Thankfully, Conditionally Immortality is growing in belief among evangelicals. A great article was written by respected evangelical scholar Clark Pinnock who has come out strongly in favor of this position: The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent.
The fact that it is gaining ground must be the reason why a few are writing responses to it. They usually all quote the same four or five verses in defense of eternal torment, so these are now going to be addressed in this section.
First, in scripture, Jesus speaks definitively on the fate of the unsaved soul, it will be destroyed.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt 10:28)
It is Jesus who gives us the truly critical and pivotal scripture for understanding the fate of the lost soul that it can and will be destroyed. It will die (cease to function anymore) on Judgment Day at the end of the age. This will happen in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15) which will be a terrible fate–cremation. However, Matthew 10:28 is the text through which all other scriptures and their interpretations must be filtered. Without using this text as the foundation for the fate of the lost, there will be confusion. With this text, (Matthew 10:28) as a foundational text, all other texts follow smoothly. Additionally, Paul also taught that immortality is brought to light through the gospel only. (2 Timothy 1:10) With this as a biblical filter, an important rule of biblical hermeneutics can now be followed–plain texts must interpret any symbolic texts.
First of all, we need to realize that Jesus is quoting verbatim Isaiah 66:24 in this passage so please read, Why rarely cited Isaiah 66:24 is a key for a more complete understanding of this scripture. Proper hermeneutics demands that we interpret scripture with scripture. If Jesus is quoting Isaiah, shouldn’t we read Isaiah too? Obviously Jesus would not disagree with Isaiah. Was Isaiah talking about the soul? Clearly he was not.
Second of all, if God throws something into eternal fire, who says that what is thrown in, is eternal also? Inter-Varsity Press author John R. Stott rightly concludes:
“…it would seem strange…if people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed…it is difficult to imagine a perpetually inconclusive process of perishing.”
(J. Stott and D. Edwards, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, p. 316)
Third of all, this phrase is used elsewhere in “Tanach” (the Old Testament) and is never used to mean eternal torment. If you look up Isaiah 66:24, Jeremiah 7:20 and 17:27, and Ezekiel 20:47-48, they all mention that same phrase. And reading the context of these verses, it can clearly be seen that “unquenchable” means a judgment that man cannot “quench” or “talk God out of.” In other words, no one can talk God out of it and it will indeed run its course. Has God ever been “talked out of” something in the past? Yes. Clearly Moses talked God out of destroying Israel in the desert. (Exodus 32:10-14) In a real sense Moses “quenched” God’s anger against Israel.
Fourth of all, remember it (the fire) was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:41) It was never, never made for humans. Humans will perish in the fire, not be preserved in the fire. With that in mind, reread the second point above by John Stott.
This is covered in Are you saying there is no “punishment” for the unsaved? But to state very briefly, the punishment (or wages) of sin according to scripture is always death. Romans 6:23 and many other scriptures state this very clearly, “The wages of sin is death.” And how long will this punishment of death last? Remember, this verse is taking place while they are standing before God and know that He can bring anyone back from death. Perhaps God will raise them back to life to enjoy the Kingdom they will clearly see in front of them? No, they will be told they will miss out on the joy of being alive forever. Their sentence and punishment of death will last forever. That is why he tells them it is eternal punishment. It is a complete shame that believers have such a low view on the gift of life and existence from God that they do not believe having a person’s life removed is a punishment. Yet it is a punishment. And that punishment will last forever.
The teaching of Conditional Immortality means that the soul of man is finally destroyed on the Day of Judgment–at the end of this age. Therefore, technically speaking, this scripture has no bearing on this doctrine.
However, as a side note, there is sufficient reason for understanding this passage of scripture as a parable.
The previous four stories were all parables (Luke 15:4, 15:8, 15:11, 16:1) so this story is obviously in a long string of parables.
The parable in Luke 16:1, which He just told them, also began with the exact same words “There was a certain rich man,” (Luke 16:1). That story, “the parable of the shrewd accountant,” is clearly a parable (though not labeled as such). These two stories both have to do with “mammon” (money) and the misuse of it. If the first is clearly a parable, why not the second, for it is in the exact same section of scripture?
The point of the parable is at the end, “And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:31). He told them this parable to make the point that, “No matter what anyone tells them (i.e. the Pharisees), they will never believe in me because they refuse to believe even Moses and the prophets.” Jesus just said money was their god (verse 14). He made a point and backs it up with a parable. The ultimate point of this parable is that their unbelief is due to money not lack of evidence.
Matthew tells us, “and without a parable spake he not unto them.” (Matthew 13:34)
The Greek word used in this passage is not Gehenna (hell), but it is Hades (temporary abode of the dead). It is a different Greek word. A word that most translators mistranslate as “hell.”
Note: For an excellent study on this passage and Hades visit http://www.hellhadesafterlife.com/. Remember, Hades will be itself emptied and destroyed one day:
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Rev 20:14)
The great nineteenth century Hebrew Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim flatly states it is a parable:
“The Parable itself is strictly of the Pharisees and their relation to the “publicans and sinners” whom they despised…their Pharisaic righteousness, which left poor Lazarus at their door to the dogs and to famine, not bestowing in him aught from their supposed rich festive banquets…it will be necessary in the interpretation of this Parable to keep in mind, that its Parabolic details must not be exploited, nor doctrines of any kind derived from them, either as to the character of the other world.”
