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What does “Everlasting” of Matthew 25 mean?

November 17, 2009

In continuation with my study on Hell, another popular proof text I get often from proponents is Matt 25:41-46:

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, 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?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now most of you will say, AHA! Undeniable proof that there are people burning in hell right now because it’s everlasting. It appears so, but if you dig a little deeper, the true meaning will surface, as the Bible always interprets itself.

There are 2 ways to look at everlasting:

  1. Everlasting = something continual and on-going, similar phrases include eternal, forever and ever
  2. Everlasting = the effects are permanent, or ‘ever-lasting’, lasting forever/eternal

To find out, we have to look at the context and other examples in the Bible of something everlasting.

We have to look no further than Jude 5-7 (NIV):

5Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord[c] delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. 6And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. 7In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Aha! See the bad guys were punished with eternal fire.  Or were they?  Lets look closer at Jude 7.

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

The Bible says Sodom and Gomorrah serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (NKJV says “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”).  Now the question is, if they’re an example, Is Sodom and Gomorrah  burning right now?  Last time I checked, Sodom & Gomorrah were never rebuilt and there is no fire over there.  Then what happened? The Bible says the city was turned to ash.

Lets look at 2 Peter 2:6.

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;

(Note: I can expand further on this passage, but that is beyond the intended scope of this article and we can examine this passage later)

The verse confirms what Jude says about the topic, S&G were made examples, it was turned to ash.  How does a city get turned to ash, by fire of course:

Genesis 19:24-28

24 Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. 25 So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
26 But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. 28 Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace.

So we can see, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by fire and brimstone.  But Matthew says it was everlasting fire.   Yes, was Sodom and Gomorrah ever rebuilt?  No.  Were the effects everlasting?  Yes.  And there you have it, in this context, everlasting refers to the effects of something, in this case, fire and punishment.

So what is the hell the Bible talks about.  In short, at the end of days, when God establishes a new Jerusalem here on earth (Rev 20), and the lost (including the devil and fallen angels) will rise against God, God will send down his final, eternal punishment of death, in the form of fire and brimstone, and it will consume the lost forever (2nd death).  Why?  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life… (Rom 6:23), not eternal torment.  That is just plain cruel.

Sorry to burst the bubble of those who relish in the fact that your enemies are suffering in hell right now, the Bible clearly shows that there is no hell of that sort.

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;;
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15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2009 9:26 pm

    I wrote an article on this subject The Meaning of “Forever. that you might find interesting.

  2. November 18, 2009 11:54 am

    You make some excellent points.

    I would only disagree, in a friendly way, that the passage in Matthew 25:46, is an interpolation by a later scribe (probably a Greek convert to early Christianity) who, clearly, missed the entire point of the story he added his comment to.

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–“Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell,” (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of my book at my website: http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, let me share a couple of the many points I make in it to explain why.

    There is just no way that Jesus, all in the same breath, could have gone to so much trouble to explain how important it was to care and have empathy for the suffering, no matter who it is, even a criminal in jail, the “least,” as he says…only to turn right around and say, “Oh, but just wait! I’m gonna REALLY inflict an infinite amount of pain on millions!”

    If one is willing to look, there’s substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    • November 18, 2009 2:21 pm

      Thanks Rick for the clarification and further comment. I wholeheartedly agree with you, it pains Jesus to see people suffer for only a little while, how much more for eternity.

  3. November 18, 2009 1:03 pm

    I went and read Jude in my bible to get the whole thing in context. I tried really hard to see what you are saying. I really don’t understand how the everlasting fire is seen as the here and now. I read it and all of a sudden, a bunch of other verses came to mind — scripture interprets scripture. For example, the only thing you can do with Lazarus and the rich man is to say it wasn’t a true story but symbolic.

    • November 18, 2009 2:17 pm

      Exactly. The Rich man and Lazarus is the last of a string of parables Jesus was telling.

      I don’t know how anyone can support a hell that is “here and now”. See in Jude 6: “bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”
      The final judgment will come on that last day, which will be like the day Sodom and Gomorrah was punished.
      I’m glad that I can help debunk that viewpoint for you. So you don’t worry about babies burning in hell 🙂

    • kittycat77 permalink
      February 9, 2011 6:35 pm

      The story of Lazurus and the rich man is a parable. And get this, there are commas in the wrong places in the English. The Greek didn’t have punctuation, so people put in the punctuation where they wanted to.

