Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, May 6, 2007
"And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16).
An e-mail from one of our friends who lives "across the pond" sparked today's writing. She had read John Gavazzoni's piece called "Indwelling," which prompted her to write, "I have a different problem which no doubt others have mentioned. If God is going to save everyone, who are the goats? When Jesus comes back he is going to judge everyone and separate them into sheep and goats. I always thought that the goats would be sent to hell, whereas the sheep would inherit the earth (heaven). Similar in the Old Testament to sending the goat into the wilderness (scapegoat). I thought the goats were those who did not, and would not, accept Christ's sacrifice for them. If people believe that everyone is going to be saved anyway, they could become complacent. Why should they worry? It will be all right in the end! So who are the goats?" End Quote.
Her question comes from Matt. 25: 31-46, which is an eschatological story or parable about Jesus coming in glory, at which time, "He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left." As the account proceeds, those on the right (the sheep) hear, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world" (Vs .34). Those on His left (the goats) hear, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Vs .41). These verses belong to what I call the "scary scriptures" category.
Let me mention a couple of points that strike me about this story. Under the Law, a man might offer his sacrifice to the Lord from either the sheep or the goats, because they both were clean animals (See Ex. 12:5; Lev. 1:10; 22:19). When we were in Israel in 2005, I asked Yossi, our Israeli guide why he thought the sheep were considered "good" and goats "bad." He said that sheep by nature are more compliant, easier to herd, more willing to follow the shepherd, whereas goats are harder to control, having a tendency to run off on their own.
It's interesting to me that Jesus' criteria for putting some on the right and others on the left had nothing to do with theology or doctrine, so beloved of denominations today, but only with how they responded to those in need. He said to both groups, "Whatever you did (or did not do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Vs. 40, 45). This may have been a slap in the face to the Pharisees, whose service to the Lord was mostly to earn bragging rights, or it may have been a way for Christ to emphasize the "new commandment" which He gave His disciples. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34; II John 1:5). Love involves helping others as God leads.
Please note that "the eternal fire" was created for the devil and his angels, not people, but from passages like this, came the persistent teaching that hellfire and damnation lasts forever and ever. According to Strong's concordance, the word "eternal" comes from the Greek word "aionios": usually translated "perpetual, eternal, for ever, everlasting." Aionios is an adjective, which takes its meaning in part from the noun it modifies. In this verse, the adjective modifies God: "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27). And so in this case, translating the adjective "forever" would be correct because God IS eternal or for ever. If the noun is not eternal, then the adjective cannot be translated as forever. Here's an example: "I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in for ever" (II Chron. 6:2). Clearly, Solomon's gold slathered temple did not last for ever and ever, for King Nebuchadnezzar burned it to the ground in 586 B.C.
Likewise, in Ex. 15:18, we learn that "The LORD will reign for ever and ever." That's certainly true as He is still reigning, but Ex. 12:14, declares about the Passover Feast, "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever." That is definitely NOT true, as the Passover was part of the Law, which Paul said was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14) and the Hebrew writer declared that the first covenant (the Law) is "obsolete and growing old... ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13).
Benjamin Wilson is the author of The Emphatic Diaglott, an interlinear, word by word translation of the New Testament from the Greek. Among the translation errors he rectifies, are the words "Gehenna," translated as "hell" (a physical location in Jerusalem in Jesus' day, not an eternal destination), and "aionios," translated "eternal" or "for ever" (age-lasting). Here's the word by word Diaglott translation of Matt. 25:46: "And shall go away these into a cutting-off age lasting; the and just ones into life age lasting." The syntax is awkward, so next to it, is an interlinear version: "And these shall go forth to the aionian cutting-off; but the righteous to aionian life." Notice that the impact of the verse changes dramatically when you consider that the fire to which the goats were consigned is neither eternal, nor forever, but age-lasting. When researching this piece, I was delighted to discover that Jonathan Mitchell had completed his translation of Matt. 25. Here's how he translated verses 32 and 33:
32. "And next, all the ethnic multitudes (or: nations; people groups) will be collected and gathered together in front of Him, and then He will mark off boundaries and separate them from one another, just as the shepherd is habitually separating [as in separate pens or groups] the sheep away from the kids (the immature goats). [note: both groups are clean animals, were used in sacrifices, and are a part of the shepherd's herd]
33. "And so, He will make the sheep, on the one hand, to stand at [places to] His right, yet on the other hand, the kids (immature goats) at [places to His] left." In Jonathan's translation, you don't see the goats as particularly sinful, but merely immature. Now, look at the way he translates verse 46:
46. "And so, these folks will be going off into an eonian pruning (a lopping-off which lasts for an undetermined length of time; an age-lasting correction; a pruning which has its source and character in the Age), yet the fair and just folks who are in right relationship and are in accord with the Way pointed out [go off] into eonian life (life which has it source and character in the Age; life pertaining to the Age).
Jonathan shared a writing with us in which he compared the pruning of the kids (the goats) to the branches in Jesus' metaphor (John 15:2,6), which were lopped off and cast into the fire. He wrote: "This seems quite similar to the figure of the kids being sent from Him "into the fire eonian" in Matt. 25:41." Regarding Paul's natural olive "branch" metaphor in Rom. 11:17, which the Apostle says were broken off so the "wild olive branches" (the Gentiles) could be grafted in, Jonathan asks, "What happens to a bough when it is broken out of a tree? It withers, doesn't it? Is it true, then, that these too are being gathered into the fire and are being burned? Has this not happened, both literally and figuratively, to the Jews throughout history ever since? But the hope is found in Vs. 23, "Now they also, if they should not be persisting in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again!" I suggest that this same principle applies to the kids that are pruned in Matt. 25:46." End Quote.
