ACST 63: The Destinies

 

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There are only two eternal destinies: life or death. The saved will be rewarded with permanent life, while the lost will suffer permanent death.

In this chapter, I contrast the two eternal destinies: The inheritance of the saved is permanent life, and the fate of the lost is permanent death.

John

The apostle John had a way of taking ultimate reality and boiling it down to simple statements that captured its essence. For example, he divided the whole of the human race into two categories – two destinies. He said “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[1] By that he meant that the objective of life today is to gain eternal life in the future, and only those who are in Christ will accomplish that objective. Jesus implied the same thing when he said “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[2] He spoke of only two eternal destinies: to perish forever, or to live forever. Those destinies will each begin with a resurrection. Believers will experience a “resurrection of life” but unbelievers will experience a “resurrection of judgment.”[3] That judgment will culminate in the second death.[4]

Paul

Paul taught that the world has those same two destinies. He said “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”[5] You will notice that both apostles only refer to believers as having life. They each must have been out of class the day their teacher taught them Platonic dualism, and the notion of all human souls being immortal. Paul taught that only God is now immortal,[6] and that Jesus brought immortality to light through the gospel.[7] Only those who respond to the gospel and put their faith in Christ will receive immortality, and even then it will only be at the resurrection when Jesus comes.[8] In the mean time, people have a choice. They can either live according to the flesh, and earn the judgment of destruction, or live according to the Holy Spirit, and reap the grace of eternal life.[9]

So, Paul designates two kinds of people. Those who are being saved are contrasted with those who are perishing.[10] He presents it this way so that his readers may know that the choices they make today will determine the nature of their eternal destiny. For Paul, there are two main events in history, and we stand between them. The first main event is the cross, where Jesus took on the punishment for all the sins of the world. But for those who regard the message of the cross as foolishness, God will allow them the privilege of paying for their own sins in hell. Those who choose to do so are perishing, even as they live. Their “destiny is destruction.”[11] But for those of us who choose to cling to the cross, we are being saved, even as we die.

The author of Hebrews

The author of Hebrews speaks of these two destinies as well. He says that those who have faith “preserve their souls” — a reference to not being eternally lost. But those who “shrink back” and do not have faith will be destroyed.[12]

Peter

Peter spoke of believers being heirs of the grace of life.[13] He said that God has called believers to his own glory and excellence, and his power has granted us all things to pertain to life and godliness.[14] But the unsaved will be “destroyed in their destruction.”[15] They are being “stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”[16] Two destinies – count them – two.

Jesus

Jesus had taught those same two destinies. He was even more clear in distinguishing the two. He said that the right choice leads to life, but the wrong choice leads to destruction.[17] He said that we should fear God, who is able to destroy souls and bodies entirely in hell.[18] He warned the Jewish leaders who were not tending the Master’s vineyard that they would be destroyed when the Master returns.[19]

Jesus never defined salvation as a ticket to a nice place to retire after you die. He defined salvation in reference to destruction in Gehenna hell. That is what people are being saved from. Eternal life in the new heaven and earth is what people are being saved for.

Having determined that the Bible is clear about the ultimate destinies of both the saved and the lost, we can now examine the steps that our LORD will take in bringing about those two destinies.

The Destiny of the Saved

1. A GLORIOUS REUNION

Believers will be reunited with Christ when he returns. Paul taught that the same God who foreknew us in eternity past, also predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. The same God who called us and justified us by the death of Jesus, also has glorified us.[20] For God, it has all been done, since he resides outside time. For us, some of it has been done, and some of it awaits our reunion with Christ, for it to be perfected. We are foreknown and predestined, but we do not yet conform completely to our Savior’s likeness. We have been called and justified, but we await the reunion for our glorification.

The reunion will be with Christ, but it will also be a reunion with all those in Christ who have fallen asleep. The Lord will appear, call the believing dead from their graves, and then those in Christ who are alive at that time will join that meeting in the clouds. It is then, and only then, that all believers will be “with the Lord.”[21] This event is what Paul was referring to when he said he desired to depart and be with Christ.[22] Being with Christ at the reunion is the best thing that could happen to us today. It is better than any ministry we could have in this life, or any martyrdom we could have in death.

Jesus promised that we would be with him at that reunion. He said he was going to prepare a place for us – but not for us to go to at death. He said “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”[23] Jesus is the way to the Father.[24] No one gets to the Father’s presence until Jesus comes back and takes us. This will happen at the reunion, and not before. Death does not take us into the Father’s presence – Jesus will.

