Augustine and Matthew 25:46

     Augustine gave a couple of reasons why he believed it was in vain that some, indeed very many, in his day, believed there was no eternal punishment:

    “It is quite in vain, then, that some–indeed very many–yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture–but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth. “ ‘God will not forget,’ ” they say, “ ‘to show mercy, nor in his anger will he shut up his mercy.’ ” This is, in fact, the text of a holy psalm. But there is no doubt that it is to be interpreted to refer to those who are called “vessels of mercy,” those who are freed from misery not by their own merits but through God's mercy. Even so, if they suppose that the text applies to all men, there is no ground for them further to suppose that there can be an end for those of whom it is said, “ ‘Thus these shall go into everlasting punishment.’ ” Otherwise, it can as well be thought that there will also be an end to the happiness of those of whom the antithesis was said: “ ‘But the righteous into life eternal.’ ”

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It may be that many of the early believers in Augustine's day did “deplore the notion of eternal punishment” by yielding to “human feelings” and reliance upon God's mercy. But, was Augustine correct to quote Matthew 25:46 to support the notion of “eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery''? I say No, he was not.
     He is saying that if punishment is temporary then it logically follows that the life for the righteous is temporary as well. But is Matthew 25:31-46 really saying this is about the fate of “damned” vs. the righteous for all eternity? No! This judgment takes place when Christ comes back and sets up His 1000 year kingdom (see also Revelation 20). When Christ comes back (Matt.25:31) He will call the nations to this judgment. They will be judged as to how Christ's brethren were treated. Having faith in Christ or lack thereof is not what they are being judged for. Christ never calls the sheep nations His brothers but He does tell them that they treated His brethren correctly.
     Secondly, the “kolasin aionion” or “chastening eonian” which the goat nations must endure is equal in length to the life (zoe aionion/life eonian) in the kingdom which the sheep nations enjoy. When the 1000 year eon ends, both the chastening of the goat nations and the life of the sheep nations end. Then all must appear before the great white throne. The earth is destroyed and I'm sure that some from both groups of the goat and sheep nations will enter into the lake of fire.
     But this is not their “eternal” lot, for, one day, death, (the second death) which the lake of fire is called, will be abolished, all will be made alive (be vivified or given immortality), subjected to Christ and God will be All in all, not All in some (see 1 Cor.15:22-28).
     Augustine, for all his brilliance, was not given to see certain truths in the Scriptures. While he may have been correct to state that the given psalm was meant to pertain to the vessels of mercy, It is too bad that he did not see the truth of Romans 11:32 how that God should be merciful in the future to those who are enemies to the evangel and stubborn now.

Tony Nungesser


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