A Devil of a Dilemma Part 2:  Why Angels are Immortal and Humans are Not

A Devil of a Dilemma Part 2: Why Angels are Immortal and Humans are Not

angel-2332116_1920.jpg

In A Devil of A Dilemma: Part 1, we examined Revelation 20:10 honestly and cogently, but many were not impressed or satisfied with what we termed a sort of “modified conditional immortality view.”  In truth, that is not a particularly good name since there is nothing actually modified about it per se, it merely states the main assertion of conditional immortality in plain language and follows it to its logical conclusion.  As Chris Date, author of rethinkinghell.com, explains in the introduction to one article,   

“Conditional immortality – or conditionalism for short - is the view that immortality is a gift God will grant only to those who meet the condition of being saved by faith in Jesus Christ, while those not meeting that condition will be resurrected unto judgment and denied ongoing life of any sort whatsoever by being killed, executed, destroyed, or otherwise deprived of life forever.”

Thus, the obvious implication is that conditional immortality rightly and only applies to all humans in tototo the fullest extent, but Satan and his legions are outside its purview.  In this short excursus on the matter we seek to offer clear reasons why angels/demons ought to be considered separately from human beings. Here is the beginning point:    

Main premise:  We cannot presume that angelic beings share anything in common with humans in terms of their creation, their existence, and their final fate without evidence to support such a supposition.    

First, the mere fact that angels are non-human creatures ought to justify this premise since we also would not naturally assume that land creatures, flying creatures, or swimming creatures (or for that matter, insects or trees), in anyway share our identity.  On the contrary, such a belief would lead to the denial of the image of God.  

Second, human creation is clearly presented to us in Genesis 1-2, yet we search in vain to discover any information about angelic creation except that they were present with God at the beginning of the universe (Job 38:4, 7).  Shall we assume they are made in the image of God?  If so, are we safe to assume they look like us? Sometimes they do, but Isaiah 6 indicates some have six wings, and Ezekiel 1 tells us some have four faces. Clearly, we should be hesitant about the assumptions we make.  Humanity does not appear in anyway interchangeable with angelic hosts.         

Third, our existence, the promise of immortality, the failure to grasp it, the fact that we die, and the need to be sustained in death in an intermediate state are all demonstrated for human beings throughout the Scriptures.  Do angels/demons die?  If they do then are they material and immaterial so that they experience some kind of separation of soul from body like we do? (Jude 6 indicates otherwise of course).  Do they have a “natural” (for them) life cycle?  And if they are not immortal then what is our standard for something that does not decay and die precisely?    

After all, by old earth standards they are at least 13.8 billion years old, and by young earth standards 6,000 years.  This tells us that they are certainly “greater in might and power” than us for sure (2 Pet. 2:11).  

Fourth, Soul Sleep, or sleep of the dead, demands this distinction – Soul sleep is predicated on the premise that human consciousness exists only when the soul and body are together in unity.  Once separated the soul/spirit/immaterial part of humanity cannot maintain consciousness.  This puts the full force of New Testament teaching for hope to come on the resurrection when body and soul are united again in Christ’s glorious kingdom.  But if one assumes that humans are similar to angels or demons in their ontology then it becomes evident that humans can therefore have a lively post-mortem, disembodied, conscious, spirit-life because after all angels are “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14), and demons are “evil spirits” who embody others through possession (1 Jn. 5:5; Eph. 6:11-12; Is. 8:19). In short, the doctrine of soul sleep assumes a key distinction between the nature of angels/demons and humans, namely, that a disembodied human spirit is not in anyway equivalent to a disembodied demon spirit.     

Fifth, human redemption through Christ is laid out in no uncertain terms in the Bible.  But can angels be saved?  Can they be forgiven?  Can they trust and believe in the Gospel which is the very thing that brings “immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10)? When they sin, we are told that at least some of them are kept in “eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6; 2 Pet 2:4), certainly not a fate humans share. The implications of 1 Peter 1:12 that the Gospel is something “into which angels long to look” seems to indicate redemption amazes and yet eludes them.      

 Sixth, if all these things be so, upon what do we base our conclusion that fallen angels in anyway share the same terminal fate as human beings?

Furthermore, if immortality only comes through the Gospel and Christ’s atoning work then a very obvious fact should not escape us:  no angel, fallen or free can receive immortality. That means both demons in the lake of fire and angels in the heavenly realm must eventually cease to exist equally. Perhaps demons in the lake of fire are extinguished faster, but their sinless counterparts in heaven will still not have attained immortality since they cannot be beneficiaries of the Gospel. Why not?  Because they cannot meet the pre-conditions of repentance and faith and therefore cannot benefit from Christ’s atoning work in their lives.    

