In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at arguments that were made specifically for the traditional view and saw why they fail when they are taken to their logical conclusions. In this installment of the series, we will be looking at things from a different angle. Here, we will be looking at a claim that some traditionalists make on an unrelated topic, and how, if the logical implications are considered, it would lend a substantial amount of weight towards annihilationism.
The topic at hand is Ezekiel 28:11-19. ((Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.)) Why does this passage come into play? This passage comes into play because many evangelicals believe that it is describing the devil. I myself do not; when addressing this issue in the past, I was skeptical of this interpretation. ((Joseph Dear. The Bible Teaches Annihilationism (n.d.), Section XLIII, found at 3-Ring Binder, n.d., http://3-ringbinder.weebly.com/uploads/1/9/1/0/1910989/the_bible_teaches_annihilationism.pdf (accessed on September 20, 2014).)) I am even more skeptical now. But be that as it may, many traditionalists think otherwise, so let’s take a look at what that means.
I had originally only thought a few fringe conditionalists thought that Ezekiel 28:11-19 was about the devil, until I heard it in a conservative evangelical church where traditionalism was assumed. When I looked into it, I found that some notable traditionalists share the view.
– Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears (of Western Seminary) cite Ezekiel 28:1-19 (as well as Isaiah 14:11-23) when discussing the devil, writing, “Judged by God for his sin, the Serpent and his servants were then cast to earth” ((Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Crossway, 2010), 158.))
– John MacArthur points to Ezekiel 28:12-17 (along with Isaiah 14:12-15) as scriptural proof that Satan fell ((John Macarthur, Revelation 12-22 (MacArthur New Testament Commentary) (Moody, 2000), 8.))
– Bill Wiese, in recounting his 23 minutes in “hell,” points to this passage as describing the profanity in hell: “Ezekiel 28:14-16: ‘You were the annointed cherub who covers…therefore I cast you as a profane thing [Satan profane].” ((Bill Wiese, 23 Minutes in Hell (Charisma house, 2006) 152. Ellipses and bracketed statements are those of the book’s author.))
-Even Jonathan Edwards points to various verses in this passage as descriptions of Satan, not the King of Tyre ((Jonathan Edwards, “The Fall of the Angels,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards (1995) II:xii:ii, reproduced at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d., http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.xii.ii.html (accessed on September 22, 2014).))
I wonder, if a poll were taken among pastors and teachers, what percentage would affirm this view. My guess is it would still be a minority, but it wouldn’t be a tiny fringe, that’s for sure, as any number of other evangelical authors have held this same view. ((David George Moore, The Battle for Hell (University Press of America, 1996), 34.)) ((W.A. Criswell,” The Origin of Satan,” [Sermon] (no location given), May 26, 1986. Transcript reproduced at Criswell Sermon Library, n.d., http://www.wacriswell.org/index.cfm/FuseAction/Search.Transcripts/sermon/532.cfm (accessed on September 27,2014).)) ((Lewis Sperry Schafer, Satan (1909), reproduced at Project Gutenberg, n.d., https://attachment.fbsbx.com/file_download.php?id=553613554682536&eid=AStooNLwhW20KNNZoUkvPLRcZdjvCpAbPAf7EKte0G6rfMCiO3RFDQDLKqdKPC0jjlA&inline=1&ext=1411801002&hash=ASvjOrfcv_duYR_V (accessed on September 26, 2014). )) ((C. Gordon Olson, Getting the Gospel Right – A Balanced View of Salvation Truth (Global Gospel, 2005), 15, 34).)) ((James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised ed. (IVP Academic, 1986), 173.))
Why it Matters
The significance of this passage is found in the final verse:
All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.
This prophecy, if speaking of Satan, ends with a claim that annihilationists would give a standing ovation to. He will be no more. I agree; the devil will be no more. He won’t be off in some far-flung area of creation, being tormented for ever and ever. He won’t simply be defeated. He won’t even just be “destroyed” or face “death.” He will be no more! What could possibly be better for my case than a passage of the Bible saying that the devil “will be no more”?
