Category Archives: Theology

everlasting

IMG_0368gift of life #18

everlasting

There are basically three views of final punishment debated among Christians. Two groups believe that God has created everyone with immortal souls. One group believes that in hell, God will keep punishing the souls of the lost forever because he cannot destroy them. This is what I call the traditionalist view. Another group says that God will destroy the sin, and eventually restore all the souls, so that no one will be lost forever. That is the view I call universalism. Traditionalists and universalists both agree on one thing: the immortality of the soul. They disagree over the meaning of hell itself. Traditionalists see hell as a perpetual process, while universalists see it as an event with everlasting results.

We conditionalists agree with universalists in that we see hell as an event with everlasting results, not a process which has to go on perpetually. We disagree with both groups in that we find no biblical justification for innate immortality. We believe that hell will involve real destruction, and that destruction will be everlasting.

The Greek adjective used to describe hell most in the New Testament is aionios, and that word is better translated everlasting, not eternal. It refers to the permanence of a result, rather than the continuous duration of a process.

Paul used this word aionios three times in his second letter to the Corinthians, and each use demonstrates that meaning.

  • In 4:17, he compared our present slight momentary affliction to our future everlasting weight of glory.
  • In the next verse, he compares the everlasting things to come that we cannot see now to the temporary things that we can see.
  • In 5:1, he compares our future everlasting body in the sky to our temporary tent of a body that we have now.

Now, the traditionalists look at that evidence and they say “see, hell is everlasting, so people will continue to suffer in it forever.”

No, when Paul used the word aionios to describe hell he said that the lost: “will be punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). That is not an on-going process. It is an event which has everlasting results.

So, when we conditionalists say that hell is everlasting, we affirm just what Paul did. It is God’s real solution to the problem of sin. Sinners will be destroyed, and that destruction will be everlasting.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio at Afterlife.

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the evolution of the afterlife

DSCF1273gift of life #15

the evolution of the afterlife

In his book, Life After Death: The Evidence, apologist Dinesh D’Souza claims that the Christian doctrine of the afterlife just kind of evolved. He said that at first, Jesus and Paul taught the same doctrine of the believer’s future that the Old Testament teaches: a future that depends on a resurrection. Then, along came some early Christian teachers with an alternative, and chief among them was Augustine. Augustine had been taught the philosophical doctrines of Plato, and so he adopted Plato’s view of human immortality and added it to the teachings of the Catholic Church. As a result, says D’Souza, “Christianity since Augustine does not espouse life ‘after’ death, but rather life ‘beyond’ death” (page 48).

For D’Souza, this is OK. He is apparently comfortable with the idea of theology evolving. Me, not so much. I have to believe that the whole Bible is consistent on the subject of life after death. And I don’t think it is responsible for anybody to teach something different than what is revealed in that Bible, and taught by Jesus and his apostles. That’s not really evolution. It’s syncretism.

I am a conditionalist when it comes to the afterlife. I believe there will be a future eternal life, but I reject what Plato taught. He taught that our future life automatically begins when we die. The Bible teaches that any future life is conditional. It cannot happen unless we are resurrected first. That is why Jesus and Paul only taught the resurrection and did not teach continued existence beyond death. They, too were conditionalists. Their hope was another life after death, not an automatic continuation of life beyond death.

The good news that the Bible proclaims is that through Jesus Christ those who believe in him can have resurrection life after their deaths, when Jesus comes again. One advantage of holding to this good news rather than accepting the counterfeit good news is that it is what D’Souza calls the “official teaching” of the Bible, rather than the popular “alternative, unofficial view.” We conditionalists need never resort to having to prove our view by practical reason and science alone, like D’Souza attempted to do in his book. We have God’s word on it. There will be a resurrection.

