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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 8

“Everlasting”

Matt. 18:8-9 is one of the passages which speaks of cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye to avoid the fire. Verse 9 calls the fire gehenna fire. Verse 8 in the King James Version calls it “everlasting fire.”

The word translated everlasting is an important word to consider in any discussion of the judgment. The word “everlasting” is aionion in the Greek. It is a word used to describe things and is related to the word aion from which we get our English word aeon. To explore the meaning of these words and the special combinations they are used in, the best place to start is the simple noun aion. What is an aion?

The root meaning of aion is “a very long time.” The word, by itself, does not mean “eternity” or limitless time, however. Probably the best single English word that expresses aion is “age.”

An age is a long, but not limitless, period of time. It extends far beyond the lifetime of a man and far beyond the memory of any race of people. Nevertheless it has a beginning and an end. One age follows another making it obvious that it doesn’t mean eternity. If eternity is forever, how could there be more than one?

Most of the time aion by itself is translated “world” in the King James Version. However, to keep it simple, we will use “age” in referring to scriptures containing the word — as many other translations do.

I Tim. 1:17 refers to God as “the King, eternal ....” In the Greek the expression is literally, “the King of the ages.” This is a wonderful contrast to the reference to Satan as “the god of this age” in II Cor. 4:4! God’s authority is over all ages.

Heb. 1:2 refers to God’s Son, “... whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the ages.” God is the One who made the ages. He is before, above, outside of, greater than all ages — He made them — and He did it through His Son, Jesus Christ, His appointed heir.

According to Heb. 11:3, “Through faith we understand that the ages were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” God had only to speak and the ages were established.

God alone knows when this present age will reach its end. In Matt. 24:35-36 Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31 contains a marvelous picture. We see God as the creator, the giver of life. We see God’s desire that men should escape their ignorance, repent, and come to know Him, because of an appointed day of judgment.

Concerning men, verse 26 reveals that God “hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” See the sovereignty of God in all of this. The times, the bounds of men’s habitation, the day of judgment are all determined ahead of time. Man has no say whatever in the course of the age he finds himself in.

Perhaps a good working definition of an age in the light of scripture would be: “a span of time, predetermined by God, during which a divine purpose is carried out.”

Not only is an individual man’s life during this age brief, but human history itself has an absolute limit imposed upon it. When God’s purpose is complete, He will cause an angel to declare “that there should be time no longer” (Rev. 10:6). Man’s one hope of surviving this age and living to see another is to possess God’s life. God’s purpose in this age is to gather a people for Himself out of the whole race of Adam.

All of this imposes an absolute set of limits upon mankind. Man cannot determine his future. He cannot overcome death. He cannot escape judgment. He cannot even draw his next breath without God’s permission!

However, in his benighted and rebellious condition he has set out to attempt just that. Psalm 2:1-4 says, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision.”

The Psalm also refers to God’s decree concerning His Son and the fact that the only wise course for man is to make peace with both God and His Son!

Another word often translated “world” in the New Testament is the word kosmos from which our English word “cosmos” comes. Whereas aion refers more to the predetermined span of time, kosmos refers to the established order of things.

The world order that exists in this age is an evil, corrupted order. It expresses the purpose of both devils and mankind to rebel against God. That is why Paul warns us in Eph. 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

The kosmos around us is ruled over by an organized hierarchy of wicked spirits headed up by Lucifer. In God’s wise plan He is permitting, within limits, this kosmos to operate. During the course of this age, it serves His purpose but the present world order will not survive the passing of this age. I John 2:17 says, “And the kosmos passeth away, and the lust thereof ....”

Those who belong to Christ are no longer a part of the present kosmos. Jesus, in his prayer for his disciples (and for all believers to come) in John 17:16, said, “They are not of the kosmos, even as I am not of the kosmos.”

The word kosmos makes a wonderful study in itself but for our present purposes let’s return to aion. I believe that a clearer understanding of this word will make it easier to consider the meaning of the related word aionios and perhaps to strip away some of the tradition surrounding its use.

