The Hell of the Bible
The great difficulty with many in reading the Scripture (Luke 16:19-31), is that, though they regard it as a parable, they reason on it and draw conclusions from it as though it were a literal statement. To regard it as a literal statement involves several absurdities; for instance, that the rich man went to "hell" because he had enjoyed many earthly blessings and gave nothing but crumbs to Lazarus. Not a word is said about his wickedness. Again, Lazarus was blessed, not because he was a sincere child of God, full of faith and trust, not because he was good, but simply because he was poor and sick. If this be interpreted literally, the only logical lesson to be drawn from it is, that unless we are poor beggars full of sores we will never enter into future bliss; and that if now we wear any fine linen and purple, and have plenty to eat every day, we are sure of future torment. Again, the coveted place of favor is "Abraham's bosom"; and if the whole statement be literal, the bosom must also be literal, and it surely would not hold very many of earth's millions of sick and poor.
But why consider absurdities? As a parable, it is easy of interpretation. In a parable the thing said is never the thing meant. We know this from our Lord's own explanations of His parables. When He said "wheat," He meant "children of the kingdom"; when He said "tares," He meant "the children of the devil"; when He said "reapers," His servants were to be understood, etc. (Matt. 13.) The same classes were represented by different symbols in different parables. Thus the "wheat" of one parable corresponds to the "faithful servants," and the "wise virgins" of others. So, in this parable, the "rich man" represents a class, and "Lazarus" represents another class.
In attempting to expound a parable such as this, an explanation of which the Lord does not furnish us, modesty in expressing our opinion regarding it is certainly appropriate. We therefore offer the following explanation without any attempt to force our views upon the reader, except so far as his own truth-enlightened judgment may commend them as in accord with God's Word and Plan. To our understanding, Abraham represented God, and the "rich man" represented the Jewish nation. At the time of the utterance of the parable, and for a long time previous, the Jews had "fared sumptuously every day"—being the especial recipients of God's favors. At St. Paul says: "What advantage, then, hath the Jew? Much every way: chiefly, because to them were committed the oracles of God [Law and Prophecy]." The promises to Abraham and David and their organization as a typical Kingdom of God invested that people with royalty, as represented by the rich man's "purple." The typical sacrifices of the Law constituted them, in a typical sense, a holy (righteous) nation, represented by the rich man's "fine linen"—symbolic of righteousness.—Rev. 19:8.
Lazarus represented the outcasts from Divine favor under the Law, who, sin-sick, hungered and thirsted after righteousness. "Publicans and sinners" of Israel, seeking a better life, and truth-hungry Gentiles who were "feeling after God" constituted the Lazarus class. These, at the time of the utterance of this parable, were entirely destitute of those special Divine blessings which Israel enjoyed. They lay at the gate of the rich man. No rich promises of royalty were theirs; not even typically were they cleansed; but, in moral sickness, pollution and sin, they were companions of "dogs." Dogs were regarded as detestible creatures in those days, and the typically clean Jew called the outsiders "heathen" and "dogs," and would never eat, nor marry, nor have any dealings with them.—John 4:9.
As to how these ate of the "crumbs" of Divine favor which fell from Israel's table of bounties, the Lord's words to the Syro-Phoenician woman give us a key. He said to this Gentile woman—"It is not meet [proper] to take the children's [Israelites'] bread and to cast it to dogs [Gentiles]"; and she answered, "Truth, Lord, but the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table." (Matt. 15:26, 27.) Jesus healed her daughter, thus giving the desired crumb of favor.
But there came a great dispensational change in Israel's history when as a nation they rejected and crucified the Son of God. Then their typical righteousness ceased—then the promise of royalty ceased to be theirs, and the kingdom was taken from them to be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof—the Gospel Church, "a holy nation, a peculiar people." (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:7, 9; Matt. 21:43.) Thus the "rich man" died to all these special advantages, and soon he (the Jewish nation) found himself in a cast-off condition—in tribulation and affliction. In such condition that nation has suffered ever since.
Lazarus also died; the condition of the humble Gentiles and the God-seeking "outcasts" of Israel underwent a great change, they being carried by the angels (messengers—apostles, etc.) to Abraham's bosom. Abraham is represented as the father of the faithful, and receives all the children of faith, who are thus recognized as the heirs of all the promises made to Abraham; for the children of the flesh are not the children of God, "but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (children of Abraham); "which seed is Christ";—and "if ye be Christ's, then are ye [believers] Abraham's seed [children], and heirs according to the [Abrahamic] promise."—Gal. 3:29.
Yes, the termination of the condition of things then existing was well illustrated by the figure, death—the dissolution of the Jewish polity and the withdrawal of the favors which Israel had so long enjoyed. There they were cast off and have since been shown "no favor," while the poor Gentiles, who before had been "aliens from the commonwealth [the polity] of Israel and strangers from the covenant of promise [up to this time given to Israel only] having no hope and without God in the world" were then "made nigh by the blood of Christ" and reconciled to God.—Eph. 2:12, 13.
To the symbolisms of death and burial used to illustrate the dissolution of Israel and their burial or hiding among the other nations, our Lord added a further figure—"In hell [hades, the grave] he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off," etc. The dead cannot lift up their eyes, nor see either near or far, nor converse; for it is distinctly stated, "There is no work nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave"; and the dead are described as those who "go down into silence." (Eccl. 9:10; Psa. 115:17.) But the Lord wished to show that great sufferings or "torments" would be added to the Jews as a nation after their national dissolution and burial amongst the other peoples dead in trespasses and sins; and that they would plead in vain for release and comfort at the hand of the formerly despised Lazarus class.
And history has borne out this parabolic prophecy. For eighteen hundred years the Jews have not only been in distress of mind over their casting out from the favor of God and the loss of their temple and other necessaries to the offering of their sacrifices, but they have been relentlessly persecuted by all classes, including professed Christians. It was from the latter that the Jews have expected mercy, as expressed in the parable—"Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue"; but the great gulf fixed between them hinders that. Nevertheless, God still recognizes the relationship established in His Covenant with them, and addresses them as children of the Covenant. (Verse 25.) These "torments" have been the penalties attached to the violation of their Covenant, and were as certain to be visited upon them as the blessings promised for obedience. See Lev. 26.
The "great gulf fixed" represents the wide difference between the Gospel Church and the Jew—the former enjoying free grace, joy, comfort and peace, as true sons of God, and the latter holding to the Law, which condemns and torments. Prejudice, pride and error, from the Jewish side, form the bulwarks of this gulf which hinder the Jew from coming into the condition of true sons of God by accepting Christ and the Gospel of His grace. The bulwark of this gulf which hinders true sons of God from going to the Jew—under the bondage of the Law—is their knowledge that by the deeds of the Law none can be justified before God, and that if any man keep the Law (put himself under it to try to commend himself to God by reason of obedience to it), Christ shall profit him nothing. (Gal. 5:2-4.) So, then, we who are of the Lazarus class should not attempt to mix the Law and the Gospel, knowing that they cannot be mixed, and that we can do no good to those who still cling to the Law and reject the sacrifice for sins given by our Lord. And they, not seeing the change of dispensation which took place, argue that to deny the Law as the power to save would be to deny all the past history of their race, and to deny all of God's special dealings with the "fathers" (promises and dealings which through pride and selfishness they failed rightly to apprehend and use); hence they cannot come over to the bosom of Abraham, into the true rest and peace—the portion of all true children of faith.—John 8:39; Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29.
True, a few Jews probably came into the Christian faith all the way down the Gospel Age, but so few as to be ignored in a parable which represented the Jewish people as a whole. As at the first, Dives represented the orthodox Jews, and not the "outcasts of Israel," so down to the close of the parable he continues to represent a similar class, and hence does not represent such Jews as have renounced the Law Covenant and accepted Christ or such as have become infidels.
