Chapter 3


The Problem With Forever!




We have already spoken of "forever" in connection with Jonah in the belly of the fish; of a Hebrew slave serving his master "forever"; and of the Lord accepting Solomon's temple, "to put My name there forever." Another illustration is the Aaronic priesthood. According to the King James version, Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests "forever," It says, "Their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Ex.40:15). Yet we read in Hebrews 7:11-12 that the Aaronic priesthood is changed to that of Melchisedec. There would be no contradiction if the statement in Exodus were translated, as it should be, "to the age, throughout their generations." That is, throughout their generations as long as that age lasted. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and His disciples used, the Greek word 'aion' was the word used for the Hebrew word 'olam'. According to Hebrew and Greek usage, therefore, these words mean a period of time, a period of unspecified length, the duration of which is determined by the fact or condition or person to which the term is applied.


To show how confusing the whole matter is in the King James Version of the New Testament, let us look at the word 'aion' a bit more in detail. In the Greek text from which this version was prepared, the noun form is used 128 times, while the adjective form 'aionios' is used 71 times. In the King James Version 'aion' is translated "age" only twice. Thirty-eight times it is translated "world." In the Scofield Bible we find 35 marginal corrections for the noun and three for the adjective, leaving about 160 passages where the translation is misleading and no corrections are made.


But there is still more confusion, as a little study of the Ephesian letter will show. The word 'aion' is used six times in the first three chapters as follows: In 1:21 we read "not only in this world" where it should read "age"; in Eph. 2:2 we read, "according to the course of this world"; it should be "according to the age of this world"--not the age before the flood nor the age of the millennium, but the age of this world (_kosmos_); in Eph. 2:7 it is translated as it should be, "in the ages to come." In Eph. 3:9 we read "which from the beginning of the world," where it should read, "from the ages." In Eph. 3:11, we find, "according to the eternal purpose," where it should read, "the purpose of the ages," while in 3:21 we discover "world without end" for the phrase, "to the age of the ages." To add to the confusion, the word 'genea', which means "generation(s)," is translated "age" twice in the third chapter: in Eph. 3:5 "which in other ages," and in Eph. 3:21 "throughout all ages." Is there any wonder that people do not know what the Bible teaches about the "ages"?


In various places, the American Standard comes nearer to giving us the accurate understanding of the noun, but never once correctly translates the adjective, either in the text or in the margin. Both the English and the American Revised Versions correctly have, "to the consummation of the age" in the margin, yet leave the wrong translation, "end of the world," in the text. Neither version translates Ephesians 3:21 accurately, "to the age of the ages."


We have no difficulty in understanding "King of kings" or "Lord of lords." Everybody knows that they mean the greatest King of all kings, and the highest Lord of all lords. It ought to be equally clear that "the age of the ages," means the greatest age of all ages, the great consummation of the ages when God brings to completion what He has been busily engaged in during all other ages. Of course, if you grew up in the age of Darwinism and evolution it may be hard for you to accept the Biblical teaching of God's ages; nevertheless, many things in your Bible will continue to be confusing, and apparently contradictory until you see this truth of the Scriptures.


God was before the ages. "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory" (1 Cor.2:7). The accurate translation is "foreordained before the ages." "Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ before the world began" (2 Tim.1:9). But again, the accurate translation is, "before eonian times." "In the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2), should read: "before eonian times." God was before the ages.

But God made the eons or ages through Christ. "God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by Whom also He made the worlds [ages]" (Heb.1:1,2). "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God" (Heb. 11:3). But it should read, "The ages were planned [or, "attuned"] by the Word of God." God made the ages through Christ.


Christ reigns for the ages. "And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:33). This should read, "He shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages"; indeed, the time will come when Christ will no longer reign over this kingdom. "Then cometh the end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father" (1 Cor.15:24). But the kingdom will continue under the Father's rule, and it will have no end.

There are so many Biblical statements that become clear when one understands the truth of the ages. "Many are called, but few are chosen," applies to the kingdom age and calling. There seems to be a conflict between the statement in Joel 3:10 which says, "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears," and the statements in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 where the swords are to be beaten into plowshares and the spears into pruninghooks. But when understand that the first statement applies to one age, and the other statements apply to another age, there is no conflict.


Now, I want to share with you the proper interpretation of a verse of scripture that has been impossible to understand as the King James version and others interpret it. In Matt. 12:32 Jesus made this statement,


"Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."


The Scofield Bible translates "age" in the margin instead of "world," just as the American Standard does, and that makes sense. He will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the millennium; he will carry his sin still unforgiven into the coming age. It doesn't mean forever but just for 2 ages. The New King James version and The New International version translates this word properly, "age"!


Throughout the ages there is sin and evil, condemnation and death. (Rom.2:1-16; Rom. 5:12; Heb.6:2; Rev.-20:11-15, and others). At the end of the ages, death is to be destroyed and all will be justified (Rom.5:18,19, Weymouth). All will be reconciled through Christ's blood (Col.-1:20), all will be subject to God and God will be All in all (1 Cor.15:25-28). Only as one sees the plan of the Ages does he see the beauty of God's Program for the redemption of the race.


