This post is prompted by two recent comments, from two different commenters on two different issues. But their answer, it seems to me, is related.
I was asked, “Why wouldn’t Jesus say that evil would be forever dead instead of having this eternal fire to go to? Even if it was recognized as an exaggeration at the time, is not this caricature of a final death a scare tactic?”
Jesus’ words were not an exaggeration. Eternal fire is an apt metaphor for unquenchable, inexorable judgment. The eternal fire Jesus refers to emphasizes an irreversible judgment, a fire that doesn’t just last long enough to scorch or burn, but remains to consume completely and utterly.
Another important aspect to consider is that the judgment he’s referring to wasn’t to be the end of all things, either. It was tied to a specific event in history, now long past but with ongoing application. Anyone who’s read many of my eschatology posts will know where I’m going here. The Sheep and the Goats judgment was the start of something, not just the end of something. The fires haven’t stopped because there are still those who die at odds with God’s purpose for creation, but there are those who live to accomplish His will on the earth. Jesus was laying out a state of affairs that would begin with that judgment but, along with the world and its inhabitants, would continue for all time.
While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease. (Gen 8.22)
Jesus wasn’t talking about the end of the world: he was talking about the beginning of a world order. The world order we see in Isaiah 2.2-5:
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
This where we get to the other commenter’s question. This passage in Isaiah should be familiar to us, but if it were it would certainly have informed us when we read Revelation 21.22-22.7:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
This isn’t heaven: it’s heaven on earth. We’re not having to wait until “heaven someday” to be able to behold the face of God without any intermediary; the New Covenant is already established and we may each personally interface with our God and serve Him with love, not fear. We are not blinded by the world and its problems, but have the light of the Kingdom lighting our way, if we would just make sure to keep our eyes on it.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Mat 5.13-16)
This is not a political system in which each person tries to dominate or force compliance over one another: it’s a personal system of voluntary submission to God and to each other. Living our lives with this example has proved effective for attracting many from outside the city, prompting them to say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” Whenever Christians remember that they are exercising God’s authority in this world as co-regents with Jesus through their humility and imitation of our Lord, they are realizing his promise to inherit the earth and the Kingdom that came.Tagged with: Preterism