Maxey - Thrasher Debate

Eternal Destiny of the Wicked
Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction
(An In-Depth Biblical Discussion)

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Comments by Al Maxey on
Thrasher's Last Response,
A Meeting in the Air,
Absent from the Body


In a previous article I had "tongue-in-cheek" (which Thomas apparently didn't recognize as such) made the following comment on our differing views with regard to creation: "Hmmmm. I think I see the makings of another debate here!!" In response to this my brother wrote, "Since Al has introduced the possibility of a debate between us relating to creation and the age of the earth, I will agree to meet him in an ORAL debate on this important issue SOON, if he is willing."

I thought I had responded to that statement, and have searched through my posts for my response. However, I haven't found it ... thus, my "response" may not have made it "onto paper." I apologize to Thomas for that failure. My position over the years has remained consistent --- I do not do oral debates, only written ones. Oral debates are just not "my thing." Written debates, discussions or dialogues are. Thus, I would respectfully decline any offer of an oral debate. It is simply not a format for discussion with which I have any interest whatsoever. But, thanks for the offer, Thomas.

Brother Thrasher wrote, "I commend Al for decreasing the length of his last article to slightly less than 10,000 words." This sounds remarkably similar to his opening statement in his post prior to this last one: "I want to congratulate Al for actually decreasing the length of his speech in his seventh offering (the first time in this debate that one of his articles has been shorter than the previous one!). This time he used only 12,922 words! Maybe I am winning him over!"

And my present article is only 5740 words!! Now, if only I could be as successful in winning Thomas over to a more respectful and responsible response time. Unfortunately, that appears to be a lost cause .... and, sadly, the ones who suffer are the readers. Last time I pointed out I had (on the advice of others) put Thomas to the test to see if a "spirit of pettiness" was at work. Thomas demonstrated that there WAS. I mistakenly assumed that exposing this spirit would be sufficient to shame Thomas into greater responsibility. Instead, he did the very same thing AGAIN. He waited until the last minute of the last day. This is not only premeditated pettiness, it is "in your face" premeditated pettiness. There is now no question in my mind regarding the spirit of my opponent, which, I believe, brings his entire credibility into question.

Thomas seeks to excuse himself by saying, "those who know me well are fully aware of the fact that I am disposed to procrastinate." My guess is that Thomas, as a school teacher and administrator, does not put up with such from those under his charge. If an entire school system, or even a classroom, followed their "leader" in this respect, it would fall into chaos. As a leader of men, both secularly and spiritually, Thomas has an obligation to overcome such a negative character trait (which he clearly recognizes and acknowledges), rather than glibly perpetuating it to the hurt of others. Thomas would not accept such an excuse from others, and rightly so. If Thomas was a child, I could perhaps justify such a flaw, but not from one who professes to be a secular and spiritual leader. If Thomas was unaware of this negative trait, that would be one thing, but he has admitted he is fully aware of it (as are others close to him), yet he expects us to accept his unwillingness to deal with this problem, even though we are inconvenienced by it. That is not the mark of a leader, and it will not serve Thomas well as he seeks to lead men.

BUT, my opponent has now made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of changing (either theologically or personally), and so there is little we (the readers and I) can do about that. I find it tragic that one who professionally and spiritually calls others to responsible change with respect to their weaknesses will nevertheless reject that advice for himself. Thomas applauds MY change with regard to length of posts, but refuses to reciprocate with regard to response time! Go figure!!

With regard to the misplaced comma in most translations of Luke 23:43, Thomas wrote: "These 21 English translations serve as impressive evidence against Al's position." No, brother Thrasher, they only serve as "impressive evidence" of the widespread acceptance of a grammatical error which seems to bolster a pagan perception. Thomas says that I have "totally ignored" this evidence. On the contrary. I freely admit that most translations have perpetuated this error. It is unfortunate, but it is a fact. Many have perceived the error, however, and I gave testimony to those who have. I have no doubt that Thomas could produce even more than 21 English misunderstandings of this passage.

