Matthew 25:46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
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(46) Everlasting punishment . . . life eternal.—The two adjectives represent one and the same Greek word, αἰώνιος, and we ought therefore to have the same word in both clauses in the English. Of the two words, “eternal” is philologically preferable, as being traceably connected with the Greek, the Latin ætemus being derived from ætas, and that from ævum, which, in its turn, is but another form of the Greek ἀιὼν (æon). The bearing of the passage on the nature and duration of future punishment is too important to be passed over; and though the question is too wide to be determined by a single text, all that the text contributes to its solution should be fully and fairly weighed. On the one hand, then, it is urged that as we hold the “eternal life” to have no end, so we must hold also the endlessness of the “eternal fire.” On the other hand, it must be admitted (1) that the Greek word which is rendered “eternal,” does not in itself involve endlessness, but rather duration, whether through an age or a succession of ages; and that it is therefore applied in the New Testament to periods of time that have had both beginning and ending (Romans 16:25, where the Greek is “from æonian times,” our version giving “since the world began”—comp. 2Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2), and in the Greek version of the Old Testament to institutions and ordinances that were confessedly to wax old and vanish away (Genesis 17:8; Leviticus 3:17); and (2) that in the language of a Greek Father (Gregory of Nyssa, who held the doctrine of the restitution of all things) it is even connected with the word “interval,” as expressing the duration of the penal discipline which was, he believed, to come to an end after an æonian intervening period. Strictly speaking, therefore, the word, as such, and apart from its association with any qualifying substantive, implies a vast undefined duration, rather than one in the full sense of the word “infinite.” The solemnity of the words at the close of the great prophecy of judgment tends obviously to the conclusion that our Lord meant His disciples, and through them His people in all ages, to dwell upon the division which was involved in the very idea of judgment, as one which was not to be changed. Men must reap as they have sown, and the consequences of evil deeds, or of failure to perform good deeds, must, in the nature of the case, work out their retribution, so far as we can see, with no assignable limit. On the other hand, once again, (1) the symbolism of Scriptural language suggests the thought that “fire” is not necessarily the material element that inflicts unutterable torture on the body, and that the penalty of sin may possibly be an intense and terrible consciousness of the presence of God, who is as a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) in the infinite majesty of His holiness, united with the sense of being at variance with it, and therefore under condemnation. And (2), assuming the perpetuity of the “punishment,” it does not involve necessarily an equality of suffering for the whole multitude of the condemned at any time, nor for any single soul throughout its whole duration. Without dwelling, as some have done, on the fact that the Greek word here used for “punishment” had acquired a definite significance as used by ethical writers for reformative rather than vindictive or purely retributive suffering (Aristot. Rhet. i. 10), it is yet conceivable that the acceptance of suffering as deserved may mitigate its severity; and we cannot, consistently with any true thoughts of God, conceive of Him as fixing, by an irresistible decree, the will of any created being in the attitude of resistance to His will. That such resistance is fatally possible we see by a wide and painful experience, and as the “hardening” in such cases is the result of a divine law, it may, from one point of view, be described as the act of God (Romans 9:18); but a like experience attests that, though suffering does not cease to be suffering, it may yet lose something of its bitterness by being accepted as deserved, and the law of continuity and analogy, which, to say the least, must be allowed some weight in our thoughts of the life to come, suggests that it may be so there also. (For other aspects of this momentous question, see Notes on Matthew 5:26; Matthew 18:34.) (3) As to the nature of the “eternal life” which is thus promised to those who follow the guidance of the Light that lighteth every man, we must remember, that within a few short hours of the utterance of these words, it was defined by our Lord in the hearing of those who listened to them: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). That life in its very nature tends to perpetuity, and it is absolutely inconceivable that after having lasted through the ages which the word “eternal,” on any etymological explanation, implies, it should then fail and cease.

