SOME>> Forever Is Not Forever? You Gotta Be Kidding Me!
ME>> You make an excellent point. I had come to the conclusion that "forever" and "eternal" in the New Testament must not always mean "forever" and "eternal" because the context of grace demands salvation satisfaction even for the unbelieving. And so I concluded that the Holy Spirit used the word "forever" and "eternal" to describe the long, but finite time of punishment in Hades for the unbelieving. I also concluded that if Abraham's faith could reasonably trust that God could "call things that are not, as though they were," then I was not unreasonable to conclude that God could save people from "eternal" punishment in Hell. Furthermore, it is also evident and believed by orthodox Christians that Jesus abolished the "eternal" Old Covenant in his flesh. So I concluded that "eternal" does not always mean "forever" when God is in the picture.
The Lord has, however, recently corrected my understanding. My logic was sound but incomplete. I had already shown that the Hebrew word "olam" does not always mean eternal, but instead it means the duration of the subject in view. Every Hebrew lexicon denotes this fact. Yet without much homework I concluded that the same must be true of the Greek word translated "eternal" in the New Testament, the Greek word "aion." Recently the Lord blessed me through a reunion with John Wesley Hanson's classic 1875 work titled, The Greek Word Aion-Aionios translated Everlasting-Eternal in the Holy Bible Shown to Denote Limited Duration. This classic work is available for free from the U.S. Library of Congress website and also from my own website. This 88-page book is a must read for anyone who agrees or disagrees with my conclusions. There is little point to my adding further to this definitive work. Study this volume for yourself and your faith and understanding of the Bible will be challenged in radically positive ways, if you are willing to let go of all your self-righteousness. Dr. Heleen Keizer has also written a dissertation proving the same titled, Life, Time, Entirety - A Study of Aion in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo. You can read her 315 page dissertation online or an abstract of her conclusions from my website. You might think it is incredulous to claim that "aion" is mistranslated in many Bibles. Unless you are competent in ancient Greek, you may not even know how to verify this for yourself. The NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek in English is an invaluable resource on my shelf. Young's Literal Translation is also a valuable resource.
Read Hanson's work for yourself, but here is my brief review:
1. Hanson and Keizer irrefutably prove that the Greek word "aion" is a synonym to the Hebrew word "olam" and that they both mean "the duration of the subject in view." Thus "aion" can mean the finite duration of a man's life, the finite duration of the Old Covenant, the finite duration of Hades/Hell, the infinite duration of The Lake of Fire, and the infinite duration of God himself.
2. Hanson applies this definition to his interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46 and concludes that the "aion" in view is the Christian age in this world and that unbelievers' lives are punished and destroyed in this life when they reject Christ. However, he concludes that these believers are saved from punishment in the afterlife through grace in spite of their unbelief. This is a common view in many Restorationist Christian circles. They conclude that Hell is the pain suffered in this life by rejecting God's ways. While this view may be attractive at the level of human reason, I find it to be unbiblical and I do not agree with it.
3. I do agree with Hanson's definition of the Greek word "aion," but I currently disagree with his application and interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46. The "eternal fire" mentioned in Matthew 25:41 certainly appears to be the Lake of Fire spoken of in Revelation 20. This is clear because the Devil and his angels are sentenced to this eternal fire. Yet, I also agree with Hanson that no human beings are damned to the Lake of Fire. So what is the explanation? Hanson simply did not see that the Sheep and Goats standing before Christ at the Great White Throne judgment include both human beings and fallen angels. 2 Peter 2 makes it clear that there are both human beings and fallen angels currently imprisoned in Hades and Tartarus. Hades and Thalassa are then emptied of both unbelieving mankind and the imprisoned angels at the Great White Throne judgment as explained in Revelation 20:13 and Matthew 25:31-46. Human beings are saved on the right, while the fallen angels are sentenced to the Lake of Fire on the left. How could the Holy Spirit be more clear when he says, "...prepared for the Devil and his angels." I've explained this more completely in my articles, Matthew 25:31-46 and You are Wrong About Matthew 25:31-46!
4. Hanson also applies this understanding to verses like 2 Thessalonians 1:9. In this case Hanson is certainly correct that Paul is reminding the new Thessalonian believers that the wicked unbelieving humans will punished at Christ's coming judgment. However, we also see in Revelation that those punished in Hades are eventually extracted out.
5. Hanson also makes use of the argument that a God of love would never damn human beings for eternity. This argument makes an attractive appeal, but unfortunately it weakens his primary argument about the meaning of "aion." He weakens his argument because the primary characteristic of God to be praised in the salvation of mankind is not his love, but his grace. If Christ had not atoned for the sins of corrupt mankind, then the justice of God could have damned the entirety of mankind without lessening God's character trait of love in the least. The perfect love of God within the Trinity would continue on eternally without flaw. We may find it hard to swallow, even as Christians, but we are utterly corrupt in sin and deserve damnation. God would be just to damn us without being unloving at all, that is if Christ had not died. In fact Satan and his demonic followers are people too, yet they will be sentenced to the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages. However, there is a new justice in town. Christ has freely, without condition, chosen to love all mankind. Christ has atoned for the sins of all mankind; therefore, his grace now demands the salvation of those atoned. One whose sins are paid for absolutely cannot be eternally damned. Never! If the wrath of God is appeased, who then remains to condemn? Friend, who can possibly condemn? No one! That is the rock Christians stand on -- the loving grace of God. However, the unbelieving elect do not yet stand on or live by God's love. They are un-believing! But one day, sooner or later, God will touch his finger of grace to their hearts as well. Why wait? Why suffer? Why burn in Hades to the very brink of the Lake of Fire before believing that the grace of God has already made it impossible for you to be damned or ever be separated from the love of God your Heavenly Father? Believe!
6. Hanson also cites proofs that universal salvation was commonly accepted in the early centuries of the church and that it was not until A.D. 544 that this understanding was condemned and anathematized as heretical. This would be a worthy study to verify. Obviously I already believe that this was the Apostolic view.
Finally, I had suggested that understanding the Holy Spirit's use of "eternal" as "limited duration" required the faith of Abraham to "call things that are not, as though they were." However, I was wrong about this and again apologize for my haste. I have corrected this in the book. Absolutely, no irrational or miraculous "leap of faith" is required at all because the Greek word "aion" is often mistranslated as "eternal" and "forever" when it should be translated as "age", "eon", or "complete." Hanson could have even further supported his conclusion by pointing out that the etymology of our modern word "eon" points directly back to "aion." So unbelieving humans will most certainly spend an eon in Hades, but an eon is not forever and has a beginning... and an end. Hades will be emptied of all souls and then Hades itself will be tossed into the Lake of Fire, emptied of all souls, never needed again for all eternity.
A shorter explanation of the meaning of "aion" can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeon. However, it should be noted that though Hanson's work is definitive for me, it is not definitive for everyone. For example at http://carm.org/what-do-greek-dictionaries-say-about-aionion Matt Slick argues that Restorationists are completely wrong to suggest that the word "aion" can refer to anything less than eternal. However, on his one page argument, Denotation #3 reads as follows, "describes duration, either undefined but not endless."
Have those who persist in rejecting my thesis truly been to the foot of the cross? Have they seen their religious hypocrisy terribly exposed and completed cleansed by the blood of Christ? Have you received grace?