So much has been written on the subject of the Greek word Aionios, usually translatedEternal, or Everlasting, especially by those who believe in Universal Reconciliation. Not all of their writings have been convincing. Neither have mine. The subject is fraught with difficulty, and we all have to appreciate the difficulties involved. In this writing I should like to take a new thrust at the subject, hoping it will prove helpful.
In Standard 10 I said that the Coats of Skin that God made for Adam and Eve were the best possible proof that God intended, right from creation, to redeem all His human family, even if it proved to be a long drawn out process. In our privileged temporal position of being able to look back over about 6,000 years of human history, we are able to understand some of God’s plan, certainly more successfully than those who lived in Jesus’ day. However, problems still exist. But I gave a warning to those who tried to tackle Universalism from the particular rather than the general. Here is a case in point, with the word Aionios. Any attempt to nail down the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation from a study of this word is likely to fail, mainly because of the difficulty in finding a foolproof translation of the word. So, if there is difficulty with the etymology, let’s find another way to tackle the problem.
First of all, a word about the Kingdom of God, to set the scene. In evangelical circles one often hears this expression used as though the Kingdom was in existence now. But even a casual reading of the Gospels, and indeed, Paul’s letters, should show that the Kingdom ofGod is still future. Therefore to refer to someone’s preaching as a means of “extending theKingdom of God” is anachronistic. We still need to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is palpably obvious that God’s will is not being done on earth, in the sense that Jesus meant when He formulated that prayer. Do not our hearts fail us as wickedness and lawlessness grow at an escalating rate around us in the world, as we cry out for Divine Intervention, in other words to see our Lord enthroned over the nations, with the advent of righteous government, in other words, His Kingdom on Earth?
The Gospels contain many parables on the Kingdom, and a careful study of these brings out one very powerful conclusion. There is to be a point in time when God will set up His Kingdom, and a Judgment scene takes place. In that Judgment scene many people will find themselves left outside, where they will weep, wail, and gnash their teeth. Jesus refers to this “outside” region as Outer Darkness, or Eternal Fire. One reads, for example, of a man being “cut asunder”, meaning that his hopes are utterly dashed from what he expected. Another man is bound hand and foot and thrown into darkness. The language used is strikingly severe.
Why is this? It would appear that the Millennial Kingdom of our Lord is a time when God makes a radical separation between peoples, and even those who had oil in their lamps, and were waiting for their Lord, but were not sufficiently ready, were excluded. And those who were labelled “goats” were ushered away into “Eternal Punishment”, to a place designed for the Devil and his angels. The language used is frightening. Should one gather together all the parables of the Kingdom, and try to piece together a scenario of the future, he will find a certain trembling within, coupled with a new desire to be amongst those called “sheep”, or “wise virgins”. The Lord’s insistent words about “watching, waiting, and praying” then produce a new and purified lifestyle of constant readiness.
The Millennial Kingdom must therefore be a very special time. Based on the seven days of creation, this will be the Lord’s own Day of Rest, a time He has set apart for the world, where goodness, righteousness, peace and justice will be required and enforced world-wide, and all forms of injustice and evil restrained. This is why we read that the Devil is bound for the thousand years. God will not have anyone or anything in His special Millennium to spoil His own Rest Day.
There has been a reason for saying all this about the Kingdom. We are beginning to see that certain NT words are used to describe that time which have a superlative, even hyperbolic air about them. To put it in a nutshell, we are suggesting the oft-used expression “Eternal Life” should be thought of as “Millennial Life”, the wonderful privilege to be on the earth during Christ’s Millennial Reign. This would be Life with a capital L, a Privilege of Privileges.
However, some will immediately have a problem with this based on that troublesome verse at the end of the parable of the sheep and goats, where the sheep are given “Eternal Life”, and the goats suffer “Eternal Punishment”. We are told that the word Aionios must mean the same for both, and we wholeheartedly agree. We are then told that if Eternal Life ends at the close of the Millennium, that’s a pretty poor show, when we expect Life to go on for ever. We are accused of trying to make the fate of the goats “more tolerable” by bad exegesis. But all this misses the point.
Those who have the privilege of Life in the Millennium are spoken of in Revelation chapter 20. They partake of the “first resurrection”, and therefore even if the Millennium ends, they will still be “alive”, and for always. The resurrection state is defined as immortality, a word meaning deathlessness. However, it becomes a distinct possibility that the goats will have served and completed their sentence through the thousand years, and will then be able to receive forgiveness based on repentance. They will be tested under conditions similar to those which obtain today, because the Devil has been released, and he prepares once again to deceive people according to the twisted nature he still possesses. All this is summed up in just a few Scriptural words, and we dare not make a definitive future history as though we were in possession of many other facts. But nevertheless the bare bones of this future scene have been spelled out prophetically, and enable us to catch a glimpse of God’s on-going work towards His wayward people.
Try substituting the word “Millennial” for “Eternal” and see how it helps to understand the gravity of the situation concerning Christ’s Kingdom, both the stringent conditions applied to those worthy to enjoy it, and the terrible disappointment for those who have not taken their Lord seriously. Now let’s substitute this into the text of Matthew 25.
