All Rise to Face Judgment

There are a few differences among conditionalists. Some claim the first death is the end of existence for the unrighteous. These conditionalists hurt the case because the Bible plainly says everyone will face judgment:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, Hebrews 9:27

These passages cannot be interpreted any other way. We discussed three other Scriptures in Chapter Six that also prove both the righteous and the unrighteous will rise (Daniel 12:2, John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15). Since traditionalists can easily show nonbelievers will be resurrected, many think the whole case for conditionalism is refuted and do not study it.


Paying the Penalty

The first half of Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20), so we all deserve death. God is just and cannot overlook this. One sinful human cannot pay the penalty for another, since both deserve death. The only way to escape the death penalty is if a sinless person, who does not deserve death, dies in our place.

The second half of Romans 6:23 says the gift of God is eternal life. While wages are something we earn, a gift is free. Jesus paid our penalty so we can have eternal life.

This substitute death was foretold several times in the Old Testament. One example is Psalm 22, which describes death on the cross 700 years before the Romans started crucifixions. Another clear example is Isaiah 53, a very sobering chapter to read! Here is some of it:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all . . . Because He poured out His soul unto death, And was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:5-6, 12

The New Testament shows Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. Here are some texts showing He died in our place:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

. . . who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:14

. . .so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Hebrews 9:28

. . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed. 1 Peter 2:24

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18

The First Resurrection

If we accept this free gift as payment for our sins, we have eternal life right now (1 John 5:11-13). This is different from immortality. We are mortal, perishable, and corruptible today. Believers will be changed into immortal, imperishable and incorruptible beings at the first resurrection. This is found in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"

This passage only talks about believers - those who are asleep and those who are still alive (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Although God kept Adam and Eve from the tree of life after they sinned (Genesis 3:24), believers will have access to it again (Revelation 22:14). After judgment, believers will reign with the Lord forever and ever (Revelation 22:5). Amazing Grace is a famous Christian song, and one of the verses says:

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we'd first begun.

The Second Resurrection

Some traditionalists insist believers and nonbelievers are raised immortal at the same time. This is not the case, unless we throw away Revelation 20. Although Revelation has a lot of figurative language, John plainly speaks about two resurrections.

Revelation 20:4 talks about martyrs that live and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. John twice calls this the first resurrection (verses 5-6). It would not be called the first resurrection unless there is more than one. Verse 5 says the rest of the dead did not live again until the 1,000 years were over, showing nonbelievers are resurrected after believers.

Another disagreement among Bible scholars is the millennium. Some could argue that it is not a literal 1,000 years, since Peter says a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). This does not change the fact that there are two resurrections.

Although Daniel 12:2, John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 do not mention this gap between the resurrections, they all mention believers before nonbelievers. Gabriel says some rise to everlasting life, then says some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). Similarly, Jesus mentions the resurrection of life, then talks about the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29). Paul also says the just before he says the unjust (Acts 24:15).


Nonbelievers Remain Mortal

While Paul says believers will be changed from mortal to immortal at the first resurrection, Scripture never says the unfaithful will be immortal. Traditionalists insist, however, that nonbelievers will be immortal. One reason is 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says, "all shall be made alive." Traditionalists insist this chapter concerns both believers and nonbelievers, so it proves all will be raised immortal.

Traditionalists and conditionalists both agree that the biggest error of universalism is improper interpretation of words like everyone or all. These words can refer to a select group of people. Universalists, however, reference passages with these words to claim all will be saved (e.g. Romans 5:18, 1 Timothy 2:4, Titus 2:11). Passages used to support universalism, in many cases, only refer to believers.

Traditionalists eagerly point this out when responding to universalism, then make the same error when they reference 1 Corinthians 15:22. The next verse says, "But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming." Clearly, all only includes "those who are Christís." If traditionalists believe 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 proves everyone will be immortal, they are espousing universalism by saying all are Christís.