      For example, here’s such a place where a misplaced comma changes the entire meaning:

      Luk 23:43 And Yahushua (aka Jesus) said to him, Truly I say to you, Today you will be with Me in Paradise.

      So wait, let me ask it, was Yahushua in paradise that day, the day when he died? NO! He was in sheol three days/three nights. So their interpretation does not harmonize with the rest of the Scriptures.

      It should be translated: Luk 23:43 And Yahushua said to him, Truly I say to you today (meaning the day he was speaking), you will be with Me in Paradise.

      And that’s how they spoke too!

      Also, where is “Paradise” gonna be? Not where some people think, thus not in the third heavens with father Yahweh.

  4. kittycat77 permalink
    February 7, 2011 9:23 pm

    The “everlasting fire” just means that the results are lasting. However, even though Sodom and Gomorrah are a type, a parable, of the end-time fire that burns up the wicked at the end of the Judgment Day when father Yahweh comes, they are only a type. Because how do we know this? Because of what Yahushua says:

    Mat 11:20 Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His powerful acts had occurred, for they did not repent.
    Mat 11:21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the powerful acts which have taken place in you had happened in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
    Mat 11:22 But I say to you, It shall be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in Judgment Day than for you.
    Mat 11:23 And you, Capernaum, who “have been exalted to the heaven, you will be thrown down to Hades (meaning sheol).” For if the powerful acts happening in you had taken place in Sodom, it would remain until today. Isa. 14:13, 15

    For “sheol” references, see Isa. 14:13, 15….and also compare the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew by Prof. George Howard. “Hades” means “sheol,” which we’re all going there. It’s a dimension for the dead (those sleeping) until the resurrections.

    Anyway, note that Yahushua (aka Jesus) was saying that when he came to his towns, those people had not repented when they saw his powerful acts. Just imagine, they had hardened themselves to him, well, many of them. But if places such as Sodom and Gomorrah had had the chance to repent, which they never heard the glad tidings (the gospel; the truth), they would have possibly repented. So even though they suffered the first death, which we all must suffer, during the Judgment Day period (meaning a day of Yahweh is as 1,000 years, and the Judgment is no different), then those guys will have a chance to repent.

    And compare:

    Luk 10:12 And I say to you that it shall be more bearable for Sodom in that day than for that city!
    Luk 10:13 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the works of power which have been occurring in you had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago sitting in sackcloth and ashes!
    Luk 10:14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in the Judgment than for you.

    Again, ask yourself, how can it be more bearable for Sodom in such and such a day when they were burned up? Even today, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the area up close and personal, it’s a total wasteland even to this very day.

    A lot of people don’t understand that the Judgment Day is a period as 1,000 years. As stated, every day of Yahweh is as 1,000 years. Prior to the Judgment Day period, is the Sabbath Millennial reign of Yahushua the messiah and his elect (the 144,000 sons of Israel) of the 1st resurrection, plus the 24 elders, apostles and those remaining who survived the great tribulation. Again, a day is as 1,000 years. So we have what? The 7th day, the 8th day is a double Sabbath, as what happens today with double Sabbaths with the feast days too.

    • February 8, 2011 4:38 pm

      Interesting comment… thanks for the insight as always. Although, I’d have to study up on the Judgment Day and confirm if the Bible means 1000 years. I know in Biblical prophecy, 1 day=1 year.

      As for Sheol, Sheol=Grave. It’s not a next dimension. I truly believe that when we die, our spirit/breath (ruach) goes back to God, and when Jesus comes again, he recreates us in new bodies. The term sleep, most accurately describes the state, it would be as if we napped, then woke up all of a sudden to Jesus’ coming. There is no conscious state when we ‘sleep’.

      • kittycat77 permalink
        February 8, 2011 5:42 pm

        That’s as any good Berean would do, so I appreciate you saying that. It’s rather a long study (actually various studies) to get to understand the meaning of the day of Yahweh and the length of time that it is.

        Psa 90:4 For a thousand years in Your eyes are as a day, yesterday, when it passes, and as a watch in the night.

        2Pe 3:8 But let not this one thing be hidden from you, beloved, that one day with the Sovereign is “as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

        Then also consider this concept, remember in Genesis when Adam and Eve, and it was Eve who ate first of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?

        The deceiver came to her and said, Gen 2:17 but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die.

