Ask most any Christian what happens to the unsaved when they die, and most likely the answer you’ll receive is that they go to hell. By this they mean that at the moment of death, the unrepentive sinner will immediately be ushered into the lake of fire where they will spend eternity burning in the flames, suffering pain and anguish forever and ever.
Where do Christians get this idea? It may surprise you to find out that this scenario is NOT in the Bible! So why is this belief so prevalent today? I can only guess that it’s a mass misinterpretation of what the Bible actually says. I was taught this scenario my whole life in church; and I swallowed it without once looking to see what the Bible really said. It was this way until my studies became more Christ-focused instead of man-focus, more Bible-centric as opposed to extra-biblical writings. Now, I still read other people’s writings to help me to understand difficult passages and to get other perspectives of what I’m discovering in my biblical readings.
One of the topics God has prompted me to study more closely is this concept of the unsaved burning forever. The main crux of the problem that I now have about this is that in order to burn forever, is that the person in question would have to live forever; they’d have to have an immortal soul. So, the question becomes, does every single person who has ever been conceived have an immortal soul or spirit?
The short answer is no, they don’t. Here’s why:
The Bible only uses the word “immortal” once, in 1 Timothy 1:17 and is describing God, not man: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
The Bible only uses the word “immortality” five times.
1. Romans 2:7 - To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
Eternal life isn’t a birthright, it’s something to be sought after.
2 & 3. 1 Corinthians 15: 53 & 54 – For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
It should be clear here that we are perishable and mortal, waiting for the imperishable and immortality to be placed on us like clothing. Only them do we have victory over death.
4. 2 Timothy 1:10 - but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Jesus brings eternal life through the gospel; again, it’s not something we are born with.
5. 1 Timothy 6:15b & 16 - God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
Only God is immortal, man isn’t nor can be unless God clothes him with immortality through the gospel message.
I think that I’ve made a pretty good argument, by using nothing but the Bible, that man is not an immortal creature, and that he can only become immortal through accepting the gospel message and becoming a Christian. How can a person who does not accept the gospel of Christ live forever? He can’t; it’s impossible for him to live forever in hell or anywhere else!
Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Why should the word “destroy” mean something different in the Bible than it does for us now? It doesn’t, people are sent to hell, burned up and destroyed; they no longer exist.
I can hear some of you saying: but wait, the Bible says that hell is an eternal flame, its smoke rises up forever. Why would hell be eternal if everyone who goes there is burned up and does not exist anymore? The answer is very simple – angels. Angels were created in, and live in, eternity, they never die.
The flames of hell were never meant for people, Matthew 25:41 says, “Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Satan and his fallen angels will burn forever, being eternal creatures, they won’t die. But humans will be sent to hell to be “destroyed”, not to live in pain for eternity.