The book entitled “Every Knee Shall Bow” by Mark T. Chamberlain is an abridged and edited copy of “Christ Triumphant” by Thomas Allin.
“Every Knee Shall Bow”
by Mark T. Chamberlain
What the New Testament Teaches
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
We now turn to an examination of the many passages in the New Testament that clearly state or imply the salvation of ALL men. The time has come for boldly appealing to the letter and the spirit of the New Testament on behalf of the wider hope. I ask just one thing that common fairness and honesty require that you try to put aside your preconceived ideas, try to keep an open mind, and let our Lord and His inspired spokesmen mean what they say.
When they speak of "all men," I assume them to mean all men, not some men. When they speak of "all things," I assume them to mean all things. When they speak of life and salvation as being for the whole world, I assume them to mean that they are not merely offered to the whole world but that the whole world will in fact be saved. When they speak of the destruction of sin and death and the works of the devil, I assume that ALL of these will be destroyed and not preserved forever in hell. When they tell us that Redemption is wider, broader, and stronger than the Fall, I assume that they mean that ALL of the evil consequences of the fall will be swept away. When they describe Christ's Kingdom extending over "all things" and "all creatures," and tell us that "every knee shall bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11) or that "EVERY creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and ALL that is in them, (will be) saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"' (Revelation 5:13) I assume these words to mean what they would mean in their ordinary sense.
I protest against teaching that "all" means "all" when it is talking about sin and death, but that "all" means only "some" when spoken of final salvation. The restoration of all things means, we are told, that only some beings are to be restored, while the rest are tortured forever or annihilated. That God will be "all in all" means that millions will be cast into hell forever to hate God and blaspheme Him forever and only a few will be saved. That His tender mercies are over all His works means, in the traditional creed, that His tender mercies expire at the gates of hell. It is ludicrous that those who believe in everlasting hell charge us with evading the words of Scripture.
I submit that the entire history of biblical interpretation contains no stranger fact than this persistent ignoring of such a large part of the New Testament.
To bring this out clearly, I'm going to quote from a number of texts that have been pieced together like the links of a chain that all fit together to show that the Kingdom of Christ will one day include everyone who has ever lived and God will truly be "all in all."
The chain begins at creation when all things were created by Christ with full knowledge of the fall of man that was to come and a plan already in place to redeem mankind. He who created all things will "reconcile to himself ALL things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20). This reconciliation or restoration of ALL things was foretold by God when He "spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago" (Acts 3:21). God has appointed His Son to be the "heir of ALL things" (Hebrews 1:2) and in God's Son "shall ALL the nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8).
God has given His Son "authority over ALL flesh, to give eternal life to ALL whom He has given Him" (John 17:2). "The Father has given ALL things into the Son's hands" (John 3:35) and so "ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6). Because of "the unchangeable character of God's purpose" (Hebrews 6:17), because His love for His enemies is unchanging and "He is kind to the ungrateful and evil" (Luke 6:35). "He desires ALL people to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4). He "gave himself as a ransom for ALL" (1 Timothy 2:6). He "is not wishing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). He "has consigned ALL to disobedience, that he may have mercy on ALL" (Romans 11:32) "for from him and through him and to him are ALL things" (Romans 11:36).
So God's plan is "to unite ALL things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:10). The Father has "put ALL things under Christ's feet" (Ephesians 1:22) and has "given ALL things into his hands" (John 13:3). Jesus has promised to "draw ALL men" to Himself (John 12:32) because "the Father loves the Son and has given ALL things into his hand" (John 3:35). Jesus said, "ALL that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37). Jesus says that like a good shepherd, He will search for each of His lost sheep "until he finds it" (Luke 15:4). "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). "The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for ALL people" (Titus 2:11).
Jesus is the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus gave His flesh as bread "for the life of the world" (John 6:51). "He gives life to the world" (John 6:33). He is "the light of the world" (John 8:12). "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "He is the Savior of ALL people" (1 Timothy 4:10), “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14). "He appeared to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
Jesus "abolished death" (2 Timothy 1:10). "He has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). His power "enables him to subject all things to himself'” (Philippians 3:21). "The gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does" (1 Peter 4:6). He has "the keys of Death and Hades" (Revelation 1:18). He will throw "Death and Hades into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14).
"In Christ shall all be made alive" (I Corinthians 15:22). He "accomplished the work" that the Father gave Him to do (John 17:4). "He restores all things" (Acts 3:21). "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). "Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, `To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! "' (Revelation 5:13).
"Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For 'God has put all things in subjection under his feet.' But when it says 'all things are put in subjection,' it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
These verses have not just been thrown together haphazardly. They are the expression of that purpose that runs through the Bible, a purpose first stated in mankind's creation in the image of God, a purpose that can be traced throughout the entire Bible, in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, and most clearly in the New Testament. From it we learn at least three things:
1. Christ came claiming the entire human race as His own, to the end that He would save and restore the entire race, not just part of it.
2. He came with full power and authority over all men, having received all power in heaven and earth over all hearts, all evil, all wills.
3. He lived and died and rose again, completely victorious, having fully accomplished the work His Father gave Him to do, which was the salvation of the world.