Thomas made the following observation:

I agree 100% with everything Thomas said in the above passage. What I do not agree with is his interpretation of the term "spirit." Thomas believes this constitutes some separate immortal spirit-being living temporarily inside of our physical bodies, and which is released to even greater life (in either bliss or misery) at the moment of physical death. That is a pagan concept nowhere taught in Scripture. I have dealt with this extensively in previous posts to this debate, thus feel no need to belabor the point here.

Thomas wrote, "Since the Holy Spirit is a spirit being, then so is the spirit of man." Interesting assumption, but it has no basis in fact. Thomas is grasping at straws to try and prove his pagan-based theology that immortal spirit-beings are trapped inside of our physical bodies. Plato taught this absurdity, but God never did.

With regard to Revelation 22:12, Thomas wrote, "Al claims these 'rewards' will not be dispensed until the second coming of Christ. However, I believe he has misinterpreted and misapplied this passage. It refers to a coming of the Lord that would be soon. .... Al has misapplied Revelation 22:12 to the second coming of Christ. .... It occurred when the Lord came in judgment back in that general time period."

Yes, Thomas, there are indeed some who interpret this passage as referring to lesser, more limited, judgments prior to the Parousia. Largely this is because of their literal understanding of terms such as "quickly," "near," and the like. These can also convey the idea of imminence and suddenness, of course. Thus, to echo the perspective of The Pulpit Commentary, these terms caution the believer (and non-believer also) against the sin of procrastination. Notice this statement from Volume 22 of The Pulpit Commentary:

Nevertheless, there are indeed some who feel the passage does not refer to the Second Coming of our Lord, at which time He will bring His eternal rewards with Him. I do not happen to be one of them. Thus, I reject brother Thrasher's rejection of this passage as a reference to the Parousia.

Thomas quotes several passages of Scripture to try and prove that the punishment itself for sin is TORTURE. Yes, Thomas, those passages mention that the punishment of our God will NOT be a pleasant experience. Indeed, it will be torturous. Those being executed in the lake of fire will indeed be in torment during the destruction process. The punishment itself, however is not torture .... it is DEATH. When a man is sentenced to death in the electric chair, his punishment for his crime is NOT the pain experienced for those few seconds it takes to kill him. That will not be a pleasant experience. There will be torment involved, no question. But, the actual punishment is DEATH, not the pain involved in the dying process.

The theory of Thomas, however, is that DEATH never actually occurs in hell. Instead, the wicked LIVE forever!! Thus, the eternal punishment for sin is no longer DEATH, but rather LIFE in torture. As one scholar indicated: calling black white, and white black is nothing compared to this.

Brother Thrasher, I do not deny that there will be torment present in the destroying/dying process. That torment, however, is not the prescribed "wages of sin" which will be paid out on that day. The wages of sin is DEATH (Romans 6:23).


When reviewing passages pertaining to the Parousia one is immediately and inevitably drawn to Paul's comforting words directed to the brethren in the city of Thessalonica. He tells them that he does not want them "to be uninformed ... about those who are asleep" (1 Thess. 4:13). The reason for this concern is also stated: "so that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope" (vs. 13). Obviously, "sleep" is a figure of speech representing "death." Even some of our Lord's companions misunderstood this figure of speech, and thus Jesus had to explain to them that He was talking of literal, physical death (John 11:11-14). In the same way, Paul was speaking of those brethren who had already died physically and were "asleep" in the dust of the ground.

The message he was about to impart to them would be information they could then use to "comfort one another" (vs. 18). It was a message of assurance and hope, even of expectation. The Lord would return one day. The dead in Christ shall arise from their graves (Hades). The living will be caught up to the Lord together with those righteous ones who have been resurrected. From other passages we also know that the wicked will experience a resurrection unto judgment. The present heavens and earth shall be burned up with fire, and the wicked will be consumed in this process. Then the redeemed shall be led to the new heavens and earth where they will dwell forever with their Lord. This is a comforting thought mentioned several times in the Scriptures, and from it we can draw great assurance.

In this passage of Scripture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) there are several points that need to receive greater attention exegetically if we would truly perceive the full force of this teaching by the apostle Paul. We will notice each one in turn.

#1 --- "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus" (vs. 14, NASB). Traditionally, this has been interpreted to signify that the souls or spirits of the righteous dead will come back from heaven or Paradise with Jesus when He returns (at the Parousia). Thus, when our Lord comes again to "claim His bride," His bride with come with Him. Hmmmmm. That sounds a bit strange, now doesn't it?!! The traditional explanation, of course, is that He is bringing these "immortal souls" with Him for the purpose of zapping them back into their resurrected bodies. The righteous dead, according to this theory, were already WITH the Lord in Paradise, but now He's coming for the bodies. This leads one to ask the question: Why?! If the redeemed are already experiencing the joys of Paradise with the Lord, why bother with coming back for a body?

Jesus declared, "In My Father's house are many dwelling places. .... I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). Thomas teaches that the righteous dead are already there at the moment of physical death. Jesus teaches He will come to receive them to Himself at the Parousia; that they are not already there. Do we believe Thomas or Jesus? I think I'll choose the latter.

In Matthew 24:30-31 Jesus informs us that at His return His angels "will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." Who exactly is being "gathered together" if they are all already "with Him" when He returns in glory? The traditionalists declare it is just resurrected bodies being gathered together at this time, since the "immortal souls" are returning "with Him." Jesus says He will not lose any who are truly His, but will "raise him up on the last day" (John 6:39-40). Again, a rather strange statement to make if these redeemed ones had already been with Him in glory for many centuries. In what possible way would any of them be "lost" to Him if the resurrection did not occur? And yet Jesus clearly links the saving of these redeemed ones with the resurrection on the last day.

The notion that the victory is won at the moment of death, and we are already with the Lord in a "place of sweet repose," flies in the face of clear biblical teaching to the contrary. And yet the language of 1 Thess. 4:14 does at first glance appear to be saying that Jesus is bringing "with Him" from glory these redeemed ones who have died. So, what exactly IS being declared in this passage?

The NASB reads: "God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." Thus, these are those who are asleep. Is this like sleep walking?(G) The New English Bible renders this passage this way: "God will bring them to life with Jesus." The Message (which is a translation in contemporary English) reads much the same: "God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus." This is certainly true (our Lord will "raise them up on the last day"), but it is not an accurate translation of the actual text.

The solution to the dilemma can be found in the focus of the "bringing" or "leading away." Where are these "asleep ones" being brought or led TO? And from where? And for what purpose? The traditional teaching from this passage (and it is really an assumption) is that they are coming FROM Paradise, and are being led back to the earth to fetch their bodies. This certainly does NOT fit the "Bridegroom coming for His bride" scenario, however. When the bridegroom left the father's home to fetch his bride, he didn't bring her with Him .... rather, he went to get her. Thrasher's theory has the bride coming along!!

Consider this possibility: The Lord returns from heaven in the company of the angels to gather His people from the four corners of the earth. He calls them forth from their graves, arousing them from their sleep in the dust of the ground. Both the righteous dead and the righteous living are caught up to a meeting with Him in the air, and then with Him they are led away from the earth (which is about to undergo the judgment of fire) and unto eternal fellowship with the Father in the new heavens and earth.

The word "bring" in verse 14 is a Greek verb signifying "to lead away, lead out; drag away." The Lord Jesus will lead us away from the judgment about to be poured out upon the earth (we shall be caught up from the earth unto a meeting with Him), and then lead us unto the glorious future that awaits us. In other words, being brought with Him is actually the reverse of what the Traditionalists teach. It is a bringing with Him up from the earth unto Paradise (in the new heavens and earth) rather than a bringing with Him down to the earth from Paradise. This interpretation is entirely correct grammatically, and has the advantage of being consistent with the remainder of biblical teaching pertaining to the events of the Parousia.