The plea of the "rich man" for the sending of "Lazarus" to his five brethren we interpret as follows: The people of Judea, at the time of our Lord's utterance of this parable, were repeatedly referred to as "Israel," "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," "cities of Israel," etc., because all the tribes were represented there; but actually the majority of the people were of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, but few of the ten tribes having returned from Babylon under Cyrus' general permission. If the nation of the Jews (chiefly two tribes) were represented in the one "rich man," it would be a harmony of numbers to understand the "five brethren" to represent the ten tribes chiefly scattered abroad. The request relative to them was doubtless introduced to show that all special favor of God ceased to all Israel (the ten tribes, as well as the two more directly addressed). It seems to us evident that Israel only was meant, for no other nation than Israel had "Moses and the prophets" as instructors. (Verse 29.) The majority of the ten tribes had so far disregarded Moses and the prophets that they did not return to the land of promise, but preferred to dwell among idolators; and hence it would be useless to attempt further communication with them, even by one from the dead—the figuratively dead, but now figuratively risen Lazarus class.—Eph. 2:5.
Though the parable mentions no bridging of this "great gulf," other portions of Scripture indicate that it was to be "fixed" only throughout the gospel Age, and that at its close the "rich man," having received the measurement of punishment for his sins, will walk out of his fiery troubles over the bridge of God's promises yet unfulfilled to that nation.
Though for centuries the Jews have been bitterly persecuted by pagans, Mohammedans and professed Christians, they are now gradually rising to political freedom and influence; and although much of "Jacob's trouble" is just at hand, yet as a people they will be very prominent among the nations in the beginning of the Millennium. The "vail" (2 Cor. 3:13-16) of prejudice still exists, but is being gradually taken away as the light of the Millennial Morning dawns; nor should we be surprised to hear of great awakenings among the Jews, and many coming to acknowledge Christ. They will thus leave their hadean state (national death) and torment, and come, the first of the nations, to be blessed by the Seed of Abraham, which is Christ, Head and Body. Their bulwark of race prejudice and pride is falling in some places, and the humble, the poor in spirit, are beginning already to look upon him whom they have pierced, and to inquire, Is not this the Christ? And as they look the Lord pours upon them the spirit of favor and supplication. (Zech. 12:10.) Therefore, "Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her appointed time is accomplished."—Isa. 40:1, 2, margin.
In a word, this parable seems to teach precisely what St. Paul explained in Rom. 11:19-32. Because of unbelief the natural branches were broken off, and the wild branches grafted into the Abrahamic root-promise. The parable leaves the Jews in their trouble, and does not refer to their final restoration to favor—doubtless because it was not pertinent to the feature of the subject treated; but St. Paul assures us that when the fulness of the Gentiles—the full number from among the Gentiles necessary to make up the Bride of Christ—is come in, "they [natural Israel] shall obtain mercy through your [the Church's] mercy." He assures us that this is God's Covenant with fleshly Israel (who lost the higher, spiritual promises, but are still the possessors of certain earthly promises), to become the chief nation of earth, etc. In proof of this statement, he quotes from the prophets, saying: "The Deliverer shall come out of Zion [the glorified Church], and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob [the fleshly seed]." "As concerning the Gospel [High Calling], they are enemies [cast off] for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes." "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"—Rom. 11:26-33.
While the Scriptures, as we have shown, do not teach the blasphemous doctrine of everlasting torment, they do most emphatically teach the everlasting punishment of the wicked, the class represented in the parable as "goats." (Matt. 25:31-46.) Let us examine the parable, and then the sentence pronounced.
It has been truly said that "order is Heaven's first law"; yet few, we think, have realized how emphatically this is true. In glancing back over the Plan of the Ages there is nothing which gives such conclusive evidence of a Divine Director as the order observed in all its parts.
God has had definite and stated times and seasons for every part of His work; and in the end of each of these seasons there has been a finishing up of its work and a clearing off of the rubbish, preparatory to the beginning of the new work of the Dispensation to follow. Thus in the end of the Jewish Age order was observed—a harvesting and complete separation of the "wheat" class from the "chaff," and an entire rejection of the latter class from God's favor. With the few judged worthy in the end of that Age, a new Age—the Gospel Age—began. And now we find ourselves amidst the closing scenes of the "Harvest" of this Age: the "wheat" and the "tares," which have grown together during this Age, are being separated. With the former class, of which our Lord Jesus is the Head, a new Age is about to be inaugurated, and these "wheat" are to reign as kings and priests in that new Dispensation, while the "tare" element is judged as utterly unworthy of that favor.
While observing this order with reference to the Jewish age and the one just closing, our Lord informs us through the parable under consideration that the same order will be observed with reference to the age to follow this Gospel Age.