To deny universal restoration and reconciliation is to mutilate the Scriptures. We are not dealing with a few isolated verses in which it might be possible to say that "all" was used loosely and doesn't really mean "all." We have a connected series in which link follows link---a series that teaches the actual, not potential, universality of Christ's Kingdom. Let's look closer at these passages, taking them in their natural and fair meaning, not obscured by the traditions of men.
Luke 19:10: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." The question is this: Will Jesus Christ really do what He said He came here to do? He didn't say He came to save some of the lost. He came to save the lost. And that is everybody! Apart from Christ, we are all lost, but He came to seek for us until He finds us (Luke 15:4).
Luke 3:6: "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." This verse is probably taken from Isaiah 40:5, which says, "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." Surely these verses point in the direction of universal salvation. Matthew 5:8: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Luke 6:27-36: “But I [Jesus] say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungratefujl and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
If you are a Christian, you have probably read this passage many times to discover what kind of lifestyle Jesus expects from you. Have you ever thought of reading it as a description of God? Look at it in that light. Jesus says in the end that if you do these things, you will be like your Father, "for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil" and "your Father is merciful." Remember also that He is unchanging. If God's attitude toward sinners now is love and mercy, it will always be. Could the loving God described above really be happy knowing that even one of His children created in His image is suffering unspeakable anguish in hell forever?
Matthew 12:29: "How can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house." Luke 11:21-22: "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil." In these verses, the strong man is Satan, the stronger man is Christ, and the plunder or spoil is mankind. Jesus defeated Satan on the cross and He will eventually carry all of the spoils of that victory to be with Him. If anyone is eternally lost, Jesus' victory was only partial. In the NLT, Luke 11:22 is translated, "Until someone who is stronger attacks and overpowers him, strips him of his weapons, and carries off his belongings." Jesus won the right on the cross to strip Satan of all his belongings, and He will!
Luke 15:4: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?" Forgive me for coming back to this passage, but it is one of my favorites. To me it is so clear. If the average shepherd would keep on looking for one lost sheep and not give up until he finds it, surely our Lord will be no less persistent in seeking out every last one of His sheep, not just until they die, but until He finds them and brings them back safely to His fold. Praise His name forever! By asking, "What man of you...," Jesus gives clear sanction to the right to argue from those feelings shared even by the outcast and sinful, to the divine feelings as I have done in chapter 2. It is obvious that that is exactly what Jesus is doing here in this passage. It is as if He said, "If a shepherd won't give up until he finds one lost sheep, how much more will God refuse to give up on His children!"
John 1:6-7: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him." That ALL might believe! That is God's stated reason for sending John, and that is His reason for all of His dealings with mankind. Dare we say that God will fail to accomplish His goal in sending John and all of the other prophets, and His only begotten Son?
John 1:29: "The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, `Behold, the Lamb of God, who is going to try to take away the sin of the world!"' Is that what it says? No! Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" The sin of the whole world, not just a part of it. Will He do it? Does He work "all things according to the counsel of his will?" (Ephesians 1:11).
John 3:17: "God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Again, why would God, who is all knowing, send Jesus to save the world if He knew beforehand that most of the world would not be saved? That doesn't make sense. God sent Jesus to save the world because He knew His Son would accomplish exactly what He sent Him to do.
John 3:35, 6:37-39: "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day." The false belief that salvation must take place before physical death necessitates explaining away even the clearest scriptures. If you believe that punishment after death is temporary and remedial, as I hope to show when we get to our study of the Greek words translated "eternal" and "everlasting," the above verses are crystal clear. The Father has promised the Son that everyone will eventually come to Him. He has given them to Him. Their destiny as redeemed children of God is sure!
John 6:33: "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Notice He doesn't offer life to the world--He gives it! I am not saying faith and repentance are unnecessary. I am saying that verses like Philippians 2:10 about every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God look forward to a time when everyone who has ever been born has come to faith and repentance.
John 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." We have already looked at this verse. Remember Jesus didn't say that He would draw a select group called "The Elect"! He doesn't say He will try to draw all people to Himself. He says He will do it! He says in the words of a poet:
So shall I lift up in My pierced hands Beyond the reach of grief and guilt The whole creation. --E.B. Browning
Matthew 11:27: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and ANYONE to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." This verse says as clearly as it possibly can that the only thing necessary for anyone to know God is for Jesus to choose to reveal Him to them. Why would Jesus choose not to reveal the Father to anyone for whom He died?
In what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, just before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus says in John 17:1-3: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over ALL flesh, to give eternal life to ALL whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Who has the Father given to Jesus? All flesh. Or as John 3:35 says, "all things," or as John 12:32 says, "all people," the salvation of every person has been predestined from before the foundation of the world. The Father has given ALL mankind to Jesus, and He will draw them ALL to Himself in His time.
John 19:30: "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, `It is finished."' J.C. Ryle writes, "Our Lord meant that His great work of redemption was finished. He had as Daniel foretold, 'finished transgression, made an end of sin, made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness' (Daniel 9:24). After thirty-three years, since the day when He was born in Bethlehem, He had done all, paid all, performed all, suffered all that was needful to save sinners and satisfy the justice of God. He had fought the battle and won it, and in two days He would give proof of it by rising again."
