You shall Not Surely Die
How to Answer Those Who Ask
The Bible clearly teaches the
eternal punishment of the wicked. The interpretations provided in part 1 of
this series were designed to deepen you in your understanding of what Scripture
teaches. But when talking to a colleague, a quick, memorable response may be
more effective than a deep, complex, theological one. Here are a few tips on
how to give a terse response to those who challenge your belief in eternal
“The Greek and Hebrew words do not mean
References: Dan 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in
the dust of the earth shall awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame
and everlasting contempt.”
Mat 25:46: “Then they will go away to
eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Answer: Then what hope do we have that we will
enjoy eternal life? The same words that are used to express the length of
punishment for unbelievers also are used to refer to the length of our stay in
heaven. If hell is not eternal, then we have reason to fear. Perhaps after the
millennium unbelievers will enter the kingdom and believers will be shut out.
In Dan 12:2 and Mat 25:46 believers go to eternal life, while unbelievers go to
eternal punishment. Because these are parallel statements, whatever the words “olam” and “aion” mean, they mean the same for both sentences. The length of
punishment is just as long as the length of our stay with God in heaven. Now
how long you think that should be?
“The Bible teaches that all will be saved.”
Answer: If that is true, then it is the
greatest promise in all of Scripture. It would be one of the most wonderful
truths ever presented to mankind. So where is a clear statement anywhere in the
Bible that says people who go to hell will one day be released and brought to
heaven? How can such a wonderful, fear-releasing promise be so obscure in
Scripture. If this were true, it would be shouted on every page of the Bible.
Instead, we have the threat of punishment for all evildoers with no
qualification that it is only for a limited time.
“The Bible does not say that people will suffer eternal punishment for their
Answer: That is what the serpent said to Eve:
“You shall not surely die.” He put doubt in her mind that the punishment would
be as severe as Adam said. Ask yourself which doctrine the devil would want you
to believe: that punishment is eternal, when in fact it is not, or that
punishment really is not so bad, when in fact it is? Which doctrine promotes
sin and disobedience, and which promotes obedience and righteousness? Though
you will want to deny it, the fact is, a lesser punishment makes it easier to
sin and lessens the urgency to repent.
“Are you really sure punishment is eternal? Isn’t it possible that you are
misinterpreting the Bible?”
Answer: Let’s say for the sake of argument that
it is possible that I am wrong. Do you also admit that it is possible that you
are wrong? If so, then let us consider the consequences of our being wrong. If
I am wrong, no big deal. I still go to heaven when I die. But what if you are
wrong? Is it really worth risking your eternal fate on the wager that your
interpretation of these verses is correct?
A God of love would never send anyone to hell for eternity over sins committed
over 60 or 70 years.
Answer: The fact that our lives are only 60 or
70 years long is itself the consequence of sin. Adam and Eve were supposed to
live forever, but their eternity was cut short by their sin. Whether something
eternally bad is given to someone or something eternally good is taken away,
the result is the same: the punishment is eternal. Adam’s sin and the death it
brought proves that one act of sin does indeed carry eternal consequences. How
much more will repeated acts of sin over the course of an entire lifetime
warrant an eternal penalty?
If you had the power to save someone’s life wouldn’t you do it, even if they
resisted you? If God does not save everyone, it must be either because he does
not love everyone or because he does not have the power to save everyone.
Answer: On the surface this sounds like a
reasonable argument. But this presentation of it does not tell the whole story.
God does love everyone, but he also is seeking to be loved in return. If God
were to automatically save everyone regardless of our own response to him, or
cause us to love him apart from our free will, then God would have our presence,
but he would not have us. Unless we love him in return, we will not enjoy
heaven and God will not be able to enjoy us. We will eventually turn from him
and seek a better life. What makes heaven eternally blissful is that God loves
us and we love him. Our time on earth is designed to draw us to the God of love,
respond to his love and love him in return. Unfortunately, for us to freely
love him, it is necessarily possible to freely choose not to love him. This
results in two classes of people, one eternally rewarded and the other
We do not have
the power to change what other people believe, and even if we did, it would not
be right to use it. Everyone is free to believe what they will. But we, as
Christians and representatives of Jesus Christ, do have a responsibility to
tell people the truth, and we can do it in a way that causes people to think.
For this reason, you may have a far greater influence on people than you
realize, for they will refute you in person, but when they are alone and have
time to think, they may come to agree with you. If so, you will have snatched
them from the fire. Only on that Great Day of Judgment will we know how much
impact we have had on those God has put in our path of influence.