This Present Age

The simplest place to begin an orderly discussion of aion is to look at scriptures where it is used in the singular — that is, to refer to a single age. Many verses refer in one way or another to “this age” or “this present age.”

In Mt. 13:22 Jesus spoke of some in whom “the care of this age” would prevent his word from bringing forth fruit.

In Luke 16:8 Jesus drew a contrast between “the children of this age and “the children of light.” The children of this age refers to those born only of soul life whose interests and understanding are completely restricted to this present age.

Paul, in Rom. 12:2, exhorted us to “be not conformed to this age ....”

I Cor. 2:6 refers to “the wisdom of this age” and “the princes of this age that come to nought.” However impressive this world order and its ways may seem, it has no future. As Prov. 16:25 says, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Truly we need God’s wisdom.

In II Cor. 4:4, Satan is referred to as “the God of this age” who “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Since Satan is the destroyer (Rev. 9:11) and since life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel, Satan’s efforts to blind are no surprise.

Gal. 1:4 speaks of Christ “who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father.” We referred earlier to Eph. 6:12 where Paul spoke of “the rulers of the darkness of this age.”

In II Tim. 4:10 Paul wrote that Demas had forsaken him, “having loved this present age.”

Titus 2:12 exhorts believers that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age.”

From these and other scriptures we can see a picture begin to emerge. In the present age God has, in his wisdom, allowed an evil world order to prevail. This order is ruled over by Satan and his evil hosts. It is being used by God to bring about His purpose, to gather a people (the children of light) out of this world and to prepare them to live with Him forever. When that purpose is fulfilled, there will be no further need for this age to continue.

The Sovereignty of God

Devils and lost men alike hate and despise the words of Paul in Rom. 9:22-23: “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”

God truly has a people in the earth who are “afore” prepared unto glory. What does that mean? It simply means that we are witnessing the outworking of a Divine plan that began before the world.

Remember II Tim. 1:9 where Paul referred to God, “who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began ....”

Eph. 1:4 says, “... he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world ....”

Verse 9-12 refer to God as “having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”

The carnal mind of man rebels against such truth and accuses God of being unjust. Paul gives a reply to such reasoning in Rom. 9:20-21: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

The reason believers can have rest and hope in God is that they’ve come to see that the basis of their salvation was settled in the will and purpose of God before the world was. Heb. 4:3. Our proper response when God reveals this to us is to believe, surrender and begin to cooperate with his purpose to conform us to his Son. Rom. 8:28-39.

The Age To Come

The child of God sees this present evil age as a means to an end, a “furnace of affliction” to purify his faith and to make him ready for eternity. He knows he is not truly part of this age but only a stranger passing through to something far greater. Like Abraham he looks “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Heb. 11:10.

Several scriptures refer to the age to come. Here are a few:

Mt. 12:32 speaks of the unpardonable sin (a rejection of the Spirit of God that would reach out through an anointed man) and says that “it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come.” Here are two distinct ages referred to in one verse, making it obvious that aion doesn’t mean eternity or forever.

We have a similar reference to two ages in Luke 20:34-36: “And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this age marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”

I believe that most things we experience as a part of this age, pertain only to this age as is the case with marriage. And what a wonderful promise is contained in the words, “neither can they die any more”! Immortality!

Eph. 1:21, in speaking of the exaltation of Christ, refers to both ages: “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.”

In Heb. 6, a serious warning is given to those who would turn away from the gospel and refers to those who “have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come” (verse 5). Where the gospel is truly preached with divine anointing, we do taste the powers of the age to come and God holds us accountable.

Ages

The word aion is also used in the plural, in the sense of “ages.”

Eph. 2:7 speaks of God’s purpose toward His elect in these words: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Here we see not only one age to come but “ages” — many! How many we don’t know but I believe that God will continue to amaze and delight us from age to age as His plan unfolds.

