Matthew 25:31-46 and Eternal Separation?

Matthew 25:31–46 (LEB, Lexham English Bible)

31Now when the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them from one another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. 34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world! 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me as a guest, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you as a guest, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 40And the king will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will also say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42For I was hungry and you did not give me anything to eat, I was thirsty and you did not give me anything to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not care for me.44Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and not serve you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, in as much as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

(emphasis mine, see explanation below)

As I was reading these verses last night on my tablet at work, something leapt out of the text at me that stunned me.  You have probably had the same experience through the years as you have read the Scriptures.  You’ve read the same text a thousand times, if you’ve read it once, and for the most part have seen the same thing.  I think our traditions help cement this in our minds and cause us to not see things that are patently obvious.  Take this text for instance.

I have read this countless times and have focused on those two separate groups doing, or not doing, something for Christ through the proxy of normal human beings.  And this is certainly in the text.  The main focus has always been on the “eternal” aspect though.  If you do things  for Christ you will be rewarded with heaven.  If you don’t do things for Christ, you will go to eternal hell.  Eternal life or eternal punishment in hell.

Now, I have written so much on how I have come to understand that most Christian translators have mistranslated the Greek term aion as eternal, rather than age, age-enduring, but certainly a time period of limited duration.  Let me turn your focus here to what stunned me though.  There are two types  of people talked about here; the righteous and the accursed ones (unrighteous).  They are rewarded or condemned based on what they DID or DID NOT do.  They were judged for their actions, their deeds, their WORKS.  The subject of these verses CANNOT be referring to an eternal or immortal world.  What I am saying is one cannot EARN heaven by their works NOR earn punishment in eternal hell by their works, either!  This passage, therefore, must be talking about a judgment that does not endure, but has an end, or at least, culminates in the beginning of another age.

Let me explain also, that there is a parallel here that Jesus is speaking about;  good works earn eternal life and  equally, bad works earn eternal punishment.  If bad works earn “eternal” punishment, meaning forever and ever, but good works DO NOT earn eternal life, the parallel is rendered illogical.  So, if one earns eternal punishment one HAS to be able to “earn” eternal life through good works.  Therefore, if bad works earn eternal punishment good works MUST earn eternal life.  Since this contradicts other Scripture, that cannot be the real meaning.  Therefore, my contention is that Jesus is speaking not about our existence after this life, but about our life during this aion, this age.  If we translate the Greek term aion properly, it is much easier to come to an understanding of this text that does not contradict other Scriptures.

Though I do not have time at this moment to launch into a full exposition of Matthew 24-25, let me say this.  I, as well as many scholars today, believe that Matthew 24-25 is referring to the fall of Jerusalem in  AD 70.  The kingdom of God referred to in Matthew’s gospel refers to the kingdom here and now, the kingdom during the life of the hearers of Jesus.  The kingdom of God refers to the system of religion Christ came to establish, in opposition to the religion that the Jewish religious leaders had established.  And that kingdom was fully implemented when the Jewish religion and its system was finally laid waste in AD 70.  Over the last 150 years we have been fed a steady diet of end times scenarios that have not been known in Christianity before then.  So, in our lifetimes we have only known and heard taught as truth that Matthew 24-25 are to be taken literally, though Jesus himself said that “from now on I will speak in parables,” and that the chapters leading up to chapters 24-25 are rife with parabolic talk (meaning His words were pictures of things to come, not actual events and happenings) as are these two chapters!

I have gone off into deeper things and gotten away from my main point.  My main point being, Christians do not believe in works-based salvation (Eph 2 – salvation is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone boast…that they saved themselves!).  So Jesus cannot be meaning that our works dictate whether or not we ETERNALLY, forever and ever, are relegated to heaven or hell.  Works are for this age alone, therefore whatever judgment Jesus is talking about is either for this age alone (which has an end) or a future age that will also have an end.  I say this because the Scriptures say the end is here when God becomes all in all, and the second death is done away with as well.  So in my estimation we have at least two more ages (this age and the age to come) to finish before the end of all things and God restores all to Himself.  I will blog more about this in the future, as well.

