Your Thoughts on Matthews Meaning of 'Aionian Fire?'

QUESTION>> [How do you explain] the connection between the eonian fire prepared for the devil and his angels and the eonian fire of Gehenna (the same Aramaic phraseology is used in Matthew's gospel about them both, "the fire the eonian?"  This essentially identifies the two.

ME>> You note that Matthew uses the exact same phrase, "the fire the aionian" in Matthew 18:8 and also 25:41 which appears to identify these as the same destiny.  Yet Matthew 18:8 is clearly a warning to human unbelievers; and I have proposed that Matthew 25:41 is speaking of a different destiny reserved only for the Devil and his angels.  Actually it is traditional theology that attempts to read any expression containing "fire" and "aionian" as coined only to mean "eternal Hell."  However, the word "fire" is used 73 times in the New Testament with meanings including judgment, purification, literal fire, and symbolic fire.  Download a study guide at DGJC.ORG/OPTIMISM/PYR.  Christian Universalists, have also observed that the word "aionian" has a rich meaning including "age" and also "complete" or "entire."  This adjective should not be understood to coin a particular eternal destiny.  For example, Thomas Talbott translates "aionian" in II Thessalonians 1:9 as "complete destruction" at the Lord's return which is the most faithful to the context.  Thus we should learn from ourselves that just because the exact same phrase, "the fire the aionian," is found in both Matthew 18:8 and 25:41, this does not mean that this phrase is in fact a capitalized proper noun.  Other Scripture teaches us that both Hades and the Lake of Fire include "fire" judgments, yet we know these are different places.  So the addition of the qualifier "aionian" does not then require that Matthew 18:8 and 25:41 are the same place. In fact in Matthew 25:41, the additional expression, "prepared for the Devil and his angels," is best understood to qualify that "the fire the aionian" in Matthew 25:41 is in fact a different location than Matthew 18:8.  See my previous article, II Thessalonians 1:6-10.

QUESTION>> You allow that the Gehenna warning isn't a bluff to frighten people whom God does not even remotely intend even temporarily putting into the eonian fire of Gehenna; but you still regard the eonian fire of Gehenna as the fire in hades (for good reasons I agree) and the eonian fire for the devil and his angels as being a different punishment than the lake of fire.

ME>> Yes, that is my conclusion. I understand that Jesus does not merely threaten, but warns that if his unbelieving audience does not repent that they will suffer the complete destruction of their earthly ambitions, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, as well as suffer the fires of Hades, Luke 16:23.  Hades is the "aionian fires" that are the netherworld judgment of wicked mankind. The word "Gehenna" is used twelve times in the New Testament and in each case mankind's judgment is in view.  So the "Gehenna" reference is either the destruction from sin's consequences in this life or the subsequent judgment in Hades. The Lake of Fire, however, is the "aionian fires" that are prepared for the Devil and his angels.

QUESTION>> The defense that Christ switches from addressing the devil and his angels to explaining to the redeemed unbelievers (who had unknowingly been faithful) that this fire is "prepared for the devil and his angels," seems forced to me (though you acknowledge the awkwardness).

ME>> The awkwardness is no greater than the traditional understanding that the Sheep on Jesus' right are Christians.  How could it even be possible that we Christians who already understand our salvation would corporately stand before his throne with these doubts?  Consider that if the Sheep and Goat Judgment is synonymous with the final Great White Throne Judgment, then we Christians have already been Raptured to meet Christ in the air, have been re-united with all the deceased saints, and have been given our glorified bodies, all before the Sheep and Goat judgment.  Do we think that after these tangible beginnings of eternity that we will then stand before Christ's throne with revived doubts?  Hardly.  So if the Sheep on the right are not us, then who are they?  Revelation 20:5 makes it clear that unbelievers are raised when the thousand years are ended.  Revelation 20:13 makes it clear that Hades is emptied of its inhabitants, unbelieving mankind, after the thousand years to stand before Christ's throne.  Jesus already made it clear that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his work in Matthew 16:18.  Paul also made it clear that Hades will not have the victory in 1 Corinthians 15:55.  The Sheep on the right are the rebellious unbelieving elect, safely extracted from Hades and finally given grace to receive their salvation.

Then who are the Goats on Jesus' left?  Traditional theology and even many forms of Christian Universalism understand these people to be unbelieving humanity.  However, again II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 teach us that certain fallen angels are currently being held for judgment on that Great Day.  The Sheep and Goat Judgment and the Great White Throne Judgment are the excellent candidate for the Great Day of judgment for these fallen angels.  In fact, even the language of Sheep and Goats fits quite naturally with a group of Christ's subjects containing both man and demon.  See this article for even further proof, Fallen Angels at The Great White Throne Judgment?

You do make a good point that my earlier proposal is awkward, that the phrase "prepared for the Devil and his angels" was not addressed to the demons, but was commentary to the Sheep.  So instead, perhaps it is not awkward at all to hear Jesus saying the entire phrase to the demons themselves.  Satan is already cast into the Lake of Fire at this point and so Jesus points to the Goats on his left, the Devil's angels, the demons, and says, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels," (Matthew 25:41b WEB).  My original article on this question is titled, You Are Wrong About Matthew 25:31-46!