If the salvation of all men was not secured on the cross but only made available, it would have been far from finished. The battle would have just begun. The hard part would have been getting people to receive the salvation made available to them. People do need to receive it, but Jesus died knowing that they all eventually will because the Father had given them all to Him. It is finished! 1 John 2:2: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
So much for limited atonement! Jesus made atonement for the sins of the whole world. Would He who knows all things, who knows the beginning from the end, die for anyone unless He knew His death would have the desired effect of reconciling all people to God?
1 John 3:5: "You know that he [Jesus] appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin." Did Jesus really come just to take sin to hell and leave it there like a toxic waste dump, or did He come to annihilate it? Our next verse answers that question.
1 John 3:8: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." What is sin? The works of the devil. Jesus came not to keep sin in hell forever but to destroy it. That is why 2 Peter 3:13 says, "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." Some day the entire universe will be completely devoid of sin, and God will be all in all! There won't be a place called hell that is full of sin forever, because according to Revelation 20:14, "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire," presumably for destruction.
1 John 4:14: "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the few who receive him in life, and to throw the rest into everlasting torment." Is that what it says? No, it says, "The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." Will He succeed, or will He fail?
Revelation 1:18: "I [Jesus] have the keys of Death and Hades." How can death eternally separate anyone from Christ when He has the keys of Death and Hades and He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance?
Revelation 5:13: "And I [John] heard EVERY creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and ALL that is in them, saying, `To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"' How can people be left in hell weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth if they are ALL gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, worshipping them and ascribing to them bless¬ing and honor and glory?
Ephesians 1:9-10: God's "purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time," is to "unite ALL things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." What other meaning could these verses possibly have than the clear meaning that is right there? In the fullness of time, ALL things ("all people," according to the context) will be united in Christ and God will be all in all! That is why Paul talks in verse 12 about "we who were the first to hope in Christ." We who are believers now are the firstfruits. The rest will follow in due time.
Acts 3:21 (NLT): Jesus "must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of ALL things, as God promised long ago through the prophets." Again, what else could this refer to but the complete restoration of every child of God created in His image to a right relationship with Him?
Acts 24:14-15: "I [Paul] worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God ... that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." This is the same man who said in Romans 9:3: "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers." Would he hope for the resurrection of the unjust knowing that they were being raised only to be thrown body and soul into a place of torment forever?
We have been looking mostly at the Gospels and Acts. Now we turn to the letters of Paul. We will find in them the stream of promise still widening, the universal nature of redemption indicated with a precision of language and a variety of illustrations that seem impossible to reconcile with endless evil. I don't mean that every passage quoted is in itself conclusive. I do mean that all are relevant, as links in the great chain of promise, which taken together make a very strong case for universal restoration, which brings up an important question: If we are to believe in endless evil and endless suffering, how can we account for such passages that, taken in their natural meaning, obviously point to the wider hope?
That the Bible holds out the hope of universal restoration and reconciliation cannot be denied (Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:20). If this will never take place, why is it in the Bible? Why does the Bible raise expectations that will never be fulfilled? Paul's writings deserve special notice. His writings are the closest thing to a systematic theology in the Bible ranging over the whole field of the divine purpose and human destiny. I want to draw your attention to two points:
1. Not only does Paul assert the sovereignty of God, but it also lies at the center of his teaching. He sees everywhere a purpose slowly but surely fulfilling itself, a purpose that can be resisted but not defeated.
2. He gives striking prominence to the resurrection as a spiritual and redemptive force. It is the climax of Christ's work for man.
In Romans 4:13, he says that God promised "Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world." God chose Abraham not for Abraham's sake only, but also that he might inherit the world. This is a spiritual inheritance, not physical. In verse 17, Paul cites Genesis 17:5: "As it is written, 'I have made you the father of many nations."'
Romans 5:18: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for ALL men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL men." This passage couldn't be more explicit. Everyone who was condemned by Adam's sin will be justified by Christ's death. If the word "ALL" means "all mankind" in the first part of the verse, it means "all mankind" in the second part. I highly recommend studying the entire passage (Romans 5:12-21) without a commentary. Commentators will just try to explain away the clear teaching of this passage, which is that grace is always stronger than sin.
Romans 5:15: "If many [everyone] died through one man's [Adam's] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift [salvation] by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many [everyone]." This verse is another example of those who believe in eternal hell changing the meaning of a word in the same sentence. In the first part of the verse, they say the word "many" refers to all men because Adam's trespass brought death on all mankind, but when Paul uses the same word in the second half of the same sentence, they say it refers only to those who are born again before they die, because they refuse to believe that God's grace will reach every man. Paul clearly says in this verse that the grace of God and the free gift of salvation abounds for everyone!
Romans 11:11-31: “So I ask, did they [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
Study this passage carefully and prayerfully and see how God, the Master Strategist, is working everything together toward a goal that cannot fail! What is that goal? The next verse tells us. Romans 11:32: "For God has consigned ALL to disobedience, that he may have mercy on ALL." God chooses this person or nation and hardens that person or nation not to save a select group called "the elect" as Calvinists would have us believe, but so that "he may have mercy on all."
Romans 11:36: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." Look at each part of this declaration one at a time. "For from him ... are all things." This obviously means that all things have their origin in Him. He created every thing. "Through him ... are all things" Everything is sustained by Him. "To him are all things." As all things had their origin in Him, so they will return to Him. To Him be glory forever!! Amen!
