What does “Everlasting” of Matthew 25 mean?
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:
- Everlasting = something continual and on-going, similar phrases include eternal, forever and ever
- 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:
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.