DEATH, Part Two

by C. Parker Thomas

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

Through sin’s entrance into the world the whole creation was cursed with death. Rom. 5:12-14. Dead in trespasses and sins, man must have resurrection life if he is to escape oblivion in the dust.

The advent of the law opened man’s eyes to sin, the cause of death, and also served as a schoolmaster to bring him to Christ that he might be justified by faith. Justified by faith in Christ, man partakes of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.

Called the first resurrection in Revelation 20:6, it is spiritual and applies only to the righteous. This takes place when Christ who is the resurrection and the life comes into our hearts. John 11:25, Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12-13 and Col. 3:1. It is at the time the human spirit is quickened by God’s Spirit that the soul becomes immortal. Until this takes place every soul is dead in trespasses and sins. Eph. 2:1-7.

The reason the new birth results in spiritual resurrection is because our human spirit is united to the risen Christ. The Spirit that quickens our human spirit is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Rom. 8:11. This is why Paul says, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” Col. 3:1. In the mind of God we have been raised from the dead and are now seated with Christ in heavenly places. Eph. 2:5-7.

However the body of the righteous is not quickened at conversion; it is still faced with death because of sin. Rom. 8:10. The immortality and glorification of the body awaits the general resurrection. I Cor. 15:42-49. God’s Spirit dwelling in us now is our earnest or guarantee that this will take place at the appointed time. Rom. 8:9-11. Eph. 1:13-14.

It is at the coming of Christ and the general resurrection that the salvation of the righteous is completed. Though eternal and complete in the mind of God, the salvation of the body awaits this day. Paul says in Phil. 3:20-21, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”

This is when the stigma of sin and death will be eternally removed from the righteous. Only the righteous enter into immortality. Those alive at Christ’s coming will also escape physical death.

“Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall 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 shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” I Cor. 15:51-55.

The truth is that the only thing that dies about the righteous is the body, which must await the resurrection before it can be quickened. Rom. 8:10 says, “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

With God’s Spirit united to man’s spirit in conversion, man receives eternal life. Quickened by God’s Spirit he becomes a life-giving spirit capable of imparting life to others. I Cor. 15:45. Partaking of Christ, man himself becomes a tree of life in the earth, Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”

When man’s body, which has not yet been quickened, dies he simply moves out of it and goes to be with the Lord. II Cor. 5:1-6, Phil. 1:23-24. Although his body dies his spirit or soul does not die because he has eternal life. The souls under the altar in Rev. 6:9-11 were conscious: they could think, talk and express their sentiments.

Although the righteous and the wicked come forth at the general resurrection, only the righteous is unto life. The resurrection of the wicked is unto damnation. John 5:28-29 says, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

Damnation is the final and eternal condemnation of a just God for sin. In contradistinction from all other judgment, it is the final and eternal imposition of the death sentence upon the wicked at the end of this world. It is eternal death in the lake of fire.

Since the resurrection of the wicked is unto death and therefore temporal, it is not considered resurrection from the dead in the strictest sense. This is made plain by Jesus in Luke 20:35-36. “But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”

Please note that the resurrection from the dead is applied only to the righteous. Although the wicked are temporarily raised for the judgment, it is not a resurrection unto life because they are still dead in trespasses and sins. Further note in reference to the righteous, Jesus said, “Neither can they die any more....”

Why was it necessary for Jesus to say, neither can they die any more? Simply because this was not the case with the wicked who could and would die the second and last time in the lake of fire. This, no doubt, is also why the lake of fire is called the second death.

The resurrection ushers in eternity. The factor of time and temporal things will be no more. At the resurrection both the righteous and the wicked receive their eternal reward. The righteous, who have listened to the author of life, receive eternal life. Heb. 5:9. The wicked, who have listened to the author of death, receive eternal death. Rom. 6:16. Heb. 2:14.

Various terms are used to define the eternal reward of the righteous. 120 times in the Old Testament and 45 times in the New Testament, it is called salvation. The Hebrew and Greek words for salvation imply the ideas of deliverance, safety, preservation, healing and soundness. These words which define salvation along with life, immortality, glorification, peace, joy and rest are simply various aspects of the eternal reward of the righteous. It is complete deliverance from the curse of sin and death.

Likewise various terms are used to define the reward of the wicked. It is called the wrath of God, everlasting punishment, outer darkness, vengeance, consuming fire, eternal fire, lake of fire, perish, destruction, death, etc. Of all the words or terms used to define the reward of the wicked, death is by far the one that is used most often. Obviously some of these words, such as perish, destroy, consume and devour, are used synonymously for death. Luke 13:1-5. Matt. 1:28. Hebrews 10:26-30.