In the New Commentary on the Whole Bible (which is based upon the classic work by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown), we find the following statement in its exegesis of this passage: "Disembodied souls are not spoken of; the original Greek reference is to sleeping bodies awaking and returning."

#2 --- "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord" (vs. 16-17, NASB).

In this passage we behold those "dead in Christ" raised from the dust of the ground, and they are gathered up, along with those righteous ones still living at the Parousia, unto an "apantesis" (meeting, encounter) with the Lord in the air. This will be the first "encounter" or "meeting" of the redeemed (both living and dead) with the Lord. "And THUS we shall always be with the Lord." The word translated "thus" is "houtos" which signifies "thusly, under such circumstances or conditions." The conditions or circumstances by which we shall ALWAYS be with our Lord are His coming and our resurrection and gathering up. Nothing is said about the dead already being with Him. Rather, it is under THESE CONDITIONS that this encounter with the Lord occurs, an encounter which leads to us being with Him always.

The word translated "caught up" (vs. 17) is the Greek word "harpazo" which means to "snatch away by force, convey away suddenly, seize (as a wild beast grabs its prey)." It appears as a Future Passive which signifies this has not yet occurred, but lies in the future (at the Parousia), and it is something that happens to us (we ourselves are not the active agent). We are awakened and called forth from the grave, and then we are "snatched away with great power" unto an encounter with our Lord. He seizes us and lifts us mightily from the earth which is about to experience the full outpouring of the fury of God's consuming fire. The wicked are not snatched away, but rather will be consumed along with the old heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:7). When this is accomplished, we will all be brought with Him (Jesus) to our dwelling in the new heavens and earth, and the wicked, now destroyed forevermore, will be as "ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing" says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 4:3).

"But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away" (Revelation 21:1). "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.' And he who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new'" (Revelation 21:3-5).

To sum up, the passage in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 does not even begin to teach what the Traditionalists claim it does. It merely declares that our Lord will return, raise those who sleep in Him, snatch them away from the earth (along with those still living at the time) unto an encounter with Him in the air, and then with Him we shall be brought into the new heavens and earth where only righteousness will dwell (the wicked having been destroyed in the fire after we were caught away), and we shall thus forever be with our Father and His Son.


With respect to 2 Corinthians 5:8 it has been declared, "No passage in 2 Corinthians has prompted more discussion than this. As a consequence, the diversity of scholarly interpretation is rather bewildering" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, p. 346). Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi observes, "This passage is rightly regarded as the crux interpretum, primarily because the figurative language is cryptic and open to different interpretations. Unfortunately, many interpreters are eager to derive from this passage, as from Philippians 1:22-23, precise anthropological, chronological, or cosmological definitions of life after death. Such concerns, however, are far removed from Paul, who is using the poetic language of faith to express his hopes and fears regarding the present and future life, rather than the logical language of science to explain the afterlife. All of this should put the interpreter on guard against reading into the passage what Paul never intended to express" (Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 180-181).

A wise word of caution is sounded by Dr. Leroy Edwin Froom, "It is both illogical and unsafe to build any major doctrine on isolated passages, apart from the general tenor of Scripture. It is to be remembered that enormous errors have been built upon isolated verses" (The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 324). In other words, if one's interpretation of a particular passage is in conflict with the remainder of biblical teaching on that subject, then that particular interpretation becomes suspect. Difficult passages must be interpreted and clarified in light of the entirety of God's Word, not isolated from the whole in order to try and "proof-text" a personal theological preference. "God's message to us is consistent. To put it differently, we should interpret the various parts of Scripture in a way that accords with its central teachings. We may not pit one part of Scripture against another, nor may we interpret a detail of Scripture in a way that undermines its basic message" (Kaiser & Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search For Meaning, p. 24).

