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THE DEVALUATION AND RESTRICTION OF THE RANSOM SACRIFICE IV AN ANALYSIS OF PASSAGES SUPPOSED TO DEAL WITH EVERLASTING ANNIHILATION

By 5. July 2024Bible study

INTRODUCTION

Neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Christian Greek Scriptures speak about universal salvation, that all humans who have lived on the earth will get everlasting life. According to Luke 20:35 Jesus said:

35 but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.

Not all humans “have been counted worthy” of gaining the new system of things. This expression does not mean that it is difficult to enter the new system of things, it simply means that all humans are not allowed to get a resurrection on Judgment Day.

There are particularly five texts that the members of the Governing Body have used to show that billions of people will be eternally annihilated:

  • The illustration of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • The illustration of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42)
  • The words in 2 Peter 3:7 about the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly people.
  • The words in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9 about vengeance and everlasting destruction.
  • The armies of the kings in Revelation 19:19-21.

I will now analyze and discuss these texts in order to show that the members of the Governing Body have misunderstood parts of these texts.

THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS

The view of the members of the Governing Body is that the words in verses 31 and 32 that the Son of man “comes in his glory,” and he “will sit down on his glorious throne” refers to the great tribulation. Then “all the nations will gather before him and he will separate people one from another just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Because the destiny of the goats is “the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (verse 41), this evidently means everlasting annihilation. I will now look at the context in order to identify the goats.

THE TIME OF THE FULFILLMENT OG THE ILLUSTRATION

From the year 1923 and for 72 years the view was that the words in 25:31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne” refer to the establishment of the heavenly Kingdom in the year 1914 and the presence of Jesus Christ when he rules in the midst of his enemies. But The Watchtower of October 15, 1995, pages 22, 23, presented a different view. I quote from this article:

23 If we analyze Jesus’ activity in the parable, we observe him finally judging all the nations. The parable, though, depicts the time when Jesus judges the people of “all the nations” who are then alive and facing the execution of his judicial sentence.

25 This means, then, that Jesus’ ‘sitting down on his glorious throne’ for judgment, mentioned at Matthew 25:31, applies to the future point when this powerful King will sit down to pronounce and execute judgment on the nations.

25 This means, then, that Jesus’ ‘sitting down on his glorious throne’ for judgment, mentioned aMatthew 25:31, applies to the future point when this powerful King will sit down to pronounce and execute judgment on the nations.

We note the words that Jesus will be judgning “the people of all the nations” and not only some of these. The word “comes” in 25:31 is erkhomai (“come”), and we can find its reference on the basis of the context. In Acts 1:11 the word refers to his return as king in 1914. But in Matthew 24:30, 42, 44. 46 it refers to the coming of Jesus in the great tribulation. However, the words about the transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain can help us find the correct time setting for the fulfillment of Matthew 25:31.

I will now compare the words in Matthew 25:31 with what the gospel writers say about the transfiguration:

Matthew 25:31: 31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne.

Matthew 16:27, 28: 27 For the Son of man is to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will repay each one according to his behavior. 28 Truly I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his Kingdom.”

Mark 8:38, 9:1: 38 For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 1 Furthermore, he said to them: “Truly I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste death at all until first they see the Kingdom of God already having come (erkhomai, perfect participle active) in power.”

Luke 9:26, 27: 26 For whoever becomes ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death at all until first they see the Kingdom of God.”

There are three important points in Matthew 25:31, 1) “comes in his glory,” 2) “with the angels,” and 3) “sit down on his glorious throne.” In the presentation of the transfiguration, the three gospel writers use the words “glory” and “angels” that we also find in Matthew 25:31. And the words “sit down on his glorious throne” in Matthew 25:31 has a parallel as well.

Six days after Jesus spoke his words, the apostles saw his transfiguration, and what they saw was not Jesus acting as judge in the great tribulation, but they saw “the kingdom of God” and “the Son of man coming in his Kingdom.” These words can only refer to the Kingdom of God that was established in the year 1914. The words of Mark are particularly illuminating. He uses the perfect active participle of the verb erkhomai (“come”), and the translation must be “see the Kingdom of God having come.” (The word “already” in NWT13 is added and is not in the Greek text.) The point here is that the transfiguration showed that the Kingdom of God had come, it was established. And what they saw was not the great tribulation that was the end of the presence of Jesus but rather its beginning.

One of the apostles who were on the holy mountain with Jesus and who saw his transfiguration was Peter. In his second letter, he referred to the transfiguration, and his words are important. 2 Peter 1:16-18 says:

16 No, it was not by following artfully contrived false stories that we made known to you the power and presence (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather, we were eyewitnesses of his magnificence. 17 For he received from God the Father honor and glory when words such as these were conveyed to him by the magnificent glory: “This is my Son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.” 18 Yes, these words we heard coming from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.

Peter confirms the conclusion I already have reached that the transfiguration referred to the coming of Jesus as king in the year 1914 and the establishing of the heavenly Kingdom. Peter says directly that the transfiguration showed the presence of Jesus. When the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:31 parallels his words about the transfiguration, we have strong evidence that the words in verse Matthew 25:31 refer to the presence of Jesus from the year 1914 and not to his coming in the great tribulation.

THE EARTHLY KINGDOM THAT WILL MAKE THE EARTH A PARADISE

The illustration of Jesus does not refer to the Kingdom of the heavens as does the illustration of the five discreet and five foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. But verse 34 in chapter 25 shows that the reference is to the coming earthly Kingdom:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.

