DEATH, Part One

by C. Parker Thomas

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the March-April 1975 issue of the Midnight Cry Messenger.)

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Rom. 5:12.

The scripture above is speaking of the universal condition of man without Christ. Through the fall of Adam all men became sinners. The death sentence was passed upon all because of sin. In the same manner men became sinners through Adam and died, men become righteous through Jesus Christ and live. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 6:23.

For the sake of clarification we will use such terms as spiritual death, physical death and the second death.

Spiritual death is the state of man before he is quickened by Christ. As Paul says, he is “…dead in trespasses and sins.” He is dead to God and righteousness. He has natural or created life which is cursed with death. It is just a matter of time before he dies physically.

Physical death is the death of the body. It is the result of sin and the death sentence passed upon all mankind through Adam’s transgression. Except for those alive at Christ’s coming, all men, righteous and unrighteous, must experience physical death. I Cor. 15:51-57.

The second death is called such because it takes place after the general resurrection. It involves the wicked, most of whom have died once already. Being dead in trespasses and sins and having died physically once already, it is called the second death to distinguish it from man’s first encounter with death in the Garden.

The second death takes place in the lake of fire. It is the final disposition of lost humanity. It is the climax of death passed upon man through the fall of Adam. I might add it is the climactic end of man and world history under the curse. At the great white throne judgment only those whose names are written in the book of life will escape the lake of fire. Rev. 20:11-15.

Interestingly enough there are two births, two deaths and two resurrections. One is natural and one is spiritual. One is temporal and one is eternal.

However, to better understand the principle of death we need to know something about the first man Adam. Before the human spirit is quickened by Christ, man is dead in trespasses and sins even as Adam was after the fall. As a living soul the scripture simply means Adam was pulsating with the life principle possessed by all earthly creatures.

Apart from a much higher intelligence that made Adam God-conscious and self-conscious, the life that Adam received was the same as the lower creatures. However being God’s chief creation in the earth, man had access to many things in the garden that the lower creatures did not. It was this God-given privilege that enabled Adam to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and thus fall from the state of innocence and die. Gen. 2:17.

The difference in the life Adam possessed and the life that resided in the tree of life is the difference between natural life and spiritual life. One is earthly and the other is heavenly. “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” I Cor. 15:45-47.

It is also quite evident that Adam’s life before the fall was conditional. Conceivably Adam could have lived forever had he not sinned. However this was created or natural life (nephesh, soul life). The life he would have received from the tree of life, had he partaken, was unconditional, spiritual and eternal. Had he partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever regardless of his corrupted condition or what he did in the future. Gen. 3:22- 23. Otherwise God would not have put him out of the Garden of Eden.

Had the Lord not barred him from the Garden and the tree of life he could, in spite of his sin, have partaken of the tree of life and overruled the sentence of death. To prevent this the Lord “...drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” Gen. 3:24.

If it was necessary for God to drive man out of the Garden lest he partake of the tree of life and live forever in that corrupted condition, pray tell me how he is going to live forever in a corrupted condition in a place called hell? This is exactly what many advocates of the never-ending hell doctrine believe. They say men will go on sinning and sinning — never able to stop as they are tormented in the flames of hell.

However some object to this on the grounds that the eternal state of the wicked is not life but death. Although the person is supposedly consciously aware of his lost estate, able to remember and experience pain it is not called life. I certainly agree that such an existence would not be the blessed life of the righteous. But as long as a person is conscious and has feeling he is alive. The greatest manifestation of life is consciousness.

According to the advocates of a never-ending hell, being able to remember the lost opportunities to be saved will be one of the great causes of tormenting anguish. Psa. 6:5 says, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”

Only those who partake of the tree of life (Jesus Christ) will escape the curse of death. John 3:36 says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Like Adam after the fall the unrighteous only possess nephesh or created life which is cursed with death. Through Adam they inherit death before they are conceived or born. Because they are dead in trespasses and sins it is just a matter of time until death claims them for eternity. Whether this takes place when they die physically or in the lake of fire the end result is the same.

Possessing only nephesh or created life which is cursed with death, the unrighteous have no more future beyond the grave or the lake of fire than the beasts of the field which possess the same created life. Being earthly, sinful and consequently mortal, it is this life that will be eternally extinguished in death. Death will be victor over everything under the curse. In the end only the righteous will be able to triumphantly cry out, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” I Cor. 15:55.

