Answers to Special Passages on the Death of the Wicked
- Supplement to Lesson 12
Does the story of the rich man and Lazarus
prove the immortality of the soul (Luke 16:19-31)?
There are several points here that should
1. This story does not teach that
immortal souls leave the body at death--yet that is what some
people say it teaches.
If the story is to be taken literally,
after death the rich man is said to have had eyes and a
tongue,--real body parts. He asked that Lazarus dip the tip
of his finger in water. That would mean the whole body was in
heaven or in hellfire. Yet, at death the body goes to the
2. If this story is literal, then
heaven and hell are within talking distance of each other.
What misery this would bring to the people in heaven!
3. When the rich man pleaded that
Lazarus be sent back to earth to warn others against hell,
Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; let
them hear them." And "if they hear not Moses and
the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose
from the dead" (Luke 16:29, 31).
Notice here what Christ is actually
teaching: (1) If living humans want guidance, they should
study the Bible. (2) If they reject the Bible, it would do no
good if one rose from the dead and tried to instruct them.
The wording here is exquisite:
"Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose
from the dead." Christ does not say, "though
one came back from the spirit world," but "though
one rose from the dead". For that is where people are
after they die: dead.
This parable teaches that some people
are alive, others are dead, and the live people had better
read and obey the Word of God before they are dead!
4. If the story is to be taken
literally, Abraham is the great center of heaven, not God,
and then those in heaven are leaning on "Abraham's
5. Doctrines should not be built upon
parables or allegories. To base a doctrine on this one, leads
to spirits with bodies, and heaven and hell next to each
6. If this parable is to be taken
literally, then Christ is contradicting His own statements
made else where, where He definitely states the time when the
faithful will receive their reward and the wicked are cast
into consuming fire:
"When the Son of man
shall come in His glory, . . . and before Him shall be
gathered all nations: ... then shall the King say
unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father,
inherit the kingdom . . . Then shall He say unto
them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into
everlasting fire."--Matthew 25:31-32, 34, 41.
7. The message is for us
today: We, the living, "have Moses and the
prophets"; let us "hear them." Yes, let us
study God's Word to know the truth of this matter. And, doing
so, we learn that everyone is unconscious at death, and that
the righteous are not immediately taken after death to
heaven, and the wicked are not judged until a future time.
8. A parable or allegory may be used to
teach a lesson, but that does not make every part of the
story true. In Judges 9:7-15, is the story of the
trees going "forth on a time to anoint a king over
them." The story was meant to teach a lesson, but we do
not accept that the story is itself true. (Another example
would be 2 Kings 14:9, where the thistle sent the
cedar the message, "Give thy daughter to my son to
wife.") We do not attempt to prove that trees talk and
they have kings, or that thistles get married. To do so would
be trying to make the story prove more than was intended by
the speaker. The same would apply to this parable by Christ.
In the Bible, we find such phrases as
"everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46),
"everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41), and "tormented
day and night for ever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). Doesn't
this proves an eternally burning hell and an immortal soul?
The truth is quite different. The Greek and
Hebrew words, some times translated "everlasting" or
"forever," only mean a period of time until a certain
thing is ended. Consider these points:
1. The New Testament words, translated
"everlasting" and "for ever", come from
the Greek noun, aion (or from the adjective aionios
derived from the noun). Learning how these words are
used elsewhere in the Bible, we find their real meaning. Here
are several examples:
Matthew 13:39--"The end
of the world [aion]."--But how could something
supposedly "endless" have an end? And,
according to this verse, it did have an end.
Ephesians 1:21--Christ has
been exalted above "every name that is named, not
only in this world [aion], but also in that
which is to come".
1 Corinthians 2:7--What
"God ordained before the world [aion]."
[Christ] art a priest for ever [aion]." Yet
Christ will only be a priest until sin has been blotted
[Philemon] shouldst receive him [Onesimus] for ever [aionios]
. . . both in the flesh, and in the Lord." Is
Philemon to take back Onesimus as his servant forever?