(The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., 1993, p. 667)
Inter-Varsity Press scholar Craig Keener and many other conservative commentators also call it a parable:
“Some Jewish parables, including the rabbinic one mentioned at the beginning of this section, named a character or two…But this parable specifies only economic inversion.”
(Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, Downers Grove, Inter Varsity Press, 1993, p. 236)
The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that there are sufficient grounds for looking at this as a parable. Either way, let it be said again, that the teaching of Conditional Immortality means that the soul of man is finally destroyed on the “Day of Judgment”–at the end of this age (Revelation 20:14. Therefore, technically speaking, this scripture has no bearing on the doctrine of Conditional Immortality, the destruction of the lost. Many Evangelicals who hold to Conditional Immortality also hold different views on the intermediate state and this paper does not discuss the intermediate state. It is also important to remember that if Jesus suffered on the cross for about six hours we have every reason to believe that the lost will suffer no more than the same amount of time that Jesus suffered.
NOTE: For great information on the intermediate state of “Sheol” visit http://www.hellhadesafterlife.com/.
First let’s look at what the text actually says…Revelation 14:10-11 is about a specific group of people at “the end times.” It is about people who take the mark of the beast during what many call The Great Tribulation. John tells us of the day they meet God on Judgment Day.
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: (Revelation 14:10-11)
It is very important to notice where they are. They are “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” This is obviously when they are standing before the Great White Throne of God on Judgment Day and cannot be hell. The parable that Jesus tells in Luke 19:27 teaches us that these ones will ultimately be slain, “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Notice, they are eventually slain in the presence of the King, but not before they are tormented by His holiness and their sinfulness. Additionally, this is the same exact word in Greek that Peter uses to talk about how Lot was vexed (tormented) in his soul while seeing the evil deeds done in his hometown. (2 Peter 2:8)
If then, the torment with fire, brimstone, and eternal smoke takes place in the presence of the Lamb and holy angels, then it also takes place in the presence of the believers as well (since we will be with the Lord by that time). Think about it. Could you be happy for all eternity witnessing the excruciating fire and torture of hundreds of millions of lost souls? And will they be forever in the presence of Jesus being tormented as the text says, they are “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
But what about the word “forever”; doesn’t the text say torment will go on forever? No. Read it very carefully. It clearly says “the smoke” will rise forever. Smoke rising forever is much different than torment going on forever. John is using the biblical expression of “smoke rising” to describe how people then remembered an important incident. Today we take pictures and video of our enemies being bombed and their city set on fire and play it over and over a hundred times, but back then the enemies of God were destroyed and it was over. There was no video to review over and over again back then. The preservation of smoke was the only way for them to remember the great event. Look how John speaks of Babylon’s destruction, “And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up forever and ever.” (Revelation 19:3) One day Babylon will be destroyed and even in heaven we will never forget God’s destruction of that city. That is what is meant by smoke rising forever. The same thing happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, “And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.” (Genesis 19:28).
It is not proper hermeneutics to view the scripture in Revelation 14:10 apart from how the other biblical writers use it. And they do not use it of eternal torment. Again, look how Isaiah uses the exact same wording about the city of Edom being destroyed, “the smoke thereof shall go up forever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” (Isaiah 34:10). Edom was destroyed and the smoke rising forever was meant as a remembrance statement. Obviously, there is no smoke today still rising from the location of Edom. It is figurative language denoting that God’s work of their destruction will “never be forgotten.”
Read the comments of Babu G. Ranganathan, who, as a former Hindu, was converted to faith in Jesus over thirty-five years ago through the television ministry of Dr. Billy Graham. Babu Ranganathan is a committed Reformed Baptist who holds a B.A. with a major in Bible and a minor in Biology from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina (class of ’82). He also lectures on the fallacies and errors of evolution
We also read in Isaiah 34:10 that while Edom was burning day and night the smoke of the city would ascend up forever and ever. Does that mean that Edom would never stop burning? Of course, not! The language simply signifies that the burning of Edom will ultimately end in permanent (or irrevocable and eternal) destruction. We know that Edom doesn’t exist anymore. Similarly, we are to understand the same from the passage in Revelation 14:9-11. The smoke of their torment arising “forever and ever” in the passage does not mean that the torment of the wicked will never end. The language simply signifies that the torment of the wicked will lead to their permanent (or irrevocable and eternal) destruction. During the process of their destruction the wicked will be tormented but that process will ultimately end in their eternal destruction (annihilation), [emphasis mine] which is what is signified by the use of the figure of smoke arising “forever and ever.”
This is the only interpretation of Revelation 14:9-11 that would be consistent with how the rest of Scripture uses such language and with what the rest of the Scriptures teach concerning the final and ultimate end of the wicked. The smoke ascendeth up forever is the forever remembrance of what happened to them.
