What will happen to the spirit in man of those who die the second death?
In our last Q&A (in Update #438, dated April 15, 2010), we explained that God gives every person, apparently at the time of conception, a “spirit,” which the Bible calls the “spirit in man.” This spirit is not a soul–the person is the soul–nor is it a conscious being. When the person or the soul dies, the spirit in man returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). It is being stored in heaven until the time of that person’s resurrection.
We also explained that the spirit in man has recorded all there is about the person–including his appearance, his thoughts and his deeds. It can be compared with a video cassette or a DVD, which only comes “to life,” when placed in a VCR or a DVD player and when the play button is pushed. Following this analogy, God uses the spirit in man to resurrect or better recreate the body of the person at the time of his resurrection.
In the First Resurrection, the person, who during his lifetime had also received God’s Holy Spirit in addition to the human spirit, will be resurrected as an immortal spirit being. Those in the Second and Third Resurrections will be raised as physical beings, and it is again the “vehicle” of the spirit in man which God will use to create new physical bodies, based on what the human spirit has recorded and stored.
What, then, is going to happen to the human spirit of those who are going to be thrown in Gehenna fire to be burned up? We saw in the last Q&A that those are the ones who have committed the unpardonable sin. They will be destroyed and totally annihilated. It will be as if they had never existed. The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4)–and unless the soul repents of its sins, it will die the second, final and eternal death.
We read in Revelation 21:4 that after the Third Resurrection, no more death will exist–that is, no physical human being will any longer exist who could die. By that time, those who qualified for the Kingdom of God (in the First and the Second Resurrections) have been changed into immortal Spirit beings, and those who disqualified themselves have been destroyed in the lake of fire.
Does this only refer to the body–the soul–of such a person who died the eternal death, or also to his human spirit? Will their human spirit go once again back to God in heaven, or will it, too, be destroyed and cease to exist?
In attempting to answer this question, we need to say from the outset that the Bible does not specifically state what will happen to the human spirit of those who will die the second and final death from which there is no resurrection. But there are some indications which we might want to look at.
As explained, God gives the human spirit to a person to bestow on him intellect and intelligence, distinguishing him from the animal world. It also records man’s appearance, personality and memories, to be used at the time of the resurrection.
Since there is no further resurrection for those who die the eternal death, and since the very being of those in the Third Resurrection is totally extinguished (with no memory of their prior existence remaining), we might ask why the human spirit would continue to exist even on an unconscious basis.
We read in Revelation 4:11 that God has created all things–visible and invisible–and that they exist and were created by His Will. Therefore, God could most certainly will to end the existence of whatever He has created, if He so chooses. The question is, will He?
We know that God will not do so in regard to angels. We read that God has created angels as immortal beings–they cannot die (compare Luke 20:36). The same is true for demons, as they are fallen angels. But this is talking about conscious beings–not something which is unconscious.
On the other hand, we have explained that Spirit beings and “spiritual things” cannot die. In that sense, “Spirit” is incorruptible. The question is whether the spirit in man would fall under the category of a “spiritual THING.”
Let us quote from our free booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World”:
“Romans 8:18-23 tells us very clearly what those invisible things will be: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption INTO the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption [sonship], the redemption of our body.’
“We saw in verse 21 that the creation will be delivered from corruption ‘into’ (‘eis’ in Greek) the glorious liberty of the children of God… The Revised Standard Version writes: ‘…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and OBTAIN the glorious liberty of the children of God’…
“This physical creation, patterned after God’s spiritual creation, waits to be delivered from corruption to obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. The glorious freedom, which the universe will receive, includes freedom from death. In that new universe, DEATH will be unknown, and so will decay and corruption.