H. C. G. Moule, the well-known Greek
scholar, makes this comment about Philemon 15-16:
"The adjective tends to mark
duration as long as the nature of the subject
allows."--The Cambridge Bible for Schools and
Jude 7--"Sodom and
Gomorrah, and the cities about them . . . suffering the
vengeance of eternal [aionios] fire." But
those cities are not still burning. They are today under
the south part of the Dead Sea. God turned "the
cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes." (2
If the aionios fire of Sodom
and Gomorrah, sent as a judgment from God to destroy the
wicked living there, burned itself out in ashes and is no
longer burning, we can conclude that the aionios fire
of the final judgment on the wicked will do likewise.
2. Olam is the Old Testament
equivalent to aion in the New Testament. Here are
Exodus 12:24--The Passover was to be
kept "forever [olam]." But it ended at
Calvary (Hebrews 9:24- 26).
1 Chronicles 23:13--Aaron
and his sons were to offer incense "for ever [olam],"
and have an "everlasting [olam] priesthood"
(Exodus 40:15). But that priesthood ended at the
cross (Hebrews 7:11-14).
Exodus 21:1-6--A servant
who desired to stay with his master, must serve him
"for ever [olam]." Must he serve him
through all eternity, after both reach heaven?
describing his experience in the whale, Jonah said,
"the earth with her bars was about me for ever [olam]."
Yet this "for ever" was only "three
days and three nights" long (Jonah 1:17).
2 Kings 5:27--Because
Gehazi lied in order to enrich himself, Elisha said,
"The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto
thee, and unto thy seed for ever [olam]." Was
Gehazi's family to never end, and that leprosy to be
perpetuated for all time to come?
3. The Old Testament word, olam, and
the New Testament word, aion, are equivalent terms.
We know this to be true for two reasons: (1) The Septuagint,
the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, always
translates olam by aion. (2) Whenever an
Old Testament passage containing olam is quoted in
the New Testament, aion is used (Hebrews 1:8;
5:6; 6:20; 7:17,21; 13:20; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:11).
Both words clearly have a very limited
time value, and do not mean an eternal time length.
According to the Bible, don't passages in
which the word "hell" is used, show that the wicked go
there as soon as they die, and then remain there?
1. In the Old Testament, the word,
"hell," is always translated from one word. That word
is sheol. Sheol means "the grave," and never
"a place of burning" or "hellfire." Sheol
simply means "the unseen state." Study any
analytical concordance, and you will nowhere find the idea of
fire or punishment in the usage of sheol.
Jonah 2:1, 2--This is a good
example of how sheol is used. "Then Jonah prayed
unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly, . . . out of the
belly of hell [sheol] cried I." There is no
hellfire in a whale's stomach. The marginal reading of this text
is "the grave."
At death, everyone, both good and bad, goes
Psalm 89:48--"What man is he
that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul
from the hand of the grave [Sheol]?"
Job 17:13--Regarding godly Job:
"If I wait, the grave [sheol] is mine house."
Psalm 9:17--Regarding the wicked:
"The wicked shall be turned into hell [sheol]."
2. In the New Testament, the word,
"hell," is translated from three different words:
(1) Tartaros, which means
"a dark abyss." This occurs only in 2 Peter 2:4.
Satan and his angels have been cast out of heaven and down
into the darkness of this world, and they are being "reserved"
unto the day of judgment, a future time when
they will receive their punishment.
(2) Hades, which means only
"the grave," is translated, "hell," ten
times in the New Testament.
The Septuagint (which is the ancient
Greek translation of the Old Testament) almost always
translates sheol (the Old Testament Hebrew word for
grave) by the word hades. Therefore, they have the
Psalm 16:10--This is a
prophecy of Christ in the grave, and says, "Thou [God]
will not leave My soul in hell [sheol]." It is
quoted in the New Testament as "hell [hades]" (Acts
2:27). It is clear that sheol and hades mean
"the grave." That is the meaning given to them by
all Bible scholars.
Acts 2:27--This text speaks of
Christ as being in hades. But we all agree that Christ did
not go into hellfire! Christ went into the grave.