By contrast Col. 1:26 refers to “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.” I Cor. 2:7 refers to the mystery, “even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” “Before the world” is literally “before the ages.”

Think about that! Not only are there many ages — this verse refers to a “time” before the ages! Our lives are but a passing vapour in a small moment of one age, yet God’s purpose in bringing forth the ages was fully formulated before they ever began! Truly He is a mighty God, a God to be feared, served, praised, trusted! How unthinkable it is for puny man to rise up in pride and rebellion against One so great and yet in his blindness and sin he does — to his own destruction.

Eph. 3:9 says much the same thing, speaking of the “fellowship of the mystery which from the ages hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.”

Jude 25 takes it all in, being literally translated, “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, before every age and now and unto all ages”! No doubt that is why He is referred to in I Tim. 1:17 (literally) as the King of the ages! He’s over all of them. Satan’s power — which only serves God’s purpose — is about to run out.

The End Of The Age

Several passages refer specifically to the “end of the age”: Mt. 13:39, 40, 49 concerning the separation of wheat and tares; Mt. 24:3, the disciples’ question concerning the signs of the end; Mt. 28:20 and Jesus’ promise to be with us until the end; and Heb. 9:26 concerning Christ’s sacrifice once in the end of the age.

The word translated “end” is interesting in each case. It doesn’t mean simply that time runs out and the age ends in that sense. Rather it means the consummation. The consummation is the complete fulfillment of the purpose connected with the age. Thus the disciples’ question in Mt. 24 actually concerned how to recognize when God’s purpose in the age was coming to a climax of fulfillment.

Jesus referred in the passage to the abomination of desolation which involves God abandoning man to his wickedness. I believe we are living in the hour when Rev. 22:11 is more and more being fulfilled: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

We see much religion in our day, but God has abandoned most of it and religious devils, masquerading as angels of light have taken over. We see fewer and fewer people even able to be convicted in our day, let alone converted. It is very late in this present age.

The only reason the age isn’t over is that God is rapidly finishing His work in the earth prior to burning it up. Rom. 9:28. II Pet. 3:10.

Unto The Age

There are a number of special combinations of words used in connection with aion. Most involve the Greek word eis. In most instances this word means either “into” or “unto” depending on the context. The difference is easily illustrated. If I go into a room I pass through the door to the inside of that room. If I go unto a room I stop in the doorway: that is, I reach the room but don’t actually go in.

The first category involving this word “unto” is the simple expression “unto the age.” This phrase is most often translated “forever” in the King James Version. Let’s examine together several examples.

In several places in Hebrews we find the writer referring to Jesus as a priest “forever” (unto the age) after the order of Melchisedec. Heb. 5:6, 6:20, 7:17, 21. In this passage the contrast is being drawn between the priesthood under the Old Testament law and the priesthood of Christ.

Does the Lord mean for us to understand that Christ’s priesthood is literally “forever”? Will He still be performing priestly duties a million years from now? A billion? A trillion? I doubt it. What need will there be for a priest when God’s purpose for this sinful age is finished and His people are fully redeemed? The former things will have passed away according to Rev. 21:4. Do you believe there will be sin there needing a priest to offer a blood sacrifice to make an atonement?

The contrast drawn is not between a man’s natural lifetime and “forever” as we think of it, but between a natural lifetime and the age as a whole. Heb. 7:23-25 says, “And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” What a wonderful promise!

Aaron, Eleazar, and all the other priests who served under the law were only able to serve their own generation. They lived, died, and their priesthood passed to others. Christ, on the other hand, is God’s ordained priest for the whole age. Through the offering of his own blood the way has been made into the very presence of God.

Though generations of believers have come and gone from the earthly scene, God’s priest is alive and on the job. The one offering, made upon the cross, was enough for believers of all generations. And his intercessory work is promised till the work of redemption is complete!

This is glorious truth and should give us rest as we trust our salvation into Christ’s capable hands.

