My interlocutor asked a third question:
Thanks so much! I will keep studying and researching. I really want to believe this is true, but there are some things that I need to understand. For example in Matthew 25:46 “…to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Both times it uses aionios, if it won’t be “eternal” or just an “age”, does it also means that the righteous life won’t be eternal? How do you reconcile this?
However anyone would answer the question you’ve raised – the one thing we must not lose site of is that, when all is said and done, aionios still means (fundamentally, by definition) “age” – NOT “eternal”.
So that fact throws it back on us to ponder – i.e it should completely unsettle those who believe in ECT (eternal conscious torment).
Short answer? I don’t know. But here are two brief observations: One possible explanation is that Jesus is referring to the “millennium” when He speaks of the “age of life” – or, what maybe elsewhere called “the age to come”. And those consigned to the “age of punishment” will experience the purifying punishment of God (“punishment” kolasis from the root word meaning “to prune” – i.e. remedial not retributive punishment). So – it is reasonable to consider the possibility that “age of life” is a very possible and sensible rendering.
Another important consideration is that the grammatical structure of verse 46 places more of an emphasis on quality over duration of time – i.e. the quality of the punishment (it should be considered) has to do with a fitting and just (but temporal) punishment that brings about correction – over against the quality of the divine life (of God) which is inherently “eternal”. That would mean that the duration of each age is determined by the essential quality of it. While the same term is used by each – it is used twice NOT to say they are equivalent – but, in fact, to distinguish the quality of one from the other.
What must be kept in mind regarding the “age of punishment” is that it is perfectly just, fair and equitable. Those who have for so long argued that any sin is an “infinite offense against an infinitely Holy God” seem to lose all sense of proportion and forget that such an argument is made NOWHERE in scripture. Instead wherever God’s wrath is concerned – at best it goes on to the third or fourth generation – NOT forever! God is also “infinitely” loving and merciful! On balance one needs to remember Luke 12:47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.”
Jesus said that whoever follows him “must hate your father and mother…” NO one accepts this plain statement as literal truth – WHY? Because, as Wesley once said, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that!”. We see that it MUST be hyperbole – a strong exaggeration to stress some truth rhetorically. Why is it that Jesus may not be doing the same here? Why do we not do the same with Matthew 25, and observe, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that God will unjustly punish a life lived for, say, 70 years, with eternal torture”? Why do we so easily just accept the monstrous idea that God would eternally torment the vast majority of humanity “for His own glory”? Why is this not utterly and morally repulsive to us? As Jesus said, “Judge for yourselves what is right”.
My God “is Love” – Love is not easily angered (but it CAN be made angry!) and love takes no delight in injustice – it keeps no record of wrongs suffered – it endures all things – and LOVE will NEVER fail! God does truly “desire all to be saved” – and He IS NOT WILLING THAT ANY SHOULD PERISH.
Recently I had a compelling “revelation” when it dawned on me that God’s Word will not return to Him void: Jesus, the perfect Word of God was sent “not to condemn the world” but that “the world through Him might be saved”.
In other words, will God get what He desires (the salvation of all?)? Isaiah 55:11 assures us that He will! “so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Jesus, THE Word, died on the cross to take away the sin of the world as the Lamb of God – and, in His last breath he said, “It is finished!” – Daniel, Read Psalm 22 – the “song” Jesus sung on the cross – and see there the many references to the universal scope of what Jesus did! see: