|EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT |
Protracted, continual and eternal judgment. The word “everlasting” immediately calls to mind end-of-time realities. “Punishment” introduces the ideas of wrongdoing and evil. Thus, to wrestle with the idea of “everlasting punishment” is to grapple with notions of time, justice, evil, and the end of time. The Old Testament never directly addresses the issue of “everlasting punishment.” Only God, his attributes, his word, his dwelling place and his possessions are everlasting (for example,
Isaiah 33:27). All “punishment” in the Old Testament is executed within history (e.g., plagues, wars, famine, sickness, exile, etc.). Though one can find expressions of individual guilt, punishment and forgiveness in the Psalms, and though one can find the language of universal judgment in the prophets—that is, that unfaithful Israel and all the nations of the world will be historically punished—it is not until after the Old Testament that the notions of “eternal punishment” or “everlasting judgment” are developed.
According to the early church's teaching (Hebrews 6:2), the eternal fate of creation and human beings is bound up with gospel preaching and thus with the end-of-time events of Jesus' death, resurrection and promised return. The opposite of “eternal life,” “everlasting punishment” is thought of as an “eternal fire,” a “second death” or an “eternal destruction.” The language paints a picture of endless suffering, loss, doom and separation from the presence of God. Such end-of-time trauma befalls the evil, angelic powers which oppose God (Matthew 24:41;
Revelation 19:3) and those human beings who willfully continue in “sin”—a decision which demonstrates solidarity with the evil powers (Matthew 25:46;
Revelation 14:11). The remarkable New Testament teaching is that “everlasting punishment” in some ways has already begun in the revelation of the gospel. The gospel is a present, historical revelation of end-of-time righteousness and wrath (Romans 1:16-17). To some, the gospel brings eternal life—for others, eternal death (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). This eternal judgment which begins with the preaching of the Gospel will be culminated and concluded at the end of time. At the time of Jesus' appearance, all evil will be destroyed and all humans who continued in opposition to God will receive their eternal sentencing (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Carey C. Newman