Romans 14:11: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." The margin of the ESV says, "Or shall give praise." The NASB translates it: "Every tongue shall give praise to God." The CEV: "Everyone will kneel down and praise my name!" The words are self-explanatory. Everyone will praise God!
1 Corinthians 15:22: "As in Adam ALL die, so also in Christ shall ALL be made alive." The Message translates it: "Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ." Again I would ask you, Does it really make sense to take the first "all" to mean everyone and confine the second "all" to those who die in Christ? It is obvious that Paul has the same group in mind in both halves of the verse.
1 Corinthians 15:22-28: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
At the end, there is no place for sin, evil, or hell, for God is all in all! If God has to cast some people into everlasting hell, it means that He was unable to get them to submit themselves to Him. They won't be submitting themselves to Him in hell; they will be hating Him and cursing Him for all eternity. What kind of subjection is that? All will willingly subject themselves to Jesus and to God the Father after He has purged them of all sin and rebellion. The same word is used of Christ's subjection to the Father, and of the subjection of Christ's enemies to Him. Obviously Christ's subjection to the Father is out of love. How can endless evil and torment be described as subjection to Jesus? Such an interpretation is excluded by the last statement in this passage: "that God may be all in all"!
1 Corinthians 15:55: "0 death, where is your victory? 0 death, where is your sting?" If the majority of mankind will go to everlasting hell after death, it would seem that death will have won a gigan¬tic victory! I urge you to study this entire section of scripture (1 Corinthians 15:12-58) and notice Paul's increasing rapture as his argument expands, as the prospect opens up to him of a universe yet to be, from which all sin and death are wiped out. Paul's words give only an imperfect expression of the absolute triumph of Christ, of the flood of glory that will fill the universe in the widest possible sense. God will be all in all!
2 Corinthians 5:19: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself." Note that it doesn't say God was trying to reconcile the world to Himself. He was doing it! Study this whole passage care¬fully (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). God's reconciliation of the world to Himself is an accomplished fact. When we tell others about Christ, we are just telling them to embrace what has already been accom¬plished. And if they don't do it in this life, they will in the life to come when EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God!
Ephesians 1:9-10: "His purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time," is "to unite ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." If all things in heaven and earth are to be united in Christ, how is there any possibility of an endless hell or a creation permanently divided?
Ephesians 1:22-23: "And he [the Father] put all things under his [Jesus'] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." The Greek verb used here for all things being under Christ's feet is used in 1 Corinthians 15:28, referring to the subjection of Christ to the Father. As we saw in looking at that verse, Christ's subjection of Himself to the Father is willing submission out of His love for the Father. That is the same submission Jesus will someday have from "all things." Notice the last phrase of verse 23: "the fullness of him who fills all in all." God fills everything in every way. The idea of a place existing for all eternity where people are forever shut out from the presence of God doesn't fit in a universe where God fills all in all.
Ephesians 4:8: "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." Who are these captives? Luke 11:22, which we have already looked at, tells us. When Christ, the stronger man, broke into the strong man's (Satan's) house, he carried away all his belongings. 1 Peter 3:19, 4:6 tells us that Christ went and proclaimed the gospel to the spirits in prison (Hades) that they might live in the Spirit as God does.
Ephesians 4:10: "He who descended is the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things." As we saw in looking at Ephesians 1:23, if Christ fills all things, how can there be an everlasting hell where people are forever shut out from the pres¬ence of Christ? The doctrine of eternal hell totally contradicts so many verses of scripture. The day is coming when God will completely eradicate sin from existence, not just keep it tucked away in a dark corner of the universe called hell forever!
Colossians 1:19-20: Through Christ "God was pleased ... to reconcile to himself ALL things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." If God's goal in sending Christ was to reconcile everything to Himself, nothing can thwart that goal because He "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).
Philippians 2:10-11: "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Don't let that word "should" throw you. The NASB, NLT, NCV, CEV, The Message, and other translations all say "will." The key phrase is "to the glory of God."
If people are just bowing outwardly out of fear or awe while their hearts remain unbowed, that doesn't glorify God. Some day, every creature everywhere will willingly bow in worship and adoration as it says so clearly in our next verse, Revelation 5:13: "And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"' This is so obviously genuine worship! Would God who loves all mankind really cast anyone into everlasting torment who worships Him like this? Obviously John is looking past the judgment to a time when everyone everywhere has at last been reconciled to God and God is all in all! Hallelujah!!
In my church we sing a song called "Ancient of Days," which quotes this verse almost verbatim. It goes, "Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto Him who sits on the throne. From every nation all of creation bows before the Ancient of Days. Every tongue in heaven and earth shall declare your glory. Every knee shall bow at your throne in worship." Too bad I seem to be the only one in my church who believes the words as they're being sung.
Philippians 3:20-21: "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself." The way that the subjection of all things to Christ is to be understood is clear from the context, "who will transform our body to be like his glorious body." No believer doubts that Christ is able to subdue all things to Himself, but this passage shows decisively what that means. It is making them like Himself, not casting them into everlasting torment!
1 Timothy 2:3-6: "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." There are basically three ways this passage can be interpreted:
1. The Arminian--God desires all people to be saved. He gave His only Begotten Son to save everyone. But He can't save anyone except those who are willing to be saved.