When it comes to angels[1]and immortality our options are:

(A) Angels were created immortal and maintain that immortality for all eternity whether fallen or not (traditionalist interpretation),

(B) Angels were created immortal, those that fell lost their immortality as punishment and therefore, once thrown into the lake of fire they will suffer the same annihilation as humans (potentially Ps. 82 following an alternative interpretation we discuss later), 

(C) Angels are on a works-righteousness program, those that remain faithful earn immortality in the kingdom forever more, those that rebel do not and therefore eventually vanish.

(D) Angels in heaven and demons in hell will both eventually cease to exist because immortality is only in and through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His atoning work granted on the pre-conditions of repentance and faith.  

Working backwards we can see that while “D” maintains a consistent application of conditional immortality to angelic creatures, it cannot be true on exegetical grounds in the case of holy angels in heaven because we are told explicitly they cannot die (Lk 20:36).

If “C” is accurate then our point about humans and angels is proven true since the two are given completely different redemption tracks.  But how would we know this?  It’s mere supposition without any substantiation.  

As for “B” and “A” both need to be addressed and refashioned. Rethinkinghell.com takes the alternative interpretation of Psalm 82 (Part 1Part 2).  The key verses read, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince” (vv6-7).Typically, “sons of gods” is taken as a referent to human rulers; in which case, it has no bearing on the discussion at hand.  But if the referent is to angels (a possibility) then this is a declaration of a curse that one day these disobedient spirits will become mortal and suffer a mortal’s fate. This reworking is based on Michael Heiser’s excellent book The Unseen Realm:  Recovering The Supernatural Worldview of the Bible where he offers a full apologia for why he thinks “sons of God” here are indeed angels.  However, questions rethinkinghell.com does not answer, but which we must raise, are:

(1) When does the curse of mortality take place (assuming this interpretation)? Maybe the angels died immediately, maybe they eventually died (like Adam who was cursed but eventually died 900 years later), maybe they will die in the future at the judgment.  The text is not clear all on this matter.    

(2) Who specifically is cursed? Heiser believes there were multiple falls not just one.  This fall in Ps. 82 represents a subsequent fall to the one in Genesis 2 concerning Satan and therefore refers to a new group of angels.  Specifically, angels who were appointed over the nations to protect and shepherd human beings, but who abused their power (possibly Gen. 6:1-5 demonstrates this abuse as fallen angels fornicating with women, which is technically possible since Jesus only says that “angels in heaven do not marry” not that they cannot reproduce at all so Matt. 22:30).[2]

(3)Assuming for a moment that Ps. 82 is speaking about angelic hosts, this does not invalidate a straightforward reading of Revelation 20:10 nor contradict it. Since Jude 1:6 and 2 Pet. 2:4 demonstrate that some, but not all, fallen angels received the punishment of “eternal chains” in a deep dark dungeon bound until the day of the Lord, while others who were previously locked up will be let out for a time from presumably another location/punishment called “the bottomless pit” (Rev. 9:1-12), this gives warrant to the idea that angels may be given different punishments depending on their crimes.  Therefore…

(4)  If our reasoning is on tack then the issue becomes more complex than normally assumed, with some fallen angels cursed to be mortal and consumed in the lake of fire, yet at the very least, Satan and his two fallen hosts (the demonic beast and hell spawn false prophet) nonetheless maintain their immortality(since they were not part of the second fallen group anyway…at least Satan was not and presumably the other two).

(5)This would fit with what we have evidence for so far concerning Satan, the beast, and false prophet.  All three were cast into the lake of fire and are still present, alive-and-well 1,000 years later.  In fact, Satan is released and appears unscathed, unencumbered, and in no way worse for the wear (Rev. 19).  The most powerful punishment in the eternal realm fails to destroy Satan even after 1,000 years!  Then what might one expect 2,000 years to do to him?  3,000?  5,000? 10,000?  Where exactly does the expectation come from that he will be annihilated when we are explicitly and plainly told that at the least the unholy trinity will survive…and be tormented….forever and ever (Rev. 20:10)?      

What About “forever and ever” = merely a long time?

So far, we’ve addressed theological issues concerning angels/demons and their immortality, but let’s take a minute to address the blatant issues right in the text of Revelation 20:10 before concluding our foray:  And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever(NASB).