Are you beginning to see a different picture than the one painted by preachers over the centuries? Since "aionios" does not mean "eternal" or "for ever," but an undetermined length of time, whoever the goats are and whatever their judgment actually is, it is NOT forever.
Jesus used sheep a lot in His teachings, because the Jews understood sheep and shepherds. He said of Himself that he came to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24), which tells us who the sheep are. It follows then that the goats are the Gentiles, those outside the covenant God made with Israel. In Bible terminology, there are only two kinds of people: the righteous (Jews) and the unrighteous (Gentiles). Since Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk. 5:32), He would always be wherever the goats are. We know that from Peter's astonishing revelation about where Jesus went after He died: "Remember that Christ the just suffered, for us the unjust, to bring us to God. That meant the death of his body, but he was brought to life again in the spirit. It was in the spirit that he went and preached to the imprisoned souls of those who had been disobedient in the days of Noah, the days of God's great patience during the period of the building of the ark, in which eventually only eight souls were saved from the water" (I Pet. 3:18-20). Christ didn't go to the righteous dead, but to the unrighteous ones. He came to save sinners, and if the goats are a symbol of sinners, there would He be in their midst. His dedication to sinners constipated the Pharisees and probably has the same effect on some Christians, but Christ came to seek and to save the LOST.
When our eyes and hearts are opened to see it, the glorious revelation of God's ultimate salvation of all floods our souls, and we rejoice that no one is going to burn in Gehenna for ever. [For those who have not yet seen this, there are a couple links at the end to fascinating studies on the subject]. There are those who believe that perhaps the age-lasting part refers to a short stay in hell, after which the person will be pardoned. I used to give that head room, but I no longer do, because of the Apostle John's statement that when we see Him as He is, we shall be like Him (I John 3:2). When we are ushered into His presence, the fire of His glory will finish burning off all any remaining dross and we will be bright with His Light and covered with His glory. If anyone has to stay in Hell, then Christ is NOT the savior of the whole world, as scripture says He is (I Tim. 4:10).
The answer to our friend's concern that knowing everyone will be saved may make some people complacent, is probably why many church folks get so upset at hearing it, but in reality, since it is Christ's responsibility to present us holy and blameless to Himself without spot or wrinkle, then we don't have to worry about it (Eph. 5:27). The doctrine of endless punishment has been around since the church brought in the pagans and allowed them to bring their ideas with them (Christmas, Easter, hell, and reincarnation). If being scared to death would lead people to a sinless life, there would be no wars, no murders, no fornication, no theft, no addictions, no divorce or child abuse. Anyone with eyes to see can tell that this doctrine, though admittedly good for church business, is death to the human soul.
On the other hand, knowing that God loves us unconditionally, has forgiven us all our sins, and has made provision in Christ for every thing we need, causes us to fall in love with Him so deeply that we do not want to sin. If you think living in sin is fun, fantastic, though often fatal, just look at the Hollywood crowd. They disobey all 613 tenets of the Law, and some Moses may not even have known about. Are they having fun? Not in the long haul. When they sober up, they are waist deep in depression, delusion, and disappointment, as is anyone without Christ.
What about missionaries, who spend their lives living in deprivation to bring the gospel of Christ to those walking in darkness. Would they all come home if they knew everyone is going to be saved anyway? I don't think so, because they are called by God to shed His love abroad by the Holy Spirit. When Christ sits on the throne of our lives, He provides peace, joy, and triumph over life's problems, the "Gehennas" of this life, and no one would deprive someone of that any more than we'd withhold antivenom from a snake bite victim. Christ gives grace for this life, and my long held opinion is that pastors, preachers and evangelists who tell people that God loves them unconditionally and is ready to change their lives from the inside out, would have a lot more converts than they do when they threaten them with eternal hell if they don't repent. I imagine that when world hears that deamnable doctrine they think, "If God is really as angry and as punitive as you say He is, I want nothing to do with Him." What has been preached so far cannot be considered the power of God at work.
In answer to our friend's question, "Who are the goats?" I believe that they are all those who don't know Christ, the Gentiles. They are those who have not been born from above in order to see and enter the kingdom of heaven now. Since Jesus said He will leave the 99 and go after even one who is lost, I rejoice to say that the goats are only temporarily out of the kingdom. For in the end, there will only be one flock and one shepherd, and all will know as they are known. The Light of the world will fill the inhabitants thereof until the glory of the Lord is revealed to all flesh, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. Then will be fulfilled in our flesh, Isaiah's glorious prophecy, "Arise, shine, for thy light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee" (Isa. 60:1).
Father, we live in exciting times when we see Your handiwork about to be brought to fruition in Your children. We worship and adore you, and with all the angels fallen down before You, we cry, "Holy, Holy is the Lord and the Lamb who was slain for all." Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Primrose Path to Gehenna by Jan Antonsson
"Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment."
by Thomas Thayer
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 04/30/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/23/07.