Throughout the scriptures, Old and New Testaments, death is the universal penalty for sin. Man was cursed with death from the Garden of Eden to the lake of fire. The wages of sin is death. Rom. 6:23. Eternal death will be the final payment or reward of the wicked. Death is the opposite from life. All who do not partake of the tree of life (Christ) must die. The climax of sin and death is the lake of fire where the wicked will be utterly destroyed by unquenchable fire.

The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. 6:23. Through his death on the cross, Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. I Tim. 1:10. The climax of our salvation will take place at the resurrection when these mortal bodies, cursed with sin and death, are delivered from the curse.

The two laws which have followed the human race from the garden to the resurrection will at last claim their own. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ will give life and immortality to the righteous. At that time we will have apprehended that for which we have been apprehended. Phil. 3:12. And the law of sin and death will likewise claim its own forever in the lake of fire. Rom. 8:2.

As eternity takes over, the curse of sin and its evil effect, including death itself, will be banished forever. All suffering, pain, sorrow and death itself are the result of the curse of sin. God’s purpose in redemption is to deliver the groaning creation from every vestige of the curse. Rev. 21:3-4 says “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

How can all these things have passed away if somewhere in the universe most of mankind must consciously suffer and go on sinning for eternity? Think of it!! The righteous remnant in one place experiencing supernal bliss and joy while the vast majority of mankind are in another place suffering the torments of the damned. Their cries of agony and anguish ever ascending with no relief and no hope.

This could not be so in the light of Rev. 21:4-5. According to this all sorrow, pain, tears and death itself will be no more. Confirmed by other scriptures, this means that the principal of death itself, including the lake of fire (the second death) will be banished in eternity.

According to I Cor. 15:26, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Since the lake of fire is the second death this means that the place where the unrighteous go after judgment will be destroyed in eternity. Out of the hundreds of references to the judgment and punishment of the wicked, the last references in the Bible point to the lake of fire (the second death) as the destiny of the wicked. Rev. 20:11-15 and 21:8.

The last act of God concerning the unrighteous will be to cast them into the lake of fire. With the destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire the second death will have served its purpose. With no further need for the lake of fire the last enemy, death, will be destroyed.

It is significant that death is called the last enemy. With everything under the curse, including man, the fallen angels, the devil, the heavens and the earth, already destroyed there is nothing left but the lake of fire. With the destruction of this last enemy every vestige of the curse will be removed from God’s universe. I Cor. 15:26. Sin nor death nor anything relating to the curse including the lake of fire will exist in the new creation...

According to Rev. 21:5, all things are going to be made new. Those who have experienced the new birth are part of the new creation. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (creation): old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” II Cor. 5:17.

If God is going to make all things new the old creation must be done away with. Even the heavens and the earth along with unregenerate mankind are part of the old creation and under the curse. This will be accomplished by unquenchable fire. II Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

With the destruction of the old creation we can look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. II Peter 3:13. With all things made new including the heavens and the earth, where in the universe will hell be located? How can righteousness dwell in this new creation if most of the people in it, unregenerate and unchanged, go on sinning throughout eternity.

I Cor. 15:22-28 says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

“For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”

When the Lord is through all rule, authority, and power will be put down. According to the scripture above, all things will be subdued unto Christ and God will be all in all. Does this sound like there will be any rebellion or anyone out of harmony with God and his kingdom when Christ’s redemption is completed?

Everyone knows that all rebellion, sin and anarchy starts in the heart. Putting man into jail, prison or hell itself does not change his heart. If most of mankind who has lived on this earth spends eternity in a rebellious unrepentant state in hell then rebellion will never be put down. In fact most of earth’s rebellion would remain in God’s universe in the hearts of these lost people.

How could this be so if all things are going to be subdued unto Christ and God is all in all? How can all things be made new? How will righteousness dwell in the new heavens and the new earth when most of earth’s rebellion is still present in the majority of men who ever lived?

Although I do not agree with universalism or the doctrine that all men will be saved, I can understand why some have come to this conclusion. They see, as the scriptures teach, the curse being lifted, the new creation and all things being subdued unto Christ.

What they fail to see is that rebellion in the wicked will be put away by utter destruction. As part of the old or Adamic creation they will perish along with the present heavens and earth. We have no more right to believe that the natural man will live on in eternity than we do the rest of the creation.

The effort to deify man without Christ is contrary to the scriptures. As brought out elsewhere the natural man only has created life. Apart from a higher intelligence he is as much a part of the old creation as the lowest form of earthly creature. Psa. 49:20 says, “Man that is in honor and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.”

Regardless of his false cloak of human dignity, man without God is governed by his lusts. It is significant that the Psalmist compares the man without understanding to the beasts that perish.

