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Eternal death – What is it?

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In Scripture, the idea of eternal death is contrasted with that of eternal life. Those who have eternal life are those who will spend eternity with the Lord. Those who experience eternal death are unbelievers who will spend eternity apart from the Lord.

Eternal death is not agreed upon by all people. Some think unbelievers simply disappear or are annihilated (annihilationism). Others suggest a person can in various ways move from hell to heaven or even purgatory to heaven. Still others believe everyone will go to heaven, either immediately (universalism) or eventually (ultimate universalism).

However, the Bible's description includes that all people live once and then there is judgment: "… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). There is no reincarnation and people do not simply vanish. Instead, each person is "judged" through being in eternity with God or apart from Him (Luke 16:19-31).

But is there anything in the Bible that teaches a person can "eventually" move from hell to heaven? The story of the rich man and Lazarus, both dead, one in torment and the other at Abraham's side, includes this statement: "between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us" (Luke 16:26).

Further, the Bible is clear that unbelievers will be eternally separated from God in a state of torment. Revelation 20:10 notes that after Satan's final defeat, "the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." After this, unbelievers will be judged: "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15).

Daniel also prophesied of this idea, noting in Daniel 12:2: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Jesus Himself taught that those judged to eternity apart from God will be eternally punished: "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).

While not enjoyable, this is an accurate depiction of the Bible's teachings regarding eternal death. However, God desires for people to believe in Jesus and have eternal life (John 3:16). Believers are called to share this good news with others, helping many people escape eternal death and experience life in eternity with God (Matthew 28:18-20).

Related Truth:

Is there really an afterlife?

What happens after death?

Does the Bible say anything about limbo?

What is the intermediate state?

Is "soul sleep" a biblical concept?

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