When we look for clues that can identify “the Kingdom” that is mentioned, we need to consider the time factor that is mentioned in the verse, namely “the founding of the world.” According to Luke 11:50, 51, the foundation/founding (katabolē) of the world (the human family) was laid at the time of Abel when children were born to Adam and Eve. Hebrews 11:11 confirms that katabolē is connected with the procreation of children.

The expression “the founding of the world” is used in the letter to the Ephesians. We read in 1:3, 4, and 2:6:

3 Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in union with Christ, 4 as he chose us to be in union with him before the founding of the world,that we should be holy and unblemished before him in love…

Moreover, he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus.

These verses show that the hope of members of the congregation in Ephesus was to rule with Jesus Christ in his heavenly Kingdom. What is particularly important in 1:4 is the use of the preposition. The verse says that the Ephesians whose hope was the heavenly Kingdom were chosen before (pro) the founding of the world. However, the Kingdom that the sheep would inherit according to Matthew 26:34 was prepared from (apo) the founding of the world. The two prepositions are mutually exclusive, and this shows that the Kingdom mentioned in 25:34 is a kingdom that is different from the heavenly Kingdom. The only alternative is the earthly Kingdom that will exist on the earth during the thousand-year-reign of Jesus Christ. That there is both a heavenly Kingdom and an earthly Kingdom is confirmed by Hebrews 2:5 where we read about “the coming inhabited earth” and 3:1 where we read about those who are “partakes of the heavenly calling.” We appreciate very much that Jesus mentions both the heavenly and the earthly Kingdoms in his great prophecy about his presence.

The two different hopes, the heavenly one and the earthly one, are not only seen in the use of the preposition apo (“from”) in contrast with the preposition pro (“before”) in the letter to the Ephesians. But it is also seen in the relationship with the persons that are mentioned.

The word “sheep” refers to persons who have God’s approval and who will inherit the earthly Kingdom. But there is another group that is mentioned, namely, the brothers of Jesus in 25:40. The group called the brothers of Jesus in Hebrew 2:11, who also are children of God, according to 2:13, are “partakes of the heavenly calling” according to 3:1. This suggests that the brothers of Jesus that are mentioned together with the sheep also are partakers of the heavenly calling.

This conclusion is confirmed in the letter to Romans chapter 8. Verses 29 and 30 say that Jesus is “the firstborn among many brothers,” whom God called to the heavenly Kingdom. Being brothers of Jesus, these individuals are also the children of God. Just as is the case in Matthew 25:31-46, two different groups are also mentioned in Romans 8:14-33:

14 For all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!”16 The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 If, then, we are children, we are also heirs—heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ—provided we suffer together so that we may also be glorified together. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of the present time do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us. 19 For the creation is waiting with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but through the one who subjected it, on the basis of hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now. 23 Not only that, but we ourselves also who have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit, yes, we ourselves groan within ourselves while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.

Paul shows that he and the Romans to whom his letter was addressed were God’s sons or children (verses 14, 15). They were also joint heirs with Christ (verse 16), and they were earnestly waiting for the release of their bodies (Verse 23). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom,” and in verses 35 to 49 he shows that in order to reign with Jesus Christ in heaven a person must die and get a spirit body in his resurrection. This is “the release from our bodies.”

In addition to the mentioned group of God’s children, who have the heavenly calling, there is another group, “the creation” (verse 19), which refers to Adam’s descendants. They are “subjected to futility” (verse 19). But with the help of God’s children in the heavenly government, they “will be set free from enslavement to corruption” during the thousand-year-reign of Jesus Christ. At the end of this period when they will have reached perfection, they themselves will “have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Thus, we see that the earthly Kingdom is mentioned together with the heavenly Kingdom in Romans chapter 8 and Hebrews chapters 2 and 3, and it is implied, together with the earthly Kingdom in Matthew chapter 25.

The conclusion to this section is that the brothers of Jesus refer to those who will reign with him in heaven, and the sheep are those who will inherit the earthly kingdom.

THE GOATS DO NOT REFER TO THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD 

In Matthew 25:32, NWT13 has the rendering: “he will separate people from each other,” but the word “people” most likely will be misunderstood. The natural understanding of the verse is that “people” refers to the inhabitants of all the nations, and that these inhabitants will be separated into two groups, sheep and goats. But that is a wrong understanding. In order to ascertain this, we need to know the Greek rules regarding pronouns that can refer back to nouns. The rules in English regarding pronouns that refer back to nouns are quite similar to the rules in Greek. In order to illustrate the issue, I use an English example, namely, Matthew 5:28.

But I say to you that everyone who keeps on looking at a woman (gynaika, feminine singular accusative) so as to have a passion for her (autēn, third person feminine singular accusative) has already committed adultery with her (autēn, third person feminine singular accusative) in his heart.

*But I say to you that everyone who keeps on looking at a woman (gynaika, feminine singular accusative) so as to have a passion for him (auton, third person masculine singular accusative) has already committed adultery with him (auton, third person masculine singular accusative) in his heart.

The first quotation is grammatical because the pronouns referring back to the woman are feminine and “woman” (gynaika) is feminine. The second clause is marked by an asterisk because it is ungrammatical. It is not possible to use a masculine singular pronoun to refer back to a feminine singular noun. The rule is the same in Greek. A pronoun that refers back to a noun must have the same gender and number as the noun. Now we understand the rules that can help us answer the questions regarding whether the goats refer to the nations of the world.