“He shall say to those on His left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed ones, into Millennial Fire, which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels.'” (Matt.25:41) “These [goats] shall go away into Millennial punishment.” (25:46)
Putting these two statements together we find that the “fire” is defined as “punishment”. God’s fire is all-consuming, but it never destroys people, only that which is evil and wicked. Hence the “goats” will experience a thousand years of purgatorial punishment. They will go into that “region” which is described as the Abyss in Revelation 20:1, but a Prison in 20:7. Hence the Devil and the goats will be excluded from God’s Kingdom during the Millennium, but released afterwards. That seems to be the overall pattern, which no doubt will have its internal structure spelled out in greater detail when the times comes.
Now let’s have a look at Luke 18:29-30. The disciples asked the Lord what they would have in His Kingdom. “Truly I say to you that no one who has left house, wife, brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God, shall not receive many times over in this season, and in the Age to come, Eternal Life.”
Our interest is in the final expression. The Greek reads as follows – “in the Aion to come, Life Aionios“. In other words, Jesus was saying to them, “In the Age to come [the Millennial Age], you will receive Life appropriate to that Age, [Millennial Life].” In the Age to come, Age-Life. The concept of “everlasting”, or “eternal” simply isn’t in the mind of the Speaker. Jesus was referring to the Millennial Kingdom, and those who would enjoy its great benefits because they had made supreme sacrifices in this age in order to be accounted worthy.
It would be true to say that the Bible hardly ever, if at all, uses the concept of Infinite Time. In the OT the Scriptures are all based on the fact that God created the world and the Universe, and so there was a “starting point” for time. Einstein’s General Theory tells us that time only exists when matter exists. This should help modern scientists who are believers to eradicate the concept of infinite time in the past. As for the future, prophetic Scriptures all speak of a Golden Age of Messianic Rule, beyond which little is said. In fact as far as I know, the only Scripture which speaks about future events beyond this MillennialKingdom is Revelation 20, where the Devil is released for a “little season”. Nothing is said about time beyond that.
What we do have is something far more solid to hold onto. In 1 Cor.15:53 Paul tells us that in resurrection, when we have our new bodies, “Corruption shall put on incorruption, and mortality shall put on immortality.” As I said before, “immortality” means “deathlessness”. Forget about the time factor. The important thing to hold onto is deathlessness. We shall never again die, but live with Christ. May God be praised for such a stabilising revelation.
There are several words in the Bible which speak about time. First of all comesCHRONOS, the usual word for time, then KAIROS, which speaks about a “season”. The season is a period of time during which certain things are appropriate and ready, for example when fruit is ripe, corn is ready for harvesting, and so on. Then comes GENEA, usually translated “generation”. This may be considered as about 40 years. Finally there is AION, which was often used in Classical Greek to indicate a century, because after 100 years the whole population of the earth has changed. However, the meaning expanded to represent a greater “season” than KAIROS, a period of time during which kingdoms, politics, and other expansive processes occurred. For example, in Biblical times, the word was used to describe the ante-diluvian age, the patriarchal age, the age of the judges, and the kingdom age. In the NT it is used to describe “the then present age”, and as we have seen it focuses heavily on “the coming age”, the great age that was prophesied, hoped for, dreamed about, expected, and which Revelation 20 finally reveals is to be for 1,000 years, the “Millennial Age”. Hence these four words sum up all that can be gleaned about “time” in the Bible. When this is properly understood, expressions like Psalm 90:2, which reads“From everlasting to everlasting You are God,” should be understood to mean “From age to age You are God.” There is nothing in the Hebrew words to warrant the idea of infinite time, looking backwards and forwards. Moses was saying that “The Lord has been our dwelling place in generation after generation,” and therefore He is the ever-present God who rules over the affairs of man.
We must now return to the subject of the Kingdom and “Millennial Life”. In John 3:17 Jesus said, “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Isn’t that a marvellous, and most comprehensive statement? No matter how long it takes, and no matter how severe will be the punishments meted out to the most vile of sinners, in the end God will achieve that which we read in this verse. And even if along the way we find that “He who believes not is condemned already,” (verse 18) we know that it speaks of a process, and not a finality.
Rather than making this writing burdensome in length, we would encourage our readers to look up every reference to “everlasting” in a concordance, and see what happens to the understanding by replacing it with “Millennial Life”. Having brushed some of the dust from the theological shelves, the future then takes on quite a different flavour!
(For those who do not have facilities to pursue this study as suggested, here are the NT references to the word AIONIOS, which is not always translated eternal, or everlasting.Matthew.18:8, 19:16,29, 25:41,46, Mark.3:29, 10:17,30, Luke 10:25, 16:9, 18:18,30, John3:15,16,36, 4:14,36, 5:24,39, 6:27,40,47,54,68, 10:28, 12:25,50, 17:2, 3, Acts 13:46,48,Romans.2:7, 5:21, 6:22,23, 16:25, 26, 2 Corinthians.4:17,18, 5:1, Galatians.6:8, 2 Thessalonians.1:9, 2:16, 1 Timothy.1:16, 6:12,16,19, 2 Timothy. 1:9, 2:10 Titus 1:2, 3:7,Philemon 15, Hebrews. 5:9, 6:2, 9:12, 14,15, 13:20, 1 Peter 5:10, 2 Peter 1:11, 1 John1:2, 2:25, 3:15, 5:11,13,20, Jude 7,21, Revelation. 14:6)