“We will be changed into Spirit. Spirit endures. Spirit cannot die or decay. Spirit remains. Spirit is INCORRUPTIBLE. The universe will obtain that same freedom from decay, corruption and death. In order to obtain such freedom from death and corruption, this universe will have to be changed into SPIRIT, as we also will be changed into Spirit beings. In this way, the new heavens and the new earth will remain, for only the things that the human eye cannot see will remain…
“Every physical thing will have been destroyed in the all-encompassing fire that burns up the earth and dissolves the physical universe, as we read in 2 Peter 3:11. This will include those humans who have willfully refused to live God’s way of life…
“God will restore a condition that existed at the beginning of His creation when He first created spirit beings and spiritual things. Ultimately, all physical things, which have been patterned after things in the Spirit world, will be changed into spiritual things…”
The question is, do these “spiritual things” include the “spirit in man” (and “the spirit of animals,” see below)? If so, they could not cease to exist. In that case, the spirit of those who will be destroyed in the Third Resurrection would go again back to God, but it would have to be “empty.” It would have to be compared with a cassette or a DVD, the contents of which had been erased. Nothing that had been recorded would be left–no memory would remain of their personality, their thoughts, their ideas or actions, not even of their outward appearance. It would indeed be as if they had never existed.
But is this the way it will work?
Does the Bible tell us more about the “fate” of the spirit in man of those who die the eternal death in the Third Resurrection?
We need to realize that there are all kinds of spirits. There are Spirit BEINGS. God is a Spirit Being. And so, there is God’s Holy Spirit–emanating from both the Father and Jesus Christ. It is through the Holy Spirit of God that both the Father and the Son dwell in us (John 14:23). That Spirit, although not a person, is clearly eternal and immortal, because it emanates from GOD–and GOD is immortal and eternal. As God cannot die, so His Spirit cannot be extinguished. We read that we can quench the Holy Spirit WITHIN US (1 Thessalonians 5:19)–but that does not mean that somehow God’s Holy Spirit would cease to exist. This is just referring to the dwelling of His Holy Spirit IN US. When a person loses the Holy Spirit–that is, when God withdraws from that person by removing His Holy Spirit from such a person–then of course THAT portion of the Holy Spirit does not “die”–since it was part of GOD all along.
When we become immortal Spirit beings in the Family of God, we too–everything that we will be–will be eternal. That is, our “human” spirit will become eternal as will be our “bodies”–they will be spiritual or Spirit bodies–and we, as eternal beings, will have God’s eternal Holy Spirit abiding in us forever. We will be GOD–full-fledged members of God’s Family.
There are other spirit beings–angels and demons. And they too, possess a spirit. But again, their spirit is eternal, if you please, as THEY are immortal beings. They cannot die, and neither can their spirit, which is emanating from them, be destroyed .
Then there is the human spirit which distinguishes man from the animals (1 Corinthians 2:11). But there is also an animal spirit (compare Ecclesiastes 3:19). We explain in our free booklet, “The Theory of Evolution–a Fairy Tale for Adults,” that animals have a spirit, too, but it is NOT the same as the human spirit. Still, we read in Genesis 7:21-22 that all flesh outside Noah’s Ark died in the Flood–birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing, AND every man; that is, “ALL in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on dry land, died.”
But neither the spirit in man nor the animal spirit are conscious “entities,” nor are they the same as the Holy Spirit of God or the spirits of angels. And while the Bible DOES say that the spirit of man returns to God when man dies, at least in this time and age, prior to Christ’s return, the question regarding the “fate” of the animal spirit at the time of the death of the animal was purposefully left unanswered.
In order to address the question of what might happen to the human spirit of those who will die the second death, let us consider whether the Bible tells us WHEN God creates the human spirit.
Isaiah 42:5 says that God, after having created the heavens and the earth, gives breath to the people on it, and “spirit to those who walk on it.” But there is no breath in a particular person prior to his existence, and by extension, there would not be any spirit either. That is, neither the breath nor the spirit of man exist prior to the “creation” of that particular person. We also read in Zechariah 12:1 that God FORMS the spirit of man within him. Again, this seems to imply that God actually creates in man the human spirit when man comes into existence.
The connection between God’s breath and the spirit in man is also expressed in Job 32:8. The New Jerusalem Bible translates Job 32:8, “There is, you see, a spirit residing in humanity, the breath of God conferring intelligence.”