For our purpose here, however, it is interesting to note the use of “unto the age.” It should be evident that the phrase in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean “forever” as we think of it. The overall context of the passage involved and the witness of scripture as a whole must be considered. Of course, if God doesn’t help us, we can’t know anything!

In John 6:51 Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live unto the age: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Did Jesus, by his choice of words, mean to imply that a man who so eats would live only till the end of the age and then die? Of course not! He was simply drawing a contrast between those who eat only natural bread and die (and thus do not live “unto the age”) and one who would receive Him as One sent of God to impart divine life. Though the body of such a one would die, yet he would not. Of course, because of the kind of life Christ imparts he would live on forever.

In the first instance “unto the age” was used of Christ’s priesthood which does apply specifically to this age alone. In the second example it is used of something which by its very nature does indeed last forever. It is not that “unto the age” means “forever”; rather we must examine the subject being discussed in the context to understand what is meant.

Finality

In Mt. 21:19 Jesus cursed a fig tree saying, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward unto the age.” It is obvious that Jesus wasn’t speaking of an age-long process of a tree vainly trying to bear fruit. In fact, the tree died then and there. The phrase “unto the age” here indicates a finality.

Within the natural order of things conditions may change. A tree may bear no fruit one season and then bear the next. A curse such as the one Jesus pronounced was a final determination so far as that tree was concerned. Its day was over. There was no further opportunity to bear fruit.

Far more serious is the fact that the same can be true with regard to men. A man may live wickedly and then through the grace of God be brought to repentance and thereafter live for God. However there comes a time when a man who has had real light and has spurned it is turned over to darkness with no hope of recovery.

This is what Jude had in mind when he described apostates. In verse 13 he said, “Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness unto the age.”

It is one thing to be in darkness and quite another to be in a darkness God has reserved for you unto the age. There is no recovery from that nothing to look forward to but judgment.

Remember, an age is not only a span of time, but a span of time with a divine purpose. God’s purpose involves separating the children of darkness and light and preparing His own for an eternal future.

“Unto the age” most often expresses the contrast between temporary things that we know as a part of natural life and God’s purpose for the whole age. Unless it is used of something that by its nature is eternal, it doesn’t mean forever.

In I Peter 1:25 the word is spoken of as “unto the age” in contrast with natural seed. God’s seed — “the word which by the gospel is preached” — imparts His own immortal life. Natural seed produces only soul life.

I John 2:17 says, “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth unto the age.”

John 10:27-28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” “Never” is literally “not unto the age.” The “not” is actually a double negative — two distinct Greek words — creating a special strong emphasis! Truly in Christ our security is complete!

Separation

We can readily see the separation that takes place among men in these various uses of “unto the age.” Some men reach a state where there is no forgiveness and where they are reserved in darkness. Others, through the gospel, partake of life and enter a state where their destiny is likewise fixed. The judgment at the end of the age is to fully reveal these fixed destinies and to properly reward each kind.

There are a few scriptures which use the phrase “unto the ages” (plural). None refer to the wicked. Most refer to God or to Christ.

One example is Luke 1:33: “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob unto the ages; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” In addition to the phrase “unto the ages” we have the reference to a kingdom that has “no end.” It is pretty plain in this and every other use of “unto the ages” that forever is meant.

Several verses contain the same idea as Rom. 11:36: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory unto the ages. Amen.” (Rom. 16:27, Heb. 13:21, I Pet. 5:11, Rev. 1:6). There will truly never be a time when glory and praise will not properly be due to our Heavenly Father and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

Another familiar verse refers to “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and unto the ages.” Heb. 13:8.

The Ages Of The Ages

The strongest expression involving aion is one literally translated “unto the ages of the ages.” There are only three verses which apply that phrase to the wicked and we will wait till last to discuss these as well as uses of the adjective aionios in connection with the wicked.

All but one of the other uses of “unto the ages of the ages” refer to God or to His Son. Several ascribe glory and praise (Gal. 1:5, Phil. 4:20, I Tim. 1:17, 2 Tim. 4:18, Rev. 5:13, 7:12, I Pet. 4:11).