The harvest of the Jewish Age was likened to the separation of wheat from chaff; the harvest of this Age to the separation of wheat from tares; the harvest of the Millennial Age to the separation of sheep from goats.
That the parable of the sheep and the goats refers to the Millennial Age is clearly indicated in verses 31 and 32 — "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." As in the present Age every act of those on trial (the Church) goes to make a part of that character which, in due time, will determine the final decision of the Judge in our case, so will it be with the world (the "nations") in the Age to come. As in the present Age the trial of the majority of the individual members of the Church ends, and the decision of their case is reached, long before the end of the Age (2 Tim. 4:7, 8), so under the Millennial Reign the decision of some individual cases will be reached long before the end of the Age (Isa. 65:20); but in each Age there is a "harvest" or general separating time in the end of the Age.
In the dawn of the Millennial Age, after the "Time of Trouble," there will be a gathering of the living nations before Christ, and, in their appointed time and order, the dead of all nations shall be called to appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ—not to receive an immediate sentence, but to receive a fair and impartial, individual trial (Ezek. 18:2-4, 19, 20) under the most favorable circumstances, the result of which trial will be a final sentence, as worthy or unworthy of everlasting life.
The scene of this parable, therefore, is laid after the Time of Trouble, when the nations shall have been subdued, Satan bound (Rev. 20:1, 2) and the authority of Christ's Kingdom established. Ere this, the Bride of Christ (the overcoming Church) will have been seated with Him in His throne of spiritual power and will have taken part in executing the judgments of the great Day of Wrath. Then the Son of Man and His Bride, the glorified Church, will be revealed and be seen by men, with the eyes of their understanding, and shall "shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father."—Matt. 13:43.
Here is the New Jerusalem as St. John saw it (Rev. 21), "that holy city [symbol of government] … coming down from God out of heaven." During the time of trouble it will be coming down, and before its end, it will have touched the earth. This is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands (but by the power of God), and it will then have become a great mountain (Kingdom), filling the whole earth (Dan. 2:35), its coming having broken to pieces the evil kingdoms of the prince of darkness.—Dan. 2:34, 35.
Here is that glorious City (government), prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2), and early in the dawn of the Millennium the nations will begin to walk in the light of it. (Verse 24.) These may bring their glory and honor into it, but "there shall in no wise enter into it [or become part of it] anything that defileth," etc. (Verse 27.) Here, from the midst of the Throne, proceeds a pure river of water of life (truth unmixed with error), and the Spirit and the Bride say, Come, and take it freely. (Rev. 22:17.) Here begins the world's probation, the world's great Judgment Day—a thousand years.
But even in this favored time of blessing and healing of the nations, when Satan is bound, evil restrained, mankind in process of release from the grasp of death, and when the knowledge of the Lord fills the earth, two classes will be developed, which our Lord here likens to sheep and goats. These, He tells us, He will separate. The sheep class—those who are meek, teachable and willing to be led, shall, during the Millennial Age, be gathered at the Judge's right hand—symbol of His approval and favor; but the goat class, self-willed and stubborn, always climbing on the rocks—seeking prominence and approval among men—and feeding on miserable refuse, while the sheep graze in the rich pastures of the truth furnished by the Good Shepherd—these are gathered to the Judge's left hand, the opposite of the position of favor, subjects of His disfavor and condemnation.
This work of separating sheep and goats will require all of the Millennial Age for its accomplishment. During that Age, each individual, as he comes gradually to a knowledge of God and His will, takes his place at the right hand of favor or the left hand of disfavor, according as he improves or misimproves the opportunities of that Golden Age. By the end of that Age, all the world of mankind will have arranged themselves, as shown in the parable, into two classes.
The end of that Age will be the end of the world's trial or judgment, and then final disposition will be made of the two classes. The reward of this "sheep" class will be granted them because, during the age of trial and discipline, they cultivated and manifested the beautiful character of love, which St. Paul describes as the fulfilling of the Law of God. (Rom. 13:10.) They will have manifested it to each other in their times of sorest need; and what they will have done for one another the Lord will count as done unto Him, counting them all as His brethren—children of God, though they will be of the human nature, while He is of the Divine.