Below is my translation of Matthew 25:32

And all the nations (panta ta ethne, plural nominative neuter) will be gathered before him. And he will separate them (autous, third person masculine plural accusative) from each other (allēlōn, masculine plural genitive), just as the shepherd is separating the sheep from the goats.

Just as “him” in the ungrammatical example above cannot refer back to “the woman,” the pronoun “them” that is masculine cannot refer back to “the nations” that are neuter. The conclusion is that those who will experience the everlasting fire are not all the inhabitants of the nations of the world who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they are some unidentified persons expressed by the pronoun “them” among these inhabitants. A parallel example is found in Matthew 28:19, with my literal translation (above) and NWT13 (below):

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations (ta ethnē, neuter plural accusative), baptizing them (autous,personal pronoun third masculine plural accusative) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.  

 The grammatical construction in Matthew 28:19 is similar to the construction in 25:32. “All the nations” are neuter and the following personal pronoun is masculine. Therefore, the personal pronoun cannot refer back to all the nations. The translators of NWT13 realized this, and therefore they added the words “people of” before “all the nations.” Thus, the personal pronoun “them” refers back to people of” all the nations. Because the construction of 28:19 is similar to the construction of 25:32, those who are separated as goats are people of all the nations and not all the inhabitants of all the nations.

All the nations were gathered before Jesus when he became king in 1914 because he is subduing in the midst of these nations (Psalm 110:1, 2) And the Greek text is clear: some persons who are a part of these nations will be separated from one another into the two groups sheep and goats.[1] So the view that the members of the Governing Body have expressed that the goats are all the inhabitants of the nations of the world, except Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are the sheep, is grammatically impossible.

There is also a parallel example in Revelation 20:8, 9, and my translation is:

8 And he [Satan] will go out to mislead (planaō, aorist active infinitive) the nations (ta ethnē, neuter plural accusative) those in the four corners of the earth, the Gog (masculine singular accusative) and Magog to gather (aorist active infinitive) them (autous, personal pronoun third person masculine plural accusative) to the war, those being (ōn, relative pronoun, masculine plural accusative). And their (autōn, personal pronoun third person masculine plural accusative) number like the sand of the sea. 9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down out of heaven and devoured them (autous, personal pronoun third person masculine plural accusative).

In verse 8, the verb “mislead” (planaō) is aorist infinitive. An infinitive has no temporal reference, and this infinitive shows the purpose of Satan, namely, “to go out to mislead the nations.” But the text does not say that he succeeded in misleading the nations. To the contrary, the text says that Satan will “gather them.” The personal pronoun “them” is masculine, and therefore it cannot refer back to the nations that are neuter.

So, the situation is exactly the same as with those that would be baptized (Matthew 28:19): people of all the nations and not all the nations would be baptized. The situation is also the same as with the goats: they are not the inhabitants of all the nations, but some of these inhabitants. Satan will not mislead the nations at the four corners of the earth, but some people of these nations. This is seen by the use of the masculine personal pronoun three times in Revelation: 8 and 9.

What about Gog and Magog? The word “Gog” has the masculine singular article, and therefore, Gog cannot refer back to the nations that are neuter plural. The word Magog does not have the article, but grammatically speaking, when two names are connected with “and,” only the first name has the article, and the article is implied in connection with the second name. This means that Gog and Magog are grammatically dual, and because of this, the plural pronoun “them” can refer back to Gog and Magog. This means that “Gog and Magog” are not designations of the nations at the four corners of the earth, but designations of those persons of the nations who attack the encampment of the holy ones and the beloved city are called “Gog and Magog.[2]

THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE GOATS

The actions of the goats contradict the view of the Governing Body. What is the reason for being placed in the group of the goats? Verses 41-46 give the answer:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left: ‘Go away from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. 42 For I became hungry, but you gave me nothing to eat; and I was thirsty, but you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger, but you did not receive me hospitably; naked, but you did not clothe me; sick and in prison, but you did not look after me.’ 44 Then they too will answer with the words: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying: ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.’ 46  These will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”

In order to refuse to come to the aid and relief of the brothers of Jesus (these least ones with the heavenly hope), the goats must have identified and known these brothers of Jesus. The only place where that would be possible would be inside the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses where the anointed brothers of Jesus are. This means that the goats are not the several billion humans outside the Christian congregations who live on this earth. But the goats are persons who in one way or another have been associated with Jehovah’s Christian congregations, but who have followed the bad example of some anointed Christians that we read about in Hebrews 6:4-6:

For as regards those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly free gift and who have become partakers of holy spirit and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but have fallen away, it is impossible to revive them again to repentance, because they nail the Son of God to the stake again for themselves and expose him to public shame. 

The persons who are mentioned in these verses were not ignorant. They had been enlightened, and they had the chance to accept the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. But instead of accepting this free gift, they fell away. The word parapiptō has the meaning “to abandon a former relationship or association.” These persons consciously rejected the worship of Jehovah and the kingship of Jesus Christ, and therefore they deserved to get an adverse judgment. In a similar way, the goats have also rejected the ransom sacrifice by their refusal to support the brothers of Jesus who have taken the lead in the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom. This shows that the view of the members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the illustration of the sheep and the goats, that Jehovah’s Witnesses will survive the great tribulation because they are the sheep but billions of others will be annihilated forever because they are the goats, is utterly false.