2. A GLORIOUS TRANSFORMATION

At the same moment when we are reunited with our Savior, we will also be changed into his likeness. Our mortality will be replaced by his immortality. Paul puts it this way “we will 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 imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.”[25]

Some translations add the word “body” to this text, because the translators believe that souls are already immortal, so they think Paul is talking about immortal souls putting on resurrection bodies. But that is not what Paul is talking about. Most of the mortal bodies will have already died. Most of the perishable bodies will have already perished and totally decayed into nothingness. For Paul, the whole being is “this mortal” and “this perishable.” The whole being takes on immortality, never to perish again.

John told his readers that “we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him”[26] Our transformation will include more than just immortality. It would be a crime to impose immortality on a race of beings who do not have the purity and integrity of Christ.

Plato believed that all souls are given immortality at their creation, and Augustine followed him in that belief. Out of that syncretistic combination of Greek philosophy and Roman Catholic dogma came the terrible doctrine of an unending hell. God is charged with the crime of predestining the vast majority of the souls he created to an eternity of suffering.

The real story of eternity is that God plans it only for those who are transformed by grace to be in the likeness of Christ. As the four spiritual laws put it, God has a wonderful plan for your life. That plan begins to take place the moment of your glorification. Our entire lives are lived in anticipation of that event.

3. A GLORIOUS CELEBRATION

While the battle of Armageddon is raging on this planet, destroying and causing chaos as never imagined before, believers will be safe in the clouds with our Savior. John writes “Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.””[27] All the hopes of humanity will come true at this great feast, while all the fears of humanity will come to pass at the battle of Armageddon.

4. A GLORIOUS DOMINION

As strange as it may seem, Christ’s return will not immediately destroy all evil

from this planet. It will, however, end all opposition to his rule in the political and religious realms. John describes this reality when he speaks of the beast and false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire.[28] They will be tormented for their crimes for ages and ages, but will eventually be destroyed, because the lake of fire is the second death (not another form of life). The beast and false prophet are spirit beings, but not immortal beings. They will receive punishment appropriate for their sins, and the sins that they caused the kings and false prophets of the earth to commit. That will take ages and ages, but not forever.

Removing them from the scene will allow Christ’s will to prevail in the political and religious realms. Imagine that – no opposition to Christ’s rule on earth, no deception or rebellion caused by false religion. Christ must reign on the earth “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”[29] Those who serve him today will reign with him then.[30] They will rule as princes and lead people to him as priests. This reign will last for a thousand years.[31]

5. A GLORIOUS VINDICATION

Believers will be absolved of all guilt at the judgment. Although they will be judged according to their works, like all others, they will be vindicated and declared not guilty due to the finished work of Christ, the Lamb. The book of life lists all these believers in Christ, and is the basis for this vindication.[32] As a result of this vindication on the Judgment Day, believers will not be destroyed in the lake of fire, but all others will.

6. A GLORIOUS SATISFACTION

Believers will receive rewards for faithful service, for those deeds done out of a Spirit led obedience to Christ and his kingdom. No good work will escape judgment, although some works that we might think are worthy of reward will burn up when evaluated. They will not have proved to be quality work.[33] Paul’s instruction is that believers should be careful to build their works on the proper foundation. Even good works are eternally insignificant if they do not follow Christ’s commands, or lead people to the cross of Christ and his grace.

7. A GLORIOUS PERPETUATION

Believers will live and reign eternally in the new heavens and new earth. John envisioned a continuation of the millennial reign which will go on forever and ever, after judgment and the destruction of all evil.[34] This is the ultimate answer to what it means to be saved, and it is the reason that we are saved to begin with. Our loving God wants us to have eternal freedom from sin, eternal sanctification, and eternal life.[35]

The Destiny of the Lost

1. THE LOST WILL SUFFER SHAME AND REJECTION.

The lost will suffer public shame at having their sinful lives exposed on the judgment day. Those who have pretended to be believers will be exposed as the imposters they are.[36] Those who have trusted in other ways of salvation will discover that their gamble has not paid off. There was only one way to salvation and they rejected the way and chose the wrong way.[37] No secrets will remain unannounced.[38]

2. THE LOST WILL SUFFER JUST PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR SINS.

Unbelievers will also experience just punishment for every transgression they have committed, whether in word or deed, commission or omission. The nature, severity, and duration of that punishment will be determined by God, whose omniscience and righteousness insures that it will be just. God cannot overlook sin which has not been atoned for. Thus this punishment awaits all who are not protected by the blood of Christ. The Bible describes this punishment as trouble and distress,[39] torment,[40] darkness, weeping (out of remorse for losing salvation) and gnashing of teeth (out of anger against God),[41] and being beaten with whips.[42] While some of those images are no doubt symbolic, they describe a future reality that is horrible to imagine. We need to keep these images in mind so that we can pray urgently for our unsaved friends, loved ones, and enemies, and seek to win them all to Christ.