2. The Calvinist--God has two wills that "appear" to contradict each other---His revealed will and His secret will. Even though His expressed will is for all people to be saved, He really doesn't want anyone to be saved except for the elect whom He chose before the foundation of the world, and whom He effectually calls to Himself. They call this "apparent" contradiction a paradox or an antinomy. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. In other words, if it looks like a contradiction and sounds like a contradiction, it probably is.
3. The Universalist--God wants all men to be saved. He sent Jesus to die for all men. God is sovereign. Therefore all will eventually be saved.
Unfortunately these are not straw men. I have heard and read each of these views from those who hold them. Which one sounds most plausible?
1 Timothy 4:10: "We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." The meaning is so clear it's transparent! God IS the Savior of everyone! He is the Savior of believers now and He will save everyone else in due time.
2 Timothy 1:10: "Our Savior Christ Jesus ... abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Jesus has abolished death, and with death what it implies in scripture--sin and evil. Death abolished and death in its worst form, the second death, maintained forever, are plain contradictions.
Titus 2:11: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people." How is God's grace bringing salvation for all people consistent with the eternal damnation of anyone?
1 Peter 3:19: Christ "went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison." 1 Peter 4:6 tells us what was preached to them. Was it their eternal damnation? No, it was the Gospel. It says, "The gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
J.C. Ryle says, "Some theologians hold that, between His death and resurrection `He went and preached to the spirits in prison' (1 Peter 3:19) and proclaimed the accomplishment of His work of atonement." Although he himself considered this "doubtful," he says this view was held by Athanasius, Ambrose, Zwingle, Calvin, Erasmus, Calovius, and Alford. This is the most natural way to interpret these verses if you don't have to try to prove the unbiblical teaching that all chance for salvation ends at death.
2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is ... not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." The NIV translates it: "The Lord is ... not wanting anyone to perish." If the Lord does not want anyone to perish, we can rest assured no one will. We have already shown in chapter 2 that God is able to change people's hearts and make them willing to come to Him even if they come "kicking, struggling, and resentful" as C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it in his testimony.
Hebrews 1:2: "He [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things." What sort of things do you suppose Jesus Christ is interested in inheriting? Mankind!
Psalm 2:7-8: "The Lord said to me, `You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession."' This verse is used in missions textbooks all the time. God has promised to give His Son all the nations as His inheritance, and He will do it!
Hebrews 2:5-9: “Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left NOTHING outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for EVERYONE.”
Here is one more passage to add to the many that speak of Christ's kingdom being destined to extend over all things. I have already shown that subjection to Christ means not the subjugation of slaves, but perfect harmony and peace in the New Testament. The subjection of mankind will be like Christ's subjection to the Father, done out of love. (See notes on Philippians 3:21 and 1 Corinthians 15:25.) Christ has tasted death for everyone! Therefore all will be saved in due time.
Hebrews 2:14-15: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver ALL those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." If Jesus' death destroyed the devil as to his having the power of death, how can death continue forever in hell? If Christ's death delivers ALL from the fear of death, how can eternal death be waiting for anyone?
Hebrews 6:17 (NIV): "Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath." We see God's unchanging purpose clearly in 2 Peter 3:9 where it says that God is not willing for anyone to perish. The word translated "willing" there is a variant of the word translated "purpose" in Hebrews 6:17.
If God's purpose or will is unchanging, and He is not willing that any should perish, we can be sure that God's purpose will come to pass in His time!
Hebrews 9:26: "He [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The NIV translates it, "To do away with sin." That is the question: Did Jesus come to completely do away with sin or just to safely contain it in hell forever? If sin exists forever, Christ's victory is incomplete, because He came to do away with it completely! Amen!
Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." The same Lord Jesus Christ that loved sinners when He was here in the flesh, who prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," that same Jesus will love sinners forever because He is unchanging!
A few words of caution must be added here. I hope I have made it clear that in teaching universal salvation, I have not tried to minimize sin, nor have I taught that sinners will be saved while still clinging to their sins. I believe that many people have terrible sufferings awaiting them after they leave this life-how long and how severe I leave up to a loving and just God. But I believe that God never punishes for punishment's sake. He always has the sinner's repentance and restoration in view, and in His wisdom He knows exactly what it will take in each case to bring about the desired results!
I am opposed to the popular creed partially because I believe that it in fact teaches men to make light of sin in two ways: first, because it teaches a plan of retribution that is so unjust as to make people secretly believe its penalties will never be inflicted; and next, because it asserts that God either will not, or cannot, overcome and destroy evil and sin, but will bear with them for ever and ever. I repeat that not a single word has been written in these pages that would indicate that God is just a "good of boy" who winks at sin and considers it a light matter when someone violates His holy law! God forbid that I should teach such shallow theology! It is in the light of Golgotha that we see sin as exceedingly sinful, so sinful that nothing less than the death of God incarnate could pay for it. But let us be careful, lest in thinking we are honoring the atonement we are actually dishonoring it by limiting its power to save by teaching that Christ failed in His mission as Savior of the world, making Him a liar. Because He never said, "If I am lifted up I will draw SOME men to myself," or "I will TRY to draw all men to myself," but, "I WILL draw ALL MEN to myself!"