25:31-46 This is a description of the last judgment. It is as an explanation of the former parables. There is a judgment to come, in which every man shall be sentenced to a state of everlasting happiness, or misery. Christ shall come, not only in the glory of his Father, but in his own glory, as Mediator. The wicked and godly here dwell together, in the same cities, churches, families, and are not always to be known the one from the other; such are the weaknesses of saints, such the hypocrisies of sinners; and death takes both: but in that day they will be parted for ever. Jesus Christ is the great Shepherd; he will shortly distinguish between those that are his, and those that are not. All other distinctions will be done away; but the great one between saints and sinners, holy and unholy, will remain for ever. The happiness the saints shall possess is very great. It is a kingdom; the most valuable possession on earth; yet this is but a faint resemblance of the blessed state of the saints in heaven. It is a kingdom prepared. The Father provided it for them in the greatness of his wisdom and power; the Son purchased it for them; and the blessed Spirit, in preparing them for the kingdom, is preparing it for them. It is prepared for them: it is in all points adapted to the new nature of a sanctified soul. It is prepared from the foundation of the world. This happiness was for the saints, and they for it, from all eternity. They shall come and inherit it. What we inherit is not got by ourselves. It is God that makes heirs of heaven. We are not to suppose that acts of bounty will entitle to eternal happiness. Good works done for God's sake, through Jesus Christ, are here noticed as marking the character of believers made holy by the Spirit of Christ, and as the effects of grace bestowed on those who do them. The wicked in this world were often called to come to Christ for life and rest, but they turned from his calls; and justly are those bid to depart from Christ, that would not come to him. Condemned sinners will in vain offer excuses. The punishment of the wicked will be an everlasting punishment; their state cannot be altered. Thus life and death, good and evil, the blessing and the curse, are set before us, that we may choose our way, and as our way so shall our end be.And these shall go away - These "persons." Many, holding the doctrine of universal salvation have contended that God would punish sin only. Christ says that "those on his left hand," shall go away - not "sins," but "sinners." Besides, sin, as an abstract thing, cannot be punished. Sin is nothing but an "act" - the act of a transgressor, and, to be reached at all, it must be reached by punishing the offender himself.

Into everlasting punishment - The original word translated here as "punishment" means torment, or suffering inflicted for crime. The noun is used but in one other place in the New Testament - 1 John 4:18; "Fear hath 'torment.'" The verb from which the noun is derived is twice used - Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9. In all these places it denotes anguish, suffering, punishment. It does not mean simply a "state or condition," but absolute, positive suffering; and if this word does not teach it, no word "could" express the idea that the wicked would suffer. It has been contended that the sufferings of the wicked will not be eternal or without end. It is not the purpose of these notes to enter into debates of that kind further than to ascertain the meaning of the language used by the sacred writers. In regard to the meaning of the word "everlasting" in this place, it is to be observed:

1. that the literal meaning of the word expresses absolute eternity - "always belong," Matthew 18:8; Matthew 19:16; Mark 3:29; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 5:9.

2. that the obvious and plain interpretation of the word demands this signification in this place. The original word - αἰώνιον aionion - is employed in the New Testament 66 times. Of these, in 51 instances it is used of the happiness of the righteous; in two, of God's existence; in six, of the church and the Messiah's kingdom; and in the remaining seven, of the future punishment of the wicked. If in these seven instances we attach to the word the idea of limited duration, consistency requires that the same idea of limited duration should be given it in the 51 cases of its application to the future glory of the righteous, and the two instances of its application to God's existence, and the six eases of its appropriation to the future reign of the Messiah and the glory and perpetuity of the church. But no one will presume to deny that in these instances it denotes unlimited duration, and therefore, in accordance with the sound laws of interpretation and of language itself, the same sense of unlimited duration must be given it when used of future punishment - Owen, in loc.

3. that, admitting that it was the Saviour's design always to teach this doctrine, this would be "the very word" to express it; and if this does not teach it, it could not be taught.

4. that it is not taught in any plainer manner in any confession of faith on the globe; and if this may be explained away, all those may be.

5. that our Saviour knew that this would be so understood by nine-tenths of the world; and if he did not mean to teach it, he has knowingly led them into error, and his honesty cannot be vindicated.

6. that he knew that the doctrine was calculated to produce "fear and terror;" and if he was benevolent, and actually used language calculated to produce this fear and terror, his conduct cannot be vindicated in exciting unnecessary alarms.

7. that the word used here is the same in the original as that used to express the eternal life of the righteous; if one can be proved to be limited in duration, the other can by the same arguments. "The proof that the righteous will be happy forever is precisely the same, and no other, than that the wicked will, be miserable forever."

8. that it is confirmed by many other passages of Scripture, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Luke 16:26; Revelation 14:11; Psalm 9:17; Isaiah 33:14; Mark 16:16; John 3:36.

