From, “What Is Conditional Immortality?” (Miscellaneous Comparisons with the Greek Doctrine of Natural Immortality) by Pastor Sidney A. Hatch, Brief Bible Studies: Vol. 20, No. 2, p.9-18.
Conditional Immortality recognises that only God has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). It is an attribute of His essence or being. Any other creature or person that has immortality–or will have it–receives it from God. Jesus our Lord, the Son of God, received it at His resurrection from the dead.
Natural immortality opens the door to all sorts of vagaries, such as spiritualism, invocation of the saints, transmigration of souls, reincarnation, etc. If the dead are alive somewhere in the universe, perhaps man can communicate with them!
Conditional immortality closes the door on all such vagaries. The dead are totally unconscious in their graves. They “know not anything” (Eccles. 9:5); their thoughts have perished (Ps. 146:4).
Nevertheless, we shall see our loved ones again some day. This is very much a part of the hope of conditional immortality. However, this reunion will not be effected by our dying and going to heaven. Rather, it will be when Jesus comes to earth again: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Natural immortality is the very thing which the serpent in Eden offered to Eve: “Ye shall not surely die . . . ye shall be as gods (or God)” (Gen. 3:4-5). It is, essentially, that blindness with which “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Conditional immortality rejects the words of the serpent as a lie. By way of contrast, in the doctrine of conditional immortality, “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ . . . hath shined in our hearts” (2 Cor. 4:4,6). The gospel of Christ — life and immortality only through faith in Him — is utterly irreconcilable with the lie of the devil.
Natural immortality says that a Christian has the light of the gospel in his “soul” or immaterial entity; his “soul” has been “saved.” It identifies a person with his “soul,” the “soul” is of eternal worth. It is that part of a man which, through the brain, thinks.
Conditional immortality recognizes that we are “earthen vessels.” It identifies a person with his body. Christ, when raising the dead, spoke to the body, not to an immaterial entity. Man thinks in his brain, for God can create an instrument that thinks.
Conditional immortality or life only in Christ is, therefore, the light of the gospel. It is “this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). We are the “earthen vessels”!
Natural immortality was the message of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They believed the Greek view of the immortality of the soul. Josephus tells us this.
Jesus believed and taught conditional immortality. He said that Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter were asleep (Jn. 11:11; Lk. 8:52). He said the dead are in the graves, whence they shall “come forth” (Jn. 5:28-29). He presented Himself as the only source of immortality (Jn. 11:25-26).
Natural immortality came into the western world, and eventually into Christendom, through the teachings of Greek philosophers, especially Plato and his successors. It was part of that original “modernism” (Greco-Roman philosophy) which corrupted early Christianity.
Plato believed and taught that men possessed a personal immortality. The human soul was both immortal and divine. In its disembodied state, it shared the life of the gods (article “Plato,” Encyclopaedia Britannica).
I have observed that believers in natural immortality sometimes have recourse to Plato when defending their views about “the soul.” They seem to be unaware of his personal life. The “Symposium,” which, we are told, is the key to Plato’s philosophy, is supposed to be about “love.” But it is all about homosexuality, especially pederasty (cf. John Jay Chapman, Lucian, Plato, and Greek Morals, pp. 121-36).
Conditional Immortality comes only from the Word of God. Its message may be found from Genesis to Revelation. It is the true “orthodoxy” or “fundamentalism” of Scripture. It is mindful of Paul’s warning, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” (Col. 2:8).
Conditional immortality utterly rejects the views of Plato regarding the nature of man. It derives its views from pure and unquestionable sources: A holy God, His inspired Word, and a sinless Saviour.
Ironically, the views of natural immortality are sometimes described as “fundamentalism.” This is due to its emphasis on “soul salvation,” heaven or hell at death, eternal torment, etc. Actually, however, it is a contemporary version of that original modernism mentioned above.
Conditional immortality is called “heresy” by some, “liberalism” by others. This is because it takes the words of Scripture at face value, and does not impose on them a philosophical meaning. The gospel issue is really “life” or “death,” not better housing in eternity! “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Conditional immortality, then, is the true and original orthodoxy. It is an effort to lay aside those aspects of philosophy which have corrupted Christianity, and return to the simple truths of the Bible.
A fervent preaching of the doctrines of natural immortality can make a preacher or religious leader very popular. It may seem strange, but it is not to be unexpected. people like to be told that there is no death, it is only, as the poet Longfellow once wrote, “transition.” The naivete of Eve has never died away (1 Tim. 2:14).
In times of grief, natural immortality offers a momentary comfort. Death is portrayed as a “friend,” and the grave as the portal to glory. But in doing so, it forfeits the triumph of the Christian hope of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:57).
Conditional immortality, on the other hand, can produce a mixed response. In my own experience, no other message has provoked such varied reactions, from enthusiastic interest to open hostility.
After all, the devil hates this message. It contradicts his false but soothing doctrine, “Ye shall not surely die.” Opposition, as in Jesus’ day, can arise from those in position of leadership who are anxious to maintain the traditions of the elders.
Also, the preacher of conditionalism may expect to be misrepresented as a “soul sleeper” and annihilationist.” But the Scriptures simply say that the wicked will “perish” or be destroyed. And a “soul” or “ghost” does not sleep in death, people sleep! “Lazarus sleepeth,” Jesus said.
But there are great consolations, even moments of excitement, in presenting life and immortality only in Christ. It can be true today, as in Jesus’ day: “The common people heard him gladly” Mk. 12: 37). There will be those who prove to be “good ground.” They will hear the word, receive it, and bring forth fruit (Mk. 4:20).
The conditionalist pastor can look at his flock, and say, as Paul to the Ephesian elders, “I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” Acts 20:26-27). Conditional immortality is the gospel for the strong, not the fearful.
Conditional immortality recognises the truth of Paul’s words, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). John wrote that in the new heavens and new earth “there shall be no more death.” God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 21:4).
Conditional immortality is the only true Scriptural comfort in time of death. The dead are “asleep” and know nothing of the passage of time. Therefore, to die, and someday be in the resurrection, is like going to bed at night, and waking up in the morning. “Joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
There is another contrast between the doctrines of natural immortality and those of conditional immortality which should be mentioned: Natural immortality has two hopes, conditional immortality has one.
Natural immortality’s first hope is to go to heaven at death. Its second hope is to be re-embodied later at the return of Christ. Thus natural immortality tries to combine the Greek hope of immortal souls going somewhere at death with the Christian hope of resurrection.
Conditional immortality’s one hope is the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. This is in keeping with the principle established by Paul: “There is . . . one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). Jesus said, “I will come again” (Jn. 14:3). The conditionalist waits patiently for Him.
There is “a great gulf fixed” between conditional immortality and natural immortality. They are actually two different religions. Yet there are those who lamely excuse themselves by asking. “Is it really important?” To this argument, we ask, “What communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
For the first few years of my ministry, I vigorously preached the doctrines of the natural immortality of man. But, through personal study of the Scriptures, God changed my heart and mind. It was then that someone informed me that my new faith was “conditional immortality.” The term was new to me, but I knew its message was true!