(3) Gehenna is the third word
which, in the New Testament, is translated "hell."
This time "hell" is the correct translation!
This is the Greek equivalent of the
Hebrew word, Hinnom (Gehinnom, the Valley
of Hinnom), the name of a valley on the south side of
Jerusalem used as the city dump. Garbage was burned up there.
Of the twelve times Gehenna is used,
two facts stand out:
a. The "body" as well as
the soul is said to be "cast into hell." Twice
the phrase, "the whole body," is used (Matthew
b. In not one of those twelve
instances does the text tell when the wicked will be
"cast into hell." The fiery judgment is simply
described as a future event. Thus it is clear that the
Bible never says that anyone who goes into hellfire--goes
there at death. Not once does it say that anyone is now
suffering in the fire of hell.
Therefore, the fiery hell does not
come right after death, but at some later time. The
"whole body" is not cast into hellfire at
death, but is placed in the grave.
The Gehenna passages indicate
that the wicked are "cast into" the fire. The
phrase, "cast into hell [Gehenna]," is
used in six of the twelve times Gehenna is found in
the New Testament. This is matching the parallel where refuse
is cast into the fires of Gehenna Valley.
Is there no place where we are told when
this hellfire occurs? Yes, there is. Revelation 20 explains
that, after the millennium, the wicked are raised to life and,
after the final judgment before the great white throne, they are
cast into "the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:12-15).
It is at that same time that "death and hell were cast
into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Revelation
Does that lake of fire experience occur
eternally? Obviously not, for at the same time that the wicked
perish in the flames, "death and hell" are destroyed
also! Lastly, we are told what that lake of fire experience
actually is: "the second death." It is not eternal life
in misery, but the final obliteration of the wicked. There will
be no endless misery to cause concern to God's redeemed ones. The
fire will burn out in a very short time, and go out.
Then, the righteous will come out of the
city and the wicked will be ashes under their feet.
"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
The bible says that hellfire will not be
quenched and that their worm dieth not. (Mark 9:43- 48;
Isaiah 66:24). Doesn't this proves the immortality of the
It is clear, from all we have so far
studied, that hellfire is a future event and the final death of
the wicked. Prior to that time, the lost ones are resting quietly
in the grave.
Christ declared we should "fear him
which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]"
(Matthew 10:28). "Destroy" means
"consume" or "annihilate". It does not mean
The Mark 9:43-48 passage refers
back to the Isaiah 66:24 statement: "They [the
redeemed] shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of them
that have transgressed against Me; for their worm shall not die,
neither shall their fire be quenched" (Isaiah 66:24).
This passage is clearly speaking of bodies,
not spirits, which the fire and worms work on.
The word "hell" in Mark
9:43-48 is from the Greek word Gehenna--which is the
equivalent of the Hebrew, Hinnom, that garbage dump near
Jerusalem, where the carcasses of animals were cast.
Jesus uses that town dump as an
illustration of the fate that awaits the wicked. In the Valley of
Hinnom, or Gehenna, the animals are burned up as they are brought
and cast there. One animal is burned up, and then another is
brought and thrown in.
But, in the final destruction of the
wicked,--they are all placed in the hellfire at the same
time--and all burn up together, and then are gone forever.
This final fire, which will destroy the
wicked, is in the Bible called "unquenchable." Why?
About a hundred years ago, a fire fanned by
strong winds roared across the city of Chicago. It was a terrible
conflagration. If I told you it was unquenchable, what would that
mean to you? Would it mean that fire is still burning? Or would
it mean that the fire could not be put out while it was burning?
The Chicago fire was unquenchable, yet it only lasted a few days.
It was "unquenchable," because no one could extinguish
it, yet it went out by itself when there was nothing more to
Elsewhere in the Bible we are told that
hellfire will be a devouring fire (Revelation 20:9) and
a destroying fire (Matthew 10:28). As soon as the fuel
is gone, the fire will stop.
