Matt. 25:46 is the great proof text of the doctrine of endless punishment: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal."
1. That the popular view of this language is incorrect is evident, because those punished are those who have not been good to the poor. Only such are to suffer everlasting punishment. Endless life is the reward, and endless punishment the penalty of works, if this passage teaches the doctrine of endless punishment. Those receive that punishment who have not been kind to the poor.
2. God's punishments are remedial. All God's punishments are those of a Father, and must therefore be adapted to the improvement of his children. Heb. 12:5-11, "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not: Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." Prov. 3:11-12, "My son despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son of whom he delighteth." Lam. 3:31-33. "For the Lord will not cast off forever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." See also Job 5:17; Lev, 26; Psalms 119:67,71,75; Jer. 2:19.
3. The word translated punishment means discipline, improvement. The word is kolasin. It is thus defined: Greenfield, "Chastisement, punishment." Hedericus, "The trimming of the luxuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful." Donnegan, "The act of clipping or pruning—restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement." See Grotius, Liddell, and others. Says Max Muller, "Do we want to know what was uppermost in the minds of those who formed the word punishment, the Latin poena or punio, to punish, the root pu in Sanscrit, which means to cleanse, to purify, tells us that the Latin derivation was originally formed, not to express mere striking or torture, but cleansing, correcting, delivering form the stain of sin." That it had this meaniang in Greek usage we cite Plato: "For the natural or accidental evils of others, no one gets angry, or admonishes, or teaches or punishes (kolazei) them, but we pity those afflicted wiht such misfortunes. * * For if, O Socarates, you will consider what is the design of punishing (kolazein) the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes (kolazlei) the wicked, looking to the past only, simply for the wrong he has done,—that is, no one does this thing who does not actlike a wild beast, desiring revenge, only without thought—hence he who seeks to punish (kolazein) with reason, does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, * * but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought, must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) from the purpose of deterring from wickedness."
4. These events have occurred. The events here described took place in this world within thirty years of the time when Jesus spoke. They are now past. In Matt. 24:3, the disciples asked our Lord when the then existing age would end. The word (aion) is unfortunately translated world. Had he meant world he would have employed kosmos, the Greek word for world. After describing the particulars, he announced that they would all be fulfilled, and the aion end in that generation, before some of his auditors should die. If he was correct, the end came then. And this is demonstrated by a careful study of the entire discourse, running through Matt. 24 and 25. The disciples asked Jesus how they should know his coming and the end of the age. They did not inquire concerning the end of the actual world, as it is incorrectly translated, but age. This question Jesus answered by describing the signs so that they, his questioners, the disciples themselves, might perceive the approach of the end of the Jewish dispensation, (aion). He speaks fifteen times in the discourse of his speedy coming, (Matt. 24:3, 27, 30, 37, 39, 42, 46, 48, 50, and 25:6, 10, 13, 19, 27, 31). He addresses those who shall be alive at his coming. Matt. 24:6. "Ye shall hear of wars, etc." 20, "Pray that your flight be not in the winter," 33, 34. "So likewise ye when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."
This whole account is a parable describing the end of the Jewish aion, age, or economy, signalized by the destruction of Jerusalem, and the establishment of the new aion world, or age to come, that is the Christian dispensation. Now on the authority of Jesus himself, the aion then existing ended within a generation, namely, about A. D. 70. Hence those who were sent away into aionian punishment, or the punishment of that aion, were sent into a conditin corresponding in duration to the meaning of the word aion, i. e. agelasting. A punishment cannot be endless, when defined by an adjective derived form a noun describing an event, the end of which is distinctly stated to have come.
Therefore, (1) the fulfillment of the language in this life, (2) the meaning of aionion, (3) the meaning of kolasis, and (4) the nature of the divine punishments, demonstrate that the penalty threatened in Matt. 25:46 is a limited one. Prof. Tayler Lewis, (orthodox) thus translates Matt. 25:46: "These shall go away into the punishment (the restraint, imprisonment) of the world to come, and those into the life of the world to come." And he says "that is all that we can etymologically or exgetically make of the word in this passage."
