Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Six)

The “chastening eonian” of the nations

In the previous section, we examined the allotment of the “sheep.” But what will be the fate of the “goats” following the judgment of the nations? In Matthew 25:41-46 we read,

"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."

It must be emphasized that the “fire eonian” of v. 41 is simply a figurative way of referring to the “eonian chastening” referred to in v. 46. That is, the chastening was figuratively described by Christ as “fire,” and not the other way around. The word translated as “chastening” is the Greek word “kolasis,” which means “a pruning.” It comes from the verb “kolazo,” which E.W. Bullinger notes as meaning, “to curtail, dock, prune, but usually like Lat., ‘castigare’ to keep within bounds, check, chastise.”[1] The verb form of kolasis also appears in Acts 4:21 (where the “chastening” in view is likely flogging).

In the context of Matthew 25:31-46, the “chastening eonian” into which the “goats” must go after being judged by Christ will most likely involve their being excluded from the land of Israel for the duration of Christ’s reign, and being under the dominion of the kingdom of Israel. That the eonian lot of the nations during the millennial reign of Christ will involve chastening is clear from Psalm 2:8-9, where we read of God prophetically declaring to his Son, Ask of Me, and I will give the nations as your allotment, and as your holding, the limits of the earth. You shall smash them with a club of iron; like a vessel of a potter, you shall shatter them.We also read in Rev. 19:15, And out of His mouth a sharp blade is issuing, that with it He should be smiting the nations. And He will be shepherding them with an iron club” (compare with Rev. 2:26-27).

The “smashing,” “shattering” and “smiting” of the nations referred to in these verses undoubtedly refers to some degree of chastening. Zechariah 14:16-19 even provides us with a specific example of how Christ will “strike” the nations during the millennial reign: “And it shall come to be that everyone left of all the nations coming against Jerusalem, shall also go up, a quota, year by year, to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to celebrate the celebration of booths." And it comes, whoever will not go up from the families of the earth, to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, then the downpour shall not come on them." And if a family of Egypt shall not go up, and shall not come, then it is not on them; to it shall come the stroke with which Yahweh will strike all the nations, which will not go up to celebrate the celebration of booths." This shall be the sin of Egypt, and the sin of all the nations, that will not go up to celebrate the celebration of booths."

When reading the above passage, it must be kept in mind that the primary recipients of God’s blessings during the eon to come will be Israel. Although the conditions in which human beings will be living during the next eon will, in many ways, be vastly superior to even the best conditions in which people live today, it is still Israel – and not the rest of the world – that will be receiving “special treatment” from God. Unlike Israel, the rest of the nations will not be given “a new heart and a new spirit” by God, to enable them to effortlessly keep God’s law (Ezekiel 36:26). Rather, they will be subservient to Israel and forced to obey God’s precepts (with any disobedience bringing swift and certain retribution). Keeping in mind the definitions of the verb form of kolasis provided by Bullinger which we noted earlier (i.e., “to curtail,” “check” and “to keep within bounds”), the eonian condition of those living outside of the land of Israel during the millennial reign could aptly be described as one of “chastening.” But why is the “chastening eonian” of the nations referred to as “fire eonian” in v. 41?  

In scripture, “fire” (and that which is connected with fire and heat) is sometimes used as a figure for adversity, affliction and trial. In 1 Peter 1:7, the persecution-based affliction by which the faith of the saints was being tested is figuratively referred to as “fire.” And in 4:12, their affliction is referred to as a “conflagration,” which we’re told had become “a trial” to them. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Egypt is referred to as an “iron furnace” or “iron crucible” because of the affliction that Israel suffered there (Deut. 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Jer. 11:4; cf. Ex. 3:7). Similarly, in Isaiah 48:10, Babylon is referred to as “the furnace of affliction” (CLV reads, “the crucible of humiliation”). In Ezekiel 22:18-22, Jerusalem (during the Babylonian siege) is figuratively likened to a “furnace” in which Yahweh blew upon Israel the fire of his indignation, and “melted” her like silver in a furnace. All such fiery imagery refers, again, to a state or place of affliction and trial.

Christ told his disciples that, at the conclusion of the eon (which, again, will take place at Christ’s return), the Son of Mankind will be dispatching his messengers, and they will be severing the wicked from the midst of the just. And they shall be casting them into a furnace of fire. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:49-50; cf. 40-42). The “furnace of fire” referred to here is not a literal furnace with literal fire. Rather, like the figurative uses of “furnace” and “crucible” in the above verses, the “furnace of fire” spoken of by Christ is a figure for a place of adversity and affliction (hence the “lamentation and gnashing of teeth” that will result from being cast there). Christ elsewhere referred to the fate of unbelieving and wicked Israelites at the time of his return as follows: “Now I am saying to you that many from the east and the west shall be arriving and reclining with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, yet the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12). The “sons of the kingdom” here are unfaithful Israelites who will be alive on the earth at the time of Christ’s return.