However, the question naturally arises, "How many ages are there?" Different Bible students might vary widely in their opinion here, and I would be the last to claim infallibility. The Scriptures speak often of this present age. Again they speak of ages past, and ages to come.

There must have been an age, or ages, before the creation of man when the order of angels was created (Job 38:3-7). According to the Bible, Satan was a created being waiting on the doorstep of the world to lead men astray when man was first placed on this earth. We read in Genesis 2:15 that Adam was placed in the garden to dress it and keep it (i.e., to till it and guard it). Thus there was already a threatened danger which must have been in existence before Adam's creation. When Adam failed to keep (guard) the garden the cherubim were set with flaming sword "to keep [i.e., "guard," the same Hebrew word as in Gen.2:15] the way of the tree of life." When Adam was thrust out of the garden, the entire human family sank lower and lower into sin until God destroyed all but Noah and his family in the Flood and then ushered in a new age. So there must have been two or more ages before this present evil one (Gal.1:4). Similarly, in Ephesians 2:7 we read, "That in the ages to come..."; here, through the usage of the Greek word 'aion' in the plural, we learn that there shall be, at least two ages after this one. Similarly, Revelation 20:10 speaks of "the ages of the ages."

It is only natural then for someone to ask, "Then what about Judgment?" THOSE WHO OBJECT to the doctrine of the ultimate salvation of all usually insist that those who hold that doctrine do not believe that sin will be punished. That is a false criticism. Believers in Reconciliation are sure that "every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward" (Hebrews 2:2). They are certain that judgment for sin is inescapable. However, they also believe that there are more judgments than most Christians have recognized. Some judgments are past, some are continuously present, and some are future. It is misleading to speak of "The Judgment," as though it were only one event coming sometime in the future.

It may help us to list a few of the judgments of God upon sin. First of all, there was the judgment pronounced upon Adam in the Garden of Eden. That judgment has been operating ever since and will continue to operate until the consummation. Then there was the special judgment of the Flood and the special judgment on Sodom. There have been judgments upon Israel, such as the Captivity, and the Dispersion. One terrible judgment known as Jacob's Trouble is still to fall upon Israel (Jer.30:7).

The average church member has the idea that there is only one judgment at the great white throne and that there everyone, good and bad, Christian and non-Christian, will meet and be separated like sheep and goats. That is not Biblical teaching. The Bible teaches three judgments to be faced by every Christian. One is past; one is continuously present; and one is future. In one we are judged as sinners, in one we are judged as sons, and in one we are judged as servants.

Let's take the time to look at these three.


First, we are judged as sinners. This judgment is past for every Christian. "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet.2:24). But He did that 2000 years ago and there is nothing you and I can do to add anything to its effectiveness. "For He has made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin" (2 Cor.5:21). "There is therefore now no condemnation (sin-judgment) to them who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom.8:1). Why is there no condemnation now? Because He bore it then, over 2000 years ago and we do not have to bear it now. We ought to thank Him that He has already borne it for us. Paul said in 1 Cor. 5:21, " For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." and in Rom. 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation (sin-judgment) to them who are in Christ Jesus" Why is there no condemnation now? Because He bore it for us over 2000 years ago and we do not have to bear it now. We ought to thank Him that He has already borne it for us. 


Secondly, we are judged as sons. Because of Christ God accepts us as His children. John said in 1 John 3:2, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God" and Paul said in Gal. 3:26, "Because we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus". He gives us the standing of sons but He desires also that we become mature sons as well. He wants His sons to be son-like and in order to make us so He brings us into judgment, son-judgment. The prodigal son was not son-like but he was still a son. Paul said in 1 Cor. 11:31-32, "For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged. But when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world." That is, when we do wrong if we recognize it and condemn it in ourselves and confess it to God that is the end of it. For all God wants is for us to recognize and forsake all evil. But if we do not recognize it, or fail to confess it, then God has to take us in hand and judge us Himself. That is, He "chastises" us. This word comes from a root word meaning chaste or pure. God wants us to be chaste.


Here is a very clear statement from Hebrews 12:5-11 (NIV),


"And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: My son, do not make light of the Lords discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."


This quotation shows both the nature and purpose of our son-judgment.


The Third way we are judged is as a servant. This is the judgment that is still future. It is a reward for works, not a judgment on sin. Salvation is from sin; reward is for service. May God grant us a greater awareness of the fact that our reward depends upon the faithfulness of our service. Jesus said in Matt. 16:27, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels and then He shall reward every man according to his works" and Paul said in 1 Cor. 3:11-15, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work [not his sin] of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

The Forth way is the Judgment of the Nations (Matt.25:-31-46), which will be a judgment of the living at the Second Coming of Christ. At the close of the Millennium there will occur the Great White Throne Judgment, a judgment upon those who were not raised at the second Coming of Christ but were resurrected after the thousand years are past (Rev.20:12). The most important Judgment of all, however, was the judgment of sin at the cross of Christ.