Another advantage of proclaiming life after death through the resurrection is that it is actually what people want. As much as a traditionalist might boast about his desire to go to heaven, he will spend his entire fortune to delay the trip. What people really want is to be alive – fully and functionally alive, and to enjoy God and the universe that he created for us. His plan for us is a new heaven and a new earth, restored to its holiness and spiritual vitality. That is our destiny, and it is a certainty for all who are in Christ. But that great event will not happen when we die. It will happen when death dies. It will happen after our Saviour returns. Come, Lord Jesus.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio at Afterlife.

you two point oh

10404313_10152719826176949_4738064153211655456_ngift of life #14

you two point oh

There’s going to be another you, a you after this you – a you two point oh. One of the fundamental truths that we Christians believe is that when Jesus returns, he’s going to raise us from the dead. Your resurrected you will be the same you, but with a very important upgrade. If you are a believer in Christ today, when he returns, he will make you perfect, sinless and immortal.

The apostle Paul explained the details of this you two point oh in 1 Corinthians 15. First, he taught that there is evidence now that our coming upgrade is going to happen. That evidence includes the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. He’s the first to undergo the upgrade. Another evidence is the fact that the people who knew Christ the best (the apostles) gave their lives to preach the gospel. Another evidence is the change that takes place in peoples’ lives when they give those lives to Christ now. He makes a difference now; we expect him to make a difference then.

Paul even gave us a timetable for the future resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. He talked about the order of the resurrection, describing it as a great harvest. Jesus was the firstfruits of the harvest, so his resurrection came first (verse 20). Then, when Christ returns, all the dead in Christ will be raised at once, and all the living in Christ will be caught up with them, and together we will all be with the Lord (verses 51-52). Then, there will be a time period in which Christ will reign and put all his enemies under his feet. I believe this time period is the millennial reign (verses 25-26). Finally, after that reign, the end of the harvest will come, the final resurrection of all the remaining dead (verse 24). Here’s why that timetable is important. Christ has promised us a resurrection. The fulfilment of the promise will happen not when we die, but when he returns.

Also in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul described the nature of this resurrection as well. The resurrection is not a re-creation, starting over with all-new materials (and hopefully getting it right this time). No, our upgrade will be the plant from the present seed. It will be a continuation of this life with which God originally intended to bless his universe forever. Sin entered your life and corrupted it, making it necessary for you to die. But God loves you too much to let that be the last note of your song. The resurrected you will be the same you, purged of all those things that cannot exist forever, and transformed into something extraordinary.

Finally, Paul described our present state: “of the dust of the earth” (46), perishable (50), mortal (53). God cannot endure that forever. He plans to purge his universe of the disease that humanity has become, so that it can once again be pronounced “very good.” Your upgrade state is imperishable and immortal. Your upgrade will be you as God intended you to be. Paul described his resurrection chapter as essentially the gospel message that he preached (1-2). It is right for believers to emphasise the benefits we already have because of the death of Christ: forgiveness of sins, permission to approach God in prayer, guidance from the indwelling Holy Spirit, etc. But let us never forget that the gospel is not complete if it stops there. You have not heard the whole gospel if the message you have heard fails to include the promise of the next upgrade.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

listen to the audio in Afterlife

waiting at the station

platform-714961_1280gift of life #9

waiting at the station

In the Bible, Solomon taught that “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5). For him, the intermediate state between death and resurrection was not a time to look forward to. Like all other biblical authors, he looked forward to the resurrection unto eternal life. He never denied the reality of death. Indeed, he taught that all people now living know that their death is coming. But after death, no one knows anything.

He taught that the intermediate state is universal. Everyone will experience it, and all will experience it the same: a state of unconscious survival. It is not non-existence. It merely is a state of existence where one is not conscious or aware of the passage of time and cannot know anything.

This was Solomon’s view, and he held that view along with other Old Testament writers: “Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind” (Psalm 49:10 NLT). Death happens to everyone, and no one can “take it with them.” It is a universal event that all will experience. Being wise will not keep you from experiencing death. The wise will join the foolish in that one place. The Hebrews called it Sheol.

But – wait a minute. Isn’t Sheol just another word for hell? No, it is not. The Hebrews did not see Sheol as a place of punishment for anyone. Sheol is the station where everyone waits in an unconscious state for resurrection to their final state: either eternal life or eternal death.

