Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of timbrel and lyre; they make merry to the sound of the pipe. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked. Job. 21.7-16 NIV)
God delays His ultimate justice in order to test humanity to see for whom they live. For whom a person lives is whom they worship. Worship is only reserved for God as reflected in the very first Commandment given at Sinai: You shall have no other gods before [besides] me (Ex. 20.2 NIV). Further, Jesus quoted Dt. 6.13 refuting the devil who wanted Jesus to worship him: Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name (NIV). If a person is ultimately living for themselves, they are worshipping the wrong person and are an idolater.
Also, most sinful people will know, deep down, they are living for themselves and not God. That is why all mouths will be stopped at the Judgment: Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom. 3.19-20 NIV).
Moreover, many people try to pay God off by their self-righteousness instead of living a cruciform life. Some folks would rather be someone or do something instead of dying to themselves. Jesus said: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mk. 8.34-35 ESV). Notice that the phrase whoever would save his life will lose it implies the cessation of life, eternally, and not continued existence in everlasting punishment.
The Ransom by The Angel of the Lord
Yet if there is an angel at their side, a messenger, one out of a thousand, sent to tell them how to be upright, and he is gracious to that person and says to God, ‘Spare them from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for them— (Job. 33.23-24 NIV)
We can never be good enough or do enough good things. God’s righteousness doesn’t work that way. This is the recurring theme indicating God’s remedy for sin. Adam and Eve were clothed with animal skins after their transgression, implying a substitutionary death for their covering (atonement). Abel’s sacrifice from the first born of his flock signified he had made a covenant with God by sacrifice (see Ps. 50.5 for this concept). Animal sacrifices continued until the Mosaic Covenant, where the shadows, symbols, and signs were further refined, and ultimately pointed to Jesus, acting as both High Priest and sacrifice.
The bible is explicit in how a person is saved; it’s not a mystery at all. In very basic terms, two things are required: 1. Confession of Jesus as Lord, publicly, and 2. belief that God raised Jesus from the dead: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10.9 NIV). Confession is what humans see, while only God sees true belief.
Baptism functioned in the Apostolic Church, as a confession, and really needs to function this way today. By being immersed, new converts confessed publicly and demonstrated their faith by taking a stand for Jesus. Ideally, the new Christian should continue to further confess His name by various ways, including, spreading their testimony: And they will go to others and say, ‘I have sinned, I have perverted what is right, but I did not get what I deserved. God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.’ (Job. 33.27-28). Baptism means believers’ immersion, and functions as an identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The only mode which signifies these concepts is a brief engulfment in water.
Can a person be saved if they have had the wrong baptism? Of course! Baptism doesn’t save, but is only one (and, probably, the best) biblical way to demonstrate and confess Christ’s redemptive work. The thief on the cross next to Jesus could never be baptized but confessed: We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Lk. 23.41-42 NIV). To this confession, Jesus replied: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise (vs. 43 NIV).
God gives and sees the faith in a person who believes that He raised Jesus from the dead. The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead speaks to the sinlessness of Christ, since the Father has accepted Jesus back to Himself, now, in a glorified body of resurrected flesh (a spiritual body-1Cor. 15. 44). The Mosaic Law could not be kept by any fallen man but life was promised to the One who could keep it: The person who does these things will live by them…Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come (Gal. 3.12, 19a NIV). This was the promised Seed of the woman (not of fallen Adam) spoken about in Gen. 3.15. He would ultimately crush the serpent’s head on the Day of the Lord, and, before that, suffer a fatal metaphorical bite by the serpent on Calvary to save His people, the plural seed of faith, Abraham offspring (see Gen. 15.5 cf. Gal. 3.29).
One of the most widely known Gospel verses is Jn. 3.16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV). Only one of two options are reserved for humanity at the Judgment – eternal life or perishing, implying cessation of existence. Another well-known scripture is the last verse of Psalm 1: Certainly the Lord guards the way of the godly, but the way of the wicked ends in destruction (Ps. 1.6 NET). Theses verses define what will happen at God’s judgment – life with Jesus in all eternity or eventual destruction after a reckoning for what they have done: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Cor. 5.10 NIV).
While Christians will be saved and have right to the Tree of Life (see Rev. 2.7, 22.2) and thus live forever in Christ, sinners will suffer destruction. The concept of the Tree of Life seems to speak metaphorically of the tree upon which Jesus died. The cross was once a tree and, conceptually, stays a tree where cursed people were hung (Dt. 21.23). Therefore, while Jesus was sinless, He suffered the curse for us while we receive His righteousness (Gal. 3.13). If people refuse Christ, the curse of the Law falls on them: For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Gal. 3.10b NIV cf. Dt. 27.26).
The destruction of sinners is eternal punishment by definition. I don’t believe in the never ending torment of humans (Eternal Conscious Torment-ECT). There are only certain beings for whom the Lake of Fire is reserved, the devil and his angels (Mt. 25.41). In Rev. 20. 10, it speaks of the devil, beast, and false prophet being tormented forever, but not humans. Since the devil and his angels are not part of humanity, they cannot be saved. These are eternal spirit beings as shown by Lk. 20.36a: and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels (NIV).
While humans will also be thrown to that place of judgment, their duration will only last as long as their individual punishment deserves. Humanity as mortal is shown by God in His grace in banishing the sinful couple from the Tree of Life in Eden (Gen. 3.22-24). Also, our mortality is explicit in scripture: For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2Cor. 5.4 NIV).
Overwhelmingly, the bible speaks of human destruction of unrepentant sinners (after proportionate punishment): The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been (Obadiah 15-16 NIV). As God gives the human spirit, He can just as easily take it away: If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust (Job 34.14-15 NIV).
Jesus and the bible never speak of humans being consciously tormented forever; it’s just not in the pages of scripture. In fact, Jesus explicitly teaches destruction of the resurrected bodies of sinners: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10.28 NIV). During this earthly life God delays His judgment on sinners, but it is sure to come. Ultimately, individual humans will be destroyed for their wrong doing: God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2Th. 1.6-9 NIV).