In a response article to A Devil of A Dilemma Part 1 Reverend Jefferson Vann inadvertently strengthens our case when he explores the usage of the phrase “unto the ages of the ages,” i.e. forever and ever (eivj tou.j aivw/naj tw/n aivw,nwn) in the Bible.  He says it is used 16x in the New Testament (Bibleworks finds 18x in Greek, 20x in English with the added two either having modifiers between the words (so Eph. 3:21) or showing up in abbreviated form (so Rev. 14:11 as eivj aivw/naj aivw,nwn). Vannrightly observes how it is used in prayers for God to be glorified “for ages and ages”, to praise the living Christ as reigning“for ages and ages”, to describe the final fate of the unrighteous as the smoke of their destruction ascends “for ages and ages,” and to describe the reign of the saints in the New Jerusalem “for ages and ages.” Then follows this surprising non-sequitur, “The consistent use of the phrase εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰῶνων in the New Testament suggests that John saw these three beings (Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet) being tormented for a long period of time – many ages” (emphasis mine).  

While this is a customary conditionalist argument one needs only ask whether “for a long period of time” rightly or in any way accurately describes all the previous usages in any context?  Is God’s glory, Christ’s reign, the Saints rule really best described as “for a long period of time – many ages” or truly forever and ever, unto the ages of the ages? 

Or, we might ask it this way: at any point does the phrase translated “forever and ever” describe something that ends or will eventually end?  If not, does not consistency demand we interpret all the uses the same way unless we have some key exegetical detail that warrants an alternative reading?  In that case then, the torment given to Satan, the beast, and the false prophet is just as never ending as God’s glory, Christ’s reign, and the Saints rule. While John certainly could have used various Greek constructions to describe something that never ends (a point Vann makes well), John simply used what he employed 11 other times previously with laser pointing accuracy (see the comment section for more reflections).  “If it ain’t broke…”, as they say!    

In the comment section of the same response article posted elsewhere, a reader claims that our great fallacy is in assuming that the devil is immortal in the first place and then reading Revelation 20:10 through that lens.  But whether one assumes this a priorior believes it is warranted a posteririmatters not, the exegesis of the passage in the context of the book of Revelation and with consideration to the entirety of the New Testament brings forth the same conclusion,at least three demonic beings remain in the lake of fire forever and ever. 

What About The Advent Christian Declaration of Principles On The Matter?

            Interestingly, the framers wisely specify human immortality in article 3:

3. We believe that man was created for immortality, but that through sin he forfeited his divine birthright; that because of sin, death entered into the world, and passed upon all men; and that only through faith in Jesus Christ, the divinely ordained Life-giver, can men become "partakers of the divine nature," and live forever.

The 1987-2012 Advent Christian Catechism (currently revised as The Blessed Hope Catechism and available for publication soon) is also precise in mentioning “man” (Q. 2), “human beings” (Q. 3), and the destruction of “unbelievers” (Q. 7) in its section on Conditional Immortality (p. 41) while remaining silent about demons.  

But Only God Is Immortal…or is it…God Alone is Immortal?

The Reformation reminds us about a key distinction between “only,” and “alone” especially as used in the pillar of Sola Scriptura.  As we noted in another blog post on that issue, this phrase does not mean the Bible is the onlyauthority in the church as though elders, creeds, confessions, Church history, etc. serve no purpose (what some call “Solo Scriptura”) but that it alone stands above all others and forms as the final authority for Christian life and ministry.  Likewise, the statement, “Only God is immortal,” and “God alone is immortal,” may be conceptually distinguished.  

The text in question:  1 Tim. 6:15b-16, “...God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 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.” (NIV).

Only God is immortal,” is an exclusionary claim that God and no one else is immortal.  Humans are therefore not immortal (a claim clearly demonstrated from the fact that they are told to seek immortality, Rom. 2:7), animals are not immortal, angels are not immortal, demons are not immortal. Two things speak against this reading however.  First, in the immediate context Paul refers to God as the “only Ruler.”  The term means “ruler, king, sovereign,” and can refer to human princes (Lk 1:52), government officials (Acts 8:27), or God depending on the context.  Now, if God is the “only King/ruler” in the exclusionary sense then he cannot also be what Paul describes next, “the King of kings…” which clearly identifies others.  But if God alone is king then the emphasis is upon God’s inherent claim to the throne and exaltation above all others (so Rev. 15:4 w/ Titus 1:8; 2 Macc. 1:24-25; in the same way, say that Sola Scripturahas an inherent claim to authority as the Word of God and it alone stands above all other authorities).  