Job actually looked forward to death and the intermediate state. He said “Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!” (Job 14:13 ESV). He wanted to forget the pain and unfair treatment he had experienced in life. His hope was not that he would be rewarded at death, but that at death he would be hidden (in a state of unconsciousness) and then resurrected back to life at an appointed time when God remembered him.

That is the hope described in the New Testament as well. Jesus said “… an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29 ESV).

Get this: Death is not the train to take us to our destination. Death is the station we all wait it. The train is the resurrection. We are all waiting for that hour. Some will be alive when the train comes in. Others will be in their tombs – waiting at the station. The Greeks called the station Hades. And it corresponds to the Hebrew Sheol. It is a state of unconsciousness where the dead wait for life. It is not the final state. Ears which have long since crumbled to dust will one day hear again. They will hear their master’s voice, calling them to their eternal destiny.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

most offensive claim

May 2015 (12)“…the most offensive claim in Christianity is that God is the Creator, Owner, and Judge of every person on the planet.”

David Platt, Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion,
Persecution, Orphans and Pornography
. Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, p.15.

the offense of God

May 2015 (7)“Tell any modern person that there is a God who sustains, owns, defines, rules, and one day will judge him or her, and that person will balk in offense.”

David Platt, Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography. Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, Kindle location 165.

what little boys are made of

gift of lifegift of life #6

what little boys are made of

The nursery rhyme asks “What are little boys made of?”  — and answers “Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails and such are little boys made of.” Little girls fare slightly better.  They are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”  No one believes that these statements reflect the actual chemical makeup of boys and girls.  But anyone who watches these little darlings play can understand what the original author was getting at.

The Bible gives us a much more scientifically accurate description of what little boys and girls are made of – and their parents too.  In Genesis 2:7, Moses, describing the creation of Adam, says that God formed him “from the dust of the ground” or “of dust from the ground.” Our bodies are composed of the same elements found elsewhere in nature.  In 1 Cor. 15:47, Paul tells us that our ancestor Adam was “a man of dust” and we share his nature.”

But what about the soul? Well, the Bible’s actual use of the word shows that it does not refer to a separate spiritual element. “When Moses first used the Hebrew term nephesh, he was referring to animals. In Gen. 1:20, Moses records “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living souls, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” The phrase in Hebrew is nephesh chayah (souls of life). It is obvious from the context that Moses refers to fish and sea mammals, and birds, not people. This first use  of nephesh highlights a contrast with the Greek philosopher Plato’s teaching that only human beings have souls.” Then, just a few verses later, that same Moses, describing the creation of Adam, says “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7)” He uses that exact same phrase nephesh chayah that he had used to describe the final product of the creation of animals. Just like the animals, human beings are made of the elements of nature, and given life from God. So, our souls are us, when we are alive. Our souls are bodies with breath in them.

The New Testament tells us something about our soul that does not fit the popular idea either. In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Lot’s of Christians know that verse. What lots of Christians do not know is that the word for “life” in that verse is psuché, the New Testament Greek word that corresponds to the Old Testament Hebrew nephesh. So, Jesus is saying that bodies wear clothing (which seems logical) but he also says that souls eat and drink. Now, that does not fit our theology, so Bible translators are quick to rescue us from the embarrassment of having to recheck our theology, and simply translate the word psuché as life. But there is no reason to hold to two contradictory terms for translating the same word here. The soul is the life of a living breathing creature. If that is the only possible meaning in Matthew 6, it makes sense to interpret it that way elsewhere as well.

And the Bible does not teach that anyone’s soul is immortal. In fact, it implies that souls can die. For example, the psalms contain many pleas for deliverance, and 119:175 is one of them. It says “Let my soul live, that it may praise you…” The word nephesh has cognates in at least two other ancient near eastern languages that mean “throat.” That at least suggests that a soul may simply be the word for the body with breath in it. As such, it makes sense that animals have souls as well. They are living creatures, bodies with breath in them.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

listen to the audio file at Afterlife.