Physical death would be the end of all the unrighteous if God did not resurrect some of them for the judgment. It is my conviction that when the unrighteous dies the light of that soul goes out forever or until the resurrection. Ecc. 9:5 says, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”

Among the unrighteous I believe we have two general classes of people recognized by the word of God. Paul speaks of them in Rom. 2:12. “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.”

Surely it’s easy to see that God’s judgment is according to the responsibility of the person. This is substantiated by many scriptures with which most students of the Bible readily agree. In confirmation of this, Rom. 2:2 says, “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.”

This scripture says that judgment is according to truth — truth that men have been exposed to. Those who sinned without law shall perish without law. Because they are sinners they will perish or die but they cannot be judged by a law they know nothing about. Those who have the law or the gospel will be judged by it.

Many scriptures make it very plain that God’s judgment of men varies greatly. Rom. 2:5-6 says, “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.”

In Luke 12:47-48 Jesus said, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

According to Christ’s teaching above, the spectrum of divine judgment ranges from few stripes to many. The very fact that judgment varies according to man’s deeds and the light he has should tell us something. In the final analysis it means that all of God’s judgment is relative and therefore governed by divine limitation. This, of course, is inconsistent with the concept of hell as one raging inferno where all unbelievers alike must spend eternity.

Beyond question God’s wrath in its greatest measure will come upon those who have the greatest truth. Rom. 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

Let it be noted that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. This scripture does not say the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, period. It is against men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.

These that hold the truth in unrighteousness are those that have truth but will not bow to it. As we read on in Romans 1 we see they are a people that refuse to glorify God or retain the knowledge of God in their hearts. As a result of their rebellion against God they have been turned over to a reprobate mind to do all sorts of ungodly things. Possessed by evil they take pleasure in others that do the same things.

It is evident from the whole tenor of scripture in Romans 1 & 2 that the judgment of these people is far more severe than those who have sinned without the law. If all people out of Christ were put in the same category and cast into the same hell these scriptures would be meaningless.

What is meant by Paul’s statement “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law...”? Let’s remember sin is transgression of the law. I John 3:4. “...For where no law is, there is no transgression.” Rom. 4:15.

To understand what is meant by Paul, “to perish without law,” we need to understand the purpose and intent of the law. The law was given that man, born with a sinful corrupt nature might recognize his condition and thus turn to God for salvation.

The law was never given as a means of righteousness or obtaining salvation. Rom. 3:20 says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

The law does not make a man a sinner. He is a sinner by birth and by nature. The moral aspect of the law reveals how unholy and sinful man is. Although man inherited a sinful nature from Adam it is exposure to the law that opens his eyes to his condition.

It was when Adam and Eve partook of the knowledge of good and evil that their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked. Gen. 2:7. This was the beginning of sin and death. In Adam all men must die because of sin. Natural death itself is the result of sin and the judgment of God. This however is not to be confused with the day of wrath to come and the lake of fire which is the second death. Rev. 6:16-17. 21:8.

“For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” Rom. 5:13 & 14.

What does he mean sin is not imputed where there is no law? Impute means to charge with or place to one’s account. This could only mean that man is not charged with sin when he is in a state of ignorance concerning the law and the gospel.

If absence of law means no transgression then a state of innocence exists. This certainly seems to be what Paul is teaching in Rom. 5:13 where he says, “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

Although man must die because of the disease of sin inherited from Adam, sin in the greater sense is not imputed when there is no law. Perhaps this is what David meant when he spoke of “the great transgression.” Ps. 19:13.

Not only is this true concerning those who died without the law from Adam to Moses but it is also true of men in every age and every place that have died without a knowledge of God.

We need to realize the law was given to Israel, one nation, while most of the world continued in spiritual darkness. Even in Paul’s day and the revelation of the gospel, this was still true. In his observance of the Athenians and their idolatrous worship of many gods Paul said, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30.

Let’s note other translations of Acts 17:30a. “Such ages of ignorance God overlooked.” — Moffatt.

“Now while it is true that God has overlooked the days of ignorance.” — Phillips.

“Such former ages of ignorance God, it is true, ignored and allowed to pass unnoticed.” — Amplified.

Does this teaching of Paul literally mean that God has overlooked ages of ignorance in allowing them to pass unnoticed? The people of Greece, as a nation, were ignorant of the righteousness of God and given to idolatry. But now they had no cloak for their sin, Paul was preaching the gospel to them and telling them about the true God. This is why they were commanded to repent.

This principle is also confirmed by what Jesus said in John 15:22. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.”

It will be noticed in Rev. 20:11-15 that certain books are opened for this judgment, with the dead being judged out of those things written in the books. We know one of the books is the book of life. But what about the other books which are in the plural? What could they be but a record of the works of man judged by the law which was given by Moses, proclaimed by the prophets and fulfilled by Jesus Christ?

It is obvious from these many scriptures that those who die in Adam not having had the law or the gospel will not be judged on the same basis as those that have. Within this group there are millions of heathen babies, children and retarded people who died without any enlightenment, not even the enlightenment of the human conscience.

In addition to these from lands where there have been no law and no gospel there are millions more belonging to unbelievers who have likewise died in infancy. What about these that have died without any knowledge of God or righteousness?

Natural human sentiment would like to think they will all surely be saved. If so there will be a large part of earth’s population in heaven. It wouldn’t be a little flock as the scriptures teach. Luke 12:32. I do not believe these people will be resurrected, judged and cast into the lake of fire. Neither do I believe they will inherit eternal life.

As part of the Adamic or old creation they were born in sin and cursed with death along with all other men. Certainly this large segment of humanity will not be judged by a law they know nothing about. Neither do we have any scriptural basis for their salvation. It is my conviction that they are part of the group that perish without law.

However I believe there is a difference in the case of believers whose children die in infancy. This could also apply to the infants of the elect that die before their parents come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Although I do not wish to be dogmatic on this issue it is my conviction that “...all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Rom. 8:28.

This would certainly include children of the elect who die in infancy or even retarded children. The elect are foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified in the mind of God from eternity. Eph. 1:4.

There is, according to the word of God, a difference between the children of the righteous and the children of the unrighteous. Paul makes this plain in I Cor. 7:14 where he says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

Please note that Paul made a distinction between children born to believers and children born to unbelievers. In this case the marriage is sanctified because of the faith of the believing husband or wife. And he adds “...else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

We know that children of believers and unbelievers alike are responsible to repent and believe the gospel when they reach the age of accountability. The fact that one’s father and mother are Christians does not relieve him of this responsibility. But Paul certainly makes a distinction between the two in calling one unclean and the other holy.

The child born to David and Bathsheba is an Old Testament example of God honoring the righteous in the death of their children. Although conceived in adultery and smitten with sickness and death as judgment upon David, the child, it would seem, was saved.

David, in spite of his sins, was a righteous man and greatly loved by the Lord. I believe it was by inspiration that he said, “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” II Sam. 2:14-23.

According to Ex. 20:5, 34:7 and Num. 14:18 there is a special curse upon the children of those that hate God, “...visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation....”

What makes this so terrible is that this judgment may continue on to other generations through the iniquity of succeeding third and fourth generation children. An example of this is found in Steven’s indictment of the Jews who stoned him to death. “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” Acts 7:51.

Let it be noted that their hatred of God and righteousness, which caused them to kill Steven, went back generations to their fathers who also resisted the Holy Ghost and killed the prophets. Although God can and has saved some whose heritage has been evil, this is a Bible principle that we have to acknowledge. Evil begets evil and righteousness begets righteousness. Gal. 6:6-10.

Another common teaching among those that believe in a never-ending hell is that the unrighteous go straight into the flames of hell at death. The principle scripture used to substantiate this teaching is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31. I might add it is the only scripture in the Bible that seemingly lends any credence to this teaching.

I disagree with those who say this is not a parable but an actual account of two men who died. How could this be so when the rich man is told that his brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them? Moses and the prophets covered a span of almost 1700 years. Luke 16:16. If this was literal it means this rich man’s five brothers would have been older than Methuselah who lived to be nine hundred and sixty-nine (969) years old. Gen. 5:27.

Another thing that proves this is a parable is the rich man and Abraham talking to each other. Do we actually believe that communication between the two realms is possible? Do we believe the two groups have been conversing with each other for thousands of years or since the first righteous and unrighteous person died?

It is interesting to note that Matthew Henry’s Commentary (vol. 5) recognizes this scripture as a parable. In reference to the supposed conversation, the commentary adds, “ is probable that there will not be, nor are, any such dialogues or discourses between glorified saints and damned sinners.”

I certainly agree that this parable portends the terrible judgment of God upon the wicked. And especially upon those who despise the law and the gospel. Hebrews 10:26-31. However in consideration of many other scriptures relative to this subject I do not believe this scripture was intended to teach that sinners, upon death, go straight into hell where they will burn forever.

An understanding of the factor of time and eternity will help us in the interpretation of this parable. Although there may be thousands of years between the death of the wicked and the resurrection it will only seem like a moment of time. When the sea gives up the dead which are in it and death and hell (the grave) deliver up the dead which are in them, it will have only seemed like a short sleep before their eyes are opened to behold the awful scene of judgment and the lake of fire. Rev. 20:11-15.

It is obvious that the death and hell of Rev. 20:13 means death and the grave. Why do the scriptures speak of the sea giving up the dead which were in it? It is simply because the sea always has been the burial place of some. If all these people went to a burning hell at death that would be the only place to resurrect them from.

This idea that men go straight into hell at death can’t be so in the light of God’s own law that does not punish a man before he is tried. John 7:51 says, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?”

Much of our law today comes to us from the Bible by way of English law. No doubt the premise which says a man is innocent until proven guilty is based upon Deut. 17:6. The Lord himself honored this principle in Matt. 18:15-19. There would be no need of a judgment if men are going to be cast into hell fire at death.

Many of the following scriptures would indeed be meaningless if this were so. Matt. 7:22, 11:24, 12:36-37, 25:14-30, 25:31-46. John 5:28-29, 12:48. Acts 17:31. Rom. 2:5, 14:10-12. I Cor. 3:13, 4:5. II Cor. 5:10. II Tim. 4:1. Heb. 9:27, 10:27. II Peter 2:4-9. Jude 6. Rev. 6:15-17, 11:18, 20:11-15.

All of these scriptures point to judgment as something in the future. It follows the coming of Christ and resurrection. Likewise punishment of the wicked takes place after they are judged. It is at the time of judgment the dead are brought forth, the books are opened, and the wicked are cast into the lake of fire. Rev. 20:11-15. Daniel 7:9-10.

According to the straight-into-hell-at-death theory Cain has been suffering in hell for six thousand years now. Ishmael has been tortured for four thousand years. Esau has been suffering for thirty-eight hundred years. Whole cities like Sodom and Gomorrah have been suffering in the flames of hell for four thousand years.

However this could not be so in the light of Christ’s own teaching. In comparing Capernaum with Sodom Jesus said, “...That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” Matt. 11:24. See also Luke 10:13-14.

Now Sodom was a very wicked city. Remember how the men pressed upon Lot’s house demanding that he give them the two men (angels) so they could have relations with them. Gen. 19:1-13. It was so wicked until God destroyed it with fire and brimstone (a type of the eternal destiny of the wicked.)

Despite the wickedness of Sodom, Capernaum was worse. Capernaum was guilty of rejecting the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. And their judgment along with Sodom’s was still in the future. According to Jesus, Sodom would fare better at the judgment than Capernaum. Does this sound like Sodom was already in hell suffering the torment of the damned?

Rev. 20:4-6 speaks of two groups of people, both of which have died physically. The righteous, which were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the Word of God, lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. According to verse 6 it was the righteous that had experienced the first resurrection and therefore didn’t have to worry about the second death which is the lake of fire. But the rest of the dead, obviously the unrighteous, lived not again until the thousand years were finished.

The scripture makes it plain that the righteous though dead physically were alive and in a very conscious state reigning with Christ. It is also equally clear that the unrighteous dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. What does the scripture mean “they lived not again”?

These people never had spiritual or eternal life. The reason the righteous lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years is because they had eternal life through Jesus Christ. But this was not the case with the unrighteous who only had physical or created life. Therefore it is obvious the only life they could have given up at death was nephesh or created life. Upon death there is nothing left of the unrighteous to live on anywhere. If the Lord did not resurrect them for judgment at the end of the thousand years they would remain dead for eternity.

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