Matthew 25:41 (KJV)
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…
Before we can fully appreciate John’s visions in the book of the Revelation, we must challenge a longstanding error in the minds of God’s people, which is the concept of “everlasting fire.” Due to the overwhelming influence of tradition, we have long believed that this refers to a place of endless punishment where “sinners” go after they pass from this life. There they are tortured, time without end, bound in unimaginable suffering. If this is true, then the apostle John was greatly flawed in his thinking. Consider the following from his first letter.
1 John 4:16 (NKJV)
16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
“God is love,” the very essence of love itself. This is not at all a human love but a divine essence that far transcends that of our own fickle nature. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8; NKJV). Say what you will but the doctrine of eternal torment does not reflect the unconditional love of our Creator but rather the corrupt and failing love of the human heart (Jer. 17:9; Matt. 19:17). Paul describes this love in the following.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 (NKJV)
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away… 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Here we have it. Love “suffers long and is kind.” Is eternal torment “kind”? Love “does not seek its own,” “does not parade itself,” “is not puffed up.” How can we equate eternal torment to this? How can we say that love “thinks no evil” in the light of endless punishment? How can we say that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,” and “endures all things,” when we embrace the idea that even now, there are countless billions in a place of such horrendous torture that words are inadequate to describe it? Where is God’s kindness, mercy, or grace in such actions? And, if this is our Father’s intention, why does He hold us accountable now for any action that doesn’t even come close to such cruelty? Finally, if our Creator intended to establish conditions pertaining to the death of His son, why expect His son to give His life at all? Take time to really think about this.
If God alone draws (John 6:44), then God alone is accountable. And if God’s ultimate purpose is to torture billions in some netherworld called “hell” somewhere, then why did Christ teach, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”? (John 15:13) If endless punishment is unavoidable for all who do not confess the Lord Jesus Christ, then why did He die for the world? What was the point? Was His death not good enough to take away the sin of the world and secure salvation for all? Was He not the judgment for the world, past, present, and future? And, if anyone rejects this, isn’t the love of Christ even greater than our own rejection? God’s love “never fails,” and I cannot help but believe that what began in love will end in the same.
So, in light of what we have discussed, what might have Jesus meant by "everlasting fire"? The corrupt love of man sees this as the final act of vengeance or recompense for our disobedience and rebellion in this life. But is that what Jesus really meant to convey? Friend, I believe there is an alternative view and its 180 degrees from the traditional interpretation.
Our word “everlasting” is the Greek transliteration aiōnios, which Strong’s defines as “perpetual,” however, the root of this word is aiōn, defined as, “An age.” So, to understand “everlasting” properly, we must consider both. First, an age has a beginning and an end (Matt. 13:39, 49; 24:3; 28:20), therefore our word aiōnios simply means that it pertains to many ages. What makes anything labeled aiōnios “perpetual” is that it must be true in every age. This is determined by the word it is associated with and the context in which it is presented. In Matthew 25:41, it is not the age which is eternal, but the “fire,” since the “fire” transcends each age. Now, let’s consider what is meant by “fire.”
Hebrews 12:29 tells us, “Our God is a consuming fire,” quoting from Deuteronomy 4:24, where Moses spoke to Israel concerning the “statutes and the judgments” which had been given him on Mount Sinai (Deut. 4:1). Along with this, consider the following.
Deuteronomy 33:1-2 (NKJV)
1 Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. 2 And he said: "The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand came a fiery law for them.
Just as “God is a consuming fire,” so too “from His right hand” comes a “fiery law” for us. Strong’s defines “fiery” as “a fire-law,” a compound word formed from “fire” and “a royal edict or statute.” Friend, know that fire is not a substance, but rather a process, so, metaphorically, this suggests a process which gives light and life as it burns and consumes.
Logic dictates that the “everlasting fire” of God incorporates His everlasting “fire-law,” which in essence, reveals His eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20; ESV). As stated, this fire provides light but also burns and consumes something in the process, so what we experience depends solely on our resistance to or acceptance of the fire.
And what is law for? Is it not to address our behavior? It is, and our behavior proceeds from our thoughts and intents, therefore God’s “fire-law” burns and shines against every thought and intent contrary to His divine love (John 5:35; Heb. 4:12; NKJV). That being said, consider the following.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NKJV)
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures (gold, silver, precious stones), he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned (wood, hay, straw), he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
In Genesis 1:5, we read that “God called the light day.” So “day” is light, and light, my friend, is always some form of “fire.” No wonder Paul could say, “Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire (light) will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49; ESV) Can we not see that the purpose of “fire” is to “test” the “work” that issues from our thoughts and intents, and if that work is but “wood, hay,” and “straw,” then the fire will consume it? But even when our work is consumed, we are “saved, yet so as through fire.” Now, let’s go to the book of the Revelation.
Revelation 4:5 (KJV)
5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
In Revelation 4, the apostle John is caught up by the Spirit to God’s throne where he sees “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,” defined as “the seven Spirits of God.” What do these “seven lamps of fire” or “Spirits” represent? The prophet Isaiah tells us.
Isaiah 11:1-4 (KJV)
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom (1) and understanding (2), the spirit of counsel (3) and might (4), the spirit of knowledge (5) and of the fear of the Lord (6); 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge (7) the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
The spiritual meaning of seven is spiritual perfection or completeness, which can also be defined as “fullness,” and so we find “seven lamps of fire” which speaks of the “fullness” of God’s Spirit. These seven lamps of fire denote the ONE Spirit of the Lord which is sevenfold in nature, summed up as wisdom, understanding, counsel, and might, out of which springs His knowledge, fear, and righteous judgment to humankind (John 1:16). As we see, these “Spirits” are actually attributes or characteristics of the ONE eternal Spirit of God (Isa. 11:2), each one a “lamp of fire” or “light,” and all-encompassing in their essence. So, might the “everlasting fire” of God actually refer to the sevenfold characteristics of His divine Spirit? Absolutely! No wonder John wrote the following.
1 John 1:5 (NKJV)
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Now, let’s take a moment and consider the following.
Genesis 1:1-5 (KJV)
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
John 1:4 (NKJV)
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Six days of creation, and on the very first day, “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” No, not the light of the sun, moon, or stars, for that was done on the fourth day (Gen. 1:14-19). Rather, it was the “light” of God’s own essence through Christ, the “light” of love and truth, for we are told that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). It is the greatest of all mysteries but one we have contemplated since our beginning.
In keeping with the “fire” or “light” and “life” of His Word, God made the sun, serving as a natural testimony to His “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). As all of us know, the natural sun is a “consuming fire,” and without it, no life would survive on this planet. In the same way, without the “fire” of “life” through God in Christ, we too would not survive (John 1:4).
Jesus said that God’s word “is truth,” and John said this “word” was “in the beginning” and “was God” (John 1:1; 17:17; NKJV). So it is that every thought and intent which does not align with His Word is touched by the “fire” of His divine process within, exposed and consumed by the righteous nature of His eternal purpose written in the human heart. None are exempt from this process (Acts 10:34-35). All of us are “naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13; NKJV). Friend, God’s “everlasting fire” is God’s “everlasting life,” and in the end, it will consume everything until light alone remains (Rev. 22:5).