That is what happened in the fire God
predicted would burn down Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 17:27--"If you will
not hearken unto Me, . . . then will I kindle a fire in the gates
thereof [of Jerusalem], and it shall devour the palaces of
Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched." [In the Septuagint
translation, the very same Greek root is here used for
"quenched" as is in Mark 9.]
That prophecy was literally fulfilled
later, when the Babylonians came and burned down the city (2
Chronicles 36:19-21). But the city is not still burning,
even though the fire which destroyed it "shall not be
Revelation 14:11 says, "The
smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever." How
do you explain that?
The passage says this: "The smoke of
their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no
rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image,
and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Revelation
This passage is taken with little change
from an Old Testament prophecy about Idumaea (ancient Edom):
"And the streams thereof shall be
turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and
the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be
quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for
ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none
shall pass through it for ever and ever." --Isaiah
Notice the points mentioned here: First,
about the fire: (1) Not be quenched; (2) night nor day;
(3) smoke goes up for ever. Second, about the
wasteland which shall afterward result: (1) from generation
to generation it shall lie waste; (2) none shall pass through
it for ever and ever.
Using the correct meanings of "for
ever," which we have discovered, we find that fire
predicted by Isaiah to occur in Edom--did just that. It was a
thorough fire which could not be quenched while it was
burning. It burned night and day as long as it burned. The
smoke from the fire went up as long as it burned. When the
fire stopped, it would lie waste from generation to
generation thereafter, and no one would pass through it. (If
the fire did not cease, it could not afterward, as predicted,
Ancient Idumaea is a desolate wasteland
today, and its cities are ruins. The prophecy was exactly
fulfilled--yet that fire went out thousands of years ago. The
smoke of that burning stopped when the fire went out.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to
the equivalent prediction in Revelation 14:11 and, using
the correct translation of aionios ("for
ever"), we find that this verse agrees with all the others:
The fire will burn only until the wicked burn up and are
consumed. When the fire goes out, the smoke will cease
also--otherwise the re deemed could live on the earth amid smoke
going up forever!
We must let the Bible agree with itself!
The meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5: Psalm 37:11), not
the wicked! How could the redeemed enjoy the new earth if the
wicked were endlessly burning and suffering on its surface?
To conclude this brief study, let me tell
you of a man I met in Oregon, about thirty years ago. He was a
lay evangelist, and I asked him how he got started. He told me he
once had a friend, with whom he shared our historic beliefs. But
his friend simply could not grasp the great truth that God does
not burn people in hellfire without end. Yet this man was certain
his friend was sincere and would accept the truth if it was
presented to him clearly enough.
I asked him what happened. He said he
studied with his friend for two years, and during that time, my
friend became a thorough Bible student. Then, one evening, he
presented to his friend passages he found which described how the
hellfire will burn on the surface of the earth, His friend was
convinced, for he saw, therefore, that (1) the fire could not be
now burning, and (2) it would have to be brief, or the saints
could not inherit the earth and live thereon through all
How thankful we can be that the Bible is so
consistent with itself. The apparent problems are caused by
misunderstandings by those who translated the book. The King
James translators did not understand that aion did not
mean forever, and that the grave was not hellfire.
The Bible does not say that the judgment
fire will burn endlessly, for this blazing fire on the surface of
the earth must go out, so God can create "a new earth" (2
Peter 3:12-13 and Revelation 20-21). There must
therefore be an end to the fire, else this earth could not be
recreated--so the meek could inherit it and dwell on it through
How wonderful it is to know that our God is
a God of deepest love. Yes, it is true that the wicked must die,
for they could never be happy in heaven. But how kind it is of
Him to quickly end their miserable lives!
They will be raised after the millennium
only long enough to learn the issues in the great controversy
between good and evil, and to understand how their lost condition
was their own responsibility.
Then they will quickly cease to exist.
There will be a few, like Hitler (and, of course, Satan and his
angels!), who will burn for a time; but, for most, death will
come very quickly.
The Bible nowhere says that souls are
immortal, but instead declares that "the soul that sinneth,
it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
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