Satan, who had stirred up rebellion in heaven, wanted to bring those living on the earth to join him in his warfare against God. Adam and Eve had been perfectly happy in obeying God’s law—a constant testimony against the claim Satan had made in heaven that God’s law was oppressive. Satan was determined to cause their fall so that he could possess the earth and establish his kingdom here in opposition to the Most High.
God had warned Adam and Eve about this dangerous enemy, but Satan worked in the dark, hiding his intentions. Using the snake as his medium, whose appearance then was fascinating, he said to Eve, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Eve dared to talk with him and became a victim of his deceptive skill: “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:1-5).
Eve yielded to temptation, and through her influence Adam sinned. They accepted the words of the serpent. They distrusted their Creator and imagined that He was restricting their liberty.
But what did Adam find to be the meaning of the words, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”? Was he going to be ushered into a higher existence? Adam did not find this to be the meaning of the divine sentence. God declared that as a penalty for his sin, he and his descendants would return to the ground: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Satan’s words, “Your eyes will be opened,” proved to be true only in this sense: their eyes were opened to see how foolish they had been. They did know evil, and they tasted the bitter fruit of transgression.
The fruit of the tree of life had the power to sustain life forever. Adam would have continued to enjoy free access to this tree and would never have died, but when he sinned he was cut off from the tree of life and became subject to death. He had lost immortality by his sin. There could have been no hope for the fallen race if God had not brought immortality within their reach by the sacrifice of His Son.
While “death spread to all men, because all sinned,” Christ has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” We can only receive immortality through Christ. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life.” (Romans 5:12; 2 Timothy 1:10; John 3:36.)
The Great Lie
The one who promised Adam life in disobedience was the great deceiver. And the serpent’s claim in Eden—“You will not surely die”—was the first sermon ever preached on the immortality of the soul. Yet this claim, resting only on Satan’s authority, echoes from pulpits today, and most people accept it as readily as our first parents did.
The divine sentence, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20), is made to mean, The soul who sins shall not die, but live eternally. If God had allowed Adam and Eve free access to the tree of life after their fall, sin would have been immortalized. But God has not permitted even one of the family of Adam to eat of the life-giving fruit. As a result, there is no immortal sinner.
After the Fall, Satan instructed his angels to instill in people the belief that they are naturally immortal. After persuading the people to accept this error, evil angels were to lead them to conclude that sinners would live in eternal misery. Now the prince of darkness presents God as a revengeful tyrant who plunges into hell all who do not please Him and looks down on them with satisfaction while they writhe in eternal flames. In this way the one who started all evil paints the Benefactor of the human race with his own characteristics.
Cruelty is satanic. God is love. Satan is the enemy who tempts us to sin and then destroys us if he can. How offensive it is to love, mercy, and justice to teach that God torments the wicked dead in an eternally burning hell, that for the sins of a brief life on earth they suffer torture as long as God shall live! A well-educated minister said, “The sight of hell’s torments will increase the happiness of the redeemed forever by making them conscious of how happy they are.”
Where can anyone find such teaching in God’s Word? Will the redeemed exchange feelings of common humanity for the cruelty of the savage? No, such things are not the teaching of the Book of God. “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).
Does God delight in witnessing unending tortures? Is He pleased with the groans and shrieks of suffering creatures whom He holds in the flames? Can these horrid sounds be music to the ear of Infinite Love? What a terrible blasphemy! God’s glory is not increased by keeping sin alive through ages without end.