What the New Testament Teaches, Continued
He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
Universalists are sometimes accused of focusing on God's love to the exclusion of His justice and holiness. I am determined that in these pages there will be no room left for such a charge. I firmly believe that it is those who would make such a charge who have a perverted view of God's love and justice. It is very true that there is a current that runs through Holy Scripture that seems to the English-speaking reader to teach either the destruction or eternal punishment of those who die apart from Christ. I fully admit this. The key word here is "seems." The Bible was not written in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It comes to us from very distant ages, in very many parts, the work of about forty different inspired authors, all of them writing from an Eastern standpoint, saturated with Eastern habits of thought, and with Eastern phrases and style. Therefore, true interpretation of Scripture depends to a great degree on understanding the sense in which the terms in ques¬tion are used. Let us go to the Bible with this in mind.
Admitting that there runs through Scripture these two currents of God's love for all men and the awful punishment waiting for those who die in their sins, we feel instinctively that love and not wrath is the central theme of God's revelation to us. We feel its kinship with all that is noblest in our nature. I don't just mean with what we like better, but with what we recognize as best and most divine both in God and in mankind. Some may say that the current of wrath is louder, but I don't think so. It may seem so to some from habit, or because sinners do not readily grasp what is broadest and most divine. To them, revenge is more credible than mercy and love. Even if wrath were the louder current, I would point out that God is usually heard in a still, small voice.
That which seems to be the meaning of a passage of Scripture on the surface may not necessarily be the true meaning. The Israelites didn't recognize Jesus as their Messiah because they read the prophecies concerning His second coming in power and glory and applied them to His first coming when He came as a suffering servant. The truth was under the surface in those fewer, less promi¬nent predictions of the latter, but they couldn't see it because they wanted a conquering King to throw off the yoke of their Roman oppressors. I want to honestly face all the facts, and I urge you to try to open your mind to the possibility that you may have missed the truth of God's love, which (as I Corinthians 13 tells us) never fails because of a false understanding of God's justice and wrath. I hope to show that while the penalties threatened against sinners are truly terrible, still they are not endless. I believe that not one passage found anywhere in the Bible teaches endless suffering when fairly translated and understood. I ask you before examining these passages to keep several things in mind:
1. When the horrors of endless sin and pain are so staunchly defended on the (supposed) authority of the Bible, it is well to remember that slavery was almost unanimously defended for hundreds of years on similar grounds, as were the inflic¬tion of cruel tortures, religious persecution with its inde¬scribable horrors, and the burning of witches. During the dark ages, theologians actually believed that demons had sexual intercourse with humans. You may say, "All the lead¬ing Bible teachers defend eternal hell on the authority of
Scripture." I would reply, "Bible teachers have defended doctrines and practices so abominable that one can hardly imagine anyone believing such things, much less ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
2. This is a fact of the deepest significance: Although certain words and phrases existed that Jesus and the Apostles could have used to convey the concept of unendingness, they never used these words in regard to the future punishment of unrepentant sinners! This will be shown as we progress.
3. Thus aiidios or ateleutetos are never used of future punishment in the New Testament. Nor is it ever said to be aneutelous, "without end." Nor do we read that it shall go on pantote or eis to dienekes, "forever."
4. Is it, I ask, conceivable that a sentence so awful as to be absolutely beyond all human thought should be pronounced against millions of hapless creatures in ambiguous language that is clearly capable of another meaning, and often clearly used in the New Testament and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (which our Lord and His Apostles quote from) to convey that other meaning?
5. If Jesus really taught everlasting punishment, why is it that the book of Acts, which records many of the first Christian sermons ever preached, does not contain a single word about hell? If Jesus had really taught His disciples that everlasting torment awaited anyone who rejected their message, would they not have warned people about it?
6. It is surely a strong confirmation of universal salvation that many of the earliest Christian theologians who spoke Greek fluently did not understand the words aion or ainios to mean "everlasting" but taught rather that all would eventually be reconciled to God. All such teaching obviously implies that the texts usually relied on do not teach eternal punishment.
7. The texts quoted in favor of universal salvation use clear, explicit language and are a fair translation of the original in every case. This cannot be said with regard to the passages usually alleged to teach endless torment. In every verse that seems to the English-speaking reader to teach everlasting hell, they are either mistranslated, misinterpreted, or both. Thus we see how inaccurate the assumption is that is so widely made that these terms that seem to teach endless pain and evil are in the Bible. They are merely in fallible translations of the Bible, which is a totally different thing.
8. It should be noted that not a few of the passages usually quoted in support of the traditional creed teach not the eternal torment but the destruction of the wicked, which Universalists understand to mean the destruction of the sinful nature.
9. Finally, in addition to all the above, a huge obstacle remains in the way of the advocates of the traditional creed, which is this: They don't carry out their own principles. Their principles of interpreting the Bible would compel them to believe and to teach what no reasonable person would presume to teach. First, it would compel them to believe in the endless torment of the vast majority, at least of all adults. Next, it would compel them to believe that this torment goes on forever and ever in the sight of the Lamb and the holy angels. Revelation 14:10-11 says that anyone who worships the beast "will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name." The words translated "forever and ever" should be translated "for ages and ages." That is terrifying enough without making it forever! The advocates of eternal hell believe that the saints will also be watching the eternal suffering of the damned. Luke 16:23: "And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side." Some have even said that the saints will enjoy seeing the suffering of the damned. As I said before, may God deliver me from ever being that cruel!