Every sin ever committed receives a just recompense of reward. There is no escape. But it is a mistake to believe that every sin will be judged at one and the same time in the future. For instance, Jeremiah pronounced the curse of God upon Israel thus: "For Mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from My face, neither is their iniquity hid from Mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double" (Jer.16:17,18). The part of Isaiah's prophecy that looks beyond the Captivity begins as follows: "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (Isa.40:1,2). Now if her iniquity is pardoned, and she has received double for her sin, do you think God will demand punishment again for that sin? No, God is not like that.


Nevertheless, every sin that has not already been punished, as those of Israel mentioned above were punished, or sins that have not been forgiven through Christ, will be punished. Some will receive their just recompense in the crises connected with the millennial age, and some in the great day of judging that follows the Millennium. These will be "eonian punishment," which is mistakenly translated in our ordinary versions as "everlasting punishment." It is not "everlasting punishment," but more accurately, "ages chastening or for a very long time."


I hesitate to use the word "hell" in speaking of the judgments because in the King James Version, the Hebrew word 'sheol' and the Greek word 'hades', 'gehenna', and 'tartarus', were all translated 'hell,' while popular usage makes the lake of fire mean 'hell' as well. Any careful student of the Bible is aware of these things. So that, no matter how carefully I try to explain, I am sure to be misunderstood if I use the world 'hell.' This is because, to the ordinary person, 'hell' means a lake of fire and brimstone in which the damned (condemned) will suffer forever.


While feeding hogs in the "Far Country," the prodigal came to himself. It was the lack of food that changed him. His body was made for food, even as his heart was made for friendship and love, but he was destitute. "No man gave unto him." Then he remembered: "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" (Luke 15:17). He was suffering the results of his own selfishness, and lust, and reckless extravagance. His body was in agony without the sustenance it was created for. Rags, filth and the stench of his surroundings were only incidental to these greater facts:


(1) his body was without the food for which it was created and

(2) his heart was without the friendship and love for which it was created.


So it ought to be clear to thinking people that the reality of judgment will be separation from God's fellowship and the consequent recognition of God's wrath and condemnation and not the incidentals of place or circumstances.


Of course, no one knows just what judgment will be like nor will you know until you enter into it. Still, we ought to have a few trustworthy ideas based on the teachings of the Bible about the subject and about the nature of God:


(1) Judgment will bring punishment, deserved punishment but it will not be meaningless torture. The Riverside Daily Press for November 23, 1940, had an Associated Press report from San Francisco as follows: "A Father's Curse, was the legacy left by Dennis Donohue III, fifty-four, member of a well known family here, to his two daughters by a former wife, in a will filed for probate in Superior Court which said:


"And to my two daughters, Frances Marie and Denise Victoria Donohue, he wrote in his own hand, `by virtue of their unfilial (unbecoming from a child to a father) attitude toward a doting father, and because they have repeatedly thwarted my efforts to see them, I leave the sum of one dollar each and a father's curse. May their respective lives be fraught with misery, unhappiness and poignant sorrow. May their deaths be soon and of a lingering, malign, and torturous nature. May their souls rest in hell and suffer the torments of the damned for eternity.'"


Of course, such an attitude is not that of a true father; it is only that of a fiend. But what may not be clear to all is that, in this respect, this unfortunate man is a perfect example of the God of popular theology. Because his children were unfilial (not respectful to Him as their Father) he consigns them to the torment of "hell fire," forever. We have all been unfilial children of the Heavenly Father and only a handful of us have repented. Therefore, as many would have us believe, this "God of orthodoxy" consigns all those who have not repented to unending torment! No more terrible insult was ever given to the God of all grace.


(2) Judgment will be just. "The Lord will take into account, when He writes up the people, that this man was born there" (Psa.87:6). That is, God will remember the heredity and environment of each individual. We read in Hebrews 2:2 that "every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward." Judgment will be just.


(3) In order to be just, judgment will be graded to suit the offense. In Luke 12:42-48, Jesus taught us that the servant "which knew His Lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." This one fact about judgment rules out both Eternal Torment and Extermination, for neither of them, by their very nature, can be graded.


(4) All of God's judgments will be purposive and will accomplish something. "For when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa.26:9). "Lord, in trouble have they visited Thee, they poured out a prayer when Thy chastening was upon them" (Isa.26:16). "Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness" (Heb.12:9,10).


(5) Judgment will destroy enmity and rebellion. "For He must reign till He hath put all His enemies under His feet" (1 Cor.15:25). And when enmity and rebellion are destroyed what is to hinder faith and trust?


The pity about this whole matter is that many folks who claim to be missionary and evangelistic in attitude and who insist that they want to see the wicked saved, nevertheless tend to be angry if they are told that God is going to do just that for all the wicked. They are not willing for God to save the lost ultimately unless He does it according to their theological scheme. They are like Jonah who was angry because God spared the wicked city of Nineveh. Each of us need to search our own heart and see if we really want the wicked saved.