QUESTION>> [Also your understanding of the Sheep and Goat Judgment solves one problem, but introduces another.  You continue to break the parallelism, but differently.  With your understanding] now the parable is contrasting the surprise that those who don't even know they are serving Christ shall be accepted, [contrasted] with what everyone everywhere already believed -- that the devil and his angels will be going into the eonian fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.  Even those surprised to have been serving Christ don't need that explained to them; certainly the apostles don't, who had been warned just previously once again as often throughout Christ's ministry, including back in that other saying about "the fire the eonian" that those chosen to be chief servants of Christ might still be dreadfully punished for their rebellious abuses.  What Christ thinks they need is, by all prior evidence, emphasized warnings that they had better not regard themselves as inherently safe from punishment!

ME>> We are both agreed that Christ has been warning his audience repeatedly that grave punishment awaits those who do not repent.  Some of the challenge in comparing our interpretations is that you hold to a pre-Millennial return of Christ, while I hold that the thousand year epoch is the present church age.  Also you hold that mankind is punished or purified in the Lake of Fire with the final salvation of mankind beyond that, while I hold that all mankind's salvation is realized at the Great White Throne Judgment with the Lake of Fire reserved for the Devil and angels alone.  I discuss these differences further in my article, Is Revelation 21-22 About The Church, The Last Age, or Eternity?  Unfortunately these differences may cause us to mix apples and oranges at times in our conversation.  My understanding is that Christ warns unbelieving mankind of punishment in Hades, but the believing also trust that mankind is exempt from the Lake of Fire which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.  You are right that the Apostles did not need these things explained to them for I am confident that they recognized the salvation of all mankind.  They also recognized that Satan is the archenemy of God and mankind, Ephesians 6:10-20.  However, I do not think you are right to assume that the unbelieving acknowledge the existence of Satan.  Furthermore, non-Christians certainly do not believe that our election to grace has saved all mankind, even though we have all sinned.  Nor do unbelievers know that Satan, the Father of Lies, and his demons are damned to the Lake of Fire.  The contrast between the destiny of the Sheep and the destiny of the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 is an excellent education in grace for all of us.

QUESTION>> Your appeal to the lack of definite articles in Revelation 14 when speaking of human followers of the Beast, compared to later statements about the Devil and his angels being punished into the eons of the eons, is not going to carry much weight with anyone who understands that the omission of direct articles does not necessarily involve such a distinction.  There is certainly nothing conceptually obvious about a difference between "into eons of eons" and "into the eons of the eons".

ME>> I beg to differ.  The first obvious conceptual difference is that Hades and the Lake of Fire are different locations employed in different ages for different purposes.  Revelation 20:14 (WEB) makes this clear because after Hades is emptied it is then thrown into the Lake of Fire empty of all inhabitants, "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire."  Again, Hades and the Lake of Fire are different places with different purposes.  We have already shown that Jesus warns unbelieving mankind that they will be punished in "the fire the aionian" in Matthew 18:8, which I understand to be Hades.  However, Jesus also teaches us that there is also a related but different place, "the fire the aionian" that is qualified as being "prepared for the Devil and his angels" which I propose is the Lake of Fire.  So since there are two distinct places of punishment, it is quite reasonable to expect that there would also be a distinction in the reference to the time spent there.  Apparently Hades has served as the place to punish unbelieving mankind since the beginning of Creation and will continue to serve in that capacity until it is no longer needed after the Great White Throne Judgment.  So Revelation 14:11 speaks appropriately about the "ages and ages" of punishment suffered by mankind for their unbelief in Hades.  However, Revelation 20:10, highlights a particular time frame, "The Ages of The Ages" of the Lake of Fire.  This age is distinct as the last Biblical age and is emphasized by the Holy Spirit with the definite article, "The."  A. E. Knoch also highlights this observation, though I part ways with a number of his conclusions.  Perhaps my A-Millennial church age understanding of the thousand year epoch helps me to fit the puzzle pieces in a way that highlights the observation of the definite article in Revelation 20:10.  My proposed model of understanding sees Revelation 14:11 as speaking to the first century audience warning them that those who follow Satan or worship Rome or continue to follow the Old Covenant will be punished in Hades.  Of course unbelievers committing similar sins since then are in similar grave danger!  Revelation 20:10 then speaks to Christians through the whole church age warning us that Satan's work is not finished, but that one day, praise God, he will be finally damned to the Lake of Fire for the last age, "The Ages of The Ages." Also at that time unbelieving mankind is released from Hades to finally receive grace and salvation.  My original article on this point is, Forever Is Not Forever? You Still Gotta Be Kidding Me!

These observations have been building a grander storyline in my understanding.  The story began so many thousands of years ago with our parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.  Satan invaded our innocent landscape, leading us away from our Heavenly Father.  God punished Adam, Eve, and all their children since then, for we have all eaten the forbidden fruit.  However, God also promised that deliverance would come from the seed of the woman, her child Jesus, and that one day the serpent's head would be crushed.  Jesus crushed Satan's work at the cross and is now finishing the job, making his enemies into a footstool.  The final Revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of the New Testament is given to prophecy the fulfillment of the promise given so long ago in the Garden. We look forward to the final deliverance of mankind from sin and punishment with every tear wiped away in the City of God and with the dragon, Satan, and his demons damned to the Lake of Fire.

Come Lord Jesus!