PUNISHMENT AND JUDGMENT
Our next enquiry is as to the meaning of this word. It is a good translation of the Greek word which it represents, and ordinarily is clearly understood. The prisoner who is imprisoned for a term of say, "seven years" has to undergo "seven years punishment", and such an one would surely understand correctly the plain English expression "eternal punishment" for like as his punishment on earth is for a term of seven years, so the punishment referred to in Matthew 25.46, is forever. He would not quibble, as some have, that "eternal punishment" does not mean "eternal punishing".
It has been asserted by those who teach "annihilation" that when a sinner dies he ceases to be. This annihilation of his being, it is claimed, is tantamount to "eternal punishment". But were this so, surely it would be called "summary punishment" or some such equivalent term. Certainly, the term "eternal punishment" would be misleading. On this reasoning, "eternal punishment" is inflicted on the murderer who goes to the gallows, or on the ox which is destroyed because of its goring a man.
But the fact is that the Greek word here translated "punishment" denotes a process, and would equally well be rendered by the English word "punishing", for what the Lord Jesus affirms is that the wicked go away into an endless term of conscious punishing.
This same word occurs in 1 John 4.18, translated by the word "torment" in the phrase, "fear hath torment". Another has written, "The use of it here is conclusive; it cannot bear any rendering other than that given. The torment of fear is intensely real, and implies of necessity consciousness in its fullest sense". And again, "It would be perfectly allowable therefore to render Matthew 25.46, as in 1 John 4.18: "these shall go away into everlasting torment".
These are the only two places where this Greek word kolasis occurs, though its cognate verb occurs in Acts 4.21 in a corporeal sense, where the meaning is plain. If, then, the meaning of the word is clear here, why seek to confuse its meaning in Matthew 25.46 and 1 John 4.18, unless it be that the doctrine is found unpalatable and there is no sense of salvation therefrom possessed?
Trench, speaking on kolasis in his "Synonyms" writes: "The kolasis ainios (everlasting punishment) of Matthew 25.46 as it plainly itself declares is no corrective and therefore temporary discipline; it can be no other than endless punishment; with which the Lord elsewhere threatens finally impenitent men; for in proof that kolasis had acquired in Hellenistic Greek this severer sense, and was used simply as punishment, or torment with no necessary underthought of the bettering through it of him who endured it, we have only to refer to such passages as the following" (and here he enumerates quotations from classical Greek). So far, therefore, we gather that the term "eternal punishment" means "punishing which never ceases".
Next we have to consider the word judgment found in Hebrews 6. 2. It is a word which suggests many questions e.g. Who is the judge?; Who are they who are judged?; What, is the crime, or what are the crimes which form the subject of judgment?; What is the verdict?; What is the punishment?
He is clearly God Himself. Abraham called Him the "Judge of all the earth" (Gen 18.25) Solomon says it is He who "shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil" (Eccl 12.14). It is He with whom the writer to the Hebrews says "we have to do" (Heb 4.13), or otherwise read, "to whom we have to give account." The whole tenor of Scripture makes it plain that God will judge.
Man has disputed the justice of this, asserting that his difficulties can only be appreciated by one who himself has trodden the same path, and therefore he ought to be judged by a man. For this reason God has designed that all judgment is to be given to His Son (Jn 5.22) because He is Son of Man (Jn 5.27), and that He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world by that Man whom He has ordained (Acts 17.31). Man will thus be deprived of any alleged ground of complaint. He will be judged by a Man who by His life here has shown what mans life should be.
Who are these that are judged?
It is not our purpose to broaden the issue by speaking of the final doom of Satan nor of the judgment of angels, in which saints are to take part. But concisely answered, those who are to be judged are unbelievers, amongst others (see Rev 21.8). The believer in the Lord Jesus has total exemption from judgment. John 5.24 asserts that he will not stand in the dock for trial; Romans 8.1 that there is no judgment awaiting him after death; and 1 John 4.17 that "as he is, so are we in this world". The Lord Jesus is on the resurrection side of divine judgment, it being all past for Him: and the believer is in a like case. But the one who has heard the gospel, and refused to believe it, is in the list of those who, being judged, will be eternally punished in the lake of fire.
We speak not here of those who have not heard of the name of Christ. They are responsible to God for the witness they have in creation and conscience. The Judge of all the earth will do right in their case. But those whose opportunities have been greater, and whose responsibilities are therefore proportionately increased, will have to endure proportionately increased punishment.
It has sometimes been said that men and women will not be judged for their deeds, but will be judged for rejecting Gods Son. Now this needs to be modified, as it does not accord with Scripture. Time and again we read that man will be judged "according to his works". See in particular Revelation 20.12-13. Again Jude v.15 speaks of "all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches" which will form subject matter for judgment. Man has to give account of every idle word spoken and wrong deed done. It is true that of all things done by man, the rejection of Gods Son is the most serious, for it is not only the greatest insult man could give God; but it is also the greatest injury man can do himself. But this, though the gravest, is but one of a long series of grave charges which are brought against the unbelieving sinner. That "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl 12.14) is the answer to our third question.
The result of this judgment is, to use legal phraseology, that a conviction is obtained. The person is not charged and condemned merely, but he is charged, convicted of the justice of both charges made and punishment about to meted out, and is then condemned. From another point of view "he is condemned already" (Jn 3.18), but we here refer to the ultimate issue of the Great White Throne.
It has been rare, but not altogether unknown, for the innocent to be charged, condemned, and imprisoned. Such cases have occurred in this country. When justice was done, the prisoners were released and compensated. Such a prisoner must have held in his bosom all through the trial and punishment the conviction that he was right, and his accusers and punishers were wrong. They might charge, try, and punish him; but never could they convict him, seeing his conscience testified within to his own innocence. But such a case cannot occur at the Great White Throne, for then God will judge through His Righteous Son, and the issue will be that all will be convicted (convinced) of their guilt. Jude v.15 asserts this fact; the Lord will come "To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of their ungodly deeds". None will ever hold it in his breast that God is wrong, that he is right, and that he does not deserve what he is experiencing.
To be continued.