Matthew 25: 41-46
Mat 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Mat 25:42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
Mat 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Mat 25:44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Mat 25:45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Mat 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In the longer version of this, I go fairly deep on some of the key words, digging up what various lexicons say about their meanings, but we really don’t need to do all that, especially in this abbreviated version. The key things to address here are the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and then where those the Lord doesn’t know go away to “eternal punishment”.
On the surface, and again, with a preconceived notion that all souls are immortal, this seems like basic cut and dry evidence that proves the traditional view that the lost will be in a state of conscious punishment that goes on eternally. But it simply isn’t that at all. If you haven’t already, please begin with the “Garden of Eden” tab above, to see where the traditional theory about all souls being immortal and eternal, even without salvation, went wrong. It’s a concocted theory, built on the shaky foundation of human reason, and anything else you build on top of it is therefore questionable as well. With that in mind, let’s just look at what the statements are.
Fact: There was an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
I’ve thought a lot about the omniscience of God, and since He knew that multitudes of human souls would also be cast into the lake of fire(and probably a higher percentage of humans than angels), why is it referred to as only having been “prepared for the devil and his angels” instead of for all who reject God’s salvation? The best I’ve come up with so far, is just the timeline. Although God knew from eternity past, that satan would fall, and that He would work that into His plan of testing and refining humanity, God also knew that satan’s time would be limited, so He prepared a destruction for him, so whether the eternal fire was created before, say, even humanity had been, or whether it’s just created in His mind for now and will become reality in the future, it is or was created because of the need to destroy satan and the fallen angels after God is finished punking them out….sorry….finished using them for His ultimate plans and purposes, is what I meant to write.
But it says it’s an “eternal” fire, so the destruction the fire causes must go on for all eternity, right? Not at all, actually. I touched on this in the analysis of the 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 passage, but we’ll look a little deeper into it here. That word being translated as eternal is the Greek word aionios and it is almost always translated into English as “eternal” or “everlasting”. But I’ve looked up all the places where it is used, and if you just look at the context, it often takes on the meaning of “permanent”, or “have a permanent effect” more than an ongoing process or a state that never ends. Here’s a few of those. Actually instead of composing something new here, I’m going to cut and paste a section from the full-length book I’ve been writing on this subject:
The word appears 71 times in 69 verses in the New Testament and usually defines the unending life the Christian will experience in God’s presence, which will in fact be “everlasting” and “perpetual” in the sense that it has no end. But the word perpetual can lend itself to being defined as an unending process, and if we limit ourselves to that definition, it simply will not apply properly in every usage of aionios. The definition that seems to be missing from the sources I’ve checked is “permanence” and “an unchanging constancy”, and at least in one place it seems to mean “wholly effective”. So let’s go through some verses and see if these are not necessary definitions of “aionios”(or if they do not demand a more complete definition, given the contexts).
Let’s first look at a passage in Hebrews where the word is used three times.
Heb 9:12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
Heb 9:13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
Heb 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Heb 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
We see three things here that are described as being eternal(aionios): our redemption, the Spirit of God, and our inheritance. All three of these things are everlasting and permanent, not an ongoing process or a perpetual act, as people try to claim is meant when the same word is used to describe the punishment of the lost such as in Matthew 25:46. The traditionalist believes that because it is contrasted with eternal life in Matthew 25:46 that it must indicate something that is ongoing just as life is ongoing. They miss the point completely. The unending life of the saved should be seen at the opposite end of the spectrum from the halted and permanently ended life of the unsaved. It’s not that all, lost and saved, get an eternal existence, and we “need to choose where we want to spend it” (a common saying in church, which will never be found in Scripture). It’s that one has gained an eternal life, and the other has purchased a permanent death. That fact that this life that the believer is promised has eternal permanence is what makes it the awesome gift that it is. We had no existence in eternity past, yet we are created and offered eternal life that we cannot lose. The life of the saved is permanent. The death of the unsaved is permanent. Death is the punishment. The wages of sin is death. This couldn’t be plainer in scripture. Consider how the same Greek word aionios is used here in the passage from Hebrews 9. The clearest example of this is the first of the three usages. We are told in verse 12 that Jesus entered once into the holy place and obtained eternal(aionios) redemption for us. This is not an act that He must do perpetually or repeatedly. Once we are redeemed, we are redeemed. There is only one act of redemption and it happened in a moment, yet we will remain in the permanent state of being redeemed forever, just as the unsaved will remain in the permanent state of being dead forever. Death is their permanent punishment. Notice in verse 14 that Jesus did this work “through the eternal (aionios) Spirit”. Try plugging in “perpetual” in place of eternal and you will notice that it just doesn’t work. God is constant and unchanging and is the essence of permanence, and we need to leave room for that definition of aionios. Then notice in verse 15 that what we receive because of Christ’ death is the promise of an eternal (aionios) inheritence. The primary definition of the word being translated “inheritance” is “heirship” according to Strong’s. And heirship is a state, not a fluid, ongoing process. So when we see this word aionios, we need to consider the context and possibly apply a definition of something more static and permanent.