The goats are not all the inhabitants of the nations of the world because:

1)    The separating of the sheep and the goats occur during the presence of Jesus and not in the great tribulation.

2)    The grammar requires that the goats are some of the inhabitants of the nations and not all of them.

3)    The actions of the goats show that they have been a part of or related to the Christian congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses but have rejected the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

4)   Thus, the goats do not refer to billions of people but to the few who have served Jehovah but have turned away from him.

[1]. The personal pronoun that the NWT13 translates as “the people” is autous, which is third person masculine plural accusative. If the personal pronoun referred back to “nations” that is neuter, the pronoun must have been auta, which is third person neuter plural accusative. The antecedent of autous is not grammatical but logical, namely, unspecified persons from the nations. I would, therefore, have translated autous by “persons” and not by “the people,” with an explanations in a footnote.

[2]. The distinction between the nations of the earth and those who will be judged is seen by expositors of the gospel of Matthew. For example, Robert H. Gundry says in his book Matthew A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art, page 512, “The shift from the neuter panta ta ethnē, “all the nations,” to the masculine autous, “them,” implies individual rather than national judgment (cf. 28:19, 29).

WHO ARE THE WEEDS IN MATTHEW 13:24-30, 36-43?

The illustration and prophecy of the sheep and the goats, that I have discussed above, show how some persons with the hope of living forever in the earthly paradise, will reject the ransom sacrifice and will be eternally annihilated.

In the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the presence of Jesus there has also been a small group of anointed Christians with the hope of reigning with Jesus Christ in heaven.  The illustration and prophecy about the wheat and the weeds show how some of these will reject the ransom sacrifice and will be eternally annihilated. I quote Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:

24 He presented another illustration to them, saying: “The Kingdom of the heavens may be likened to a man who sowed fine seed in his field. 25 While men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat and left.26 When the stalk sprouted and produced fruit, then the weeds also appeared. 27 So the slaves of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow fine seed in your field? How, then, does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy, a man, did this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go out and collect them?’29 He said, ‘No, for fear that while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the harvest season, I will tell the reapers: First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up; then gather the wheat into my storehouse.’”

36 Then after dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples came to him and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.” 37 In response he said: “The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man; 38 the field is the world. As for the fine seed, these are the sons of the Kingdom, but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels. 40 Therefore, just as the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be in the conclusion of the system of things. 41 The Son of man will send his angels, and they will collect out from his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling and people who practice lawlessness, 42 and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be. 43 At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Let the one who has ears listen.

Most of the illustrations of Jesus express general truths and are time indifferent. The illustration about the man who planted a vineyard in Luke 20:9-13 speaks about the killing of the son of the man, and this may refer to the killing of Jesus in 33 CE. Apart from this, I am aware of only four illustrations that have a clear time element, namely the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, the illustration of the sheep and the goats, the illustration of the dragnet, and the illustration of the minas. All four illustrations give several concrete details, and they must be viewed as prophecies.

THE TIME FRAME OF THE ILLUSTRATION

In the 1st century CE, the fine seed was sown when sincere persons entered the Kingdom of God, i.e., the Kingdom of his beloved Son. In the last part of that century, Satan the Devil sowed weeds when persons in the Christian congregation introduced false teachings and violated God’s laws. This bad influence is described in 1 John, 2 John, 2. Peter, Jude, and Revelation, which were written in the last part of the 1st century CE. In the second century, elders gave themselves more power and they made themselves into bishops. And later a clergy with priests and bishops developed. Throughout the centuries, only a few sincere persons served God in spirit and truth according to the illustration. But there was no separate group of true Christians. This situation would continue until the harvest.

In the explanation of Jesus, there is a clear time frame. Verse 39 says that the harvest is synteleia aiōnos, which can correctly be translated as “a conclusion of a system of things” as does NWT84. In Matthew 24:3, we find the expression synteleias tou aiōnos, which is the same as the expression in 13:39. In 24:3, Matthew parallels synteleias tou aiōnos with the parousia (“presence”) of Jesus. And this presence began in 1914 when Jesus started to reign in the midst of his enemies and the Kingdom of God was established. This period is also called “the time of the end” in Daniel 12:9.

At the beginning of this harvest time, aka “the conclusion of the system of things,” aka “the time of the end, aka “the presence of Jesus” between the year 1914 and the great tribulation the angels would do the harvest work.

THE FULFILLMENT DURING THE PRESENCE OF JESUS

Which harvest work has been done by the angels during the presence of Jesus since the year 1914?

THE INTERPRETATION OF THE WEEDS BY THE MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNING BODY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

The Watchtower of March 15, 2010, page 22, said:

5 Who is the enemy, and who are the weeds? Jesus tells us that the enemy “is the Devil.” The weeds are described as “the sons of the wicked one.” (Matt. 13:25, 38, 39) In a literal sense, the weeds that Jesus referred to were probably the bearded darnel. This poisonous plant closely resembles wheat in its early stages before it reaches maturity. What a fitting picture of imitation Christians, those who claim to be sons of the Kingdom but do not produce genuine fruitage! These hypocritical Christians who claim to be followers of Christ are really part of the “seed” of Satan the Devil.​—Gen. 3:15.

