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Sunday: Immortal Worms? — 14 Comments

  1. In the end, we are either totally saved or totally lost. There is no middle ground. We can have either eternal life or will face eternal destruction. What choices do you have to make today? How should this reality — eternal life or eternal destruction — impact those choices?

    There are two choices to make in this lifetime today. If life is chosen then Christ is chosen, but if death is chosen then sin remains (Romans 6:23). The condition of our human nature leads us to two choices before we die on earth, either life or death. The reality of having eternal life or eternal destruction are the big questions for the human soul to answer. Eternal life can only happen when we choose Jesus as Lord and Saviour (Acts 4:12). But, if Christ is not chosen then eternal destruction is the other option (Lord have mercy on us all).

    What is eternal destruction? Eternal destruction means no more second chances. In other words, there is no more existence.

    Today’s lesson was interesting in helping us understand the meaning of an immortal worm(s). Thankfully, last week’s topic about contrary passages gave us a foundational understanding between literal and figurative in grasping the concept of hellfire. Mark 9:48 is a metaphor of a person’s very existence disappearing forever. A worm not dying means no one can stop its action from happening. The worm will continue to eat the dead corpse until nothing is left on the table, but ashes. The worm describes the final punishment of Satan, the fallen angels, and the lost. The immortal worm(s) describes the final punishment of the wicked where their soul is eaten up completely. The worm(s) are only immortal until nothing is left to be eaten. After everything is eaten up by the worm(s), that would make the end results eternal and final; no more coming back again. Simply put, the worm analogy is symbolic of where the lost would go, a place of uncleanness, suffering, and deletion (wiped out, being no more). For example, in computer terms, the recycling bin trash can icon screen display has been emptied out. The computer file(s) cannot be retrieved or restored due to no memory (lost forever is the end result).

    Another thing, Jesus was comparing hellfire to a place in Gehenna (Valley of Hinnom) located in Israel, outside of the city, to put out the city trash. The waste management system back in ancient times had trash and waste burned up by fire. If the fire is not enough to destroy the waste (the lake of fire will be more than enough) then the worms and maggots do the rest of the job to clean up the remains.

  2. Before I get on to "eternal worms", I want to tell you about what I have been reading. I decided that rather that accept the usual picture of eternal hell fire that we say the Roman Catholic church teaches, I would see what they say in their catechism. This is what they have to say:

    This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." Catechism 1033

    To be honest, I don't really disagree with that statement. I know that in Protestantism (particularly in Adventist cirles) we like to denigrate the idea of eternal hellfire, but what if they see Hell, not in terms of fire and boiling sulphur, but in terms of mental anguish at having separated yourself from God?

    I am sure that there are priests and ministers who do teach about everlasting burning in hell. But, we do need to be aware that the idea is not as pervasive, or as persuasive as it used to be.

    With that in mind, Let us look at the text from Isaiah that is quoted in the lesson. Personally I think the lesson editors were a bit naughty because they say nothing about the context. Here it is and for the record it is the last thought in the book of Isaiah. The ending is always the bit that the author hopes summarises what he has been on about:

    “For as the new heavens and the new earth
    Which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord,
    “So shall your descendants and your name remain.
    And it shall come to pass
    That from one New Moon to another,
    And from one Sabbath to another,
    All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord.
    “And they shall go forth and look
    Upon the corpses of the men
    Who have transgressed against Me.
    For their worm does not die,
    And their fire is not quenched.
    They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Isa 66:22-24 NKJV

    Now, Is that scripture suggesting that we will go to church and praise God every Sabbath and New Moon and then we will go outside and look down to see how the wicked are faring in Hell? Obviously it is a metaphor. And may be it is worth considering the Catholic definition of Hell: self-exclusion from communion with God!

    There is a lot that I don't agree with in Catholic doctine but on this one, they have given pause for something for the rest of us to think about.

      • Dana, we probably get more of our ideas of heaven from Isaiah than any other Bible writer except John. If he had an "imperfect view," where does that leave us?

        Maybe we should take another look at what Isaiah is really trying to say ... Maybe he's using a figure of speech to create a dramatic contrast between the fate of the righteous and the fate of the rebellious?

        I had my own comment written, but what I meant to say has been said pretty well by Reggie Tibunsay III and Ulrike Unruh. (You can click on or touch the links to read those comments again.)