We find the word in many places in the Bible, mostly referring to eternal life or God’s attributes, but we also find it in Hebrews 6:2 describing judgment. The Greek word translated as “judgment” is “krima” which Strong’s defines as “a decision”, and this makes perfect sense with the meaning of aionios being permanent and everlasting and not an ongoing process. Final judgment is a decision that is permanent and unchanging, not a process that God will undertake for all eternity. That is in fact one of the most fearful things about it. The sentence the unsaved are assigned is eternal and that sentence is death. There is no resurrection from the Second Death. Just as when Christ comes the Second time it is permanent and lasting, so is the Second death permanent and lasting. And the decision is a one-time, for all-time, permanent decision from which there is no further turning.
The same word aionios is used in Jude 7 to describe the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some of this will be repeat info if you’ve already read the Jude 7 summary above. Verse 7 reads, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal(aionios) fire.” If we are to believe, as the traditionalists do, that aionios means ongoing, then we would have to believe that Sodom and Gomorrah are still burning which clearly they are not. But they are utterly decimated. They suffered the vengeance of a Holy God and were permanently destroyed and were never rebuilt, and we are even told in the verse that this was done to serve as an example to us. Should we assume that it is an example of eternal torment in a permanent hell? I cannot see how. They were destroyed and consumed, and this is our example or sampling of what “eternal fire” will do, according to Jude. Their “eternal” fire didn’t burn forever but it caused a permanent(aionios) condition, and this is the “eternal fire” precursor to what Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 25 . In a singular act in time, the “eternal fire” was wholly and eternally effective. What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah is past tense, as any example would have to be, yet it is said to be an example of what the vengeance of “eternal fire” does. The people and the cities were consumed down to nothing. We can “look” at what is not there, and know that this is an example of what eternal fire will do. These places were destroyed into nothingness. Nothing at all remains. With these two cities that no longer exist as our example, I can’t help but see the correlation with what the psalmist said in psalm 37:10: “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.”
Continuing on with evidence that aionios has multiple meanings and applications, depending on context, Luke 16:9 says: And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting(aionios) habitations.
Here again we can see that aionios takes on the meaning of “permanence” rather than ongoing process or perpetual. And “everlasting habitation” implies a permanent dwelling.
2 Peter refers to the eternal(aionios) kingdom, Hebrews 13:20 refers to the everlasting covenant, and Hebrews 5:9 refers to our eternal (aionios) salvation. These are permanent promises and conditions, not perpetual, ongoing processes.
I could show more examples, but this should be sufficient to prove that eternal and everlasting, when translated from the Greek word aionios, do not necessarily refer to continual fluid processes such as a supposed process of destruction, and that they do in fact mean “permanent” and “wholly effective” in many places. In fact, I think it would be impossible to prove Biblically that destruction and perishing ever refer to an unending process. This is in fact what traditionalists claim, but where is the Biblical support? The only state ever described by the adjective aionios that could even possibly be referring to an ongoing process would be “life”, which it modifies a number of these 71 times the word occurs. And even when we consider those cases, it is very awkward, by using the same word aionios, to contrast and compare a life that never ends with an ongoing state of perishing or being destroyed. It seems far more likely, contextually, linguistically, and logically that Scripture is contrasting a life that you cannot lose with a death from which you can never return.
You’ve probably noticed this, but fire burns stuff up. That’s likely why God uses it as the picture of ultimate destruction – because one simply can’t recover from it. And again, it’s important to contrast “fire” in general(Greek: pur) with that singular flame (phlox) that we were looking at during the Luke 16 analysis. That singular flame, which is the Holy Spirit, is a comforter to those whose faith is in Christ, and it is a tormentor to those who don’t yet know Him. But whether it is comforting or tormenting, it isn’t the same type of destructive, obliterating fire that we see in this Matthew 24. Different Greek words for those “fire”s and different English interpretations.
Concerning Jesus saying that the lost will go away to eternal punishment, this is a literal statement of fact, but it adds no weight to the traditional position of eternal CONSCIOUS suffering. We need to remember what the punishment for faithlessness is, and it’s death, and as we looked at in the “garden of eden” tab above, death should not be getting redefined as “a miserable empty life, separated from God”. This punishment will in fact be an eternal death. There’s nothing implied here about lost souls suffering consciously forever. Someone might ask: “Then why didn’t Jesus just say “eternal death” instead of “eternal punishment”? Maybe to make us dig just barely beneath the surface to see if anyone is actually “studying to show themselves approved”, instead of going along with the company line that paints a picture of an almost monstrous god. And I would flip that question back and ask, as I have a number of times in the book, and at least a couple on this blog site: “If eternal conscious suffering is the ultimate wage for sin, rather than an extinction level event on the individual soul(which is stated and implied numerous time in the bible), why wouldn’t we read that plainly stated even one time in Scripture? Just once would be really awesome. I mean, preachers say it all the time that no one really ever dies, it’s just a matter of location….eternity with God, or eternity separated from God. It’s so easy for that to get spouted out there these days. Why not during the inspiring and penning of the Word that everything we believe is based on? Well it’s not there, because it’s not true. And thousands of teachers and preachers repeating it for hundreds of years will never make it become true. Make sure you’re on the right side on this one. A lot is made of making sure you know WHY you believe WHAT you believe. That’s a good thought, but take it a step further and make sure WHY you believe as you do is logical and Scriptural. I can believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, and I can believe this because “teacher says”, but that doesn’t make it true. Well there’s always so much more I want to say, but I have to cut it somewhere, so I’ll