Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’—Matthew 25:41-46
What does Jesus mean by eternal punishment? If we do not understand what eternal punishment means, we easily let it go as unimportant. We do so at our peril.
The Greek word, kolasis, translated as punishment means chastisement, punishment, torment, perhaps with the idea of deprivation*. In the Bible it appears only here in Mathew 25:46 and 1 John 4:18 which reads: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
1 John may provide the insight we need to understand Jesus’ meaning. It is my understanding that the Kingdom of God started at Christ’s resurrection. If so, then eternity began then too. We practice every day of our lives loving the way Jesus loves training for perfection in our loving now and throughout eternity. 1 John suggests that fear is our greatest impediment to reaching that perfection. To love God and to love any other opens us to the vulnerability of not being loved in return. The ways of the world dictate that we must receive just return on any investment we make. The unconditional nature of God’s love negates that idea. If we give in to the way of the world regarding how we love, we condemn ourselves to live without accepting the unconditional love that God so freely extends to all.
Prayer: Lord, many of us having been hurt by what we perceived to be love but wasn’t. Asa result we built walls of fear to protect us from fully accepting your unconditional love. Tear those walls down and heal the wounds that enslave us keeping us from fulfilling our call to love as Jesus loved. Amen.