Sometime ago I received a post on my e-mail that challenged my understanding of the Bible’s teaching about “forever” and “everlasting” with regard to the fate of the righteous and the unrighteous human beings. Like many, I have accepted the belief that God’s reward for the righteous in Jesus Christ [those who believe in Him] is “everlasting life”— life without end. God promises this in the famous and well-loved Bible verse John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV).
The challenge went on to say that there’s actually “no forever” in the Bible! And the supposed proof of this is the “proper” understanding of the meaning of the original Greek word for “everlasting” – the word aion [pronounced, according to an online Bible Concordance, as a-hee-ohn’]. It simply means “age” or an indefinite period of time. That, actually, is where the similar-sounding English word “eon” is derived from. Evolutionists and paleontologists have used the word “eon” or “eons” to denote the supposed long period of time or “ages” – numbering in the thousands, even millions and billions, of years — it took for various life forms on earth to have “evolved.” Who hasn’t heard about the “Jurassic Age?”
The issue of evolution is another matter that we will not concern ourselves with here. But for those who wish to know the stand of most Christians on evolution versus creation, see this link: https://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets,” and scroll down to the booklets titled, “A Theory for the Birds” and “A Whale of a Tale.”]
The word aion is rendered by most Bible concordances and dictionaries as “ever,” “always,” “perpetual. ” The original Hebrew equivalent, olam, is similarly rendered. Thus, “aion” or olam can both be used either as the noun “age”[“eon”] nor the adverb “ever,” “always,” etc.
But adherents to this alternative understanding of “everlasting” propose that the word simply means “age-lasting.” Thus, the implication is that there is nothing permanent or perpetual about it; it lasts only for an age, and when it’s over, another — a different — age will take over.
Such adherents may concede that there is “everlasting” life as a reward for the righteous in Christ, but they submit that the punishment for the wicked in the “lake of fire” or the “second death” (Revelation 21:8) will last only for an aion or an age – not in perpetuity or for all eternity.
The case for everlasting life as endless or immortal
There is no Bible basis for the assertion that the “everlasting life” that God promises the true believer in Christ is not “forever” or for all time or for all eternity. Several Scripture passages assure us that the reward of the saved is life without end – forever!
- Philippians 3:20-21 — “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself.”
- 1 John 3:2 – “Beloved, we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed [at Christ’s return], we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as He is.” As the heavenly High Priest Melchizedek, Jesus has “neither beginning of life nor end of days” and has “the power of an endless life” (Hebrews 7:3, 16). [ see: The Mystery of Melchizedek Unlocked!]
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 — “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [remain dead], but we[those in Christ] shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet [at Christ’s return]. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead [in Christ, see 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18] will be raised incorruptible [Greek, aphthartos, meaning “undecaying”], and this mortal must put on immortality [Greek, athanasia, meaning “deathlessness”], then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
- Revelation 22:14 – “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life [compare with Genesis 3:22] and enter through the gates into the city [the “New Jerusalem” (21:2]). [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
The rationale for such a belief in the punishment of the wicked being only temporary and not final is the understanding that several Bible passages declare that God wills and desires all men (and women) to be saved. For example:
- “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:3-4).
- “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
- “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).
At first glance the above and other Bible verses appear to substantiate the belief of some in the salvation of all – that is, every single individual human being, no one ever excluded. But when we consider the testimony and The Whole Counsel of God in the Bible, however, we will find that there will be some who will not be saved but will be destroyed in the “lake of fire” or the “second death” (Revelation 21:8, etc.). I will discuss more on the issue in a separate article. [Watch for: The Universalism (“All Saved”) Issue.]
Punishment for the wicked not ultimate or final?
The argument for the proposition that the fate of the wicked is not final or ultimate rests on the above quoted and other Scripture passages. However, let us examine what other Bible passages declare about God’s judgment on the wicked – especially after God will have given each individual human being his or her fair chance to be saved. [See: This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
- Psalm 9:5 – “You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked, You have blotted their name forever and ever [Hebrew, olam]. The reference to “blotting their name” cannot but mean removal from The Book of Life. As the just referenced article explains, that Book of Life records both the physical life and the everlasting life granted to a person. One’s name being removed or blotted out from that book will leave no memory or trace whatsoever of the person. It’s as if he or she had never been born. They will have no hope of being made alive again, ever!
- Romans 9:28 — “For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality” (NIV). This verse is quoted from Isaiah 10:22-23, “…the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. For The Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of the land” (KJV). The key words are “decreed” and “determined.” They imply great intent and determined enforcement.
How long will it take to destroy the wicked?
To say that the punishment of the wicked in the “lake of fire” will take an “aion” or an “age” – lasting for thousands or more years – is to underestimate the speed with which God will punish the wicked.
When He returns to judge the earth, Jesus will pour out plagues upon Satan’s main “agent” on earth today – spiritual “Babylon”( Revelation 18:1-8). Verse 10 declares: “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.” Verse 19 echoes this — “For in one hour she is made desolate .”
The judgment on Babylon will be short and final, as Verse 21 declares: “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.’” Psalm 9:6 resonates this when it says that the cities of God’s enemy [such as Babylon is] will be overtaken with “ruin,” will be “uprooted,” and the memory of them will perish.
2 Peter 3:7 declares – “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word [of God, Verse 5], are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Verses 10-12 go on to describe such intense fire (“fervent heat”) as will melt or dissolve all the elements of both the heavens and the earth .
That fervent heat will destroy all the wicked in a matter of hours or days at most! It certainly won’t take an “aion!” The fiery heat will not last forever — only as long as there is something combustible to burn. What will be for “aion” – in the sense of “forever,” “always” and “for perpetuity” or “for eternity” — is the effect of such destruction. The wicked will be destroyed forever. My aforementioned article on The Universalism (“All Saved”) Issue will explain more about this.
What, rather, to fuss about
If there’s something of more value to fuss about than a skewed understanding of “aion,” it should be how we, as Christians, are to prepare ourselves to “meet” the Lord at His return (Amos 4:12). As Jesus exhorts: “Therefore you also be ready, for the son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
The apostle Peter also exhorts: “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, being on fire, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God….to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-12, 14). Also instructive is his exhortation, in 2 Peter 1:5-15, about making “our election sure.”. [See: “I Never Knew You!” Being and Doing, Saved for Good Works, and “Be Holy for I Am Holy.”]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.