Rev. 1:18 says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Several other verses refer to either Father or Son as living “unto the ages of the ages” (Rev. 4:9, 10, 10:6, 15:7).

Part of Rev. 11:15 is included in the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign unto the ages of the ages.”

The one verse referring to believers is Rev. 22:5: “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign unto the ages of the ages.”

The way aion is used in each of these instances together with the context of each verse and the witness of scripture as a whole indicates clearly that “forever” is what is meant.

Aionios

Now, leaving for a moment the verses referring to the wicked, let’s consider the adjective aionios — usually translated “eternal” or “everlasting.”

When referring to God and His kingdom the word is used to describe many things including: life, weight of glory, house (body), glory, salvation, redemption, Spirit, inheritance, consolation, power and dominion. As we noted in our earlier discussion, aion means an age, not forever. Only the context can determine whether the word is used in connection with something that is in fact forever.

Aionios is, as we have said, an adjective based on the noun aion. An adjective is used to describe something. If I say that something is “watery,” you think of water and know that that thing has the characteristics of water. Something that is aionios has characteristics related to what we know of an age.

Most often the word is used to draw a contrast with something that is temporary, of short duration, perhaps limited to a natural lifetime. As we noted in discussing aion, so it is true of aionios that it is related to the purpose of the age and the fixed destinies that come about as a result of the gospel.

Mark 10:29-30 says, “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world (age) to come aionian life.” Here we see “aionian” life related to the age to come. Is aionian life forever? Yes! It is forever because it is God’s life which cannot die and not because aionian in and of itself means forever. Aionios is used to describe this life — “age life” — to contrast it with mortal life or life that is subject to death. Age life is not subject to death and so lasts for the age. Because it is not subject to death, this life will, of course, also endure through the next age and all ages to come!

Temporary or Permanent?

In using the word aionios of such things as salvation (Heb. 5:9), redemption (Heb. 9:12) and inheritance (Heb. 9:15), we see the Lord expressing to us a part of His divine purpose for this present age as well as the contrast with lesser temporary deliverances.

Jesus referred to the possibility of a temporary deliverance in Mt. 12:43-45 where unclean spirits leave a man, return to find their house empty, and enter in with seven other worse devils. II Pet. 2:20-22 also refers to temporary deliverance.

However, when salvation is “aionian,” it is “unto the age.” This expresses a permanent salvation, a fixed destiny, as we discussed earlier. Eph. 4:30 speaks of the “Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” See also Eph. 1:13-14. Only when a believer is sealed does he have aionian salvation.

This is contrasted with Mark 3:29, another reference to the unpardonable sin: “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of aionian damnation.” The word “damnation” in this verse is actually the word “sin” or “offence.” No forgiveness “unto the age” is linked with aionian sin. This clearly speaks of an offence against God so decisive that it results in a fixed destiny. Surely no one would argue that an aionian sin is a never-ending sin!! Aionios doesn’t mean never-ending.

The Wicked

With all this in mind let’s consider seven scriptures referring to the wicked that are traditionally associated with the concept of never-ending torment.

The first is Mt. 25:46 where Jesus is speaking of two groups at the judgment: “And these shall go away into aionian punishment: but the righteous into life aionian.” We’ve already discussed aionian life. The alternative is aionian punishment or torment. One of the popular arguments of tradition is that if aionian life is forever then aionian punishment must also be forever. I think we have demonstrated that this is just human reasoning and isn’t necessarily so.

That there is suffering, pain and anguish associated with this destiny is unquestioned, but the use of aionios in no way expresses a never-ending process. It is the judgment that is part of the purpose and climax of the age. It is one thing to break man’s laws and be sent to jail — something temporary; it is something else to so sin against God’s love as to be rejected of Him and sent to the fire. There is a finality about that. That is “age” judgment.

