“If Hell was real, does that mean Jesus raised the wicked from an unconscious state, make them alive only to be endlessly tortured? Wouldn’t it be more merciful to just leave them eternally unconscious (which some believe)? (Ecc. 9:5; John 11:11)” (The Hell Test)
The author of The Hell Test is using the “straw man” technique to throw people off the trail of the truth – “If hell was real” … “Jesus raised the wicked from an unconscious state” … “make them alive only to be endlessly tortured” … “Wouldn’t it be more merciful” …
The “straw man” argument is a type of informal fallacy that misrepresents the position of people who believe in Christ’s eternal judgment of the wicked and creates the illusion that they have effectively refuted the position. The author of The Hell Test fails in his attempt to persuade because of the weakness of his argument.
The “straw man” argument is often used with highly-charged emotional issues where logic and facts are lacking on the side of those who build the straw man. It’s a process of moving attention away from the facts and toward the emotions (e.g. fear, pity, anger). The subject of Christ’s final judgment of the wicked deserves more and better than this.
First, let’s look at the two Scriptures listed in The Hell Test. Bending Scripture to support a straw man theory has been used for centuries and this is no exception. The author of The Hell Text presents them as “proof” texts for his proposal.
“For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:5
“These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” John 11:11
The problem with using these Scriptures as proof texts for the belief that people who die are in an “unconscious state” is that the interpretation doesn’t match the context. False teaching usually includes pulling Bible verses out of context and putting them alongside of other verses taken out of context until “false doctrine” is born. That’s the case with “Christian” universalism.
The writer of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon) begins with questions about life.
“Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is what will be,That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:2-9
Solomon concluded that those things humans believe will bring them satisfaction in life – don’t. It’s interesting that Solomon, the wisest man on earth, knew that wisdom did not satisfy. Solomon talked with God and was deeply religious, but he knew that religious practices did not satisfy. Solomon was the richest man on earth, but knew that riches did not satisfy. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, but knew that sensual pleasures did not satisfy. He was deeply aware of the repetitiveness of life and its problems and unfairness.
King Solomon came to understand the futility of life, which lead him to consider the prospect of death. He watched as wicked people were buried and considered what they had done. He saw that the end of the wicked would be bad, while the end of the righteous would be good.
“Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity. Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God. There is a vanity which occurs on earth, that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 8:10-14
Solomon realized that death came to the righteous and the wicked.
“One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1-4)
This is the full context that leads us to Ecclesiastes 9:5 – “For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten.” Verse 5 continues Solomon’s theme of the futility of life and demonstrates the certainty of death and that the living will forget the dead – bringing into question the worth of the labor of life. Trying to make Ecclesiastes 9:5 fit into a theology of universalism is abhorrent to the text.
John 11 contains one of the most amazing events in the Bible – bringing a dead man back to life. The dead man was Lazarus of Bethany. He was the brother of Mary and Martha and they were all friends of Jesus.
The story begins with Mary and Martha sending word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. When Jesus heard the news, He said – “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Those words, spoken by Jesus, should have been clear to anyone who heard it that something amazing was about to happen. Jesus did not say that Lazarus would not die. He said that the sickness “is not unto death.” The Greek word is thanaton and means the separation of the soul from the body. The purpose of Lazarus’ death would not be the separation of his soul from his body, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Jesus stayed an extra two days in the place where He was, then left for Judea. Jesus had healed thousands of people and worked many other miracles to glorify His Father in Heaven and confirm Himself as the Son of God and His Teachings as of God. He could have easily gone to Judea quickly and healed Lazarus of his illness, but that was not His plan. Jesus was nearing the greatest event in human history – the Resurrection. He was going to teach His disciples and all others who would hear and read about Lazarus that He truly was the Resurrection and the Life.
“Then after this He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’ These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” John 11:7-15
Many people have wrongly interpreted Jesus as teaching “soul sleep” from this portion of Scripture. Jesus knew He was going to bring Lazarus back to life soon, so He was not teaching an elongated sleep of the soul. There is no indication in the language, usage or context of the passage that He had anything like soul sleep in mind. The Lord’s disciples misunderstood Him as well, thinking that Lazarus was sleeping because of his illness and getting necessary rest to heal naturally. However, Jesus meant the physical death of Lazarus and made that clear to the disciples.
When Jesus and His disciples arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. Martha was understandably upset about her brother’s death and told Jesus that if He had been there Lazarus would not have died. She was aware of the Lord’s power over sickness. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha responded that she knew he would rise again “in the resurrection at the last day.” That response led Jesus to say something that is extremely important for us to understand – “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Jesus did not go to Bethany to teach people that the soul sleeps in an unconscious state after death. Jesus went to Bethany to teach people who He is – “I am the resurrection and the life.” That’s the message of John 11.
Friends of the family saw Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus and some said – “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” They had no idea what they were about to witness.
Lazarus was buried in a cave and a large stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha didn’t understand and said, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Martha knew that her brother had died and she knew that after being dead four days a physical body would smell of decaying flesh. How did Jesus respond to that? It’s very telling to the context and purpose of this event.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.”
The Lord called Lazarus back to life from death publicly so that the many witnesses, including His disciples, would see the glory of God. It also most certainly led to the Lord’s arrest and death on the Cross. You can read more about that in John 11:45-57.
The Hell Test wrongly uses many Scriptures to attempt to prove their error, but no matter how hard one tries they cannot turn a lie into the truth.
In the next part of our test of The Hell Test, we will meet another Lazarus and hear an extraordinary exchange between dead people that opens our understanding of what happens after death.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”