Now, one may very well point out that the Bible speaks of people being no more when in reality they are just suffering the first death, and will not be truly gone forever. But if we’re dealing with the devil, we must remember that the devil is not a human. Unlike a human, for whom a warning of being “no more” could just be a very forceful way of saying he would suffer the first death, the devil does not suffer a first death. Unlike a human, there isn’t that sense in which he will “be no more” temporarily but still exists and will be alive again. The devil doesn’t die and get resurrected. He is around until the end. Traditionally, he is said to simply always be alive and immortal. ((I use “alive” and “immortal” in the way we all use those terms in pretty much every context other than discussions about hell – or how most traditionalists use them when speaking frankly of the unsaved in hell (See Episode 58).)) Unlike a warning for a human king, any such warning for the devil would be nothing other than eschatological. And he will be no more. How much more annihilationist-friendly could a passage about the devil be?
If this passage were about the devil, then this is devastating to the traditionalist case. When God warns of the devil’s ultimate fate, there is nothing about suffering or eternal experience, but simply that he would be no more. And yet the traditionalist who see this as a reference to the devil miss this. This shouldn’t surprise anyone; as said before, it’s easy to miss what you aren’t looking for. If someone assumes that the devil lives forever, a reference to a person who is believed to be the devil being condemned to being “no more” is unlikely to raise a red flag because they don’t expect to see that. And perhaps some see the possible implication and don’t bring it up; it’s not uncommon for books or sermons to skip over Verse 19. But whatever the case, you now know it’s there and what the implications are.
What I Really Think The Passage Is About
As mentioned before, I’m not advocating this passage as actually teaching the annihilation of the devil, since I don’t think it is about the devil. I think it is about the king of Tyre. After all, Verse 12 is rather clear and straightforward: “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God…'” Some insist that it cannot be about the king of Tyre because the descriptions that follow are not applicable to a mere man. If you take them all literally, then this is true; they would not describe a mere man, the king of Tyre. The problem is, if Verse 12 is taken literally, then it has to be about that mere man, the king of Tyre…
This isn’t a matter of interpreting it literally vs. figuratively. Unless the king of Tyre was himself a literal cherub in the Garden of Eden, no one can take every element of the passage literally. Those who insist on being “literal” and saying that it is about the devil are themselves not being literal when they say this passage is about the devil!
It is my contention, at least, that if God specifically tells His prophet to give a message to a real person who was alive at the time (Verse 12), then that is the part of the message that would be the most literal and straightforward. Ezekiel wasn’t just musing and talking about things and then the king of Tyre was mentioned out of nowhere. Ezekiel, the watchman whose mission was to warn people to repent, was told to deliver the message. That God would use some hyperbolic language to make the point makes a lot more sense than Ezekiel just randomly talking about the devil without ever mentioning that that is what he was doing. True, God saying things of the king of Tyre that are not literally true is not ideal for committed literalists, but again, that ship sailed when they said that this passage was about the devil.
In fact, if you think about it, most of the descriptions in this passage that are said to be about the devil are never given anywhere else in the Bible. In other words, it is presumed that this is about the devil because the descriptions sound like what we know about the devil, and yet we only “know” these things about the devil because this passage is presumed to be about the devil! It’s circular reasoning! ((Some of the themes recur briefly in Isaiah 14:12-15 as well. However, that doesn’t make the reasoning any less circular. Isaiah 14:12-15 has the same problems. It is never said to be about the devil, but it is assumed to be about the devil because the descriptions sound like what has traditionally been believed about him – things traditionally believed about him because of that very passage and this one (Ezekiel 28:12-19), which likewise is never said to be about the devil but is believed to be about him because it sounds like what has traditionally been believed about the him – things traditionally believed about the devil because of this very verse and Isaiah 14:12-15, which again, is never said to be about the devil but is assumed to be about the devil because the descriptions sound like what is traditionally believed about him – things traditionally believed because of that very verse and this one…
That wasn’t a typo; I wanted to illustrate the circular reasoning involved with both passages.)) There is nothing in the passage to indicate it is about the devil.
Of course, if I’m wrong, then that’s okay – I’m all for a prophet telling us that the devil himself will be no more.