Aionian Fire

Three scriptures specifically refer to aionian fire. One is Mt. 18:8: “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into aionian fire.”

Remember our earlier discussion of gehenna fire and its purpose. It is a fire which cannot be prevented from totally burning up whatever is put into it. What reason other than religious tradition is there to cause us to assume that aionian fire means “eternal” or never-ending fire?

In Mt. 25:41 we learn that Jesus will at the judgment say to the wicked: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into aionian fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” The main reason for God’s gehenna fire is to destroy the devil and his hosts. It is also the place, however, where God will destroy both the souls and bodies of the wicked (Mt. 10:28).

Jude 1:7 is a most interesting verse: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of aionian fire.”

The fire that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah is called aionian fire! What about that?! If aionian fire never ends, we ought to be able to go to the Middle East and watch it still burning today! That would be quite a grisly tourist attraction! Clearly aionian fire speaks simply of irresistible total destruction.

Eternal Death?!

Incidentally, there is not one single occurrence of the popular phrase “eternal death” in the scriptures. I wonder where that came from?! Perhaps we might do better to examine our traditions in the light of God’s word instead of examining God’s word in the “light” of tradition! Yet the latter is what most people do! Most people who read these words (if they get this far) will simply say, “This is not what I’ve been taught and I know that that’s right: therefore this is wrong.” It would be good if we could humbly come to God, letting Him know we don’t know anything as we ought to know it, that we are dependent upon Him and trust Him to show us what He wants to — in His time.

The Smoke of Their Torment

There are three scriptures that use the phrase “unto the ages of the ages” of the wicked. The first and the most commonly used scripture to justify belief in never-ending torment, is Rev. 14:10-11: “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up unto the ages of the ages: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”

Leaving aside for a moment the great weight of scripture pointing to destruction as the lot of the wicked, let’s note some things about this verse. First, the torment takes place “in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” Do you really think that Jesus and his angels will spend eternity beside a lake of fire listening to tormented souls scream?!

Secondly, the only thing in this scripture that is “forever” is the smoke, not the torment. What an apt picture of total destruction! — the wicked are utterly consumed by the flames and only smoke remains drifting away forever.

David spoke of exactly the same thing in Psalm 37:20: “But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.”

The expression in Rev. 14:11 concerning the wicked having no rest day or night has to do with the lack of spiritual rest during their lifetime of worshipping the beast and his image, etc. This scripture is saying the same thing we find in Isaiah 57:20-21: “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”

A close examination of Rev. 14:10-11 yields the same conclusion that is so clear in the scriptures as a whole. There is perfect harmony.

The second scripture is Rev. 19:3 where again we see smoke rising up forever and ever.

Tormented Day And Night

The third scripture is Rev. 20:10: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages.”

The devil being cast into the lake of fire appears to take place before the judgment scene in verses 11-15. At the very least, therefore, there is a period of time while others are judged that he will be tormented continually — hence the expression “day and night.”

However, what does “unto the ages of the ages” mean in this context and usage and in the light of the rest of scripture? As we noted earlier “unto” can mean “into” or “unto.” If we think of the last moment of this present age as a kind of doorway into all the ages that follow, the question is: does the devil pass through that doorway and continue to suffer forever or does he suffer “unto,” or right to the very threshold of eternity, his miserable existence ending right there?

I believe the answer lies in John’s glimpse through that doorway in Rev. 21 and 22. In Rev. 21:4 John spoke of the eternal future when he said, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

If there is to be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain beyond this age, how can anyone believe that the lake of fire will still exist? The lake of fire is the second death and there certainly will be nothing but sorrow, crying and pain there. Lest there be any doubt about it, John adds, “for the former things are passed away.”

All of those things will pass away with the ending of this age. They will not be carried over into the next. How perfectly this harmonizes with Peter’s words in II Pet. 3:10-13: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”

How clear all of this is when the Lord opens your eyes. When God is through gathering his elect and preparing them for glory, all else will be totally destroyed and a new age will be launched with a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness.

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