But did Christ come the second time as he had said he would before the death of some of his hearers? He did not personally, but spiritually, by the power of his grace and truth. On this subjct here is what the most prominent orthodox comentators say:
Archbishop Newcome: "The coming of Christ to destroy the Jews, was a virtual and not a real one, and was to be understood figuratively and not literally. The destruction of Jerusalem by Titus is emphatically the coming of Christ. The spirit of the prophecy speaks particularly of this, because the city and temple were then destroyed, and the civil and ecclesiastical state of the Jews subverted. The Jews also suffered very great calamities under Adrian; but not so great as those under Vespasian; and the desolation under Adrian is not so particularly foretold. But I think that any signal interposition in behalf of his church, or in the destruction of his enemies, may be metaphorically called a coming of Christ." Dr. Campbell remarks on the expression, "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: We have no reason to think that a particular phenomenon in the sky is here suggested. The striking evidences which would be given of the divine presence, and avenging justice, are a justification of the terms." Kenrick observes: "The great power and glory of Christ were as conspicuously displayed at the destruction of Jerusalem, and other circumstances which accompanied that event, as if they had seen him coming upon the clouds of heaven, to punish his enemies. When the prophet Isaiah represents God as about to punish the Egyptians, he speaks of him as riding upon a swift cloud for that purpose. (Isa. 19:1) In that case there was no visible appearance of Jehovah upon a cloud; but it was language which the prophet adopted, in order to express the evident hand of God in the calamities of Egypt. The same thing may be said of the language of Christ upon the present occasion." Dr. Hammond interprets Christ's coming, to be a "coming in the exercise of his kingly office to work vengeance on his enemies, and discriminate the faithful believers from them." Again he says: "The only objection against this interpretation is, that this destruction being wrought by the Roman army, and those as much enemies of Christianity as any, and the very same people that had joined with the Jews to put Christ to death, it doth thereupon appear strange that either of those armies which are called abominable, should be called God's armies,or that Christ should be said to come, when in truth it was Vespasian and Titus that thus came against the people. To this I answer, that it is ordinary with God, in the Old Testament, to call those Babylonish, Assyrian heathen armies his, which did his work in punishing the Jews, when they rebelled against Him. Christ is fitly said to come, when his ministers do come, that is, when either heathen men, or Satan himself, who are executioners of God's will, when they think not of it, are permitted by Him to work destruction on his emenies." Dr. Whitby says: "These words, this age or genertion shall not pass away, afford a full demonstration that all which Christ had mentioned hitherto, was to be accomplished, not at the time of the conversion of the Jews, or at the final day of judgment, but in that very age, or whilst some of that generation of men lived; for the phrase never bears any other sense in the New Testament, than the men of this age."
Matt. 13:40-50: "The harvest at the end of the world," should be "end of this age." Dr. Wakefield thus comments: "The harvest is the conclusion of this age, and the reapers are the messengers; as therefore the weeds are picked out and burned up with a fire, so shall it also be in the conclusion of this age." Dr. A. Clarke renders end of the world (vs. 19, 43) "end of the age—Jewish polity." So also Dr. Macknight. Dr. Campbell translates it the "conclusion of the state." Bishop Pearce says, on verse 40: "End of this world; rather end of this age, viz: that of the Jewish dispensation.": And Dr. Hammond translates it, "conclusion of this age."
The end of the material world is never taught in the Bible. We have no Scriptural evidence that the earth will ever be destroyed. The word rendered world in all passages that speak of the end, is aion, which means age, and not kosmos, which denotes world. The phrase only occurs seven times in the whole Bible, and that in three books, all in the New Testament.
In Matt. 13:36-42, "the field is the world (kosmos) but "the harvest is the end of the age," (aion, improperly rendered world) that is, the end of the Jewish dispensation. But one passage need be consulted to learn when that event was to occur. Jesus told his disciples when they asked (Matt. 24:3) "What shall be the sign of the end of the world," (Matt. 24:34) "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." It had almost arrived, a little later when Paul said (Heb. 9:26) "But now once in the end of the world hath he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The end of the world in all cases means the end of the age, or epoch then transpiring, that is the Jewish dispensation.
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