10. As instances of incorrect translations, take the words trans¬lated "hell," "damnation," "everlasting," "eternal," "forever and ever." In the New Testament, "hell" is a translation of three widely different Greek words: "Hades," "Gehenna," and "Tarturus." "Gehenna" occurs eleven times in the New Testament as used by our Lord and once by James. In the original Greek, it is taken almost unchanged from the Hebrew (Ge-hinnom, i.e., valley of Hinnom), an example that our translators should have followed and rendered it "Gehenna" as it is. By translating it to the word "hell" with all of its connotations, they are assuming the part of commentators instead of translators.
The valley of Hinnom lay outside of Jerusalem. Once a pleasant valley, it later became the scene of Molech worship. 2 Kings 23:10 tells how the reformer king Josiah put a stop to people burning their sons and daughters there as offerings to Molech, a pagan god. 2 Chronicles 28:3 tells how evil king Ahaz "made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel." In 2 Chronicles 33:6, King Manasseh of Judah "burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger." In Jeremiah 32:35, God says of both Judah and Israel, "They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." The Valley of Hinnom later became a garbage dump. Into it all sorts of waste and carcasses were thrown and a fire was kept burning all the time while the worms ate what was left.
The next term is "Hades." This is used to denote the state or place of spirits, both good and bad alike, after death, and it has nothing to do with punishment. It occurs five times in the Gospels and Epistles, twice in Acts, and four times in Revelation.
"Tartarus" occurs only once in the New Testament in 2 Peter 2:4: "God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment." Here Peter applies this term not to human beings but to fallen angels, and even they are not kept there forever, but while they are awaiting the judgment. Hence to render it as "hell" is preposterous.
"Damnation" and "damned" are both translations of the Greek words krino and katarino, meaning "to judge" or "to condemn." Neither word contains the idea of everlasting torment. The English word "damn" carries with it the connotation of everlasting hell. But the Greek word merely means to judge, which by no means carries that terrifying connotation.
The word "hell" simply means the place of disembodied spirits when it translates as "Hades," or when the word "Gehenna" is used, it is a reference to the valley of Hinnom, where the worms fed continually on the filth that was dumped into it and the fire was kept burning not to inflict torment but to purify. Bodies thrown there felt no pain from the worms or the fire be cause they were already dead. It is true that "Gehenna" was used symbolically of the place of future punishment. But there is nothing inherent in the word that denotes everlasting torment.
While I believe our Lord did not threaten everlasting torment if His words are correctly understood, yet they do convey a solemn warning to sinners. This warning should hold more weight than threats of eternal torment because the conscience can see the justice in it. I accept every warning, however terrible, and every penalty threatened against sinners as long as they are understood in what I believe to be their natural sense, which is not, as I hope to show, everlasting torment.
At last we come to one of the most important parts of our study. Do the Greek words translated "eternal," "everlasting," "forever," and "forever and ever" really mean any of those things or not? The words in question are aion and aionios. I hope to show that the answer is a definite no!
The doctrine of eternal torment hinges on a mistranslation of these words. I hope to show what they mean-an age or an indefinite period of time varying in duration, depending on the subject being referred to. G. Campbell Morgan, a well-known Bible expositor of the twentieth century who was an associate of D.L. Moody and the pastor of Westminster Chapel where Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones served as his associate pastor, wrote in his book God's Methods with Men (pages 185-186): "Let me say to Bible students that we must be very careful how we use the word `eternity.' We have fallen into grave error in our constant use of that word. There is no word in the whole book of God corresponding with our 'eter¬nal,' which as commonly used among us means absolutely without end. The strongest Scripture word used with reference to the existence of God is `unto the ages of the ages,' which does not literally mean eternally."
In fact, even the English word "eternal" did not originally mean "having no end." The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, first published in 1882 by Walter Skeat, says that the word "eternal" comes from the Latin aternus, which means, literally, "lasting for an age."
There are many things in the old covenant that are said to be everlasting, eternal, forever and ever that clearly are not. Some of them were types and shadows pointing to Christ. Alexander Cruden writes in his Complete Concordance, "Many believe that the words for ever or everlasting are not to be taken as synonymous with eternal, as being without end, but to be understood merely as meaning a very long time, to be left indeterminate. There seems to be a considerable amount of argument in favor of this in many cases." An example of this is Abraham:
Genesis 13:15: "For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever."
Hebrews 11:8-10: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."
Hebrews 11:13-16 says of Abraham and the other heroes of the faith spoken of in this chapter, "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."
The truth is that Abraham's literal offspring have not lived in the promised land all the time since God promised it to Abraham, and they will not live there forever because this earth as we know it will not exist forever.
Exodus 12:14: "This day [Passover] shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast."
1 Corinthians 5:7: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." The Passover, which was supposed to be kept forever, was superseded by Christ, our Passover lamb.
Exodus 21:5-6: "But if the slave plainly says, `I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever." I ask you, does this verse teach that there are people who will be slaves for all eternity?
Exodus 31:17: "It [the Sabbath] is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel." Colossians 2:16-17: "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." I could go on and on, giving quote after quote illustrating the fact that "forever" doesn't always mean forever, but I'm sure you get the picture.
The very existence of Christianity is proof of the temporary nature of things that are said in the Old Testament to be eternal or forever but have been superseded by Christ.