    • Various Catholic scholars have done some excellent work from which we could learn, and Pope Francis has been really serious about implementing the policy of Vatican II to stop attacking Protestants but, instead, to gather them back into the fold by worshiping together. He has been very successful in raising the profile of the Roman Catholic church as a reliable moral authority in a relativistic society that seems to be falling apart.
      But the Roman Catholic church has not officially changed any of its teachings that caused her to persecute any and all who disagree with her. We've been reading The Great Controversy again, and we can see that the time to take a firm stand for God's truth is now, because there are dangerous times just ahead when only those who have strengthened their hold on God through a thorough study of Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will be able to stand.
      All readers of this comment can get a personal copy of The Great Controversy, by clicking on the link, or they can read it for free at the EGW Writings site.

  3. True, it would definitely not be paradise to go worship and praise God every Sabbath and New Moon and then go outside and look down to see how the wicked are faring -- even if, as some suggest, the "fire" is just a metaphor of their anguish and torment in being separated from God.

    I personally believe Jesus is talking about the complete destruction, and the utter and complete perishing, which will be the lot of the unsaved.

    The worm is a symbol for complete destruction.
    Jesus is using the example of the Jerusalem trash dump, the Valley of Hinnom, where the bodies of the poor and the criminals as well as the garbage were literally burned. In Hinnom, the worms in question were "maggots" on the corpses of the unburned flesh of the dead. The maggots do not die till they finish their work. The people are already dead. In the similar verse, Isaiah 66:24, it's speaking of corpses. Maggots only eat dead meat. The end is complete destruction. What the maggots don't get done, the fire will finish the job ( I believe the fire will be sufficient to totally cleanse all traces of sin, there will be no traces left on the earth)

    Nether the worms (maggots) or the fire last forever and forever. But nothing will stop them till the job is done and all traces of sin will be erased forever.

    As Ellen White wrote, quoting scripture:

    "'Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.' The arm of Omnipotence alone can cleanse the earth from the evil which Satan has brought into it. This He will do by destroying the world by fire, even as He destroyed the old world by a flood. {RH, April 16, 1901 par. 13}

    A fire that cannot be quenched cannot be put out by natural means. It will burn till all combustible material is burnt up.

    The unsaved utterly PERISH.

    Compare this with the John 3:16 and 2Peter 3:9-13. We need not perish, God provided a way of escape. Just like He did in the days of Noah. God is not willing that any PERISH, but that all come to repentance. He wants to save, He wants us to live with Him forever, He doesn't want us to perish.

  4. God is love. Humans were made to give and receive love. Life comes from love. The absence of love is death.

    Could the worms be sin? Sin has no love in it. Especially no love for God. The absence of God is absence of love. All absence of love will result in torture. In my eyes I see this as what the second death will be like.

    Everyday is a good day for an act of love for someone.

  5. One part of last week's Sabbath school lesson is still confusing to me. Under Thursday's lesson, we studied 1 Peter 3:13-20. It would appear from a literal reading and interpretation that Paul seems to be suggesting that after Jesus was raised from the dead he went to preach to the disobedient antediluvians who did not make it in the ark. I know that this could not be. Can you explain the text?

    • Good question, Courtney. I'll be happy to give it a try, and we'll see if others would like to chime in.

      First of all, we don't believe in verbal inspiration. So, it is quite conceivable that Peter could have composed a rather awkward sentence in seeking to convey his divinely inspired thoughts. It seems clear to me that his words about "preaching to the spirits in prison" were a digression, beginning with verse 19. So, except for the mention of the Spirit, I'd not try to connect verses 19 and 20 with anything preceding them.

      Secondly, anachronisms are not uncommon in the Bible. For instance, Genesis 31:20-21 records that Jacob fled to the mountains of Gilead. But Gilead was a later descendant of Jacob, for whom those mountains were named.

      So, in seeking to make sense of 1 Peter 3:19-20, I'd like to distinguish which words are describing the present reality, at time of writing, and which pertain to Noah's day. Here is my personal take on that.

      1) By the Holy Spirit, Jesus went and preached. I'd say that was through the preaching of Noah, back in the day.

      2) The spirits in prison. Although they heard Noah's preaching, way back when, they are now, at time of writing, "spirits in prison." To me, that term is a description of the wicked dead, whose unconscious state is a "prison" from which they will be released in the resurrection at the end of the thousand years of Revelation 20, in order to face judgment.

      3) Verse 20. This seems to be about what took place back in Noah's day.

      So, I'd say the term "spirits in prison" is an anachronism, just like the "mountains of Gilead."

      I hope this helps.