There is no question but what some interpreters have taken a couple of statements by the apostle Paul and have tried to use them to promote the pagan concepts of the traditionalist positions on the nature of man and the fate of both the righteous and wicked following physical death. These interpretations, however, stand in clear opposition to the overwhelming bulk of biblical teaching on the TRUE nature of man and his ultimate destiny. Thus, to seek to build a theology upon a handful of passages which is contrary to revealed Truth throughout the remainder of God's Word is unconscionable.

This is exactly what the traditionalists, like brother Thrasher, have done with passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23. They have ignored the remainder of biblical teaching and sought to derive a doctrine of "immortal soulism" from these isolated passages which do indeed, when viewed out of context with the rest of God's Word, appear to promote what they proclaim.

Helmut Thielicke correctly points out that the New Testament is not concerned about a "state" which exists between death and resurrection, but for a relation that exists between the believer and Christ through death. This relationship of being with Christ is not interrupted by death because the believer who sleeps in Christ has no awareness of the passing of time (Living With Death, p. 177). In other words, Paul was not anticipating some meeting with Jesus in some so-called Intermediate State, but rather was confidently looking forward, past the moment of physical death, to the resurrection which, for the dead, would be perceived as instantaneous. We close our eyes in death and we open them in victory when we are awakened by the trumpet at the Parousia. We will not be conscious of the passing of any time. It is similar to the "sleep" brought about by the anesthesiologist prior to an operation. We close our eyes and "instantly" we awaken in the recovery room. Those who sleep in the dust of the ground "do not know anything" (Ecclesiastes 9:5), "for there is no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

The Bible is filled with striking imagery, but we should not formulate theology based on literal interpretations of images, figures and symbols. To do so will lead to some unbelievably bizarre doctrine. In figurative language Paul simply declares a struggle to know which is personally preferable --- to remain alive, serving the Lord and His people, or to rest from one's labors in death (knowing that the next conscious moment, which will seem but an instant, will place one in the presence of the Lord at His coming). Paul longed to lay aside the flesh (physical death) and to "sleep." It's like the child on Christmas Eve who wants to go to bed earlier "because then it will be morning and Santa will have come!" They know that the span of time will be "bridged instantly" by sleep, and they long for sleep to come so that they may experience the joys of the morning!!

The Expositor's Bible Commentary points out that "not all at Corinth shared Paul's view of the Christian's destiny. There were some who taught that resurrection lay in the past, accomplished spiritually and corporately for all believers at the resurrection of Christ or else personally experienced at the moment of baptism." Thus, Paul had "in mind these 'proto-Gnostics' who denied any future, bodily resurrection but envisaged a disembodied immortality" (Vol. 10, p. 347). Paul's hope, as indeed is the hope of all disciples of Jesus, is in the resurrection on that final day, a day when we shall be called forth from our sleep in the dust of the ground, this mortal shall "put on" immortality, and we shall dwell forever with Him in the new heavens and earth. Paul longed for that day, even though he understood the value of remaining physically alive on earth to continue preaching the gospel; he longed for that day so much that "going to sleep" sounded wonderful, for it would hasten that glorious morning when all would be made new and we would be with Christ Jesus and the Father forevermore.

This is all that is being taught in the above passages. It does not declare, as some think, that immortal souls fly off to some intermediate holding area to await the day when they will be zapped back into their bodies. That is a pagan absurdity nowhere taught in Scripture. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states that the 2 Cor. 5 passage "cannot with any consistency be interpreted of the moment of death" (Vol. 4, p. 52). I agree whole-heartedly.


This debate is quickly coming to a close. Thomas and I have agreed to submit one more post each, and then we will each contribute a summation of our position and argument. Thus, there are only two more posts from each of us. I think this will be sufficient for both Thomas and me to have provided the major aspects of each of our positions, and to have addressed many of the objections raised by the other.

Obviously, we will not have settled the matter for all time, or even to the satisfaction of the other. But hopefully we will have sparked an interest in the hearts and minds of the readers for greater study and reflection on this important subject.

I eagerly await the next post by brother Thomas Thrasher.

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