12 How long does the judgment last? Jesus referred to the harvest as a “season,” so it continues over a period of time. (Rev. 14:15, 16) The judgment of the individual members of the anointed continues throughout the time of the end. It will last until they are finally sealed.​—Rev. 7:1-4.

13 Who will be collected out from the Kingdom, and how do they cause stumbling and do lawlessness? (Matt. 13:41) The weedlike clergy of Christendom have misled millions for centuries. They have done this by means of God-dishonoring teachings, “things that cause stumbling,” such as the doctrine of eternal punishment in hellfire and the confusing and mysterious Trinity. Many religious leaders have set a bad example for their flocks by their adulterous friendship with this world and in some cases by their flagrant immoral conduct. (Jas. 4:4) Additionally, Christendom has become increasingly tolerant of immorality among its members. (Read Jude 4.) Despite all of this, they continue to maintain an outward show of piety and godliness. How happy the sons of the Kingdom are to be separated from such weedlike influences and corrupt teachings that cause stumbling!

14 How do the weedlike ones weep and gnash their teeth? (Matt. 13:42) “The sons of the wicked one” are tormented by the fact that “the sons of the kingdom” have exposed the spiritually poisonous condition of these weedlike ones. They also bemoan the diminishing support they receive from their church members, as well as their loss of control over the laity.​—Read Isaiah 65:13, 14.

15 In what sense are the weeds collected and burned with fire? (Matt. 13:40) This refers to the final outcome for the weeds. Their being thrown symbolically into the fiery furnace indicates that they are headed for eternal destruction. (Rev. 20:14; 21:8) The imitation, weedlike Christians, the impostors, will be eradicated during the “great tribulation.”​—Matt. 24:21.

The explanation of The Watchtower is that the weeds are the clergy of Christendom and all who claim to be Christians but do not produce the right fruit. The Christian religions in the world count 2.4 billion members, and what The Watchtower says is that all these people will experience eternal destruction with no hope of a resurrection.

THE IDENTIFICATION GIVEN BY THE MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNING BODY IS FALSE

We can definitely conclude that the interpretation of the members of the Governing Body is wrong because of the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:41:

The Son of man will send his angels, and they will collect out from his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling and people who practice lawlessness42 and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace.

The setting of the illustration is the kingdom of heaven according to verse 24, and this kingdom was established in the year 1914. According to 13:30, during the harvest the wheat was gathered and brought into the barn. Historically speaking, the wheat, which symbolizes the sons of the kingdom (verse 38), was collected from the 1870s when the Bible Students started their preaching and during the whole presence of Jesus.

The members of the Governing Body apply the weeds to the clergy of Christendom and to all persons who claim to be Christian but do not produce the right fruits — this group includes 2.4 billion people. The basic reason why this interpretation is wrong is that verse 41 says that the weeds will be gathered “out of his kingdom.” And neither the clergy nor all the 2.4 billion Christians have been a part of the heavenly kingdom. Therefore, they cannot be collected “out from his kingdom.”

The illustration of the dragnet supports this conclusion I quote Matt 13:47-51:

47 Again the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up [fish] of every kind. 48 When it got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. 49 That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous 50 and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be.

People who are symbolized by fish are gathered into the kingdom of heaven, and after that, the wicked are separated from the righteous. In both illustrations, the wicked are collected out of the Kingdom, i.e., they have had a relationship to this kingdom but have proved that they were not worthy of the kingdom. So, it is clear that the weeds cannot symbolize the 2.4 billing persons who claim they are Christians but do not have the right fruits.

THE TRUE IDENTIFICATION OF THE WEEDS

It is true that from the last part of the 1st century CE, false Christian groups developed, and in time, these evolved into false Christian denominations. The illustration shows that from the end of the 1st century CE and through the centuries, sincere individuals who served God would be among the false Christians. But no group of sincere Christians would be formed and separated from the false Christians.

However, this situation would change in the harvest time, which began in the year 1914. Historically speaking, the change started in the 1870s. Sincere persons from different false Christian denominations came together to study the Bible in order to find the true Christian doctrines. This group was led by Charles T. Russell. In the 19th century, there was a loosely connected group of Bible students. But it was first some years after the death of Russell in 1916 that the group of Bible students became a united group under the leadership of Joseph F. Rutherford. This new situation could be seen as the fulfillment of the words of verse 30 in chapter 13 that the angels “would gather the wheat into my storehouse.”

But what about the “weeds”? According to verse 41, the angels would collect the weeds “out from his kingdom.” We can see situations that may be a fulfillment of these words in the days of C.T. Russel and J.F. Rutherford. Many different persons associated with Russell and other Bible students at a time when there only was a loosely connected group. The illustration says that the wheat was gathered into God’s storehouse, which suggests a tightly united group consisting of different congregations with members who were chosen by God and, therefore, could be viewed as wheat, would be formed.

In the process of catching fish by a dragnet, both good and unsuitable fish were gathered. Only during the sorting process did the different qualities of the different fishes become known. In a similar way, a number of people gathered around Russell and his friends. But it was not clear from the outset who was like the wheat and who was like the weeds. However, in time, the spiritual quality of each person would become visible, and persons who showed that they were weeds were collected by the angels. So, the situation was not that some who were like wheat became weeds. But the situation was that time was needed to show who would turn out to be wheat and who would turn out to be weeds.