3. THE LOST WILL EVENTUALLY SUFFER PERMANENT DEATH.

On the previous two points, all evangelical believers would agree. But some insist that God will not only punish sinners for their rejection, but keep on punishing them throughout eternity. Thus they say that not only is God’s punishment eternal, but also the act of punishing itself. Many base this belief on the assumption that human souls are already immortal by nature. That issue has already been addressed.[43]

The Bible makes it clear that the punishment received at the judgment is not the last part of the bad news. The wages of sin is not perpetual suffering in hell, it is death.[44] Those who overcome are promised not that they will avoid an eternity in a bad place, but that they will avoid the second death.[45] The unsaved will suffer punishment according to their sins, and then will experience this second death.[46] The lake of fire must consume and bring about the second death to all those thrown into it, then it will destroy death and Hades.[47]

Typically, those who favor the view of eternal conscious torment redefine the term death as it has to do with the destiny of the lost. Since, in their view, both saved and lost will continue to live eternally, death cannot mean the loss of life.

But Jesus’ descriptions of the fate of the lost imply loss of existence, not just a conscious painful existence forever.

  • He spoke of the house built on the sand collapsing and falling over.[48] That is the end of the house.
  • He spoke of the weeds gathered up and burned with fire.[49] That is the end of the weeds.
  • He spoke of the good fish being gathered into containers, but the bad fish are thrown away to rot.[50] No more bad fish.
  • He spoke of plants not planted by his Father as being uprooted.[51] An uprooted plant dies.
  • He spoke of branches that do not abide in the vine as being thrown away, drying up, being gathered and cast into the fire.[52] Burning branches burn up.
  • He spoke of tenants who reject their master’s authority as being destroyed,[53] not just punished.
  • He said that the unrepentant will perish like those on whom the tower of Siloam fell.[54] Those unfortunate people didn’t just suffer. They died.
  • He likened hell to Noah’s flood, which destroyed everyone outside the ark.[55]
  • He said that hell would be like the day Lot went out from Sodom, and all the inhabitants of Sodom were destroyed.[56]

There are only two eternal destinies: life or death. The saved will be rewarded with permanent life, while the lost will suffer permanent death.


[1] 1 John 5:12 ESV.

[2] John 3:14-16 ESV.

[3] John 5:28-29.

[4] Revelation 21:8.

[5] Romans 6:23 ESV.

[6] 1 Timothy 6:16.

[7] 2 Timothy 1:10.

[8] Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

[9] Galatians 6:8 NIV. The ESV uses the word corruption for the Greek fthora, but Peter uses the same term in 2 Peter 2:12, and there the ESV translates it “born to be caught and destroyed.”

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; Philippians 1:27-28.

[11] Philippians 3:9 NIV.

[12] Hebrews 10:39.

[13] 1 Peter 3:7.

[14] 2 Peter 1:3.

[15] 2 Peter 2:11.

[16] 2 Peter 3:7 ESV.

[17] Matthew 7:13-14.

[18] Matthew 10:28.

[19] Luke 20:16.

[20] Romans 8:28-30.

[21] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

[22] Philippians 1:23.

[23] John 14:3 ESV.

[24] John 14:6.

[25] 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 NASB (1995).

[26] 1 John 3:2 NLT.

[27] Revelation 19:7-9 NLT.

[28] Revelation 19:20-21.

[29] 1 Corinthians 15:25 ESV.

[30] 2 Timothy 2:12.

[31] Revelation 20:6. {see chapter 65: The Reign, for more details}.

[32] Revelation 20:11-15.

[33] 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

[34] Revelation 22:3-5.

[35] Romans 6:22-23.

[36] Matthew 7:21-23.

[37] John 14:6.

[38] Luke 12:3.

[39] Romans 2:8-9.

[40] Revelation 14:9-10.

[41] Matthew 25:30.

[42] Luke 12:47-48.

[43] see chapter 15: The Immortal One, and chapter 21: The Mortal Being.

[44] Romans 6:23.

[45] Revelation 2:11; 20:6.

[46] Revelation 21:8.

[47] Revelation 20:14.

[48] Matthew 7:26-27.

[49] Matthew 13:40.

[50] Matthew 13:47-48.

[51] Matthew 15:13.

[52] John 15:6.

[53] Luke 20:16.

[54] Luke 13:4-5.

[55] Luke 17:27.

[56] Luke 17:29.

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