DEATH AND THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
Death is the destruction of our body and, as far as we can tell, the end of our existence. It is usually caused by one of three things:
These three causes of death are especially prevalent during times of warfare, and are symbolized by a red horse, a black horse and a pale horse in Revelation 6:3-8. Death can happen to anyone at any time, and will almost certainly happen to every one of us some day. It happens to young and old, rich and poor, great and small, without favoritism and often without warning.
The Bible's answer to this question is straightforward. It says that Adam (the father of the human race) disobeyed God, and that when Adam sinned, every member of the human race sinned with him:
...for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
...by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, because all sinned.
In the Greek language which the apostle Paul used to write his original letter to the Romans, he wrote the word 'sinned' in the aorist tense. The aorist tense is the simple past tense, indicating an action that someone has performed in the past. If Paul's words are to be taken literally, he was saying that each member of the human race personally, consciously and individually committed the same sin that Adam did (for an explanation of this sin, see
How is it possible that every member of the human race could have been present within Adam, and could have sinned with him? The answer is found in the book of Genesis:
And God said "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness."
Adam was made like the Trinity. Just as one God is a union of three Persons, so also one man was a union of many billions of persons. Every member of the human race existed within Adam, consciously and individually committing the same act of sin with him. This claim can be tested. God has given us the tools we need to prove it for ourselves. I explain this in
This idea of our 'oneness' with Adam is sometimes referred to as a 'real' or 'realistic' union of Adam and mankind. It is the idea that each and every member of the human race was 'really' present within Adam, and really sinned with him in Eden. Because it is like the union between the three Persons of the Trinity, this connection with Adam might also be called a 'Trinitarian union'.
Although my reader may scoff at this idea of the oneness of mankind in Adam, it is actually a theme found frequently in popular culture today. As people pursue national and international cooperation, there are frequent references to the 'oneness of mankind' and to 'world unity'. Here in the United States similar expressions are deeply rooted in our culture, such as E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) and 'United we stand, divided we fall'.
In circles where pagan mysticism and contact with 'familiar spirits' is increasingly prevalent (including within the so-called 'emerging Christian church'), one hears the idea, more and more often, that God is everything and in everything, that mankind is a part of this 'divine oneness', and that God is the great unifying force bringing an 'evolving' mankind forward to a peaceful and prosperous future. There is a 'ring of truth' in these words, because they hearken back to something that really is true; mankind was created in the image of God, began as 'one' and rebelled as 'one'. Now Satan is using partial truth to seduce mankind in these last days, presenting ancient concepts that we instinctively identify with, to unite mankind in an ultimate rebellion against the Creator.
This concept, of our real union with Adam, and our personal, individual and conscious sin within him, might be described as 'Christian mysticism'. This same 'mystical oneness' applies to the saving connection between a Christian and Christ, which can happen when a sinner chooses to be honest with himself and to condemn himself to the death he deserves; a 'change of mind' (repentance) that enables the Holy Spirit to justly unite the sinner with Christ in His own death, burial and resurrection (see
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and the oneness between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has much more significance than just defining Who and What God is. It also is foundational for understanding who and what we are as human beings, and what each of us can become through union with the 'last Adam', Jesus Christ. When Christians abandon these mystical truths, they render themselves blind and powerless; inept in a world that, in these last days, is caught up like never before in the pursuit of real spiritual experience and power. As the world looks at doctrinaire Christians who have no vibrant spiritual life, they cannot be blamed for preferring a false, demonic mysticism over the 'walking-dead Zombie-ism' that is conservative, evangelical Christianity today.
Jesus said that He is like a living vine, and Christians are like branches that experience life by being connected to Himself. He warned that when Christians fail to appreciate and maintain their mystical connection with Him, they can die spiritually and may end up being gathered together and burned (John 15:6). He also spoke of a church in Sardis that claimed to be alive, but was dead (Revelation 3:1). Today faithful Christians are battling on two fronts; first, to expose false demonic mysticism (both pseudo-Christian and non-Christian) and secondly, to re-awaken their Christian brethren to the lively spirituality that initially characterizes all truly born-again Christians (for more about the necessity of Christians abiding in Christ, see
Prior to his disobedience, God had warned Adam that he would die on the day that he sinned:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat; for in the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die."
But Adam did not die on that day. God passed a sentence of death upon him, but Adam's death was postponed. Something else died on that day instead. God killed innocent animals in Adam and Eve's place, and used their skins (or hides) to clothe them (Genesis 3:21), covering their nakedness. This postponement of death accomplished three things:
The Bible says that we all know that death represents God's judgment upon each of us (Romans 1:18). We recognize from childhood that death is dreadful, and represents God's anger toward us; that Someone who is immortal has imposed mortality upon us. But we deceive ourselves and despise God's warnings:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But after your hardness and impenitent heart you treasure up unto yourself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds.
