While reading the Book of Revelation I was struck by Jesus’ words regarding the final judgment of those whose names are not written in the Book of Life:
…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (21:8)
Jesus here draws a distinction between those who belong to Him — those who will “inherit all things,” who will forever enjoy Him as their God, who will be His sons and daughters — contrasted with those who will not receive blessings but will instead “have their part” in the lake of fire. These will not receive eternal life in God’s presence, but will receive the second death: eternal punishment.
The list of sinful behaviors and attitudes Jesus speaks of reminds me of another list, this one found in LDS scripture. Doctrine and Covenants says:
But [these] received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus,… These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. (76:101, 103)
Several items on the biblical list and the D&C list match:
- unbelieving/received not the gospel
- sexually immoral/adulterers-whoremongers
It sounds like both passages are talking about the same group of people. But according to the Bible, Jesus says these people will be finally consigned to the “second death” in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, while Doctrine and Covenants says these people will inherit glory in the Telestial kingdom of God.
Some Mormon leaders, including 10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith, have suggested that sinners such as those listed above will spend limited time in the lake of fire and brimstone; they will be released as heirs of salvation after they have sufficiently suffered for their sins. However, Mr. Smith wrote:
Spiritual death is defined as a state of spiritual alienation from God — the eternal separation from the Supreme Being; condemnation to everlasting punishment is also called the second death. In other words, the second or spiritual death,…is the final judgment passed upon the wicked… (Doctrines of Salvation 2:217)
In Mormonism there seems to be some variance of opinion on exactly what “second death” is, who is deserving of it, and how long it lasts. But in Christianity — historically — the second death has been understood to be final, permanent, and hopeless. In Revelation Jesus contrasts the second death with eternal life. Those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb receive the gift of eternal life, while those who have died in their sins receive their part — the consequence of being an enemy of God — which is eternal damnation.
But according to Mormonism, after the wicked dead come to their senses and repent, after they suffer for their sins for a sufficient time, they will receive an eternal home in glory. This glory, which they have earned by personally paying for their sins (see Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 325-325, 204), is described in LDS writings. The inhabitants of the Telestial kingdom will delight in an existence of far greater comfort and enjoyment than anything available on earth; a glory beyond mortal understanding. There will be no death, disease, infirmity, taxes, wars, bills or menial labor. The people will be free to socialize, travel and learn (Victor Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel,240-241). In fact, Joseph Smith reportedly said,
The telestial kingdom is so great, if we knew what it was like we would kill ourselves to get there. (see Richard Neitzel Holzapfel,The Heavens Are Open, The 1992 Sperry Symposium of the Doctrine and Covenant and Church History, 155)
According to Mormonism, those deserving of the Telestial kingdom have lived their lives in open rebellion against God. They have hearts that are hard and cold when it comes to Christ. They are not just misguided people who have given in to the temptations of sin more often than not; they have “refused to worship the true and living God” (LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 778).
Even if it were possible for dead people to pay their own sin debt by suffering for a finite period of time (it is not), after their debt is paid they remain what they have always been at their core: enemies of God. This is something Mormonism misses. It’s not just about what we do, but about what we are.
Jesus did not come only to pay the penalty for our sins; He came to make us new creatures. He came to take away our guilt and bestow on us His righteousness. The Apostle Paul wrote,
- He made Him [Christ Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Because of Christ’s righteousness, the sinner who places faith in Him becomes righteous before God.
Spending time in prison does not change a hardened criminal into a law-abiding citizen. During his prison sentence he works off his debt to society; he may even resolve to “go straight” in order to avoid future punishment. But he isn’t changed from the inside out — not unless God intervenes and makes him a new creature.
And being a new creature is what Jesus talks about in the Book of Revelation. He says,
Behold, I make all things new…It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (21:5-8)
Seeing how Jesus puts it, it doesn’t sound to me like that second set of people are bound for eternal glory. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear.