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What is Conditional Immortality?
An introduction to the view of Hell that I think is a better understanding of scripture.
I have discussed ECT, or the traditional view, in the last two posts. This video will discuss the view that I hold and am using this channel to represent. This video is to explain the view, not necessarily defend it so if you disagree, watch out for further videos – and feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll try and incorporate answers in future!
There is a third view called Universal Reconciliation or Universalism that I will discuss in future, though not in the next video, as I’m currently still reading up on the strongest arguments for the view. That said, I am not a universalist for the reason that I hold to the view that I’m talking about in this video – this is where I see the whole view of scripture pointing.
My aim through this video is to show that the offer of Christianity isn’t one of life vs eternal torment but one of life and death.
The life that is on offer is both eternal in duration and quality through relationship with God as humans were made to be. Death is the opposite of life. Death is not some ongoing form of existence in the bible. Death is what those who do not accept Jesus’ sacrifice face as an eternal punishment – a death that cannot be returned from and therefore is eternal.
To show just how clearly this is throughout the bible we’ll start in Genesis.
In the beginning God created the world and it was good. Humanity lives with God and is given opportunity to live forever with access to the tree of life. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebel by eating the one fruit that they were told not to, that had the warning that
“in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”.
The serpent that deceived them did so by promising them that,
“You will not surely die.”
The result is that Adam and Eve are removed from the garden, where God walked with them. Despite God expelling them, he clearly cares enough for them that he covers their shame by the death of an animal but says as he expels them,
“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”
Man was made to live in the presence of their creator and by access to the tree, either as a symbol or a literal fruit, they were to live forever. Rebellion and the desire to be our own gods led to the separation between us and God’s presence and resulted in a loss of access to the tree of life.
The story at the beginning of Genesis shows that mankind’s immortality is conditional on a right relationship with God. God’s gift to Adam and Eve was the garden and the tree of life. When they rebelled through sin, death was the outcome.
Over the course of the Old Testament we see the impact of sin, the rebellion against God which leads to death. I will sometimes use sin and death synonymously, partly because the bible interweaves the two – they are directly connected.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Corinthians 15:56)
Throughout the Old Testament we see the seriousness of sin and the damage of death. The law given through Exodus to Deuteronomy shows that due to human nature death is constantly a part of rejecting God, sacrifices are required to cover sin but Israel is also used to bring judgement to the nations around it. The judgement on the nations usually brings death. Joshua is called to destroy nations involved in child sacrifice and much of Judges is filled with warfare – some of it Godly, some of it not, much of it brutal and shows the connection between sin and death.
Destruction is a key term for those who go against God. The Psalmists repeatedly use language that leaves no room for a death that actually means someone is still experience and sensing their torment. These are quite a few Psalms that show this!
“The wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away…the way of the wicked leads to destruction”
“You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever…the memory of them has perished…let the nations know they are only mortal”
“May you blow them away like smoke – as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God…Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death”
Notice the contrast between escape from death with God and the destruction that the wicked face away from God. Wax and smoke melt away. Immortality, or escape from death, is conditional on the faithful finding their refuge in God.
This theme is repeated in Proverbs,
“When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever… The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short…The way of the Lord is a refuge for the blameless, but it is the ruin of those who do evil.”
David who wrote many of the Psalms also struggled with sin. His own sin brought death to one of his sons as well as the husband of Bathsheba, eventually it led to the downfall of Israel and during his reign Israel split into two kingdoms and it never recovered. Babylon invaded a couple generations later and it is while in exile that Daniel had his visions and wrote of the hope of resurrection, that some would go to everlasting life while others would rise to everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2 - contempt is felt by the righteous living).
The Old Testament prophets hoped for God to restore Israel but also to bring judgement on the wicked. In so doing they prophecy judgement and we see how God’s holiness deals with sin. The language is quite clear: the wicked will perish, be eaten up, be devoured, be a corpse, they cannot endure, their blood (which was seen as the life of a creature) will be poured out like dust and finally the Old Testament ends with Malachi who writes that the wicked will be ash under the feet of the righteous.These are just a few of the phrases used in the OT. There are many more that will come up in future videos, especially when it comes to looking at the Greek and Hebrew words that have been translated as Hell and what they mean.
These images of destruction are only re-emphasised, not re-explained or re-imagined in the New Testament. Jesus spoke into a culture that was steeped in the Old Testament imagery and prophecy as the religious leaders had a lot of sway in the community and most would have heard the scriptures read aloud. It is often said that the traditional view of hell was held by the majority of the Jews in Jesus’ time, though it was a view, it is harder to prove it was the majority view as there were many differing views around at that time including this one. This isn’t a new discussion!
When Jesus says that God will burn up the trees that do not bear good fruithe is not referencing a fire that keeps people in torment. In fact, when it comes to talking directly about hell, or Gehenna. Jesus talks 11 times about Gehenna but one of the clearest passages of what will happen there is Matthew 10:28. Jesus says we shouldn’t be afraid of those who can kill our bodies but we should be afraid of God who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Destruction of sin is complete and not to be left around God’s people or dwelling, this is true throughout the Old Testament and will be true in the new creation.
When Jesus then compares eternal life with eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46, it is a simpler, and potentially a more accurate interpretation to view the eternal punishment as death. This is based on ALL of the images used in the Old Testament rather than a form of experience in unending torment based on two passages in Revelation.
It is from the Old Testament language, particularly Isaiah 66:24 that we can make sense of the language of fire and worms that we see in Mark 9:48. The worms and fire are consuming corpses. Corpses do not experience being eaten, it is a symbol of death, and it would be a fear of many at the time to think of their afterlife being like that of someone who was dead and unburied. Being left unburied was shameful and actually makes sense of the language in Daniel 12:2 that says these wicked people would be looked at with everlasting contempt.
It is from the Old Testament language that we can make sense of Paul’s use of ‘eternal destruction’ in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 being the same image that John uses in Revelation 20:14 when he says ‘second death’. The first death being the one we experience at the end of our natural lives, we then rise to judgementand we either stand in the presence of God through the gift of life found in Jesus Christ or we are consumed in the presence of the Holy God. The Apostles Peter and Jude, whose epistles are named after them, both agree in showing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and their being burned to ashes making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.
This is Conditional Immortality. An offer between two roads. The road that leads away from God to death, and the road that leads to life through Jesus. There is no further explanation needed for what death, perish, consumed, destroyed, burned up and others mean. We can take the words at their plane meaning.
Conditional immortality is summarised completely in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
And again at the end of chapter 3:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)
As already quoted from Romans 6, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Come and join in the free gift of life by putting your trust in Jesus. This is the hope that all Christians have, that death is defeated because although Jesus died, he is the only person who didn’t stay dead. Those who trust in Him can sing the ancient shout found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which is a link to Hosea 13:14, “Oh death where is your victory, Oh death where is your sting”. The Christian no longer need fear any death, because Jesus has defeated it completely. In the end, we look forward to heaven coming back to a restored earth where,
“the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4)
There is amazing hope that has helped people find peace in the deepest pain and healing in terrible suffering, and this is the tip of the iceberg of the hope of Christianity.
What questions does this raise for your view of hell? What questions do you have regarding CI? Put them in the comments below. You might have noticed I haven’t referenced at least three of the main verses used for ECT – each of those will require their own videos as to why CI gives a better answer.
Isaiah 1:28, 51:8, 66:24; Nahum 1:6; Zephaniah 1:17; Malachi 4:3
Daniel 12:2, Matthew 25:41-46, John 5:29, and others
Nahum 1:6, Hebrews 12:29
Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:4-6