First of all, let me say that I am not a universalist (the belief that all people will eventually be saved – Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins (which I have read), seems to lean that way, although the book arguably raises more questions than answers). I believe the Bible clearly describes the punishment of the wicked. There are many verses that speak of their destruction, but let’s look at these two:
- John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son; that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.
- Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here is my question. Why are words such as perish and death redefined as to mean never die and never perish? Think about it: if an unbeliever is tormented in fire forever, he never really dies or perishes.
The idea that a human soul is eternal simply is not found in scripture. It comes from paganism and was made popular by the Greek philosopher Plato: he believed in the pre-existence and immortality of the soul, holding that life is nothing more than the imprisonment of the soul in a body. You will find similar beliefs in Hinduism, Buddhism, and frankly, most world religions. But this isn’t what the Bible says.
Adam was created from the dust of the earth, and God breathed life into him, making him a whole, living person. He was created imperishable, but because of his sin, he became a mortal being: subject to the punishment for sin – death.
Jude 5-7 gives us another picture of the judgment. But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Sodom and Gomorrah are not “in the process of being destroyed” today by a fire that lasts forever. They were completely destroyed and have never come back. 2 Peter 2:4-6,10 confirms this: For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (the word here is Tartarus – used only once in all of scripture) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly… then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.
It is important to let scripture interpret scripture, and to be careful not to use a “proof text,” which means using a single verse, taken out of context, to try and prove a doctrinal viewpoint.
Want to learn more? Click HERE for part 3.