THE ETERNALITY OF THE SUFFERINGS OF THE LOST
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal!’ [Matt 25:46]
Upon this point the language of Scripture is most explicit. In Matthew 25:41 we read of “everlasting fire.” In Matthew 25:46 of “everlasting punishment.” In Mark 6:29 of “eternal damnation.” And in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 of “everlasting destruction.” We are aware that the enemies of God’s truth have sought to tamper with this word rendered everlasting and eternal. But their efforts have been entirely futile. The impossibility of rendering the Greek word by any other English equivalent appears from the following evidence:
The Greek word is “aionios” and its meaning and scope has been definitely defined for us by the Holy Spirit in at least two passages. “While we look not at the things which are seen: but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Here a contrast is drawn between things “seen” and things “not seen,” between things “temporal” and things “eternal.” Now it is obvious that if the things “temporal” should last forever, there would be no antithesis between them and the things “eternal.” It is equally obvious that if the things “eternal” are merely “age-long,” then they cannot be properly contrasted with things that are temporal. The difference between things temporal and things eternal in this verse is as great as the difference between the things “seen” and the things “not seen.”
The second example, which is of the same character as the one furnished in 2 Corinthians 4:18, is equally conclusive. In Philemon 15 we read, “For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever.” Here the Greek for “forever” is aionios. The apostle is beseeching Philemon to receive Onesimus, who had left his master, and whom Paul had sent back to him. When the apostle says “receive him forever,” his evident meaning is, never banish him, never sell him, never again send him away. “Aionios” is here contrasted with “for a season,” showing that it means just the opposite of what that expression signifies.
Eternal or everlasting is the one and unvaried meaning of aionios in the New Testament. The same word translated “everlasting destruction,” “everlasting punishment,” “everlasting fire,” is rendered “everlasting life” in John 3:16; “the everlasting God” in Romans 16:26; “eternal salvation” in Hebrews 5:9; “His eternal glory” in 1 Peter 5:10. No argument needs to be made to prove that in these passages it is impossible to fairly substitute any other alternative for everlasting and eternal, And it is thus with the other class of passages.
The “everlasting fire” will synchronize with the existence of “the everlasting God.” The “everlasting punishment” of the lost will continue as long as the “everlasting life” of believers. The “eternal damnation” of the wicked will no more have an end than will the “eternal salvation” of the redeemed. The “everlasting destruction” of unbelievers will prove as interminable as the “everlasting glory” of God. To deny the former is to deny the latter. To affirm the everlastingness of God is to prove the endlessness of the misery of His enemies.
THE FINALITY OF THEIR STATE
The doom of those who shall be cast into the Lake of Fire is irrevocable and final. Many independent considerations prove this. Forgiveness of sins is limited to life on this earth. Once the sinner passes out of this world there remaineth “no more sacrifice for sins.” The fact that at death the soul of the wicked goes at once into the “furnace of fire” (Matt. 12:42) witnesses to the fixity of his future state. The fact that, later, his resurrection is one “of damnation” (John 5:29) excludes all possibility of a last-hour reprieve. The fact that he is cast soul and body into a lake of fire argues that then he receives his final portion. The fact that the Lake of Fire is denominated the “Second Death” denotes the hopelessness of his situation. Just as the first death cuts him off forever from this world, so the second death cuts him off forever from God.
In Philemon 3 the apostle Paul speaks of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, and moved by the Holy Spirit he tells us that their “end is destruction” (v. 19). Stronger and more unequivocal language could not be used. There is nothing beyond the “end.” And the end of the enemies of the Cross of Christ is “destruction” not salvation. The Greek word here translated “end” is “telos.” It is found in the following passages: “Of His Kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33); “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4); “Having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3); “I am … the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Rev. 22:13).
As we have already seen, the twentieth chapter of Revelation describes the final judgment of the wicked before the Great White Throne, after which they are cast into the Lake of Fire. The chapters which follow—the last two in the Bible—may be read carefully and searched diligently, but they will not be found to contain so much as a single hint that those cast into the Lake of Fire shall ever be delivered from it. Instead, we find in the very last chapter of God’s Word the solemn statement, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev. 22:11). Thus the finality of their condition is expressly affirmed on the closing page of Holy Writ.
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