Peter the Apostle, likewise, compares men governed by their nature to “...natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed...” II Peter 2:12.

Through the new or spiritual birth, man enters the kingdom of God which is eternal. Through the saving knowledge of Christ he leaves the kingdom of darkness and death and enters the kingdom of light and life. John 3:3-16. Col. 1:12-14.

In contrast to the kingdoms of this world which are temporal, the kingdom of God is an everlasting kingdom. Because of this it will triumph over all earthly kingdoms in the end. Daniel 2:44. When it is over, the kingdom of darkness will indeed be dark. What is darker than eternal death? I Sam. 2:9 says, “He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness...”

Without doubt the scriptures teach various degrees of punishment for the wicked. And it is equally clear that the most terrible punishment is reserved for the hypocrite and those having great light. Matt. 23:14. Luke 12:47-48. Rom. 1:18 and 2:2. Heb. 10:24-29.

The servant which knew (had much light) his lord’s will and prepared not shall be beaten with many stripes. The servant which knew not (had little light) and did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes. Luke 12:47-48.

There is a vast difference between many stripes and a few stripes. Although the word many is relevant to the subject matter, it is also limited regardless of how it is used. By no stretch of the imagination can it be interpreted to mean that the punishment of the wicked is an eternal perpetual thing that will never end. And of course a few stripes is far less than many stripes.

Although punishment for rejecting Christ is greater than that experienced under the law, punishment by death under the law is nevertheless used as a type. Heb. 10:26-29 says, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Surely this is significant. If there was no similarity such a comparison would be meaningless. The traditional concept of an eternal hell where anguished souls must be tormented forever cannot be compared to any type of death including that experienced under the law.

The emphasis in Hebrews is not so much the terrible aspect of the punishment as it is the certainty of such punishment for those who sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth. It is, however, teaching that men who despise the sacrificial death of Christ are worthy of greater punishment than those who despised Moses’ law. This is also confirmation that judgment is according to truth that men have. Rom. 2:2.

Verse 27 speaks of the type and certainty of such judgment for those who despise God’s offer of mercy. Fiery indignation which devours the adversaries points to their destruction in the lake of fire of which death under the law was a type.

Some say, “If God is just going to destroy the wicked in the lake of fire then there is nothing much to worry about.” I fear this is a false conception of what it is going to be like. Facing natural death here in this world is not a happy prospect. The most heart rending and traumatic experience man has to face in this life is death. How many times have most of us heard the bitter wails of agonized grief when some loved one slipped into eternity.

As bitter as this anguish of heart is, it is not to be compared with death in the lake of fire. Also in natural death, regardless of how sudden or violent it might be, many have hope beyond the grave and of reunion with loved ones and friends.

But what about the second death in the lake of fire? There will be no hope there.

When men stand before a holy God on the judgment day they will have no hope for any future. All their opportunities will be gone. One of the most terrible aspects of their punishment will be the remembrance of lost opportunities.

As they face the horror of the lake of fire they will also see the righteous with shining happy faces in the kingdom of God. Some, no doubt, will see loved ones, Christian friends and ministers who have witnessed to them during their lifetime. Think of the cries of agony as they behold the glory, the peace, and the beauty of heaven and its citizens.

Anguish such as they have never experienced will grip their souls as they realize what they have lost. Although man has suffered many terrible tragedies since the world began, this will be the most awful time he has ever faced.

It was, no doubt, in the light of this that Jesus said, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Luke 13:28.

Perhaps the most terrible aspect of man’s punishment will be facing Jesus Christ in the knowledge that he has spurned his offer of love and grace.

Rev. 6:15-17 gives us a vivid picture of man’s frantic desire to escape this hour. “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”

However when it is all over it is my conviction the wicked will be no more. They will be, as I believe the scriptures teach, consumed, devoured, and destroyed by unquenchable fire. Psa. 37:10,20; 104:35. Mal. 4:1. Matt. 3:12; 7:13-14; 10:28; 13:40. II Thess. 1:9. Heb. 10:26-29.

Matt. 22:44 is prophetic of what will happen to the righteous and the wicked and how rebellion in the two groups will be dealt with.

“And whosoever shall fall on this stone (Christ) shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” Those who fall upon the stone are the repentant. They fall upon the stone, the stone does not fall upon them. Those that the stone falls upon are the unrepentant. The stone falls upon them, they do not fall upon the stone.

There is a vast difference in being broken and ground to powder. Beyond doubt those who fall upon the stone and are broken represent the righteous in whom rebellion and self-will is broken. Those that the stone falls upon and grinds to powder are the unrepentant that God judges and destroys. Being ground to powder speaks of the utter destruction of this group.

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