How can you say that God redeems all, when “the punishment” in Matthew 25:46 is “everlasting” or “eternal?”
Question: You seem to think that “everlasting punishment” in Matthew 25:46 (NKV) means “everlasting.” How can that be true, if God makes all things new?
Response: I don’t think that “everlasting” is a good translation of aionios (the word translated “everlasting,” or “eternal,” in Matthew 25:46) if that’s what you’re suggesting. However, I would not say that the Fire DOES NOT last for “ever.” I do not believe that the Fire ever comes to an end.
“Eternal” is a better translation of aionios, than “everlasting,” but it also is problematic. The problem with both words is that we can’t even define these words in English.
I think that aionios means something like “of the age. Aion is the noun, best translated “age.” Aionios is the adjective, often translated “eternal.” Ilaria Ramelli wrote an entire book on this topic, and seems to agree with the understanding that I share; we spoke about this when I interviewed her last year. This is also the view of Karl Barth.
Aionios means something like “of the age.” “Of the age” refers to “the age to come,” or “God’s age.” So the fire is the presence of something from a different “time.” It’s the time beyond “our time.” It’s God’s time, God’s age.
The Fire is God. And the Fire is the punishment, which means God’s unveiled (apocalyptic) presence is the punishment. To ask, “Is the Fire everlasting?” is to ask “Is God everlasting?”
Does the Fire “last” for “ever?” Well, what do we mean by “ever?” If “ever” means “aion” or “age,” then, ever comes to an end. That is, time as we know it has a beginning and an end. Jesus, who is aionios is the beginning and end of “the aions,” (see: 1 Cor. 10:11; Hebrews 9:26; Rev. 21:6, 22:13). Nothing in the aions (the ages of this world) can destroy the aionios fire. So, does it “last” for all “the aion,” that is “the ever” that we are currently experiencing? Sure… I suppose you could say that.
But it not only lasts for all the “age,” “aion,” or “ever,” it’s also beyond the “ever.” Here our language breaks down. All prepositions, (beyond, after, before, in, out, etc.) assume our current experience of space and time. But the fire is “eternal.” It is aionios. It is not of this “age.” It is “beyond, before, after, and outside of” our current experience of space and time. This is what I mean be “eternal.” “Eternal” is NOT the same as “everlasting.”
English Bibles often translate “aion” as “ever.” So “for ever” means lasting all of this age.
And many translate “aionios” as “eternal.” BUT “aionios” doesn’t mean “forever,” but something pertaining to, from, or of, a different “ever” or “age.”
Modern man assumes that space and time are constants. This has been the view since the Enlightenment—a view that is currently collapsing under Einstein’s theory of relativity and Quantum Physics. That’s great news! Because the Enlightenment view of space and time IS NOT the Biblical view. The Biblical view is that God is not subject to space and time, but that space and time are subject to God. In other words, time is not the end of Jesus; Jesus is The End of time.
Now, pay close attention: The Fire is the Spirit of Jesus. The Fire is theion, “Divinity.” “Our God is a consuming fire.” The Consuming Fire is God.
Does God last “for ever?” Sure… I suppose you could say that.
But God does not only “last” for “ever,” He is the source of all the “evers,” all of space and time. He is the Beginning and the End . . . of time.
Is God eternal? Sure… We say this as well—He lasts for all of time, but more than that, He is “timeless” (or “timefull”—all of time is contained in the Eternal Moment that is Him. He is Light).
So, ask yourself:
- Is the punishment “eternal” and “everlasting?”
- Well, . . . is the Fire “eternal” and “everlasting?”
- In other words, . . . Is God “eternal” and “everlasting?”
IF your answer to the last question is “yes,” then your answer to the first question is also “yes?” For God is the Fire.
BUT, this is a very different question: “Is the experience of burning or suffering from the Fire endless; is the Fire endlessly experienced as punishment?” My answer is absolutely not. The Fire is purposeful. And the Fire accomplishes its purpose. It destroys evil and manifests the good. So, “the punishment” is eternal AND redemptive. The refining fire does not endlessly purify the gold—the fire is the end of the impurities in the gold. The Fire does not endlessly torture Sodom, but the Fire will endlessly fill Sodom and Jerusalem and Samaria. (Check out the New Jerusalem in the Revelation—a temple filled with glorious Fire—and Sodom in Ezekiel 16:44-63. She’s restored just like Jerusalem.)
A person may experience this fire as terror and pain initially—like I’m sure they experienced the fire in Sodom, initially. But we are all destined to be filled with the Fire, just as Scripture claims that all things will be filled with the Fire—the Fire is God. The tongues of Fire that were seen at Pentecost (first fruits) were the first-fruits of the new creation filled with the Fire that is God. In that day (that eternal day) the Fire, God, will be experienced by all creation as ecstasy. We sing these things all the time; we just don’t believe them.
We are the temple, destined to be filled with Eternal Fire. If we oppose the Fire, it will burn. But in the New Creation, none will oppose the Fire, but all will enjoy the Fire. Follow the story of Fire throughout Scripture and you’ll see, the Fire burns the darkness and then is the very Glory that fills all things. It is Light. It is God.
In Matt. 25:46 Jesus is standing in front of the Temple. Both sheep and goats go into the same Fire. The Fire is the fire that descends from heaven and ignites the altar. In two days (Matt. 26:1) Jesus will become our sin offering (goat) and burnt offering (sheep), and our Passover lamb (to be “taken from the sheep or the goats”). He is God, bearing our punishment and giving us His Life, His Spirit—The Fire. We become the Temple filled with Holy Fire.
I’ve never argued that “everlasting” should be left in the text. It’s a bad translation. And yet, I NEVER argue that the Fire does not last for “ever,” or that it comes to an end. The Fire is the End . . . and the Beginning.