In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament that was used by Our Lord and the Apostles, the words aion and aionios are repeatedly used of things that ceased to exist a long time ago.
Numbers 25:13 says of the Aaronic priesthood that it "shall be a perpetual priesthood."
Deuteronomy 23:3: "No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever." Which is it? To the tenth generation or forever? It sounds as if both terms are used as figures of speech, meaning for a long, long time.
In talking about slaves, Leviticus 25:46 says, "You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever." I ask again, are they going to be slaves for all eternity?
Let us move on to the New Testament, where there are many instances where these words aion and aionios cannot possibly mean forever. My point is that if these words can and must be translated to mean a time of limited duration in many places where they are used in the New Testament, why would anyone want to translate them as "eternal" in the places they are used to speak of the punishment of those who die apart from a saving relationship with Christ?
The teachings of Scripture must be harmonized with each other as much as possible. If a teaching appears to contradict a clear teaching of Scripture, it is probably a false teaching. God's love for sinners and His desire for all mankind to be saved are arguably some of the clearest teachings in all of Scripture. These truths cannot possibly be harmonized with everlasting torment!
Let's look at some of the verses I spoke of where these words cannot mean "eternal," "eternity," "everlasting," or any such thing.
Matthew 12:32: "And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this aion or in the one to come." If the word aion were translated "eternity" in this verse, it would obviously be teaching that there are at least two eternities, which is of course an absurdity because eternity is supposed to encompass all of time, even before time, and when time as we know it no longer exists.
Matthew 13:22: "As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the aion and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." Do the cares of eternity choke the word and make it unfruitful? Of course not. Colossians 3:2 urges us to "set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."
Matthew 13:39: "The harvest is the close of the aion, and the reapers are angels." If aion were translated "eternity" here, it would of course teach the end of all things, even God, if God inhabits eternity and eternity comes to a close.
Luke 1:70: "As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of aionos." Have God's prophets been speaking forever?
In Luke 16:8, where Jesus tells the parable of the unjust steward or manager, He said, "The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this aionios are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light." Is this verse saying that the sons of this eternity are shrewder than the sons of light? Of course not!
Luke 18:29-30: "And he [Jesus] said to them [the twelve disciples], `Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the aioni to come aionion life."' Is Jesus saying, "In the eternity to come you will receive eternal life"? This doesn't make sense because there is not a present eternity and an eternity to come. There can only be one eternity.
Luke 20:34-35: "And Jesus said to them [the Sadducees], 'The sons of this aionos marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that aionos and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."' If this word aionos was translated eternity, it would again be teaching that there are two eternities.
Apart from the verses about the destinies of the saved and the not yet saved, there are many, many more passages I could point out, but I'll cite just a few more.
Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this aioni, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Does this verse teach us not to be conformed to eternity? Of course not! As in all of these passages, the meaning is clear: We are not to be conformed to this age.
I Corinthians 1:20: "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this aionos? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" Is Paul asking, "Where is the debater of this eternity?" Obviously not.
Galatians 1:3-4: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil aionos, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for aionas and aionon." Did Jesus deliver us from this evil eternity, according to the will of God, to whom be glory for eternity and eternity? This is the kind of absurdity that translating these words as eternal, everlasting, etc., leads to. The meaning of these words is clearly "age." The only reason they were ever translated as "everlasting" was to try to prove the blasphemous doctrine of everlasting torment that was invented by the Roman Catholic Church to try to scare people into the Kingdom of God!
Let me state the dilemma clearly. Aion means either "forever" as its necessary, or at least its usual significance, or it doesn't. If it does, the following difficulties arise at once:
1. If aion means an endless period, how can it have a plural?
2. How did such phrases come to be repeatedly occurring in Scripture where aion is added to aion, if aion is of itself infi¬nite?
3. Why does the Scripture speak of the aion or aions and beyond? How can anything be beyond eternity?
4. Why do we repeatedly read of the end of the aion?
5. Finally, if aion is infinite, why is it applied over and over to
things that are finite?
If an aion is not infinite, what right do translators have to trans¬late the adjective aionios, which depends on aion for its meaning, by the terms "eternal" or "everlasting"?
To limit all of God's dealings with people to the narrow span of our earthly existence is to close our eyes to the truer and higher teaching of the Gospel. What does God mean by the many references to "ages" when He speaks in the New Testament of His redeeming plan? Many translators, commentators, and preachers pay no attention to these ages at all. Most translations have so obscured this teaching that it is impossible to see it. Before I started studying this, I had no idea that the same words translated "eternal," "everlasting," "forever," etc., were translated "age" or "ages" in many passages of the New Testament. Is this fair or reasonable? I don't think so, especially when by understanding what they clearly teach we are able to harmonize the terrible threats in God's Word with His clearly expressed purpose to save all mankind.
In these "ages" is revealed the true scope of redemption as a vast plan, extending over many ages, of which our present life is just a very brief part. Through these ages, Christ's redeeming work goes on. Hebrews 13:8 tells us, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and through the ages." God's purpose and plan for the ages is, according to Ephesians 1:9-10, to unite "ALL things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." Then, as 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 tells us,
In Christ shall ALL be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. [How can there be eternal death if death is destroyed?] For "God has put ALL things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.