It has been concluded by many that all people are immortal. They say that each person came into this world with an immortal soul, and this soul must continue to live for all eternity. They go on to say that since God has promised a reward to the obedient and a punishment to the disobedient, the immortality of the righteous will be spent in heaven, and the immortality of the sinners will be spent in hell.
Is this correct? Is it true that God, who has the power to create, does not have the power to undo his work and destroy man? If God has to keep sinners in an eternity of hell because they cannot be destroyed, shouldn’t He have been more careful as to who were granted life and to the circumstances and conditions of their birth and parents?
Definition of “Immortality”
First, let’s make sure we have the correct understanding of the meaning of the word “immortality,” as it is often misunderstood. Many assume “immortality” means simply everlasting life and that “mortal” means dying. This is a great mistake. The word “immortal” is the condition in which death is impossible — a death-proof condition. In contrast, the word “mortal” is a condition in which death is possible, but not necessarily inevitable unless a death sentence has been given, as was given to Father Adam.
What, then, is the difference between immortality and everlasting life? Everlasting life describes an existence which, while having the potential of ending, will never cease under favorable conditions. It simply means that life will continue forever. According to the Scriptures, some will have everlasting life who will never have immortality. Both mortal and immortal beings may have everlasting life, but mortal beings have everlasting life given to them under necessary conditions such as oxygen, light, heat, food, etc. The condition of immortality is everlasting life also, but it includes the thought of indestructible existence which is not dependent on food, sleep, or conditions of any kind. It is an existence which needs no refreshment or supply. It is a condition of life within itself.
Was Man Created Mortal or Immortal?
The first man, Adam, was created mortal. He was in a condition in which death was a possibility or everlasting life was a possibility. Had he remained obedient, he would have continued to live forever, but he would always have remained mortal — liable to death if disobedient. Adam did not remain obedient, however. After his sin of disobedience, Adam was sentenced to death. Obviously, God could not sentence man to death if he were immortal and there was no possibility for him to die. Such a sentence by God would have been an empty threat. We must conclude, then, that Adam was mortal.
All of Adam’s children, the whole world of mankind, are also born mortal. We are not only liable to death, but because we share in the death sentence given to Father Adam, we follow Adam’s course to the grave. 1 Cor. 15:22, “For as in Adam all die.”
What Happens to the Soul?
What, then, is the “soul” if it is not immortal, and what happens to it at death? The human soul is a combination of the breath of life and a body. Genesis 2:7 states, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground [a body], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” A soul is a sentient being; that is, a being possessed of powers of sense-perception. There is nothing mysterious about this. There was no spark of divinity infused into humanity. Man does not have a soul; man is a soul!
If a person is a soul, what happens when that person dies? Simply speaking, the soul dies. Yet many believe the soul cannot die. But what do the Scriptures say? Ezekiel 18:4, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Psalm 49:15 promises, “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave.” And speaking of Jesus’ death, Isaiah 53:10 and 12 says, “He hath poured out his soul unto death; thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” When mankind are awakened from the death-sleep during Christ’s kingdom, the breath of life will be once more returned to a new body, and the soul, the sentient being, will be resuscitated.
Who Then Has Immortality?
The Bible teaches that only God possessed immortality originally. 1 Timothy 1:17 states, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.” God gave to his Son Jesus Christ the reward of immortality after his death and resurrection. John 5:26 states, “For as the Father hath life in himself (immortality) so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” If Jesus had always possessed immortality, he could not have been our Redeemer because he could not have died for us. To anyone who has immortality, death is impossible.
What about angels? Angels are mortal and therefore have the possibility of death if they are disobedient. Hebrews 2:14 says that Satan, who was an angel of light (Isa. 14:12) and who became rebellious, will in due time be destroyed. So we see that angelic nature can be destroyed by its Creator. Men, angels, and even the Son of God, before he was resurrected, were not immortal. They were all mortal.
We have seen that immortality is a very exclusive quality possessed only by those who have divine nature. But immortality does not only belong to God and the resurrected Jesus Christ, but it has been offered as a reward to those in this present Gospel age who have been begotten by the Holy Spirit and who faithfully carry out a life of sacrifice. Romans 2:7 speaks of this church class, saying, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immorality, eternal life.” The requirements of character for this high position are exacting, and the way to that great exaltation is narrow and difficult. But 1 Peter 1:4 encourages those running for this great prize: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”
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(Study XII and XIII explain further this subject.)
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