The common belief among Christians—and other religions have similar depictions of the afterlife—is that one's immortal soul goes either to heaven or hell after death. David Grabbe argues that this ignores the biblical concept of the second death, an event beyond physical death that not only undermines the traditional heaven-hell and immortal soul doctrines, but also highlights God's perfect sense of justice.
Richard Ritenbaugh, refuting the Pagan oriented concept of Hell reinforced by Dante's Inferno, laments that most of mainline Protestant and Catholic theology is hopelessly immersed in this false concept. The Hebrew word sheol simply means a pit or a hole where dead bodies are placed. Errant connotations evolved from this, including a void and a haunting, mysterious place, influenced by Greek myths of Hades. Realistically, when a body goes to sheol, it corrupts and is broken down by bacteria. Often, translators render the Hebrew word sheol (the pit) into the English word Hell (connoting flames and pitchforks). Jonah referred to the belly of the fish as sheol. In the Greek language, Hades is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol, without any reference to flames or torment. When Christ went into the tomb, He was in Hades, the storage place of the dead. Hades and death are equivalent terms. The term tartaroo refers to a place or condition of restraint for fallen angels or demons, not humans. The Bottomless Pit was reserved for Satan, symbolized as a fiery dragon. The term Gehenna (of Hinnom), referring to the valley of the sons of Hinnom, was actually a place of refuse, at one time used for child sacrifice. It was consecrated by God as a burial ground, and later the city dump of Jerusalem, with a fire burning the trash. Jesus used this venue as a symbol of the Lake of Fire—eternal Judgment (where the trash and garbage are burned up.) When one dies, the body decomposes and consciousness ceases; the spirit (the record of our life experiences) goes to God for safe keeping. When Christ returns, He will resurrect those who have believed and eventually all either to life or condemnation (depicted in Malachi 4:1-3). The soul is not immortal; the soul that sins shall die; the wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life for those called by God.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the majority of nominal Christianity has bought into Satan's lie to Eve that she would not die, perpetuating this systematized delusion through the doctrines of the immortal soul, with its eventual departure to Heaven, an ever-burning hell, purgatory, or limbo. Man does not have a soul; he is a soul, subject to permanent oblivion unless rescued by Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death, not life in ever-burning hell, or a stroll through the Pearly Gates. For those who have submitted their lives to God, turning their lives around in repentance, and sealed with God's Holy Spirit, there is no fear of the Second Death. They will be resurrected when Christ returns. Death has both a physical application (which all of us will experience) and a spiritual application (meted out on those who absolutely will not yield to Almighty God under any circumstances, having committed the unpardonable sin, any sin harbored in perpetuity and not repented of). With Adam and Eve's sin, the union between God and man was severed. Through Jesus Christ, the second Adam, access to the God the Father has been restored, and Eternal Life has been granted as a precious gift to those who submit and yield to God, having their characters shaped and molded into His image.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the movie the Gladiator, marveled at many references to the afterlife, observing that the notion of going to heaven has been borrowed from pagan notions of Nirvana, Valhalla, or Elysium. In this venue, they will be doing things there that they had not attained in this life, transferring earthly good times to a heavenly setting. Going to heaven is not scriptural. The soul is not immortal; it is equivalent to life. Mankind does not have a soul; he is a soul, subject to death. The soul that sins will die. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life when we go through the prescribed process. The body returns to dust, decomposed into its elements. As we reach our prime, we begin degenerating until we expire, turning back into dust. The term Sheol is equivalent to the dust, the grave, or the pit. The body goes back to the earth. There is no consciousness or awareness in death, but resembles a peaceful sleep in which we are "dead to the world." Just as one can be awakened from sleep, one can be resurrected to life. God has appointed specific times for the resurrections. The pathway through eternal life leads through the resurrection, with our following Jesus Christ. When we are resurrected at His coming, we will indeed have access to heaven, but we will join our Bridegroom as He rules on the Earth. The repentant thief expected to join Jesus Christ when He would come into His kingdom, a future event to occur on the earth. Jesus spoke this pronouncement emphatically—I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise. Because Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights, He did not go to paradise the day He told that to the thief.
Richard Ritenbaugh tackles the question, "Do we contain an immortal soul?" The prevailing idea is that the soul is the indestructible part of a human being that lives on. The Hebrew word nephesh refers to a living being; the Latin word anima and the Greek word psyche refer to breath. In Leviticus 17, we learn that the life resides in the blood. A body is greater than a biochemical reaction; the life force comes from outside the body. Elihu observed that there is a spirit in man, giving him the ability to think and understand, giving him a point of contact with God, separating him from the animals. Paul differentiates the spirit in man from God's Holy Spirit, dividing a human being into spirit (mind), soul (our life), and body (flesh). Nominal Christianity has absorbed heaven, hell, and purgatory from Greek mythology and the philosophy of Plato, who propagated the doctrine of the immortal soul in his Phaedo. The idea of the immortality of the soul is nowhere in the Old Testament, unless one deliberately distorts the account of Enoch's translation and the witch of Endor. Genesis 2:16-17 affirms that it is possible to die, and Ezekiel 18:4 and 20 affirm that the soul (the life) that sins shall die. Galatians 3:22 indicates that all have sinned. Eternal life must come as a gift, but it is not something we have right now, except as an earnest payment. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all die once. God keeps our human spirit in reserve for safe-keeping until the resurrection from the dead.
Following the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse is the Fifth Seal, depicting souls under the altar crying out to God for vengeance. Richard Ritenbaugh goes into the details of this prophecy of persecution and martyrdom of the saints.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the big lie ('you will not surely die'—Genesis 3:4) of inherent immortal life (an immortal soul). This dangerous false belief, held by the majority of Christian-professing denominations, has led to an acceleration of sin and the danger of eternal oblivion. Sin kills, and we are not immortal. Contrary to Socrates and Plato's misconceptions about inherent immortality, only God can give eternal life, and it has specific conditions (overcoming sin and growing spiritually). Death is not a friend or a liberator, but as Jesus understood at the time of his crucifixion, a bitter enemy, a tool of Satan, and a cruel instrument of separation. Only through God's divine act of resurrection can we hope to attain eternal life. We desperately need to do a thorough self-examination, properly discerning Christ's sacrifice, and strive mightily to overcome sin, the destroyer of life.
John Ritenbaugh, citing Romans 1:20, reiterates that the invisible things of God are clearly seen through the things that are made. The numerous scriptural references to angelic beings (experiences of Abraham, Lot, and Daniel and the references to Michael, Gabriel, and Satan (the Prince of Persia) indicate that the spiritual entities have tangible substance. The main proof text of the "no parts, no shape or form" teaching (John 4:24), far from teaching that God has no body, indicates that spiritual substance is just as real as natural substance, except that it is a much higher type of matter, governed by higher laws including refined feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We have abundant testimony from the both the special revelation (God's Word) and the general revelation (the Creation) that God and angels are not universal nothingness floating around in nowhere.
Do you realize not one in a hundred knows what salvation is—how to get it—when you will receive it? Don't be too sure you do! Here, once for all, is the truth made so plain you will really understand it!