely choose to be part of His family. This means those who refuse will not be around to contaminate the reborn world He is creating.
So, what about those verses that seem to say hell is where we go to suffer for all eternity?
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." Matt. 25:40-41, 46. This could mean everlasting punishment or it could mean the punishment is permanent. Which is more likely? Which one fits better with the rest of the Bible?
"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;" 2 Thess. 1:8-9. "Everlasting destruction" means it is permanent; they will live no more.
"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." Lk. 16:23-24. This story is not about hell, but rather about those who refuse to hear the truth from the risen Jesus. The rich man is not in hell, any more than Scrooge is traveling through time to visit Christmas past and future. Hell is not the story's point; it is just being used to exaggerate the point. We know this when we compare this allegory with verses meant to describe hell and its final end. And, He already told us that hell is destroyed, along with death, in the Lake of Fire, "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." Rev. 20:14-15.
"And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Mk. 9:47-48. This is an allegory meant to teach us the futility of living a life that defies God's created order.
"For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be...The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever...But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away." Ps. 37:10, 18, 20, "the wicked shall perish."
"And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Rev. 20:10. Only the devil, the beast, and the false prophet survive the fire and brimstone to be tormented day and night for eternity. At least that is all we know about them for now.
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Jude 7. Even though the fire is eternal, those who suffer the vengeance of it die.
We could go on, however, twisting God's Word to prove a point that attacks God's very nature is precisely what Satan tries to do. If God is love, what would He choose, death for those who refuse His offer, or eternal punishment in a lake of fire?
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