I received a great question on John 3:16. The question was:

“My question is about eternal death. John 3:16 gives  two destinies for man, eternal life, or perish. How can perish mean eternal death? Perish means the end of a person. How can it mean living on forever? Sodom is given as an example. Ashes for the ungodly.”

The specific context of John 3:16 is referring to “eternal life” as the specific state of the believer during this life and after death. “Eternal wrath” is the state of existence of the unbeliever during this life and after death. Eternal life and eternal wrath are states of existence of the imperishable body. By state of existence, I mean the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time. The words “life” and “perish” are not referring to existence or a continued survival condition in a physical state.

In the following verse from john,

“that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Joh 3:16 NAS)

John is making a contrast between the words perish and life. If John is using the word perish to mean physical death only, then it would stand to reason that the word life would only mean physical life. The fact is that everyone physically dies regardless if you believe in Christ or not. John is referring to eternal life during and after God raises us from physical death. John shows this in the following verse.

“Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies,” (Joh 11:24-25 NAS)

The Apostles teaching on eternal punishment

The Apostles all taught eternal punishment after death for those who do not believe Him.

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire.” (Mat 18:8 NAS)

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;” (Mat 25:41 NAS)

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mat 25:46 NAS)

“And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” (2Th 1:9 NAS)

“of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:2 NAS)

“let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jam 5:20 NAS)

“then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,” (2Pe 2:9 NAS)

“And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jud 1:6-7 NAS)

Jude references Sodom and Gomorrah as being ” Sodom and Gomorrah … undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jud 1:7 NAS)

Eternal punishment in the Old Testament

The Apostles teaching come from the Old Testament.

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NAS)

“Then they shall go forth and look On the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die, And their fire shall not be quenched; And they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.” (Isa 66:24 NAS)

The Apostles used the Psuedoepigraphical Book of Enoch. The book of Enoch states,

“And in those days, they will lead them to the Abyss of Fire; in torment, and in prison they will be shut up for all eternity.” (1st Enoch 10:13)
“And here their souls will be separated for this great torment, until the Great Day of Judgment and Punishment and Torment for those who curse, forever, and of vengeance on their souls. And there he will bind them forever. Verily, He is, from the beginning of the world.” (1st Enoch 22:11)

The Apostle Pauls teaching on the “imperishable body”

The Apostle Paul,  in 1st Corinthians 15, explains  in detail how, at death, the body is raised as an imperishable body. All people have an imperishable body after death.

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;
 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.
 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.
 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;
 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.
 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
 50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
 (1Co 15:35-50 NAS)

Contrasting “eternal life” and “eternal wrath”

Also, It is important to understand the meaning of the words “life” and “wrath” in contrast to each other.

The view of the Apostle John

For example in John, John shows that the word “life” is contrasted to the word “wrath”.

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (Joh 3:36 NAS)

John uses the word “life” as occurring before physical death.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (Joh 6:47 NAS)

“Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (Joh 8:12 NAS)

John used the word “life” as occurring after physical death.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (Joh 11:25-26 NAS)

John uses the word “wrath” as occurring during before physical death.

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (Joh 3:36 NAS)

John also show the word “wrath” as occurring after physical death.

“And another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Rev 14:9-11 NAS)

The view of the Apostle Paul

Paul also contrasts the word “life” with the word “wrath” in regards to the “day of judgement” saying.

“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;” (Rom 2:5-7 NAS)

After the physical death of the believer and unbeliever, both will have an imperishable body. The believer will exist in eternal life and the unbeliever will exist in eternal wrath.