Blessed is the man that walks not in the advice of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he does meditate day and night.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by Me your days shall be multiplied, and the years of your life shall be increased. If you are wise, you shall be wise for yourself; but if you scorn, you alone shall bear it.
Rather than ignore death or deny its significance, God advises us to give serious thought to its meaning, with the promise that if we will do so, we will be able to draw closer to Him and His salvation. He warns us that, given the seriousness and uncertainty of life, time spent joking, drinking and partying will be unprofitable:
It is better to go to the house of mourning (the funeral home), than to go to the house of feasting; for death is the end of all men, and the living will take it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by sadness the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (merriment or partying).
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
But woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe unto that are full, for you shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers speak well of the false prophets.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
Why will a life of ignoring death and its meaning be unprofitable? Because "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and ongoing rebellion in the face of death must be punished with a second death. Jesus spoke about the 'first death' (the death of one's body), and a possible 'second death' which destroys the body together with the soul. This second death is also described in the book of Revelation:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (the Lake of Fire).
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from Whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hell delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hell were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire.
In Jesus' day, Gehenna was Jerusalem's 'city dump'. It was found in the Valley of Hinnom, south of the city. Its fires consumed trash continuously, night and day. In addition, the Valley of Hinnom was a place where the people of Israel had burned their children alive as sacrifices to false Gods over 600 years before Jesus' time; before it became the city dump. Thus Gehenna not only presents a very real picture of continual burning, but is also a reminder of the fact that people are capable of committing sins that would justly put them in a place of such burning. Gehenna was the word that Jesus used when He wanted to refer to the Lake of Fire. It is not a term which He used in reference to Hell, which I explain below.
Jesus Christ is coming to earth again, but not as He did the first time; as the gentle Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. This time He will come as a conquering King, bringing God's final judgment upon the earth. The Bible tells us that He will first appear in the clouds, together with His sign, the cross. And when He comes, those on earth who had hoped to escape His judgment, will face the terrible realization that it is forever too late for them. They will realize that they have been foolish not to heed the warning of the first death; a warning that spoke faithfully to them every day of their lives.
THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Behold, He comes with clouds. And every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him. And all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.
The Bible says that God will raise every human being from the dead in the future; we will all be re-united with a physical body, and stand before Him in judgment. In fact, there will be two separate resurrections; a resurrection of the righteous before the Millennium (see Revelation chapter 20), and a second resurrection of the wicked which will occur 1000 years later, after the Millennium. God is specific in His description of the first resurrection:
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
God is also very clear in His description of the second resurrection, and the everlasting punishment that will follow it. For those who have ignored the warning in God's first sentence of death, a second death will await (see Revelation 20:11-15, presented above).
Many have asked 'What kind of God could put anyone in a lake of fire to burn forever?' The justification for the Lake of Fire and Brimstone is seen in the events that lead up to the 'Great White Throne' judgment. These events are as follows:
The point here is that, after the entire planet will have been destroyed through Satan's deception of mankind, and after Jesus Christ will have come back to restrain Satan, undo the destruction, restore the planet and bring peace to the earth, Satan and mankind will once again team up to attack the "Prince of Peace". This is the backdrop for the Great White Throne judgment that will follow; consuming angels and men who have been 'over the top' in their opposition to God. It is only in the light of Satan's relentless wickedness that we can understand why a 'relentless' Lake of Fire has been prepared for him and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
God never intended that men should end up in the Lake of Fire. The Bible says that 'God is unwilling that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance' (2 Peter 3:9). In the Old Testament book of Exodus we are shown a man, the Pharaoh of Egypt, who was a picture of Satan. Just as this Pharaoh would not let his captives go, but was even willing to plunge himself and his followers into the Red Sea in his opposition to God, so also Satan is determined to plunge as many people into the 'Red Sea' of God's judgment with himself as he can (Exodus 14).
How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer (Satan), son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High". Yet you shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see you shall narrowly look upon you, and consider you, saying "Is this the one that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?" All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But you are cast out of your grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet. You shall not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, and slain your people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
While Satan will be tormented eternally, I do not believe that everyone who is cast into the Lake of Fire will suffer eternally with him. I believe that people will suffer in direct proportion to the sins they have committed. While the Bible says that the Lake of Fire will burn forever, it is only Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet who are depicted as suffering eternally in that fire (Revelation 19:20, 20:10).