Source: Traditional Doctrine of Hell Evolved From Greek Roots, Babu G. Ranganathan,www.religionscience.com.
Edward Fudge makes similar comments:
In saying the smoke “will rise forever,” the prophet evidently means what he goes on to describe in the rest of the chapter. So long as time goes on, nothing will remain at the site but the smoke of what once was Edom’s proud kingdom. Again the picture of destruction by fire overlaps that of slaughter by sword (vv. 1-7). The wicked die a tormented death; the smoke reminds all onlookers that the Sovereign God has the last word. That the smoke lingers forever in the air means that the judgment’s message will never become out of date.
(Edward W. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes. A Biblical and Historical Study of the Final Punishment, Houston, 1982, p. 298)
Yes, they will indeed have “no rest,” but when will this happen? It will be during the tribulation period while on this earth. It is important to note that in the previous verse, John wrote in the Greek future tense and refers to the Great White Throne Judgment where the lost will be tormented “in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” on Judgment Day. This is a future event for John. The Greek tense is in the future.
In this verse, John changes tenses. It is in the Greek present tense. This cannot be stressed enough. In his literal translation of the scriptures, Robert Young, compiler of the Analytical Concordance that bears his name, translates it into a perfect English translation–as John wrote it:
“And they have no rest day and night, who are bowing before the beast and his image.” (Young’s Literal Translation Revelation 14:11)
The apostle John writes this word “proskuneo” (worship/bowing) in the Greek present tense. The present tense is the tense he chooses to use to describe the rest of the events of Revelation that occur on the earth. So this must be while on earth since it is in the same Greek tense. Look at verse 9 in which the unsaved “worship” (also in the Greek present tense) the beast “and receive his mark.” This is very important because it clearly occurs while on this earth. So, if the receiving of this mark (whatever it may be) is on this earth, then the worshipping in 14:11 must also be on this earth. Hence, the “no rest day or night” must occur on this earth as well.
The “no resting day or night” occurs while they are “bowing” and “worshipping” (present tense) the beast. This occurs during the time on earth when the book of Revelation events are being unfolded. These are people who are forced to receive the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16). John also tells us that painful sores break out on their body, “And there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.” (Revelation 16:2) This is while they are on the earth.
Additionally the very next verse states “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). Why is this important? Because “keeping” is in the very same tense! John’s statement of those “who keep (present tense) the commandments” must be at the same time as those who have “no rest” and are “worshipping (present tense) the beast.” Therefore this is conclusive proof that these both occur on the earth. Need more proof? Well, the same Greek word and tense of “worship” (of God this time) is also used in Revelation 11:1 where it is absolutely clear that the “worship” is going on in the present tense upon this earth. Let me repeat Revelation 11:1, 14:11, 16:2, all have the same Greek tense! You have to make them all be acts of “worship” while upon this earth.
Therefore, how can anyone “rest day or night” when they have painful such sores on their body and are forced to worship the beast? (Revelation 14:11 & 16:2). And John specifically tells us when this worshipping shall occur–it is when they “dwell upon the earth.” “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him…” (Revelation 13:8) So the worshipping and the no resting both occur while upon this earth.
They will indeed be tormented forever; however they are not humans. Jesus says Gehenna (hell) was specifically made for Satan and demons (Matthew 25:41), however fire does not affect angelic beings like humans. (see Ezekiel 10:7).
Additionally, the word “tormented” here is the same Greek word that speaks of Lot being tormented in 2 Peter 2:8 watching the bad behavior of the Sodomites. The same Greek word is used for both Lot and Satan being tormented.
Also, John himself tells us where the beast comes from “the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit” (Rev. 11:7) This “beast” is not a human being. Humans do not come out of this pit. The apostle John wants us to know this beast is a demon by telling us his origins.
NOTE: When the devil or the beast and the false prophet were thrown in the lake of fire, we read no word about a second death. However, when human beings are thrown in there, it says second death.
Dirk Warren has some keen insight on this verse:
Adherents of eternal conscious torture often cite the above text, Revelation 20:10, to support their view by suggesting that “the beast and the false prophet” are human beings…The antichrist is indeed a human being…However, “the beast” from Revelation 19:20 and 20:10 is not referring to this man, but to the evil spirit that possessed him. This is clear because the bible plainly states that the beast originated from the Abyss (Revelation 11:7 and 17:8). “The Abyss,” according to scripture, is the furnace-like pit where evil spirits are imprisoned, not human beings (see Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1-2 and 20:1-3)…Likewise, the false prophet is referred to as “another beast” (13:11-17, 16:13 and19:20). The Greek for “another” here is allos (al’-los), which means “another of the same kind.” Therefore, the false prophet is an evil spirit that originated from the Abyss as well.
For further proof that the beast and the false prophet are evil spirits and not human beings, consider Revelation 16:13: “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon (Satan), and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” First of all, notice that the beast and the false prophet are spoken of on a par with the devil himself here; this signifies that they are evil spirits…
Again, I even heard Dr. Tony Evans (who holds to the Traditional position) describe the final home of the devil as an island in a lake of fire. This will be Satan’s home forever…his jail cell.
However, humans are destroyed there (Matthew 10:28)