Second, Jesus explicitly compared the immortality of future resurrected saints to angels remarking, “and they [future believers] can no longer die; for they are like the angels” (Lk 20:36).  This tells us that at the minimum unfallen angels are immortal and if that is the case then the exclusionary reading of 1 Timothy 6:16 creates a direct contradiction in the Word of God.  

God alone is immortal” (1 Tim. 6:15-16) means then that God alone inherentlypossess immortality as part of the very nature of His existence and attributes.  If he chooses to share immortality with his creatures, be they of the soil or of the heavenly realm, this secondary immortality is then derived from and dependent upon God who alone possesses it, who alone is worthy of it, who alone sustains it.  We know he grants it to humans through the Gospel on the conditionof repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, and given the available evidence we presume he confersit to angels and does not strip it away even once they fall (or strips it away from some i.e. Ps. 82, but not necessarily all i.e. Rev. 20:10?).    

Now, one could contend quite easily that there is no reason to distinguish between “only,” and “alone” since we could read Paul’s words as saying, “only God [inherently] possesses immortality,” thus making the point quite well.  This is a possible rendering because the Greek word mo,noj can mean “only” or “alone,” the difference being a conceptual one. Likewise, when we read that Isaac is Abraham’s “only son” (Gen. 22:2) though Ishmael had already been born (Gen. 17:18-20) we know to define what kind of “only” we are talking about (i.e. the only son of messianic promise).  However, given the misunderstanding in Adventist circles which prefer and promulgate the exclusionary “only” reading, it seems a wiser choice to render this “alone” and maintain the key distinction.             

But Doesn’t This Leave Us Open For Attack On Matthew 25?

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that any adaptation to CI as we learned it will open us up to new attacks that we will have to defend.[3] One such opening is Mathew 25 and Jesus’ use of the image of “eternal fire.”  Traditionally, for ACs, the image has been interpreted to mean fire in the age to come which utterly obliterates its object and then goes out, for the fire lasts only as long as the fuel.  But Jesus tells the wicked to depart into the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”(Matt. 25:41).  Once this is connected to Rev. 20:10 the concept must now maintain its quantitative nature so that it really must be an everlasting fire that torments Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet.[4]  Consequently, the reasoning goes, if the reprobate are thrown into this same fire then they must by necessity share the same fate, and therefore conditional immortality would be extinguished. This would make our alternate reading of Revelation 20:10 (that at least three fallen angels remain in Hell for all time), essentially, the ladder by which the thief comes in and loots the house. But there are logical and exegetical reasons for why this line of thinking is fallacious.  

First, to say that because both unbelievers and the Devil are in the same place they must share the same fate is presumption not proof.  Such a thing demands evidence from Scripture to back it up. Just because both Paul and Silas were thrown into prison does not tell us if they shared a similar or dissimilar fate compared to other prisoners who were also in the same place (one gets the impression they were treated with special brutality in Acts 16:22-24).  In fact, our normal working assumption is that two criminals sentenced to the same destination (say Alcatraz) in no way automatically or necessarily share the same destiny (20 years vs. multiple life sentences; life in a cell vs. solitary confinement). Since Jesus specifically tells us the “fire” was “prepared for the Devil and his angels,” we can rightly deduce that humans were not its original intended victims from the start.       

Second, to say that all things which encounter this “eternal fire” respond the same way is also pure assumption.  When Sodom and Gomorra received the “punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7) it consumed both cities and licked up what remained (2 Peter 2:6). When “death and Hades” were thrown into the lake of fire they became no more (Rev. 20:13-14).  When we read about “unquenchable fire” we are also told it “burns up” the chaff (Matt. 3:12; Lk. 3:7).  Similar metaphors are used in the OT threatening that God’s wrath, symbolically pictured as fire, might “devour” cities (Jn. 17:27) and “consume” nations (Amos 5:6). When God poured out the cup of “the fury of his wrath” upon Babylon (Rev. 16:19) all witnessed “the smoke of her burning,” (18:9, 18) and “torment” (v 10, 15), so that “the smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (19:3).  Yet, like natural fire this all leads to one final end, namely, being “burned up with fire” (v 8), and “found no more” (v 21). The same fate will befall those tormented “night and day” in Revelation 14.  God’s judgment upon humanity is teleological; it has a purpose and it has an end.   

Now, if this spiritual destroying fire acts in any way like what we know to be fire in this temporal plane (and at least in 1 Cor. 3:12-15 Paul assumes as much), then its effect is determined by the nature of the object thrown into it regardless of how long it burns (e.g. wood, vs. stones). Therefore, our expectations ought to be based on the mortal or immortal nature of the creatures thrown in.  Since humans are mortal, something demonstrably proven exegetically from Genesis to Revelation, we can expect them to be consumed (so Matt. 10:28), whereas fallen angels, as we have argued, reveal themselves in Scripture to have received a derivative form of immortality given by God and therefore remain in the fire ad infinitum.        