The Bible talks about degrees of punishment. Jesus warned some of the cities of Israel that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for them (Matthew 10:15, 11:23-24). He also indicated that those who disobey God in relative ignorance will not be punished as severely as those who knew more and continued in their disobedience (Luke 12:48). It is my belief that many who have been cast into the Lake of Fire will, at some point, simply cease to exist. This is a terrible fate, to be sure, but God is just and right in all of His ways. The first death is exactly what it appears to be; the loss of our existence (extinction). When people stare this 'first death' in the face and persist in disobedience and rebellion throughout a lifetime, there is only one judgment possible for them; a prolonged agony directly proportional to their wickedness.
God has given His only Son as a ransom for us all, and has been inviting the world constantly, since the original rebellion of mankind in Eden, to return and be reconciled to Himself. I have written on this page about how death represents God's warning to us. But God also speaks to us through His goodness. It is His everyday kindness and patience, seen in the sunshine and rain that grow our crops, as well as in the many other aspects of everyday life that we enjoy so much, that reveals just how worthy God is of our respect and affection.
You have heard it said 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy'. But I say to you 'Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those that hate you and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you'; that you may be the children of your Father Who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Be perfect therefore, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
We also are men like you, and preach unto you that you should turn from vain worship to the living God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them. Who in times past allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, giving us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
Ever since mankind's fall in Eden, beginning with the first animal sacrifice that clothed Adam and Eve, God has been calling us to come back to Him and be saved:
Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Jesus says "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
And the Spirit and the bride say 'come'. And let him that hears say 'come'. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
In this web page I have presented a basic message of God's word: that every individual member of the human race was present within Adam, and rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. This idea, that we all existed within Adam before being born later in human history, has sometimes been referred to as 'the pre-existence of human souls'. This is not a new concept. In fact, it was present in the minds of Jesus' disciples when they asked him about a man who had been born blind.
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Obviously the disciples were open to the idea that a person can sin before he is born, and that a person's unfortunate birth can result from his own actions, as well as from the actions of his parents. The Bible does not tell us where the disciples had gotten this concept; from Jesus Himself, or from someone else. Personally, I believe that the disciples' question reflects discussions that Jesus had been having with them about mankind's rebellion in Eden, as well as the potential impact of parental sins upon children.
It is important to observe that Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for asking Him this question. He did not say 'Where did you get a crazy idea like that', or deny the possibility that a person can sin before he is born. He simply told the disciples that, in this particular case, the man's blindness did not stem from anyone's sin, but from the eternal purposes of God; that Jesus Himself might be glorified through it. Here Jesus gives us a practical example of keeping both the sovereignty of God and the moral accountability of man in mind as we seek to understand our lives (see
Jesus answered "Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
For those who might scoff at the idea of the pre-existence of souls, I have two questions. First of all, have you researched this subject? Do you know how long this concept has been around in the Christian church, and of how widely it has been discussed and believed? I would suggest a web search on the subject. You might be surprised at the results.
Secondly, I have a simple question for Christians pertaining to the Trinity: 'If Jesus is the Son of God, then how can Christians claim that He is co-eternal (equally old and timeless) with the Father?' This is a question that has been thrown at Christians since the earliest days of the Church, by those who have argued that Jesus must be younger than the Father, and therefore not fully eternal and divine (a view known as Arianism).
The Biblical message is that Jesus has always existed, and truly is co-eternal with the Father; without a beginning or an end. He is the ageless Creator of the universe. But the Bible also tells us that Jesus was born (or begotten) of the Father before creation began. So how can Jesus be co-eternal with the Father, and be His Son at the same time? The only logical explanation is that He existed within the Father before He was begotten of Him. No other explanation is consistent with both the Bible and common sense. The Son of God must have 'pre-existed' within the Father, before coming out of Him to be His Son (see
I would argue that the same thing is true of the human race. Every member of the human race existed consciously within Adam, before coming forth from him in subsequent human history. This relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and a corresponding relationship between Adam and his offspring, is an important part of what the Bible refers to when it says that mankind was made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Not only were we all one, as the members of the Trinity are One, but the 'unfolding' of the Trinity is also reflected in the 'unfolding' of mankind.