In Luke’s account we read the following concerning the wicked Israelites who are to be “cast into outer darkness” at the time of Christ’s return: “There there will be lamentation and gnashing of teeth, whenever you should be seeing Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, yet you cast outside.Notice the words, “whenever you should be seeing [them] in the kingdom of God, yet you cast outside.” When we keep in mind that the geographical territory of the “kingdom of God” where “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets” will be enjoying their eonian allotment is the land of Israel, we can conclude that the “outer darkness” and “furnace of fire” in which the unbelieving Israelites will banished (and yet remain able to see those in the kingdom of God) will be outside the land of Israel. These wicked “sons of the kingdom” will, in other words, be banished from the land of Israel and exiled among the nations to be part of that category of humanity that Christ will be “shepherding with an iron club” during the millennial reign. Given this undesirable state of affairs, it’s no wonder there will be “lamentation and gnashing of teeth!”

Made ready for the Adversary and his messengers?

Having considered the meaning of the “fire eonian” and “chastening eonian” of the “goats,” there is one last question that needs to be answered: in what sense is the “fire eonian” (i.e., the chastening eonian) of the nations something that will be “made ready for the Adversary and his messengers?” Many have assumed that these words mean that the “fire” or “chastening” in view is something that will be undergone by the “Adversary and his messengers.” Although the grammar is consistent with this interpretation, I don’t think it is required. According to Martin Zender (with whom I am in agreement on this point), these words refer to the fact that, “after being loosed at the end of the thousand-years,” Satan (“the Adversary”) will “visit these outlying, chastened rebels in order to incite an insurrection, which he will have no trouble doing” (http://martinzender.com/ZWTF/ZWTF5.46.pdf).

The passage to which Martin is referring is Rev. 20:7-9: ”And whenever the thousand years should be finished, Satan will be loosed out of his jail. And he will be coming out to deceive all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to be mobilizing them for battle, their number being as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and surround the citadel of the saints and the beloved city. And fire descended from God out of heaven and devoured them.”

According to this view, then, the “fire eonian” of the “goats” that Christ had in mind (i.e., the “chastening eonian” which the nations must endure during his millennial reign) is not what “the Adversary and his messengers” must also suffer. Rather, it’s something that these wicked spiritual beings will be taking advantage of when they are released from their thousand-year imprisonment.

It may be objected that, in Revelation 20:7-9, only Satan is referred to as going out to deceive all the nations and mobilizing them for battle, while in Matthew 25:41 Christ referred to “the Adversary and his messengers.” There is no contradiction here, however. As I’ve argued elsewhere (see part three of my study on Revelation 12), the “great fiery-red dragon having seven heads and ten horns” that appears in Revelation 12-13 and 20 is referred to by John as “the ancient serpent called Adversary and Satan, who is deceiving the whole inhabited earth” (Rev. 12:9). However, as is the case with the seven-horned, seven-eyed Lambkin (Rev. 5:6-7) and the seven-headed, ten-horned wild beast (Rev. 13:1-2), the fiery-red dragon should be understood as a composite figure that symbolizes not only an individual person (i.e., Satan) but a particular category or group of beings. Thus, when John identified this seven-headed dragon as Satan (and it is this same “dragon” which is imprisoned at the start of the “thousand years”), he was probably using the figure of speech known as metonymy (according to which an element or part of something – usually well-known or easily recognizable - is used to refer to the whole). Understood in this way, it is not Satan alone who is going to be imprisoned (and later released), but his “messengers” as well.

As far as the expression “the four corners of the earth,” this is imagery that must be understood with reference to the land of Israel (which is the "reference point"). In Ezekiel 38:12, Israel is said to be “at the center of the earth” (cf. Isaiah 19:24). Although it might be tempting to understand the expression “four corners of the earth” to refer to the furthest possible distance from Israel, this same expression was used in Isaiah 11:10-12 in reference to nations existing in relatively close proximity to the nation of Israel:  

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

Keeping in mind that Israel is the reference point, the expression “the four corners of the earth” simply refers to those nations that exist to the north, south, east and west of the land of Israel. Thus, when we read of “all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” in Rev. 20:7, we can understand it as referring to all the nations that will exist to the north, south, east and west of Israel during the millennial reign of Christ. Insofar as the “chastening eonian” of these nations can be understood as the condition that Satan will find them in when he goes out to deceive them (and which, it can be reasonably inferred, will make them more easily deceived), this state of affairs can be said to be made ready for the Adversary and his messengers.

Part seven: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-judgment-of-sheep-and-goats-study_18.html



[1] E. W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek Testament, (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd., 1957), p. 612.

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