Matthew 25:41, Kolasis, and The Mediator

(26:19) This phrase eternal fire is used again in Matthew 25:41, where Jesus says he will send those on his left into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. So they will be destroyed, just like Sodom and Gomorrah. He calls this eternal punishment a few verses later, but before you assume that this supports torment forever and ever, consider this. The word rendered punishment refers to a penalty of death in the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 18:30-32, and in 2Maccabees 4:38. The verb form of the word likewise refers to being killed in at least a couple places in the book of Wisdom, and in Maccabees. And in many places in the Bible, the word eternal describes the duration of the result of a verb. Like eternal salvation, and eternal redemption in Hebrews 5:9 and 9:12, respectively.[1]

Before you assume that this is an accurate depiction, consider this. First, we were dealing with a penalty of death in the first place. Why it’s deemed a point to consider that the word in question – κόλασις – is *referring to* a penalty of death is therefore rather unclear. It’s not translated as “a penalty of death,” obviously – because it’s in Greek, the same language as the original word we’re looking at. We’re still looking at a word which means “punishment”, regardless of the referent, or any modifiers it might have. Second, the word is only in Ezekiel 18:30, not in 30-32. Further, it is translating the term מכשול, usually translated as “stumbling block” in your Bibles. For whatever reason, it was rendered “punishment” – or κόλασις – in the LXX, but the reasoning behind that choice is not entirely clear. They do it elsewhere in Ezekiel – especially in Ch. 14. In the passage, they are told that unless they repent, their iniquity (עון) will become (היה) a “stone of stumbling” for them; the “stone of stumbling” is not a punishment – it is identified with their iniquity (עון), not with judgment (שפט) earlier in the verse. So, as we see, this is not helping his case. I’m not going to deal with the other instances, because, frankly, they are not canonical, and they are not even relevant. They still use “punishment” as “punishment” – yes, the punishment meted out was death – but the word still means “punishment”. What the punishment is, is not relevant to the meaning of the word in question. It does not mean death.

So, what about the supposed “duration of a result?” Well, first, let’s return to the context. What he is offering here is that 1) Eternal Fire and 2) Eternal Punishment are describing the duration of the *results* of the respective things being described. Well, what about 3) Eternal Life? Is it being presented that the duration of the results of life continue onward, without respect to the existence of that which has eternal life? I think not. Yet, this is not addressed in his discussion. At all. So, we have to have an abrupt hermeneutical shift with respect to life – where there is a direct and immediate parallel to “punishment” in the same sentence. Further, even if he was correct about κόλασις meaning “death” or “killed” – (and he isn’t) how would that even help him? We don’t dispute that the punishment for sin is death. What we’re disputing is that when he keeps using that word – death – it does not mean what he thinks it means.[2] He keeps assuming a certain meaning for death, but he has no argument (that I can see) for why it does (and must) mean this.

Thus far, in examining his opening statement, he has offered you assertions; 1) That “the second death” in Scripture means “final, irreversible, utter death and destruction of the whole person like that inflicted upon the body in the first death.” 2) An assertion that Jude 7/2 Peter 2 teach this lifelessness (they don’t) and now 3) That Matthew 25 teaches this lifelessness. (It doesn’t – and his arguments here are especially weak indeed.) 3) If the “results” of this continue on – notice he calls it “results”, not “effects” – but nonetheless, they are actions of God being described – then what are they continuing on in regard to? If the persons being punished no longer exist once the punishment is complete – then what is eternal about it? It is without referent, and thus unintelligible.

So, what about his assertions concerning the passages in Hebrews? He does not argue for this, at all, you notice. He just asserts it, and moves on. For an exegetical position, it doesn’t seem to be especially interested in exegeting, does it? Given that there is no argument made, there is no argument to respond to – just the assertion. I really hope he doesn’t use Fudge’s attempts when he is challenged to provide an exegesis, though. Fudge’s attempts, especially on these particular passages, are truly… uninspired. Be that as it may…

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as [we are, yet] without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer [sacrifices] for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but [receives it] when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU”; just as He says also in another [passage], “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.” In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.[3]

I’m not going to treat this fully, of course, but I’m going to make a few notes, and give the exegesis of the verse in question. Note, first of all, what the passage is about. Christ as High Priest. As High Priest, he offered “once for all” (which we will see shortly) the sacrifice for the sins of His people – namely, Himself. However, what does Christ also do, continually? Remember, Hebrews is one continual book, one continual argument against going back to the old ways. Continuing the same argument from this point, we arrive in Hebrews 7, where we see this, in verse 25: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” I’m not going to make a big note out of forever, there – it’s not necessary, and not my point. The point is what Christ is always doing. πάντοτε ζῶν εἰς τὸ ἐντυγχάνειν ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν – always, perpetually, continually – He lives – to – make intercession for them. The same word used of the Spirit in Romans 8:27 – and of Christ, in the same way we see here, in vs. 34. This continual, perpetual intercessory work is His mediatory work as High Priest. He is not only Savior, but Mediator. The Son and Spirit both work in unison to sanctify us, and mediate for us, in light of Christ’s work on our behalf. He is not like the High Priests of old, needed to continually offer up sacrifices. He is ever in the presence of the Father, interceding for us, and in unison with the Spirit, mediating for and working for our sanctification – which is progressive, and ongoing. There is the already, surely – we are justified, sanctified, and all of these other things – right now. There is, however, and it is all too often forgotten, that there is also the not yet of progressive sanctification. The work of the Trinity in the means of grace sanctifies us – and is properly included in the term “salvation”, and is what is in view in the passage cited.

So, what of the second? Well, in 8:1, conveniently, the author tells us what the main point is 🙂

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.[4]

We have a High Priest – He is seated in the true sanctuary, and on the throne in it.

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.[5]

He is indeed the Mediator – but of the better covenant – and as mediator, he is always active in… mediation.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.[6]

Here is the “already” explicitly stated; but just because redemption is accomplished, obtained, and fulfilled does not mean that it does not go on, in the not yet. Christ accomplished redemption for those of all times, and for all of His people – but it is, nonetheless, actively applied and working in us. We cannot have a one-dimensional picture of the work and nature of salvation. We simply cannot. In the same passage, we once again have “eternal” multiple times. “Eternal Spirit”, “Eternal Inheritance” are these merely the “duration of results”? The Spirit, obviously, is eternal of Himself; but don’t think “inheritance” is a recourse here, either – do we not already receive our inheritance, and keep on receiving it, and continue to receive it eternally? In 10:34, we have a “better possession, and a lasting one”. We will yet receive, but we nonetheless have it already. Likewise, in Ch. 10, we “are sanctified”, but we also know we are “being sanctified”. In every case, there is a continued referent for these actions. Those saved, those sanctified and those redeemed. In the case of “those punished”, there is no continued referent for “those punished”, under the annihilationist view, due to the cessation of their existence, so the comparisons being attempted are invalid, and the position remains unintelligible.

So, as we see, it is not the case that there is a mere “duration of the result” – there is that aspect, of course, but that barely scratches the surface of the entirety of the issue – primary to these passages are the active, continual work of the Trinity in salvation/redemption/inheritance – and the continued parallels of punishment and/or fire. To be reductionistic in this fashion is to badly damage a multitude of doctrinal necessities to no good purpose.

  1. [1]Date’s opening statement vs. Hiram Diaz
  2. [2]Yes, this reference is what you think it is :)
  3. [3]Hebrews 4:14-5:10
  4. [4]Hebrews 8:1-2
  5. [5]Hebrews 8:6
  6. [6]Hebrews 9:11-12

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