Life eternal - Man by sin has plunged himself into death, temporal, spiritual, eternal. Christ, by coming and dying, has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, 2 Timothy 1:10. "Life" is the opposite of death. It denotes, here, freedom from death, and positive holiness and happiness forever.

46. And these shall go away—these "cursed" ones. Sentence, it should seem, was first pronounced—in the hearing of the wicked—upon the righteous, who thereupon sit as assessors in the judgment upon the wicked (1Co 6:2); but sentence is first executed, it should seem, upon the wicked, in the sight of the righteous—whose glory will thus not be beheld by the wicked, while their descent into "their own place" will be witnessed by the righteous, as Bengel notes.

into everlasting punishment—or, as in Mt 25:41, "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Compare Mt 13:42; 2Th 1:9, &c. This is said to be "prepared for the devil and his angels," because they were "first in transgression." But both have one doom, because one unholy character.

but the righteous into life eternal—that is, "life everlasting." The word in both clauses, being in the original the same, should have been the same in the translation also. Thus the decisions of this awful day will be final, irreversible, unending.

So then it seems they shall rise as well as the other; though they live in the lands of the Grand Seignior, or the Great Mogul, they shall not (as some filthy dreamers have thought) have such a quiet sleep in the graves, but that the sound of the last trump shall awaken them. Nor are they out of the jurisdiction of him that shall be the Judge both of the quick and the dead. Nor shall they escape a judgment without the law, because they have sinned without the law: For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, Romans 1:20. They shall perish (as they have sinned) without the law, Romans 2:12. They shall go into everlasting punishment, not a punishment for a time, as Origen thought.

But the righteous, those who shall be so adjudged, being made so in this life by the imputed righteousness of Christ, and accepted as such for their holy and sincere conversation, though in many things imperfect, shall go

into life eternal; which doth not signify a mere eternal existence, (for so the worst of men shall live eternally, or else they could not be capable of eternal punishment), but a happy and blessed estate, which shall never have an end: and thus eternal life always signifieth in Scripture, being opposed to eternal death, everlasting fire, the worm that never dieth, &c. Thus endeth Christ’s kingdom of grace; or rather, thus shall begin his kingdom of glory; all his enemies being put under his feet, and none remaining but this glorious King, and those who shall be his true subjects. Of which kingdom shall be no end.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment,.... Their excuses will not be regarded, their pleas will be of no avail, their pretensions to interest in Christ, and love to him, will be set aside; the sentence will remain irrevocable, and there will be no appeal from it, for there is no higher tribunal to bring the cause before; judgment having passed, the execution of it immediately follows: these goats, or formal professors, shall be obliged, whether they will or not, to depart from the presence of Christ; the angels will be ordered to take and cast them into everlasting burnings; they will be driven by them into hell, the place appointed for them; where they shall endure "everlasting punishment", as the Jews (p) also express it; and that both in soul and body, as the just desert of sin; which being committed against an infinite God, cannot be satisfied for by a finite creature; who therefore must ever bear the punishment of it, because its pollution and guilt will always remain:

but the righteous into life eternal; such as are justified by the righteousness of Christ, and who, though they have done works of righteousness under the influence, and by the assistance of the grace of God, yet have not depended upon them, but upon Christ, for life and salvation: these shall go into heaven, the place appointed for them, to enjoy that eternal life in soul and body, which is the free gift of God, through Christ; and will be a life free from all the sorrows of the present one; a life of perfect holiness and knowledge, and inconceivable pleasure; a life of vision of God, and communion with him, and which will continue for ever; and which ascertains the eternity of the punishment of the wicked: for as the happiness of the righteous will be eternal, the punishment of the wicked will be so too; for no reason can be given why the word which is the same in both clauses, should be taken in the one for a limited time, and in the other for an eternal duration. The Jews have a saying (q) which agrees with this last clause, "the world to come is not made but for the righteous",

(p) Caphtor, fol. 113. 1. Shalshelet Hakabala, fol. 71. 1.((q) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol, 47. 1.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Matthew 25:46. Comp. Daniel 12:2. The absolute idea of eternity, in regard to the punishment of hell (comp. Matthew 25:41), is not to be got rid of either by a popular toning down of the force of αἰώνιος (Paulus), or by appealing (de Wette, Schleiermacher, Oetinger) to the figurative character of the term fire and the supposed incompatibility between the idea of eternity and such a thing as evil and its punishment, any more than by the theory that the whole representation is intended simply by way of warning (according to which view it is not meant thereby to throw light upon the eternal nature of things, but only to portray the κρίσις, i.e. the cessation of the conflict between good and evil by the extinction of the latter); but is to be regarded as exegetically established in the present passage (comp. Matthew 3:12, Matthew 18:8) by the opposed ζωὴν αἰώνιον, which denotes the everlasting Messianic life (Kaeuffer, as above, p. 21); comp. also Weizel in the Stud. u. Krit. 1836, p. 605 ff.; Schmid in the Jahrb. f. D. Theol. 1870, p. 136 ff.

οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι] “hoc ipso judicio declarati,” Bengel. Comp. Romans 5:19.


Because the judgment is a judgment of Christians (see on Matthew 25:31), faith is presupposed though not formally mentioned. The truth is, the Judge regulates His decision according to the way in which faith has been evidenced by love (1 Corinthians 13:1 ff.; John 13:35), without which as its necessary fruit faith does not save (Galatians 5:6). Comp. Apol. Conf. A, p. 138. The manifestations of love, as forming the principle of the Christian’s life, accordingly constitute the πρᾶξις by which he is to be judged (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Comp. Matthew 5:7. But, in so far as, according to this concrete view of the judgment, Jesus bases His sentence upon the principle that love shown to or withheld from the least of His brethren is the same as love shown to or withheld from Himself, He does so in harmony with the view contained in Matthew 18:5, Matthew 10:40. Comp. John 13:20.

Matthew 25:46. κόλασιν, here and in 1 John 4:18 (ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει), from κολάζω = mutilation or pruning, hence suggestive of corrective rather than of vindictive punishment as its tropical meaning. The use of this term in this place is one of the exegetical grounds rested on by those who advocate the “larger hope”. Another is the strict meaning of αἰώνιος: agelong, not everlasting. From the combination results the phrase: agelong, pruning, or discipline, leaving room for the hope of ultimate salvation. But the doctrine of the future states must ultimately rest on deeper considerations than those supplied by verbal interpretation. Weiss (Mt.-Evang.) and Wendt (L. J.) regard Matthew 25:46 as an interpolation by the evangelist.

The doctrine of this passage is that love is the essence of true religion and the ultimate test of character for all men Christian or non-Christian. All who truly love are implicit Christians. For such everywhere the kingdom is prepared. They are its true citizens and God is their Father. In calling those who love the Father’s blessed ones Jesus made an important contribution to the doctrine of the Fatherhood, defining by discriminating use the title “Father”.

46. The same Greek word (aiônios) is translated everlasting (punishment) and (life) eternal; also in each case the adjective in the Greek text follows the noun—the place of emphasis. The adjective aiônios (eternal) = of or belonging to (1) an aiôn or period, (a) past, (b) present, (c) future, or (2) to a succession of aiôns or periods. It does not, therefore, in itself=“unending.” But life eternal, which is “to know the true God and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3), can only be conceived of as unending and infinite; cp. “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die” (Habakkuk 1:12).

punishment] (Greek, kolasis), not “vengeance,” but punishment that checks or reforms.

Matthew 25:46. Ἀπελεύσονται, shall depart) The place of judgment is distinct from the places into which the two classes will severally depart.—κόλασις, punishment[1105]) There is a difference between τιμωρία, vengeance, and κόλασις, punishment; for punishment is inflicted for the sake of him who suffers: vengeance for the satisfaction of him who inflicts it; see Arist. Rhet. i. 10, n. 31.[1106]—αἰώνιον, eternal) Eternal[1107] signifies that which reaches and passes the limits of earthly time: cf. Gnomon on Romans 16:25.—οἱ δὲ, κ.τ.λ., but the, etc.) Christ the King shall first address the righteous, in the hearing of the unrighteous; but the unrighteous shall first depart, in the sight of the righteous; see ch. Matthew 13:49-50. Thus the damned will see nothing of eternal life, though the righteous will see the vengeance inflicted on the damned.—ΔΊΚΑΙΟΙ, righteous) declared to be so by this very judgment.

[1105] “Of fire, see Matthew 25:41. Righteous King, grant that I may hereafter find myself standing on the right hand.”—B. G. V.

[1106] In the Oxford edition of 1833, I. 10, § 17.—I. B.