The book Faith on the March by A.H. Macmillan, who was an associate of Russell, and different history books published by the Watchtower Society, can be used to see the difference between the wheat and the weeds during the time of Russell and the Bible Students. Nelson Barbour cooperated with Russel for some time. But then he discarded the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and he and his followers showed that they were weeds. After the death of Russell, P.S.L. Johnson started a rebellion, and he and his friends showed that they were weeds. To this day, there are some groups of Russelites in different countries that originated in this rebellion.

The focus of Jesus when he told his illustrations was the kingdom of heavens and how its members were called, and it was not on the world in general

It is very important to understand that Jesus by telling the illustration about the wheat and the weeds, did not refer to the preaching work during the time of the end and that people would be separated into two groups. The focus of the illustration is the formation of a tightly united group of persons who are chosen to reign with Jesus Christ in the heavenly Kingdom. And this separation would occur in the time of the end after the time when there was no distinction between true Christians and false Christians.

The members of the Governing Body believe that the false Christian religions of today with 2.4 billion members are the weeds. But this is a wrong view because these religions have never been a part of the heavenly Kingdom, and therefore it cannot be said that they will be collected out of the Kingdom.

The weeds at persons who have been had the hope or reigning with Jesus Christ in heaven, who have turned against Jehovah and who have rejected the ransom sacrifice.

THE JUDGMENT OF UNGODLY PEOPLE (2 PETER 3:7)

The illustration of the sheep and the goats, that was discussed above, showed show how some persons who was a part of the group with the hope of living in the earthly paradise, rejected the ransom sacrifice and was separated from the sheep to experience everlasting annihilation. The illustration of the wheat and the weeds, that also was discussed above, showed how some persons with the hope of reigning with Jesus Christ in heaven, rejected the ransom sacrifice, and was collected out of God’s kingdom to experience everlasting annihilation.

Now I will discuss the destiny of persons who have not been a part of God’s people. The second letter of Peter speaks about new heavens and a new earth (3:13). It also speaks about the judgment of ungodly people in 3:3-7:

 First of all know this, that in the last days ridiculers will come with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as they were from creation’s beginning.”For they deliberately ignore this fact, that long ago there were heavens and an earth standing firmly out of water and in the midst of water by the word of God; and that by those means the world (kosmos) of that time suffered destruction (apollymi) when it was flooded with water.But by the same word the heavens and the earth that now exist are reserved for fire and are being kept until the day of judgment and of destruction (apoleia) of the ungodly people.

Awake! of March 22, 1993, page 9, has the following comment on Peter’s words:

At times the Bible uses the terms “heavens” and “earth” in figurative ways. “Heavens” may be used to mean Satan, the god of this world; world rulers under his control; and wicked spirit forces in heavenly places​—all of which exercise demonic influence over mankind. (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12) “Earth” is frequently used to refer to the peoples on the earth. (Genesis 11:1;1 Kings 2:1, 2; 1 Chronicles 16:31; Psalm 96:1) It is these symbolic heavens and earth of this present wicked world that 2 Peter 3:7 says are to be destroyed by “fire.Galatians 1:4.

The words about the heavens, the earth, and the fire are, of course, figurative. In 3:13, Peter speaks of “new heavens and a new earth” The new heavens refer to the Kingdom of God that will be a government over the new earth, which refers to the new system of things that will be functioning during the thousand-year-reign of Jesus. In a similar way, the new heavens must refer to the governments of this old system of things. And the new earth must refer to the people who will live in the new system of things.

Who are “The ungodly (asebēs) people” that will experience destruction (apoleia)?

We get some clues in 2 Peter 2:1-3:

1 However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among YOU. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive (apoleia) sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction (apoleia) upon themselves2 Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. 3 Also, with covetousness they will exploit YOU with counterfeit words. But as for them, the judgment from of old is not moving slowly, and the destruction (apoleia) of them is not slumbering.

Peter says that false teachers who will exploit the members of the congregations with counterfeit words, even reject the ransom sacrifice. These people will experience a speedy destruction. The word translated as “destruction” is apoleia, the same word that is used in the expression, “destruction of the ungodly people” in 3:7. This means that the ungodly people whom Peter says will be destroyed according to 3:5 must refer to the false teachers in the Christian congregations. This is not all because we read in 2:4-7:

4 Certainly if God did not hold back from punishing the angels that sinned, but, by throwing them into Tarʹta·rus, delivered them to pits of dense darkness to be reserved for judgment; 5 and he did not hold back from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly (asebēs) people; 6 and by reducing the cities Sodʹom and Go·morʹrah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly (asebēs) persons of things to come.

The destruction of ungodly people in the great flood and when Sodom and Gomorrah are said to be a pattern for the destruction of ungodly (asebēs) people in the future. This idea is repeated in 3:5-7 that I quote one time more:

For they deliberately ignore this fact, that long ago there were heavens and an earth standing firmly out of water and in the midst of water by the word of God; and that by those means the world (kosmos) of that time suffered destruction (apollymi) when it was flooded with water.But by the same word the heavens and the earth that now exist are reserved for fire and are being kept until the day of judgment and of destruction (apoleia) of the ungodly people.

There is a contrast in these words. Long ago there were literal heavens and a literal earth, and the world (kosmos) of mankind was destroyed by water. The literal heavens and the literal earth are still standing. Therefore, when Peter speaks about “the heavens and the earth that now exist,” he must refer to figurative heavens and a figurative earth. As Awake! pointed out, the heavens must refer to human governments and the earth must refer to the people on the earth. The figurative heavens and the figurative earth will be destroyed by fire:

  • The ungodly persons that will be destroyed: The false teachers in the congregations.
  • The heavens: The human governments will be destroyed.
  • The earth: The inhabitants of the earth will be destroyed.