The condemnation of the "goat" class is shown to be for the lack of this spirit of love. Under the same favorable circumstances as the "sheep," they wilfully resist the moulding influence of the Lord's discipline, and harden their hearts. The goodness of God does not lead them to true repentance, but, like Pharaoh, they take advantage of His goodness and do evil. The "goats," who will not have developed the element of love, the law of God's being and Kingdom, will be counted unworthy of everlasting life, and will be destroyed; while the "sheep," who will have developed God-likeness (love), and who will have exhibited it in their characters, are to be installed as the subordinate rulers of earth for future ages.
In the end of the Millennial Age, in the final adjustment of human affairs, Christ thus addresses His sheep: "Come, ye blessed, … inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
It is manifest the "sheep" here addressed, at the close of the Millennium, are not the sheep of the Gospel Age, the Gospel Church, but those "other sheep" to whom the Lord referred in John 10:16. And the kingdom prepared for them in the Divine Plan, from the foundation of the world, is not the Kingdom prepared for the Gospel Church. The Church will receive her Kingdom at the beginning of the Millennium; but this is the kingdom prepared for the "sheep" of the Millennial Age. Their kingdom will be the dominion of earth which was originally given to Adam, but which was lost through sin, and which is again to be restored when man is brought to perfection, and so made fit to receive and enjoy it. That dominion will not be a dominion of some of the race over others, but a joint dominion, in which every man will be a king, and all will have equal rights and privileges in appropriating and enjoying every earthly good. It will be a sovereign people—a great and grand republic on a basis of perfect righteousness, wherein the rights of every man will be conserved; because the Golden Rule will be inscribed on every heart, and every man will love his neighbor as himself. The dominion of all will be over the whole earth, and all its rich and bountiful stores of blessing. (Gen. 1:28; Psa. 8:5-8.) The kingdom of the world, to be given to the perfected and worthy ones of the redeemed race at the close of the Millennium, is clearly distinguished from all others by being called the kingdom prepared for them "from the foundation of the world," the earth having been made to be the everlasting home and kingdom of perfect men. But the Kingdom bestowed upon Christ, of which the Church, His Bride, becomes joint-heir, is a spiritual Kingdom, "far above angels, principalities and powers," and it also shall "have no end"—Christ's Millennial Kingdom, which will end, being merely a beginning of Christ's power and rule. (1 Cor. 15:25-28.) This endless heavenly, spiritual kingdom was prepared long before the earth was founded—its inception being recognized in Christ, "the beginning of the creation of God." It was intended for Christ Jesus, the First Begotten; but even the Church, His Bride and joint-heir, was chosen or designed also, in Him, before the foundation of the world.—Eph. 1:4.
The kingdom or rule of earth, is the kingdom that has been in preparation for mankind from the foundation of the world. It was expedient that man should suffer six thousand years under the dominion of evil, to learn its inevitable results of misery and death, in order by contrast to prove the justice, wisdom and goodness of God's Law of love. Then it will require the seventh one-thousand years, under the reign of Christ, to restore him from ruin and death, to the perfect condition, thereby fitting him to "inherit the kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world."
That kingdom, in which all will be kings, will be one grand, universal republic, whose stability and blessed influence will be assured by the perfection of its every citizen, a result now much desired, but an impossibility because of sin. The kingdom of Christ during the Millennium will be, on the contrary, a theocracy, which will rule the world (during the period of its imperfection and restoration) without regard to its consent or approval.
The brethren of the Gospel Church are not the only "brethren" of Christ. All who at that time will have been restored to perfection will be recognized as sons of God—sons in the same sense that Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38) — human sons. And all of God's sons, whether on the human, the angelic or the Divine plane, are brethren. Our Lord's love for these, His human brethren, is here expressed. As the world now has the opportunity to minister to those who are shortly to be the Divine sons of God, and brethren of Christ, so they will have abundant opportunity during the Age to come to minister to (each other) the human brethren.
The dead nations when again brought into existence will need food, raiment and shelter. However great may have been their possessions in this life, death will have brought all to a common level: the infant and the man of mature years, the millionaire and the pauper, the learned and the unlearned, the cultured and the ignorant and degraded: all will have an abundant opportunity for the exercise of benevolence, and thus they will be privileged to be co-workers with God. We are here reminded of the illustration given in the case of Lazarus: Jesus only awakened him from death, and then were the rejoicing friends permitted to loose him from his grave clothes and to clothe and feed him.