    • The position of the SDA church is that Jesus, through Noah preached to those people who were indeed prisoners of sin. This interpretation supports the belief that Jesus pre-existed the cross and was involved in the affairs of mankind.

      "But Noah stood like a rock amid the tempest. Surrounded by popular contempt and ridicule, he distinguished himself by his holy integrity and unwavering faithfulness. A power attended his words, for it was the voice of God to man through His servant. " PP 97

  6. I was born and raised Catholic until I was challenged by an SDA to use my Catholic Bible to prove what we believed as Catholics and then he would go to the Catholic Church to worship with me if I could do it. I took up his challenge and decided that SDA'S were right about Daniel 7:25 and that I had to leave Catholocism and so I did and now I am SDA. But regarding Isaiah 66:22-24 there is first the dead bodies of the ones destroyed by the 7 last plagues and then comes the ones destroyed by "The Lake of Fire," after the 1,000 year millenium, so may God help us to make the right choices so we do not end up as food for worms in either scenario.

  7. The Worms are a metaphor to the reputation, characteristic nature of the souls that are represented in the text.
    May God bless us in these last days.

  8. Can one understand the words ‘worm’ and ‘fire’ to be synonyms for ‘destruction’ – the consequence of a life of unrepentant unrighteousness? Mark 9:48 is translated: Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Using a different wording could be: ‘Their decay continuous, total destruction cannot be prevented.’

    I see this passage not only through the 'doctrinal' lense, I see it also as a strong warning, a statement to express the consequences of failing to recognize the power of the God who made all things. Jesus, as recorded in Mark9:37, points out that “whoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” To prefer the maiming of ones own body in light of the total destruction of the body and soul, hightens the understanding of the severity of the tragic outcome when living 'outside/without' of Jesus Christ.

    I see Mark 9:43-50 to express how extremely careful the believer needs to live his/her life, pointing to keeping an intact body as less important than making sure that we do not compromise our faith through insincerity. He does not only admonish us regarding the consequences of carefree/-less living, He also includes a curious statement:

    Mark9:49-50 - ”For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good; but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
    Is He pointing out how seriously important it is that we apply His teachings throughout our Christian life, using hands, feet, and our eyes to faithfully follow the path of righteousness? Are we being ‘salted’ with ‘fire’ when committed to live life by faith ?

  9. When I did a concordance search for "worm" I found two meanings: literal and figurative. Literal worms feed on dead bodies (Job 24:19-20; Is. 14:11) and decaying food (Ex. 16:20). Figurative worms are meant to represent corruption, decay, depravity (see Job 25:4-6 meaning spiritually impure ; Ps. 22:6 where Jesus became a "worm" when He bore our sin; Is. 41:14 calling the Jewish nation a "worm" in need of salvation.) So which use of "worm" is in Is. 66:24?

    Let me circle out and then come back. I'm realizing how often we look at things from our human perspective rather than from God's perspective. Hell and heaven are often presented from a human fear and joy angle. But how about God's perspective? When God thinks about losing souls to hell, how does He feel? For a clue, I see Jesus looking down at Jerusalem with true angst and crying out and saying,"...how often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathering her chickens under her wings, but you would not let me!" (Matt. 23:37). Jesus reverted to metaphor. To poetry. It's beyond words for Him. I imagine that when God tries to tell us about hell, He is telling us from His perspective and He uses poetry again. He is saying something like, "My heart breaks to lose you forever. I am God and can never ever forget you (Is. 49:15; Is. 66:22), and so eternally I will feel the loss of each one of my precious created beings made to live in intimacy with Me. It pains My heart greatly that those who have let wickedness take them over will become stubble so that nothing of them remains (Mal. 4:1), I ache for those who choose to be like worms who feed on the carcasses of sin and evil rather than choosing to be my sons and daughters."

    So it seems to me that the use of the word "worms" has symbolism. But also, we know that there will be a literal fire to sweep away all that has evil in it. My SDA Bible Commentary talks about verb tense, and says that a more accurate translation of Is. 66:24 would say something like, "the worm has not died yet, and the fire has not yet been quenched." When the fires have consumed that upon which they prey, they will naturally go out. No one but God can or will quench His fire. A Scriptural proof of that is Jer. 17:27. God says He will kindle a fire "and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched". The fires that destroyed Jerusalem have obviously long since burned out.

    The Commentary also notes that the Hebrew poetic form uses parallel thoughts, such that "their worm shall not die" and "neither shall their fire be quenched" are parallel. The meaning of the second expression, which is clearly defined, suggests the same interpretation for the first.


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