[1107] The Bible has no metaphysical distinctions, therefore it has no one word to express eternity; this it expresses by long periods joined with one another indefinitely. Αἰῶνες = עו̇לָמִים, æva: very long periods, which, multiplied indefinitely, give the only notion we can form of eternity. Ὡρα (Th. ὃρος, terminus), a definite space of time: καιρὸς, the time, the fit time: χρόνος, time, in its actuality, marking succession: αἰὼν, an indefinite course of time, without the notion of an end. See Tittm. Syn. Gr. Test. Ἀπʼ αἰώνων = from all eternity, a parte ante. Εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας = to all eternity, for ages, for ever, a parte post. As these phrases are applied to the eternity of God Himself, and as, moreover, αἰώνιος is applied to ζωὴ, which none deny to mean everlasting life, no objections (such as have been lately raised), from the meaning of αἰὼν, will hold good against the everlasting duration of punishment.—ED.

Verse 46. - Shall go away. Bengel notes that the King will first address the righteous in the audience of the unrighteous, but these last will be dismissed to their place of punishment before the others actually receive their reward. Thus the evil will see nothing of the life eternal, while the good will be bold the vengeance inflicted on the others (Matthew 13:49). Into everlasting punishment (εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον)... life eternal (everlasting, ζωὴν αἰώνιον). The same term is used in both places, and ought to have been so translated. The word κόλασις in strict classical usage denotes punishment inflicted for the correction and improvement of the offender, τιμωρίΑ being employed to signify punishment in satisfaction of outraged justice, or to revenge an injury. But it is open to doubt whether the former term is to be taken in its strictest sense in the New Testament. A ceaseless controversy rests on the meaning of αἰώνιος, some contending that it signifies "everlasting," and nothing else; others that its sense is modified by the idea to which it is attached; and others again that it ought to be rendered by "aeonian," to which is given an indeterminate signification governed by our conception of the duration expressed by men. This is not the place to discuss this perplexing question, nor shall I attempt to dogmatize upon the problem. Suffice it to make these few observations. On the one hand, taking the literal sense of our Lord's words, and the meaning which his hearers would attach to them, we must believe that the risen life and the second death are equally everlasting (see Judith 16:17; Ecclus. 7:17; 4 Macc. 12:12). And if it is thought that eternity of punishment is incompatible with love and benevolence, and inequitable as the penalty of offences committed in time, it must be remembered that eternity of reward is infinitely beyond all human claims, and bears no proportion to the merits of the recipient. Nor may we reason from our conception of the nature and attributes of God; how these attributes work harmoniously together, though seemingly opposed, we cannot presume to determine. The consequences of sin even in this world are often irretrievable, as are some human punishments. We have no reason to suppose that punishment is inflicted only for the correction of the criminal (see on ver. 41), nor is it possible to conceive how this result could be effected by condemning him to the society of devils. Further, we have to regard the heinousness of sin in God's sight, remembering the infinite price paid for its expiation. And lastly, the doctrine does not depend upon this passage only, but is supported by many other statements in both the Old and New Testaments: e.g. Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2; Mark 9:44, 46, 48; Revelation 21:8. Such are some of the chief arguments in favour of the everlasting nature of future punishment. On the other hand, we have to remark that our Lord is here not concerned with teaching this doctrine of eternity; he assumes the authorized view of the matter, and draws his awful lesson from that view. It is certainly true that the meaning of αἰώνιος is not fixed and uniform; it is conditioned by the term to which it appertains. No one would say that "everlasting" was applied to God and to a mountain in the same sense; and though it seems incongruous to find a difference of meaning in the same sentence, yet there may be reasons for distinguishing the signification of the qualifying adjective in the terms "eternal life" and "eternal punishment." God, indeed, cannot draw back from his promise, but he may be more merciful than the tenor of his threats seems to imply. It is possible that "aeonian" may denote merely indefinite duration without the connotation of never ending. Such like are the pleas brought forward to lessen the plain enunciation of the awful truth. For myself I do not see any escape from the import of the statement, nor any hope of amelioration in the case of the lest, when relegated to the scene of their penal existence (see on Matthew 18:8, 9). But I set no bounds to the Divine mercy and wisdom; and God may see a mode of reconciling his strict justice with his desire of man's salvation, which our finite understanding cannot grasp. All we can say here is that infinite misery and infinite happiness are set before us, and that God has thus shown the two ends without reserve or possible modification, in order that we may be aroused to shun the one and to win the other. "From thy wrath, and from ever lasting damnation, good Lord, deliver us."

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