Further, these are said to be "sick and in prison" (more properly, under ward or watch). The grave is the great prison where the millions of humanity have been held in unconscious captivity; but when released from the grave, the restoration to perfection is not to be an instantaneous work. Being not yet perfect, they may properly be termed sick and under ward; not dead, neither are they yet perfected in life: and any condition between those two may be properly symbolized by sickness. And they will continue to be under watch or ward until made well—physically, mentally and morally perfect. During that time there will be abundant opportunity for mutual helpfulness, sympathy, instruction and encouragement, and any failure to assist will mark a lack of the Lord's spirit of love.
Since all mankind will not be raised at once, but gradually, during the thousand years, each new group will find an army of helpers in those who will have preceded it. The love and benevolence which men will then show to each other (the brethren of Christ) the King will count as shown to Him. No great deeds are assigned as the ground for the honors and favors conferred upon the righteous: they will have simply come into harmony with God's Law of Love and proved it by their works. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Rom. 13:10), and "God is love." So, when man is restored again to the image of God — "very good" — man also will be a living expression of love.
"Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," does not signify a rule independent of the Divine Law and supremacy: for although God gave earth's dominion to man at first, and designs restoring it to him when He has prepared him for the great trust, we are not to suppose that God intends man to rule it, otherwise than as under, or in harmony with, His supreme Law. "Thy will be done in earth as in Heaven," must forever be the principle of government. Man thenceforth will rule his dominion in harmony with the Law of Heaven—delighting continually to do His will in whose favor is life, and at whose "right hand [condition of favor] there are pleasures forevermore." (Psa. 16:11.) Oh! who would not say, "Haste ye along, ages of glory!" and give glory and honor to Him whose loving plans are blossoming into such fulness of blessing?
Let us now examine the message to those on the left—"Depart from Me, ye cursed [condemned]—condemned as unfit vessels for the glory and honor of life, who would not yield to the moulding and shaping influences of Divine love. When these, "brethren," were hungry and thirsty, or naked, sick, and in prison, ye ministered not to their necessities, thus continually proving yourselves out of harmony with the Heavenly City (Kingdom); for "there shall in no case enter into it anything that defileth." The decision or sentence regarding this class is—"Depart from me into everlasting fire [symbol of destruction], prepared for the devil and his angels." Elsewhere (Heb. 2:14) we read without symbol that Christ "will destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
"And these [the "goats"] shall go away into everlasting [Greek, aionios—lasting] punishment, but the righteous into life eternal [Greek, aionios—lasting.]" The punishment will be as lasting as the reward. Both will be everlasting.
The everlastingness of the punishment being thus established, only one point is left open for discussion; namely, the nature of the punishment. Take your Concordance and search out what saith the great Judge regarding the punishment of wilful sinners who despise and reject all his blessed provisions for them through Christ. What do you find? Does God there say—All sinners shall live in torture forever? No; we find not a single text where life in any condition is promised to that class.
God's declarations assure us that ultimately he will have a clean universe, free from the blight of sin and sinners; because "All the wicked will He destroy."—Psa. 145:20.
But while we do not find one verse of the Bible saying that this class can have life in torment, or in any other condition, we do find numerous passages teaching the reverse. Of these we give a few merely as samples—"The wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23.) "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek. 18:4, 20.) "The wicked shall perish." (Psa. 37:20.) "Yet a little while and the wicked shall not be." (Psa. 37:10.) Thus God has told us plainly the nature of the everlasting punishment of the wicked—that it will be death, destruction.
The false ideas of God's plan of dealing with the incorrigible, taught ever since the great "falling away," which culminated in Papacy, and instilled into our minds from childhood, are alone responsible for the view generally held, that the everlasting punishment provided for wilful sinners is a life of torment. This view is held, notwithstanding the many clear statements of God's Word that their punishment is to be death. The Apostle Paul states very explicitly what the punishment is to be. Speaking of the same Millennial Day, and of the same class, who, despite all the favorable opportunities and the fulness of knowledge then, will not come into harmony with Christ, and hence will "know not God" in the true sense, and "obey not," he says—"Who shall be punished." Ah, yes! but how punished? He tells us how: They "shall be punished with everlasting destruction" [a destruction from which there shall be no recovery, no redemption or resurrection—Heb. 10:26-29] from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power." (2 Thes. 1:9.) This destruction is represented in the parable as the everlasting "fire" prepared for the devil and his angels: it is "the lake of fire and brimstone," which is the Second Death (Rev. 20:14), into which the "goats" of this parable are sent.—Matt. 25:41.