For many 'fundamentalist' Christians, the word 'mysticism' conjures up thoughts of dabbling in the occult, in 'Eastern' religions, or in the 'charismatic' movement. In their retreat from these 'irrational' and 'unreliable' things, they have thrown off all mysticism. But there is a genuine, biblical mysticism that we all need to understand. Today Christians are surrounded by mysticism on all sides, both within the 'church' and outside of it, and the simple fact is that the only way to combat falsehood and false mysticism is with truth and true mysticism. Much that has passed for Christian orthodoxy since apostolic times has been grounded in 'rationalism' and human philosophy. There has been a longstanding denial, since the days of Augustine and before, of our real mystical union with Adam in his rebellion (see
People have understandably asked 'How it is possible that, if each of us had real individual freedom in Adam, billions of human beings all made the same identical choice to disobey God. Doesn't this suggest that either 1) we really didn't have individual freedom of choice, or 2) the temptation that confronted us was beyond the ability of anyone to resist'? My answer is twofold.
First of all, I cannot explain how the three Persons of the Trinity can be distinct and separate Persons, and yet be one God at the same time. For some, trying to 'picture the Trinity' might conjure up visions of 3 people tied together in a 3-legged race, tripping and stumbling over each other. It seems that such a union would interfere with Their individual identity and freedom of action, but it does not. This union is beyond my ability to understand; but I know that it is true nevertheless. I would suggest that a similar oneness between Adam and the rest of mankind is equally impossible to understand, and yet equally true. I do not have to understand a thing in order to appreciate its reality. God has provided proof for it (see
Secondly, as a possible explanation of how billions of people might have all made the same choice, I would suggest that when we were in Adam, we may have all been aware of one another to some degree. Ultimately, Adam's choice may have been a cooperative decision, where mankind said 'Let us rebel against God'; a choice very similar to the 'Let us' decisions that the Trinity made in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22. Each of us might have felt emboldened to rebel against God through the knowledge that the entire human race was joining us in that effort (strength in numbers). If Adam's choice was this kind of 'joint decision', then that would explain how one man's decision could be the unanimous choice of many individual people at the same time.
There is one instance where we find the 'Let us...' decisions of man going head-to-head against the 'Let us...' decisions of God.
And they said one to another "Let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly". And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said "Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth".
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. And the Lord said "Behold, the people are one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do. And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Let Us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the Lord scattered them abroad from there upon the face of all the earth: and they left off building the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from there did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
God's battle against 'the city of man' is an important theme of the Bible. At Pentecost we find God using supernatural power to reverse the confusion of human languages, as He begins to unite a repentant mankind under a second Adam, Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1-13). The conflict between the city of man (Babylon), and the city of God (Jerusalem) is found throughout the Bible. We find this conflict described in Psalm 2, and its end foretold in Isaiah and Revelation:
Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us." He that sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His strong displeasure: "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion (Jerusalem)."
Prepare slaughter for his (Satan's) children, for the iniquity of their fathers, that they do not rise nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities. "For I will rise up against them," says the Lord of hosts, "and cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, son and nephew," says the Lord.
And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying "Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all".
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God".
The Bible tells us that each of us will die, and then be judged:
It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.
Many Christians understand this 'judgment' to be either the 'Judgment Seat of Christ' (where Christians will be judged), or the 'Great White Throne Judgment' of Revelation 20:11 (where sinners will be finally judged). But there is a preliminary judgment that God makes, immediately upon our death, that determines where each of us will 'pass the time' until our final judgment occurs. At this present time our souls can go to one of three places:
For the Christian who has continued or 'persevered' in Christ, abiding in Him and bringing forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to die is to be transported immediately into the presence of Christ in heaven; or as the apostle Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 5:8, 'Absent from the body and present with the Lord'. Such a blessing is reserved for those who have continued to obey the command to 'work out their salvation with fear and trembling' (Philippians 2:12).
For people who have been conceived in the womb and have received physical bodies, but who die before sinning any more (beyond their rebellion in Eden) there is a waiting place that the Bible calls 'Death'. This place is exactly what its name implies; a place where one is simply dead. It is a place of 'soul-sleep', where one waits in a state of unconsciousness until the Great White Throne judgment. 'Death' is mentioned three times in the book of Revelation:
So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword, with hunger and with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and Death and Hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And Death and Hell were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire.
Death is the place where people go who, either for lack of opportunity or capability, have not added to the sin of their original rebellion in Eden. This would include the nearly 60 million unborn infants who have been aborted in the United States since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973, together with countless millions of infants and little children who, throughout the several thousand years of human history since Eden, have died before they were capable of moral decisions in this world. This group would also include those who have lived longer lives, but have never been mentally competent, either due to brain injuries or birth defects (such as cerebral palsy). For all of these people there will be a direct passage from their initial rebellion against God in Eden, to the Great White Throne judgment, with no suffering experienced in between.
