Chapter 1 - An Unlikely Conversation

An Unlikely Conversation

It was a February morning in the year 1954, or perhaps it was 1953. The exact date is uncertain, and no one was paying much attention anyway to a conversation that took place on Sunday morning in front of a country church somewhere in the hills.

We know almost nothing about the young man and young woman who were there. All we really know is that the young woman wore a pink and white bonnet and the young man was rather unremarkable. Both, however, had the honor of being committed Christians to whom the presence of Christ had been disclosed.1

They had been conversing about the church picnic for several minutes when the conversation turned to theology, where it struck a chord and made an interesting turn

“Well,” said the young lady, “I understand your concerns, but I personally believe that if you don’t trust in Jesus, God will resurrect you after you die, throw you into hell and burn you alive for the rest of eternity.”

“Really,” said the young man. “And where did you learn this?”

“It’s in the Bible,” she said, a tad indignantly. “You’ve read the Bible, haven’t you? You listen to the pastor, don’t you?”

“I have read the scriptures, thoroughly” said the young man, “And I have heard the pastor speak of eternal torment for the unredeemed. But I do not find it in scripture.”

“It’s all through scripture,” she said. “All you have to do is read it. Jesus talked more about hell than anyone. Everybody knows God will send you to hell and burn you alive forever if you don’t trust in Jesus.”

“Really,” said the man, “I must have missed it. Can you show it to me?”

“I believe its in Revelation 14. It says that they will be tormented with burning sulfur day and night and the smoke of their torment will go up for eternity.’

“Who?” Asked the man.

“Who what?”

“Who will be tormented day and night?”

“Why, all those who didn’t trust in Jesus, of course,” replied the young woman.

“I cannot find where that verse says that all those who don’t trust in Jesus will be tormented day and night forever.”

“If you want me to, I can read it to you,” she replied. “Hand me your Bible.”

“Please,” he replied, handing her his Bible, “read it to me.”

“I will be happy to read it to you. It is as plain as the nose on your face. And here it is in Revelation 14:10, ‘He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night’ Are you satisfied now?”

“I don’t believe you read the entire verse. What does the rest of the verse say?”

“I will be more than happy to finish it for you,” she replied. “‘There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’”

“So, it doesn’t apply to anybody today?”

“Why, it applies to everyone who doesn’t trust in Jesus.”

“Then why does it say that it applies to those who worship the beast and his image? The beast is some time in the distant future. I believe the term beast refers to the antichrist, who is to come in the end times. The verse applies to those who worship him. The verse never mentions anyone else.”

"It can apply to the rest of the unbelievers, too."

"Really? Look at the verse before, verse 9 and the first part of verse 10. They say specifically that it applies only to those who worship the beast.2 So, you have a verse before and a verse after saying that the verses in between apply only to beast worshipers. These verses do not apply to all of the unredeemed."

“This particular verse does not say that it applies to all unbelievers. But you have to read all the other verses together with this one.”

“OK, then I understand from your answer that you agree that this particular verse does not apply to all unbelievers. Is that right?"

"This particular verse does not specifically apply to all unbelievers, no. But there are other verses."

"Perhaps there are, but if we want to find a verse that teaches eternal torment of all of the unredeemed, it will have to be a different verse. Is that right?

"Yes, and there plenty of others, I am sure."

“And where does this verse say that this burning will last for eternity?”

“It says that they will be tormented day and night and that their smoke will ascend forever and forever."3

“I understand that they will be tormented day and night,” said John. “But where does it say that their torment will last forever?”

"It does not say so specifically, but where there is smoke there is fire and the smoke of their torment is rising forever. The verse implies that they are tormented forever because their smoke rises forever."

"So, you conclude that since the smoke will never stop ascending the people are being consciously tormented for the rest of eternity?"

"Yes. The smoke is the smoke of their torment and the smoke is going up forever. So, this verse proves that the beast worshipers are tormented forever. The smoke implies it."

"I agree that the verse is broad enough to include eternal torment, but, the phrase 'rises for ever and ever' means the same as it does in Isaiah 34:9-10 where Isaiah says that Edom will be turned into blazing pitch that will not be quenched day or night and its smoke will rise forever.4 The word forever in both scriptures means a seemingly unlimited distance, not an infinite expanse of time. It is speaking of a column of smoke that rises as far as the eye can see."