Thus the meaning and reasonableness of this statement concerning everlasting punishment are readily seen when looked at from the correct standpoint. The fire of the parable, by which the punishment (destruction) is to be accomplished, will not be literal fire, for the "fire" is as much a symbol as the "sheep" and "goats" are symbols. Fire here, as elsewhere, symbolizes destruction, and not in any sense preservation.
We might well leave this subject here, and consider that we have fully shown that the everlasting punishment of the "goat" class will be destruction; but we direct attention to one other point which clinches the truth upon this subject. We refer to the Greek word kolasin, translated "punishment," in verse 46. This word has not in it the remotest idea of torment. Its primary signification is to cut off, or prune, or lop off, as in the pruning of trees; and a secondary meaning is to restrain. The wicked will be everlastingly restrained, cut off from life in the Second Death. Illustrations of the use of kolasin can easily be had from Greek classical writings. The Greek word for "torment" is basanos, a word totally unrelated to the word kolasin.
Kolasin, the word used in Matt. 25:46, occurs in but one other place in the Bible, viz., 1 John 4:18, where it is improperly rendered "torment" in the Common Version, whereas it should read, "Fear hath restraint." Those who possess a copy of Young's Analytical Concordance will see from it (page 995) that the definition of the word kolasin is "pruning, restraining, restraint." And the author of the Emphatic Diaglott, after translating kolasin in Matt. 25:46 by the words "cutting off," says in a foot note: "The Common Version and many modern ones render kolasin aionion 'everlasting punishment,' conveying the idea, as generally interpreted, of basanos, torment. Kolasin and kolazoo, from which it is derived, occur in only three other places in the New Testament: Acts 4:21; 2 Pet. 2:9; 1 John 4:18. It signifies, 1. To cut off; as lopping off branches of trees, to prune. 2. To restrain, to repress. The Greeks write—'The charioteer restrains [kolazei] his fiery steeds.' 3. To chastise, to punish. To cut off an individual from life, or from society, or even to restrain, is esteemed as a punishment; hence has arisen this third or metaphorical use of the word. The primary signification has been adopted [in the Diaglott], because it agrees better with the second member of the sentence, thus preserving the force and beauty of the antithesis—the righteous go to life, the wicked to the cutting off from life, death.—2 Thes. 1:9."
Now consider carefully the text, and note the antithesis, the contrast, shown between the reward of the "sheep" and the reward of the "goats," which the correct idea of kolasin gives—the one class goes into everlasting life, while the other is everlastingly cut off from life—forever restrained in death. And this exactly agrees with what the Scriptures everywhere else declare concerning the wages or penalty of wilful sin.
Consider for a moment the words of verse 41: "Depart from me, ye cursed [once redeemed by Christ from the Adamic curse or condemnation to death, but now condemned or cursed, as worthy of the Second Death, by the One who redeemed them from the first curse], into everlasting fire [symbol of everlasting destruction] prepared for the devil and his messengers [servants]."
Remember that this is the final sentence at the close of the final trial—at the close of the Millennium; and that none will then be servants of Satan ignorantly or unwillingly, as so many now are; for the great Deliverer, Christ, will remove outside temptations, and provide assistance towards self-improvement, which will enable all who will to overcome inherent weaknesses and to attain perfection. These "goats," who love evil and serve Satan, are the messengers ("angels") of Satan. For these and Satan, and for no others, God has prepared Second Death—the everlasting destruction. Fire will come from God out of heaven and consume them. Consuming fire and devouring fire all can appreciate, unless their eyes are holden by false doctrine and prejudice. No one ever knew of a preserving fire; and as fire never preserves, but always consumes, God uses it as a symbol of utter destruction.—Rev. 20:9.
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