In a section above, under the subheading 'To Burn Forever?', I have explained that there are degrees in God's punishment of the wicked. The punishment that each of us brought upon ourselves in Eden was our simple destruction; the end of our existence. Because God did not carry out that verdict immediately, but has delayed the imposition of that destruction upon many of us, death now also serves as a warning to the living. For those who may have never had the opportunity to either sin further or embrace the offer of God's grace, His original sentence of destruction remains. God does not owe it to anyone to make the Gospel known to them. It would have been perfectly right and appropriate for Him to destroy all of us in Eden, immediately after our rebellion. We were given every advantage, and our rebellion was inexcusable. God's original sentence of death is not unjust simply because some may receive more time and experience more grace than others in the course of human history after Eden.
This is why 'Death' will be cast into the Lake of Fire; because all those who have resided there are still under God's original sentence of destruction. It is my belief that when such people stand before God at the Great White Throne judgment, they will be fully capable and intelligent adults, just as we were in Adam, when we sinned in Eden. And I believe that, when they are cast into the Lake of Fire, they will not suffer. They will simply and instantaneously cease to exist. This alone, without any thought of further suffering, is a dreadful and terrifying prospect. Life is precious, and it is a terrible thing to lose it.
Without an understanding of these things, we cannot fully understand the full scope of God's judgment or His mercy, or help our children understand. I believe that most children perceive the meaning and implication of death early in their lives. But they do not know about God's solution for it. They watch parents, friends and relatives to see how they are responding to death, and whether or not they are being 'real' about it. It is only the 'real' parent, who fully understands our plight and God's remedy for it, that can help a child who is trying to come to grips with these things.
The third place that a person can go after death is Hell (also referred to in the Bible with the Greek word 'Hades', and the Hebrew word Sheol). Most people have a very negative concept of 'Hades' or 'Hell', but Hell has not always been a completely unpleasant place. In His story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus described Hell as a place divided into two sections, where both the righteous and the unrighteous lived. The righteous dwelt in 'Paradise', and the unrighteous dwelt in 'Torments'. This was the state of affairs prior to Jesus' death upon the cross. When Jesus died, and completed the necessary atonement for the sins of man, He was able to move Abraham (and all of God's other people), out of Paradise and directly into the presence of His Father in heaven.
This is why Jesus told the repentant thief, who was on a cross next to Him, that they would both be together in Paradise on that very day (Luke 23:43). After His death on the cross, Jesus entered Paradise, there to announce salvation to God's faithful, and certain doom to the unrighteous. Since that time, God's people have entered directly into the presence of God when they die, and Hell has been exclusively a place of torment and punishment for those who have died in rebellion against God, and are awaiting the 'Great White Throne' judgment, when Hell itself will be cast into the Lake of Fire (along with Death).
As I have pointed out in the beginning of this section, God enters into judgment with every one of us at the point of death, when our bodies are destroyed. And He places each of our souls directly where we belong; in a place of joy, soul-sleep or torment. At that point we exist, whether sinner or saint, as a spiritual being only; in a disembodied, non-physical state. No one will have a physical body again until they take part in either the first or second resurrection (see 'Two Resurrections' above).
There are two groups of people, however, who will not experience physical death before entering into their final, eternal destination. They will go directly and bodily to their eternal state. For faithful Christians who are alive on earth when Jesus comes back, they will be 'raptured' instantly and physically to join Him in the clouds at His second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Their bodies will be changed, but they will not experience death. For those who have taken the Mark of the Beast, and who are found waging war against Jesus when He comes, they will be taken alive and cast directly into the Lake of Fire to be tormented eternally, without end (no physical death, no Hell, no Great White Throne judgement). This is how Jesus described His judgment of the nations when He comes (when He will reward the 'sheep' and send the 'goats' directly into the Lake of Fire, Matthew 25:31-46), and it is also how this same judgment is described in Revelation 19:20.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in is forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture (without being diluted) into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever. And they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints. Here are they that keep the command of God and the faith of Jesus.
One thing needs to be remembered in all of this. When each of us existed within Adam, we were fully mature, capable and competent persons, just as Adam was. We were not young or old, but simply 'timeless souls'. Infancy, childhood, puberty and adulthood are all stages in our physical development after we have received biological bodies. These stages may define to some extent 'what we are', but not 'who' we are. When our children are born into the world, we see them as the tiny, helpless, and precious beings that they are, and we love them dearly. And so we should; this is what God intended. But while we appreciate their 'relative innocence', we must realize that their souls are as old as ours are, and that they have had a relationship with God before having one with us. We must realize that to truly love our children, we must teach them (from the earliest age) what the real significance of death is, and about the glorious Savior who has died to provide us with deliverance and a way to obtain eternal life.