        Well, look at the deception here. After eating of the fruit of the tree, did either one of them die in that day? Meaning one of adam-kind’s days? NO!

        But when did Adam die? Gen 5:5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years. And he died.

        Notice how short he was of a day of Yahweh…..he did die in that day, which was a deception from one of the deceivers. Many ante-Niceane writers and even Jewish early writers acknowledge this deception too. I’m not making it up.

        Well, just food for thought.

  5. kittycat77 permalink
    February 9, 2011 4:44 pm

    Sometimes my brain and fingers don’t work together, so let me post a little bit about what I was saying in Genesis. Also as soon as I can get the time, I’ll give you some more references about the writings on the day from other writers.

    Gen 2:15 And Yahweh eloahim took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden, to work it and to keep it.
    Gen 2:16 And Yahweh eloahim commanded the man, saying, Eating you may eat of every tree in the garden;
    Gen 2:17 but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die.

    Notice that Yahweh told him that he could eat from any tree in the Garden except one, which we know which one. I’ll come back to this in a second.

    Next, notice this:

    Gen 3:1 And the serpent was cunning above every animal of the field which Yahweh eloahim had made. And he said to the woman, Is it true that eloahim has said, You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?
    Gen 3:2 And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden,
    Gen 3:3 but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, eloahim has said, You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.
    Gen 3:4 And the serpent said to the woman, Dying you shall not die,
    Gen 3:5 for eloahim knows that in the day you eat of it, even your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as eloahim, knowing good and evil.

    Now what I mentioned earlier, the serpent deceived them. Adam never lived a day of Yahweh. So he did die within Yahweh’s day.

    But another point that I wanted to make is, Gen 3:22 And Yahweh eloahim said, Behold! The man has become as one out from us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and also take from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever…

    See the part that says “…has become as one out from us,” that’s the term “ma-manu,” which literally means “from out of us…”

    The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is what? Read Ezek. 31:1-18, and look up the word meanings for “trees.” Trees are used not only for individuals, but they are also used for governments.

    Back to what I was saying earlier, this leaves us with a question: Why didn’t they eat from the Tree of Life?

  6. Anonymous permalink
    November 24, 2012 3:44 am

    Come on guys, Lazarus and the rich man is not a parable. Does anybody else not notice the difference between that and every other parable is that this one actually has names, while every single parable Jesus tells has characters with no names, but why must this one be different? It’s true, Jesus does not like to see anyone suffer even for a minute, let alone eternity. But we must also understand and remember a few basic things about God: He is holy and pure, He therefore cannot coexist with sin. You do not go to hell because He wants to inflict such pain on you, you go to hell because you have chosen to reject God’s gift of salvation. And speaking of salvation, Christ came to save the oppressed. This has nothing to do with material/ physical oppression. We are all under the oppression of sin. Sin is what led to hell and the lake of fire being created (which were originally intended for the devil and his angels because of rebellion). When Adam and Eve ate of that fruit, death entered the world by sin. The death that God spoke of in Genesis was first the death of the physical body and ultimately, without paying a certain price, separation from Him. Death is not only sleep, but it’s also separation from God spiritually (hence the first and second death). Now I ask you this: if hell is not real, as you argue, then why does a bulk of the New Testament teach on salvation through the death of Christ. If hell is not real, why is there a second death? If hell is not real, why did God spend so many centuries promising the Messiah? If hell is not real, is Christ’s death on the cross not a waste of time? If hell is not real, then WHY do we need salvation? And what are we getting saved from? If hell is not real, why do we bother telling people to get saved?

    On the matter of time; yes, scripture says 1day=1000years and 1000years=1day. But I see that there’s a misunderstanding. This is talking about what time means to God, and that is absolutely nothing. Unlike the plain we live on, God has, does and always will exist in eternity. He is not bound by the constraints of time. He exists outside of time. What this verse is saying is that it does not matter how long it will take for something to happen, or not, God is on it. He exists now, at this very moment He still exists 1000years ago, and at this very moment, he exists 1000years from now. . .

    • January 7, 2013 1:29 pm

      Your argument is all over the place. Truth is, scripture supports the concept of annihiliation, vs eternal hellfire, which is the dated and incorrect viewpoint of hell.

      Romans 3:23, the wages of sin is DEATH, not eternal hellfire, death. Christ gives us eternal life, and saves us from death! It’s that simple bro.

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