Third, traditionalists concede my prior point by implication. Robert Peterson in Two Views On Hell, does not argue for innate immortality like the Greek philosophers did, but instead he suggests that God must confer immortality on unbelievers so that they can live out their sentence which he believes is eternal conscious torment.  This is important because the eternal continues torment view must presume an immortal nature somehow, for without it, the natural end of the wicked is annihilation. But CI advocates can take this tactic too and argue that since the actual divine legal sentence is “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9) therefore God must NOT grant or confer immortality upon them at all.  

Fourth and finally, thus CI proponents may argue from two angles when it comes to Matthew 25.  Either from the foundation of the inherent mortality of the human soul and its different nature in contrast to demonic beings, or, from the nature of eternal punishment defined as destruction and then applied to the soul. Traditionalists only score a point IF…(a) they can demonstrate something more than their appeal to the house-of-cards of conferred immortality, or, (b) they can show exegetically that eternal punishment is in actuality meant to be eternal punishing.  Otherwise, conditional immortality remains intact.  

Are We Interpretive Hypocrites?         

Lastly, as it relates to Revelation 20:10 we have to ask:  Do conditionalists’ not invoke a hypocritical and hermeneutical inconsistency when they balk at traditionalists for reinterpreting the clear vocabulary of destruction to mean “eternal ruin” (rightly pointing out how the face value sense of the symbolic images refer to total destruction), but turn around and do the very same thing themselves when they reinterpret the clear vocabulary of torment in Revelation 20:10 to be “symbolic” of eventual annihilation simply to fit their theological system?  No one likes lose ends after all.  But biblical theology is not OCD, it invites a certain messiness that will only be cleared up on the day the Lord returns.  

In the final analysis, there are simply no exegetical grounds to make Revelation 20:10 bend backwards into a forced conditionalist system.  The only theological grounds to posit the eventual end to the lake of fire are misinterpreted verses about Christ becoming all-in-all (1 Cor. 15:28) or the making of false dichotomies that suggest Christ cannot possibly reign in power and love if the lake of fire still exists (as though divine justice cannot glorify his holy name?).

Other conditionalists have seen this and they too argue that at minimum Satan, the beast, and false prophet, as demonic entities, do remain forever, eternally, everlastingly, infinitely, in the lake of fire and brimstone.[5] It is quite possible other angels join them in sharing the same fate (Matt. 25:41) though certainly a number of them, maybe even most, or nearly all, may just be cursed with mortality and consumed into nothingness (Ps. 82).  Still, one way or another, the wicked are annihilated, but Hell remains forever.

 

[1] For more on angels search “theology of the creation of angels ”at for biblically accurate non-sensational studies. 

[2] This may garner some support by comparing the demons response to Jesus in Matthew 8:29, “have you come to tormentus?,” to a separate occasion in Mark 1:24 where they fearfully ask, “have you come to destroyus?”.  Yarbrough in Hell Under Fire attempts to draw out the unwarranted conclusion that therefore “destroy” (apollymi) and torment (basanizo) are really just one in the same both referring to unending torment.  Conditionalist Robert Taylor in Rescue from Death argues more persuasively that the natural way to take the demons fear is to conclude that they are apprehensive about both torment and destruction (and he points out that demons never refer to “unending torment” anywhere in Scripture).  If we take Psalm 82 into consideration along with our main concerns surrounding it we may posit that demons fear torment ordestruction (since we do not know which demons are given which punishment).        

[3] So be it.  There is a new generation of Advent Christians rising up that long for exegetical truth and they are willing to follow it wherever it leads, even if that means questioning long held beliefs or formulations of those beliefs.   

[4] By “fire” we refer to the Bible’s symbolism though whether it be true fire as we know it, spiritual fire, or whether fire represents merely pain, we cannot say for certain.  

[5] E.g. recently, David Regan, Eternity:  Heaven or Hell?, Robert Taylor, Rescue From Death, both interviewed on rethinkinghell.org as well.  The best treatment of the topic on Hell and also one who concludes in agreement with us here is David J. Powys, “Hell:  A Hard Look At A Hard Question,” (369-372).    

An Amazing Gap in the Hymn Amazing Grace?

An Amazing Gap in the Hymn Amazing Grace?

The Advent Christian General Conference Strategic Plan

The Advent Christian General Conference Strategic Plan