"Something's got to be burning for all of that smoke to be there," she replied.

"There is another verse in Revelation that uses the very same Greek words. It is Revelation 19:3.5 In Revelation 19:3 the same words describe smoke that rises from a city that is burning.6 And there is a column of smoke that is so high that sailors who are far off could see it. The words do not mean smoke that lasts for the rest of eternity. The words mean a column of smoke that is so high it seems to go on forever. It's the same in English if your were to say that smoke rises forever. You mean that it goes as far as you can see, not that it will burn for the rest of eternity."

"But could it mean either one?" She asked.

“Probably not from the context," said John, "Because if the words mean burning for the rest of eternity, then God is going to burn a city for eternity. Why would He do that? Scripture says that God creates a new heaven and a new earth7 where there will be no more death and no more pain.8 This would mean no cities that burn forever and no eternal torment.”

"But they could mean either one." She said firmly.

"True," he said. "And where you have a scripture that is written broadly enough to mean two different things, you have to look to other scriptures to see its meaning."

"Well, there are plenty of scriptures to say that everybody who doesn't believe in Jesus is going to be burned in hell forever!"

"Actually not," he replied. "There is no scripture that says they will be burned in hell forever. All the scriptures that tell what will happen to those who reject Christ say that their penalty for sin is death, not eternal torment."

"Name one." She said.

"Well the best known one is Romans 6:23 that says the wages of sin is death."

"So what?" She said. "Death and eternal torment are the same thing."

"Well, no. Because a dead body is not conscious and it has not physical sensation. It cannot be tortured."

"Yes, but when Paul said the wages of sin is death, he did not mean real death."

"So, the word for death in Romans 6:23 does not mean real death? Why?"

"Because if it did they would just die in the end and they don't just die. They are burned alive forever."

"What about all the other scriptures that say the wages of sin is death?"

"What other scriptures?"

"Well what about Ezekiel 18:4 in the Old Testament? It says that the soul that sins shall die, or Second Corinthians 1:9 says that Jesus Christ has delivered us from death never mentioning eternal torment. Then there is John 3:16 that says that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should never perish. Perish means to die, just like Romans 6:23 means to die. So, Christ saves us from eternal death, not eternal torment. 'Death' and 'perish' do not mean to be tormented eternally. 'Eternal torment' and 'death' are entirely different words in both Greek and English.9 So, if you are understanding 'death' and 'perish' to mean eternal torment, you are re-defining the word for death.10

"I don't care what those words mean."

"Christ paid our death-penalty for us because the penalty for sin is death, just like Paul, John and Ezekiel say." Said John. "Jesus did not suffer eternal torment for us; He died in our place. He was our substitute. This is called the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.11 So why do you say that we are saved from being burned in hell forever when the Bible says that the wages of sin is death?"

"I say so because that is what we believe. And besides if Christ saves us from death, how come we die?"

"Because there are two deaths. Everybody has to die the first death but not everyone has to die the second death."12

"So if there are really two deaths, what dies in the second death?"

"The soul dies in the second death."

"How do you know that there is a soul and when it dies?"

"Like I said, Ezekiel tells us that there is a soul and others do too. What do you think goes to hell after the body is dead?"

"So you believe in hell?"

"Of course. Scripture tells us about hell but scripture also tells us that the soul that sins shall die and it says nothing about it being tormented eternally."

"No one knows what will happen in hell." She said.

"That's another thing. I don't believe this scripture (Revelation 14:10) is referring to what happens in hell. I believe it happens on earth. Read the next verse, verse 12."

She read:

Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.13

"That verse," said John, "is referring to the tribulation in the end-times. It is contrasting the perseverance of the saints with the lack of faith of the beast worshipers. And if you will look at the previous verses, they are speaking of those who are presently worshiping the beast, not those who worshiped the beast before they died. The verse is talking about what is happening on earth in the tribulation of the last days, not the final, eternal state of unbelievers after they have been finally judged. This is clear also because the statement is made by the third angel of the apocalypse."