I look forward to your thoughts on this text.  What can you add to help round out this understanding?  What can you add to help straighten me out, if I have gone astray?  What clarification do I need to provide for you to more fully understand why I was so surprised by this understanding?  What do you believe Jesus is talking about and why?  I look forward to engaging you in further discussion on this passage.  Thanks in advance for your sharpening of me, and hopefully I can help sharpen you as well.

Blessings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!




Filed under Everlasting - Eternal, Understanding the Bible, Universal salvation

2 responses to “Matthew 25:31-46 and Eternal Separation?

  1. Dirk

    Very important post brother/friend Craig 🙂

    Your question: “What can you add to help round out this” understanding?”

    I add a more accurate bible translation:

    Jesus Christ: “Now, whenever the Son of Mankind may be coming in His glory, and all the holy messengers with Him, then shall He be seated on the throne of His glory, and in front of Him shall be gathered all the nations. And He shall be severing them from one another even as a shepherd is severing the sheep from the kids. And He shall be standing the sheep, indeed, at His right, yet the kids at the left.” Then shall the King be declaring to those at His right, ‘Hither, blessed of My Father! Enjoy the allotment of the kingdom made ready for you from the disruption of the world.” For I hunger and you give Me to eat’ I thirst and you give Me drink; a stranger was I and you took Me in; naked and you clothed Me; infirm am I and you visit Me; in jail was I and you come to Me.’ Then the just will be answering Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we perceive Thee hungering and nourish Thee, or thirsting and we give Thee drink? Now when did we perceive Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and we clothed Thee? Now when did we perceive Thee infirm, or in jail, and we came to Thee?'” And, answering, the King shall be declaring to them, ‘Verily, I am saying to you, In as much as you do it to one of these, the least of My brethren, you do it to Me.'” Then shall He be declaring to those also at His left, ‘Go from Me, you cursed, into the fire eonian, made ready for the Adversary and his messengers.” For I hunger and you do not give Me to eat; I thirst and you do not give Me drink; a stranger was I and you did not take Me in; naked and you did not clothe Me; infirm and in jail and you did not visit Me.’ Then shall they also be answering, saying, ‘Lord, when did we perceive you hungering or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or infirm, or in jail, and we did not serve you?'” Then shall He be answering them, saying, ‘Verily, I am saying to you, In as much as you do it not to one of these, the least, neither do you it to Me.'” And these shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian.” (CLNT – Matt.25:31-46)

    This portion (Matt.25:31-46) of scripture is a loving warning to all religious (Jews/Christians) people who think that they automatically (based on their religious confession) end up in heaven. We all better take this passage to heart, or we find ourselves spending some time in Hades (Luke 16:23 etc.) for a while (“chastening eonian”). Our salvation is sure, nobody can lose something God has paid (1.John2:2) for, but that doesn’t mean we enter the earthly, or heavenly kingdom right away.

    Jesus Christ: “Whosoever I may be fond of, I am exposing and disciplining. Be zealous, then, and repent!” Lo! I stand at the door and am knocking. If ever anyone should be hearing My voice and opening the door, I will also be coming in to him and dining with him, and he with Me. ” ‘”The one who is conquering, to him will I be granting to be seated with Me on My throne as I, also, conquer, and am seated with My Father on His throne.” ‘”Who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit is saying to the ecclesias.”‘” (CLNT – Revelation 3:19-22)

    • You know, Dirk, you are right. Accuracy in translation is of utmost importance and there is really no excuse for using a poor one. Even if a translation is harder to understand because it doesn’t sound like the exact way we talk today, is almost irrelevant. If words have meaning, and we seek to mold our lives around the meaning of those words, we had better be accurate with them. I was always told to “say what you mean, and mean what you say.” As I have come to see in so many key verses in Scripture, church tradition has corrupted the meaning of the Scriptures to mean what they want it to mean rather than what it really says. Though the Concordant Literal New Testament (CLNT) may seem harder to understand (more so because we have become lazy in our Scripture studying) at points, it is no excuse to lay a translation like this aside. From now on, rather than seek the easy to read translations, like the Lexham English Bible that I have been using lately, I will be using the CLNT and maybe a few other literal translations that communicate true doctrine and not a false church tradition. Sorry it took me so long to respond. And thank you for the challenge. Keep sharpening those around you (especially me!). Godspeed brother!

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