Jesus tells us that believers rise to the resurrection of life, while nonbelievers rise to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29). This clearly shows that the resurrections will be different, so we cannot assume all resurrections result in immortality.

The Bible plainly shows this. Several people died and were brought back to life. Since they later died again, they were still mortal. Just as these people remained mortal after their resurrections, Scripture reveals that the unfaithful will remain mortal after their resurrections.

Paul tells us that believers will be changed to immortal (1 Corinthians 15:51-56). John reiterates this when he says the second death has no power over those who take part in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6). Since believers will be immortal, they cannot die.

While the faithful cannot be harmed by the second death (Revelation 20:6), the unfaithful die the second death (Revelation 20:14-15). Since they die the second death, they are still mortal after the resurrection. This leads us to one inescapable conclusion: immortality is a conditional gift that God only grants to believers.


Careful Use of Revelation

In the previous chapter, I rejected a literal interpretation of the vision of souls under the alter in Revelation 6:9-11. Many have commented on my reliance on Revelation 20 above is similar.

There is a difference between the visions. In Revelation 6, each time a seal is opened there is a vision which symbolizes something else. When the first four seals are opened, John sees a different colored horse. The horse is not the focus of the vision; the horse represents future events. The souls under the alter represent persecution of believers.

The vision in Revelation 20 is not a horse that representing future world events, nor is it souls representing future persecution. The passage is about people facing judgment. These people facing judgment do not symbolize anything; these people are facing judgment. It should be self evident that this passage is literal.


Apples and Oranges

Traditionalists do not offer any Scriptural response to the clear evidence that nonbelievers remain mortal after the resurrection. Instead, they force the Word of God to conform to their assumption that nonbelievers will be immortal. Traditionalists commonly reference phrases meant for believers and apply the same meaning when these phrases talk about nonbelievers.

The meanings of many words depend on the nature of the subject. Since immortals and mortals have different natures, traditionalists compare apples to oranges. We will discuss this in Chapter Eleven.


Other Scriptures Against Eternal Existence

Several more passages shows only believers continue throughout eternity. Psalm 103:14-18, for example, says only the faithful will be everlasting:

For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children's children, To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them.

This says God's mercy keeps His followers from being like a flower that is gone and forgotten. Only those who fear God, keep His covenant, and follow His commandments, will continue from everlasting to everlasting. His mercy is conditional.

John reiterates this message in his first epistle. 1 John 2:17 says, "And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." Another supporting passage is the famous Scripture about who has eternal life:

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12

Those who do not have the Son do not have an unpleasant eternal life; they do not have eternal life at all. While traditionalists insist John talks about quality of life rather than duration, this passage is very misleading if nonbelievers have an eternal existence. God would not inspire such a misleading passage without clarification somewhere else in the Bible.  Nonbelievers will pay the death penalty for their sins. 


The Wages of Sin

The best place to start our analysis of the penalty for sin is with Jesus. So far, He is the only one to pay this penalty. The penalty obviously involves suffering, and we cannot dispute the fact that He suffered on the cross.

Another result of sin is separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). Christ was separated from the Father when He took on our sins. He even cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, Psalm 22:1)

While the suffering and separation were horrible, they ended at death. The penalty that Jesus paid was temporary suffering and separation, followed by death. We would expect the same penalty for the unfaithful.

Some have even argued that Jesus, being God, was able to endure as much suffering during the crucifixion as nonbelievers will in eternity. This has no Scriptural support; it is only an attempt to fit their assumption.

In another attempt to refute conditionalism, proponents of everlasting torment point out that Jesus was not annihilated when He died on the cross. This does not support their case in any way because Jesus is no longer suffering. Since Jesus is now in heaven, this makes a better argument for universalism.

The case for universalism does not hold up because Jesus has a different nature than nonbelievers. As shown earlier, nonbelievers remain mortal when they are resurrected. Unlike Jesus, they will not rise again after they die the second death.

We will examine the judgment of nonbelievers in more detail in the next two chapters.


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