"So what?"

"Well, so that means that the torment and the smoke occur in the end times and that is long before the final judgment."

"How long before?"

"That would be about 1000 years before," John said.

There was a long pause.

“Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone!” She said.

“Oh, I don’t question the existence of hell. And I don't question that there will be torment in hell. All I am saying is that the torment is not eternal because the Bible says the final judgment is death. That is why the Bible refers to the final judgment as the second death.14 But let me ask you, if Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone, how many times did He speak of eternal torment?”

“Many times,” she replied.

"Can you think of one?"

"I have not looked them all up," she said.

“I have," said John, "I have looked up everything that Jesus said and I can say for certain that Jesus never mentioned eternal torment. Not once. Check your concordance.”

She paused. “Just because Jesus did not speak of it, doesn’t mean that it is not in scripture!”

“OK. So how many times does the rest of scripture speak of the eternal torment?"

“I have never counted those, either.” She said.

“Once.” He said. "Just once. And that was used to describe the eternal fate of Satan, not the eternal fate of the unredeemed."15

“Well, just because the Bible doesn’t say doesn’t mean it's not there!”

“Well," said John, “It seems to me that if God had intended to tell us that everybody except for us Christians would be burned alive for the rest of eternity, He would have said so at least once! And He would be telling us that the wages of sin is eternal torment instead of telling us that the wages of sin is death."

“So, if the Bible doesn’t say they will be tormented forever, what does it say will happen to them?” She asked.

“It says that when their bodies die their souls go to hell and they stay there until the final judgment. When they are judged at the final judgment they suffer the death penalty because "the soul that sins shall die."16 Scripture calls it the 'second death.'17 The Bible tells us over and over that sin causes death18 and it means exactly that. The final penalty for sin is death of the body and soul, eternal death with no resurrections. But Jesus Christ saves us from the death penalty by paying the penalty for us. If we come to Jesus Christ and place our faith in what He did by paying our Himself, then our soul will not die because Jesus has already paid our penalty for us. Jesus Himself tells us that He saves us from death.19 The souls of the unredeemed will die in the second death20 because they did not turn to Christ so they have to pay their own death-penalty."21

"So what are these two deaths?"

"The first death is the death of the body and the second death is the death of the soul. Jesus does not save our body from the first death because all bodies have to die.22 Jesus saves our soul from the second death because He paid the death-penalty for us. Later we will receive a new body.23

By this time she had enough and she was perplexed at scriptures that contradicted her beliefs.

“What do I care about cities or their smoke?” She said. “Or what God forgot to put in the Bible. I have to go now.” And with that, she turned and left.


1. See John 14:21 "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." (NASV)

2. Revelation 14:9,10 " if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wrath of God ... the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God"

3. Revelation 14:11

4. Isaiah 34:9-10 "For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste ... "

5. Revelation 19:3 " Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her [the city] goes up forever and ever.” (ESV)

6. Revelation 19:3 "... And her smoke rose up for ever and ever." Rev. 18:18 clarifies that the great whore addressed in Rev. 18 and 19 is a city, not a person.

7. Revelation 21:1 "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away ..."

8. Revelation 21:4 " He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

9. See Appendix 3 "A Word Study on the Greek Words for Death" on page 169

10. See Chapter 6 "What is Death?" on page 85

11. See Appendix 7 "The Effect of the Error on Other Doctrines" on page 201

12. Hebrews 9:27 " it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."

13. Revelation 14:12

14. Revelation 21:8 "their part will be in the lake that burns with fire, which [their part] is the second death."

15. Revelation 20:10

16. Ezekiel 18:4

17. Revelation 21:8 " "But for the cowardly and unbelievingtheir part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

18. Romans 6:23 "The wages of sin is death." Also see Appendix 1 for a list of all of the scriptures that teach death as the wage of sin.

19. John 11:25 "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies"

20. Ezekiel 18:4 "The soul that sins shall die."

21. John 11:26 " everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." Thus, Jesus was not speaking of the first death, which is the death of the body. He was speaking of the second death, the death of the soul."

22. Hebrews 9:27 "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment."

23. Revelation 20:6 "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power"