There are many important issues that Bible-believing Christians may emphasize, including evangelism, missions, serving the needy, political involvement, societal problems, economic challenges, and moral decay. With all of these competing interests, why should we spend time trying to understand what happens to the wicked after death?
This is a valid question. It is so easy for us to focus on things that make no difference in the lives of real people. If we spend our time on merely academic pursuits that do no practical good, we are wasting the valuable time God has given us.
However, if our view of the end of the wicked is wrong, and it turns people away from the God who loves them and sent His son to die for them, then few things could be more important. In fact, an incorrect message hinders efforts in evangelism, missions, and serving–driving people away from Christ instead of drawing them to Him.
The core of the Christian message is to offer people hope after death (John 3:16). If we are not teaching what Jesus actually taught, or what the rest of Scripture affirms, we lead people astray. We keep people from knowing Jesus and finding His forgiveness. Ultimately, we obstruct Jesus’ goal for us to “go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
Orthodox tradition teaches that unrighteous people will be tortured in something like a fire for an endless eternity with no hope or escape. Unbelievers hear this: “Jesus loves you and came to die for your sins. Repent and ask for His forgiveness, or you will burn in hell for an endless eternity.” No matter how we package it, this is the bottom line of the traditional view of the end of wicked. No wonder people turn away.
If the Bible doesn’t teach this view, then every Christian should take the time to find out what it actually says so that we can draw as many people to Christ as possible and avoid putting a harmful “stumbling block” in the way of those who might otherwise follow Christ (Matthew 18:7).
Many articles on this site clearly teach the Biblical view of conditional immortality. God alone possesses immortality (1 Timothy 6:16), and gives eternal life to those who receive His gracious offer of forgiveness and follow Him (John 3:16). After death, God will rightly judge the unredeemed with a punishment that fits the crime, then completely destroy them so they never live again (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). I encourage you to compare your personal Bible study with these articles and see this important teaching for yourself.
If we actually believed the traditional view, wouldn’t we spend every waking moment trying to convince people that they need to turn to God so they won’t suffer such a horrible fate? Does the fact that we don’t feel an overwhelming urgency show that we don’t really believe the traditional view of endless, conscious torment for the wicked? Or, does it show that we just don’t care?
Not that the view of conditional immortality removes an urgency for evangelism. It just turns the message from a negative to a positive one, and leaves room for God to use many means to “plant … water, and … cause growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)
While the traditional view should make us frantic to save people as if from a burning building, the conditionalist view motivates us to encourage people to turn to God out of love instead of irrational fear. The wonderful mercy and justice of God is evident in the conditionalist view: mercy for those who receive God’s gracious offer of forgiveness by following Christ, and measured, understandable justice for those who reject God’s gracious offer.
We do need to focus on evangelism, missions, serving, and all of the other things that the Bible emphasizes as important. In order to do those things effectively, we must have a correct, Biblical understanding of what happens to the wicked after death. When we reject the traditional view of hell in favor of the Biblical teaching of conditional immortality, we have a much better platform from which to reach our desperately needy world.