We also discussed in the last Q&A, when explaining the biblical concept of the soul, that Paul prayed that God would preserve blamelessly spirit and soul and body of a converted Christian (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Paul wished that God would preserve blameless the Christian’s human spirit, his temporary physical life and his physical flesh. All of these “components” are mentioned together, to describe the entire being. In addition, 1 Corinthians 5:5 says about a Christian who sinned gravely to “…deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
But what if that spirit cannot be “saved”? The fact that Paul prayed to God to “preserve blameless” the body, soul AND spirit of a person shows that it is possible that body, soul AND spirit may not be preserved “blameless”–or not at all. And if they are not preserved, then they cease to exist.
Realize that the human spirit of the incorrigible sinners will still be in heaven at the time just prior to the Third Resurrection. This proves, in passing, and as will be explained more fully below, that there must be a Third Resurrection; otherwise, their spirit would remain in heaven, while those incorrigible sinners would stay buried in their graves. Some, who believe in the First and the Second Resurrections, have wondered why there should be an additional Third Resurrection and asked whether God could not just leave those who committed the unpardonable sin dead and buried in their graves.
However, Christ said in John 5:28-29 that ALL who are in their graves will come forward when they hear the voice of the Son of Man, and we read in Daniel 12:2 that some who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake to shame and everlasting contempt. We also read in 1 Corinthians 15:22 that all who died in Adam will be made alive in (or by) Jesus Christ.
In addition, there must be a final Third Resurrection to everlasting condemnation, when the spirit in man is placed back in the (newly created) physical body of the person here on earth, as otherwise, the spirit in man would remain in heaven, and with it the recording of the personalities and thoughts and memories.
A strong hint at the final fate of the spirit in man of those who are going to be destroyed in the Third Resurrection can be found in Isaiah 57:16. The New King James Bible translates: “For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made.”
The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explains correctly that the “spirit” in the passage refers to the spirit in man–not the Holy Spirit of God. This should be evident as the Holy Spirit would never “fail”–whatever may be meant with that phrase. In referring to a passage of Numbers 16:22, where God is referred to as “the God of the spirits of all flesh,” the commentary states that the word “spirit” in Isaiah 57:16 refers to “the human spirit which went forth from Me (Numbers 16:22).”
Isaiah 57:16 implies, then, that the spirit in man could fail. But what is meant with the word, “fail”? Could it mean, “cease to exist”? If so, this would show that “spiritual things” do not include the spirit in man or in animals.
The Hebrew word is “ataph” and has a variety of meanings. According to Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, it conveys the thought of “to be feeble” or “to be covered.” The Authorized Version translates this word at times also as, “to be overwhelmed,” or “to hide self.”
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible states that the word actually means, “to shroud, i.e. to clothe… hence (from the idea of darkness) to languish–cover (over), fail, faint, feebler, hide self, be overwhelmed, swoon…”
It is obvious that very few of these meanings would make any sense in the context of the statement in Isaiah 57:16. After all, it is both the soul AND the spirit that could “fail” or “faint.” We know that the (incorrigible, corruptible) soul, when God contends forever, will die the eternal death and will be extinguished. But what about the spirit?
German translations point out that the word “ataph” can also mean “cease to exist, get destroyed, become annihilated.” For example, the German Luther Bible; the Elberfelder Bible; the Menge Bible; the Schlachter Bible and the Pattloch Bible all use the expression, “verschmachten,” which is a word describing the death of a person in the desert, who is dying of thirst.
Some English-speaking translations agree. The Amplified Bible renders Isaiah 57:16 as follows (brackets in the original):
“… for [where it not so] the spirit [of man] would faint and be consumed before Me, and [My purpose in] creating the souls of men would be frustrated.”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible comments regarding Isaiah 57:16:
“The simple meaning seems to be, that if God should continue in anger against people they would be consumed. The human soul could not endure a long-continued controversy with God. Its powers would fail; its strength decay; it must sink to destruction.”
If the concept of “dying” is conveyed in this passage in Isaiah 57:16, then it would indicate that not only the soul, but also the spirit in man CAN be extinguished and cease to exist; and if so, that would have to be the obvious “fate” of the human spirit of those in the Third Resurrection.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link