The focus of this discussion is the Greek word apoleia (“destruction”). It is applied to false teachers who reject the ransom sacrifice, and it is applied to humans who do not serve God. The word apoleia shows that all these persons will lose their life. But only God knows whether some of them have sinned against the holy spirit and will not get a resurrection.

WHO WILL EXPERIENCE “EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION” (2 THESSALONIANS 1:9)?

Paul’s second letter to the congregation in Thessalonica tells about the revelation of Jesus in the great tribulation when a particular group of people will be judged. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says:

These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction (olethros aiōn) from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.

The Governing Body have used this verse to show that all those who are living when the great tribulation comes and who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses will be eternally annihilated. The Watchtower of May 2024 have a more cautious comment to this verse. But it does not appear that this comment represents a change in the view of the application of this verse. We read on page 10:

10 Will all who die during the events of the great tribulation be destroyed forever with no hope of a resurrection? The Scriptures make it clear that outright opposers whom Jehovah and his forces will destroy at Armageddon will not be resurrected. (2 Thess. 1:6-10) But what about others, for example, who may die from natural causes, from accidents, or at the hand of other humans? (Eccl. 9:11; Zech. 14:13) Could some of these people be among the “unrighteous” who will be resurrected in the new world? We simply do not know.

The question is how the members of the Governing Body define “outright opposers.” The goats will experience everlasting cutting-off, “Are some of the goats “outright opposers” while others are not?” I cannot imagine that the answer of the members of the Governing Body will be affirmative. The goats will experience everlasting annihilation, and this must show that they are “outright opposers” of Jehovah. And as I showed in article III, all who are not sheep (Jehovah’s Witnesses) when Armageddon starts, are goats, according to the members of the Governing Body.

But what about the exceptions that are mentioned in  paragraph 10? We should note that these are people who die from “natural causes” and their time of death related to the great tribulation is not mentioned. So the whole presentation in the paragraph is unclear and ambiguous. This paragraph does not contradict the view of the members of the Governing Body that 8 billion+ humans will be eternally annihilated in the great tribulation.

WHO ARE THOSE WHO WILL BE PUNISHED?

The Greek word olethros means “perdition, destruction.” (Mounce). The Greek word aiōn can refer to the characteristics of a particular period of time, and it can be translated as “system of things,” as does NWT84 and NWT13. However, it can also exclusively refer to time. In that case, the meaning is “pertaining to an unlimited duration of time,” (Louw and Nida) The two words together must refer to an annihilation without any time limit, which is the view of the Governing Body.

The important question is who these persons are who will be destroyed forever. Paul shows that the members of the congregation accepted the good news under difficult conditions. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 7 says:

6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, seeing that you accepted the word under much tribulation with joy of holy spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Mac·e·doʹni·a and in A·chaʹia.

The situation that Paul probably had in mind is described in Acts 17:1-10:

1 They now journeyed through Am·phipʹo·lis and Ap·ol·loʹni·a and came to Thes·sa·lo·niʹca, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 So according to Paul’s custom he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and [saying]: “This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am publishing to YOU.” 4 As a result some of them became believers and associated themselves with Paul and Silas, and a great multitude of the Greeks who worshiped [God] and not a few of the principal women did so.

5 But the Jews, getting jealoustook into their company certain wicked men of the marketplace idlers and formed a mob and proceeded to throw the city into an uproar. And they assaulted the house of Jaʹson and went seeking to have them brought forth to the rabble. 6 When they did not find them they dragged Jaʹson and certain brothers to the city rulers, crying out: “These men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also, 7 and Jaʹson has received them with hospitality. And all these [men] act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.” 8 They indeed agitated the crowd and the city rulers when they heard these things; 9 and first after taking sufficient security from Jaʹson and the others they let them go.

Paul refers to a situation of persecution which probably is the same that is described in Acts chapter 17. We read in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16:

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the congregations of God in union with Christ Jesus that are in Ju·deʹa, because you suffered at the hands of your own countrymen the same things that they also are suffering at the hands of the Jews, 15 who even killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us. Furthermore, they are not pleasing God, but are against the interests of all men, 16 as they try to prevent us from speaking to people of the nations so that these might be saved. In this way they always fill up the measure of their sins. But his wrath has at last come upon them.

The Thessalonians were, according to Acts 17:5, persecuted by their own countrymen, the Greeks, by certain wicked men who formed a mob. However, behind this persecution were jealous Jews.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul focuses on those who persecuted the Thessalonians, and in 1:3-10 he says:

We are obligated always to give thanks to God for you, brothers. This is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of each and every one of you is increasing toward one another.As a result we ourselves take pride in you among the congregations of God because of your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the hardships that you are suffering. This is a proof of the righteous judgment of God, leading to your being counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are indeed suffering (paskhō).This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay (anapodidomi) tribulation to those who make tribulation for you. But you who suffer tribulation will be given relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance (ekdikēsis) on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 at the time when he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones and to be regarded in that day with wonder among all those who exercised faith, because the witness we gave met with faith among you.

In order to understand this text, we must carefully consider the context. The focus is on the members of the congregation in Thessalonica, and at the end of verse 5 Paul says that they were suffering (paskhō). This means that they had experienced tribulation, and verse 6 says that it is righteous that God repays (anapodidomi) those who have caused the tribulation with tribulation.

Verse 7 shows that paying back tribulation to those who caused the Thessalonians tribulation will give the Thessalonians relief. In verse 8, Paul uses the word ekdikēsis with the meaning, “to punish, on the basis of what is rightly deserved” (Louw and Nida). The use of ekdikēsis shows that God’s actions represent the way he will pay back tribulation for those who have caused the Thessalonians tribulation.

This means that “those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus” do not refer to the millions of people in the ancient world who did not know God and who did not obey the good news about Jesus Christ. I have already quoted Acts 17:1-9, which is the only place where persecution of the members of the congregation in Thessalonica is described. Those who caused the tribulation of the Thessalonians were jealous Jews and “some wicked men” and the mob they formed. The words “those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus” must refer to these people because they are the ones that are the object of God’s vengeance.

The situation of these people may resemble the situation when Jesus spoke about sin against the holy spirit. At that time, the preaching of Jesus and his miracles threatened the position of some Pharisees, and therefore, these attacked Jesus. Their actions were not caused by their inherited sin but by their own wickedness. In a similar way, particularly the actions of the jealous Jews, and possibly also by the “wicked men” and the mob evidently were not caused by their inherited sin but by their own wickedness. Therefore, they may have sinned against the holy spirit and deserve everlasting annihilation.

THE NATURE OF THE PUNISHMENT

How those who persecuted the Thessalonians themselves will be punished seems to be clear because 1:8 says that “will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction (olethros aiōn).” The interpretation of these words by many readers is that these people will be eternally annihilated with no hope of a resurrection. The Greek word olethros means “destruction, perdition” and aiōn refers to “a long time with no described limit.” Thus, the rendering “everlasting destruction” is a good translation. If those who persecuted the Thessalonians sinned against the holy spirit, a possibility I have described above, their destiny is eternal annihilation.

But in view of the way the judgments of ungodly people is expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e., in view of Hebrew idiom, there is an alternative understanding. In many situations of judgment, the focus is not on the continued destiny of those who are judged but rather on the judgment itself and its nature. I quote Matthew 18:8 (above) and Mark 9:43-48 (middle) and Isaiah 66:22-24 (below):

8 If, then, your hand or your foot is making you stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you; it is finer for you to enter into life maimed or lame than to be thrown with two hands or two feet into the everlasting fire (pyr to aiōnion)

43 “And if ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go off into Ge·henʹna, into the fire that cannot be put out 44  —— 45 And if your foot makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life lame than with two feet to be pitched into Ge·henʹna 46  —— 47 And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it away; it is finer for you to enter one-eyed into the kingdom of God than with two eyes to be pitched into Ge·henʹna, 48 where their maggot does not die and the fire is not put out.

22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth that I am making are standing before me,” is the utterance of Jehovah, “so the offspring of YOUpeople and the name of YOU people will keep standing.”

23 “And it will certainly occur that from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath all flesh will come in to bow down before me,” Jehovah has said.  24 “And they will actually go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that were transgressing against me; for the very worms upon them will not die and their fire itself will not be extinguished, and they must become something repulsive to all flesh.”

Isaiah speaks about new heavens and a new earth and of the carcasses of persons who were transgressing against Jehovah. He is not discussing the destiny of the persons to whom the carcasses belong, if they will get a resurrection or not. But he is discussing the judgment itself, which is final and complete.

There are no worms that will not die and no fire that cannot be extinguished. However, Isaiah uses the words “the very worms upon them.” This shows that the meaning is that worms will eat the carcasses and they will not die as long as there is flesh to eat. Fire is often associated with God’s judgments, so, dead bodies, particularly the bones, can be consumed. The point here is that the fire will not be extinguished as long as there are bones that can be burned.

So, again, the focus is not on the eternal destiny of individuals. But it is on the completeness of the judgments against the transgressors. Their bodies will be completely destroyed.

The idea of Gehenna was not known in the days of Isaiah. It seems that in the days of Jesus, Gehenna symbolized a death with no hope of a resurrection. Jesus quoted the words of Isaiah, and like Isaiah, his focus is on the completeness of God’s judgment. The noun aiōn refers to a time whose length is unknown. So, the expression “everlasting fire” refers to a fire whose extinguishing end we do not know.

Jesus applies the words in a similar way as did Isaiah. The worms would eat the flesh of dead bodied that were thrown into Gehenna. And the fire that was burning to consume garbage that were thrown into the valley would not be extinguished as long as there were bones to burn.

We can see how the Hebrew idiom that I mentioned is used in connection with the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26:18-20:

18 Now the islands will tremble in the day of your downfall. And the islands that are in the sea must be disturbed owing to your going out.”’

19 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘When I make you a devastated city, like the cities that are actually not inhabited, when [I] bring up over you the watery deep, and the vast waters will have covered you, 20 I will also bring you down with those going down into the pit to the people of long ago, and I will cause you to dwell in the lowest land, like places devastated for a long time, with those going down into the pit, in order that you may not be inhabited; and I will put decoration in the land of those alive.

21 “‘Sudden terrors are what I shall make you, and you will not be; and you will be sought for, but you will no more be found to time indefinite,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.”

The prophet Ezekiel does not speak about the final destiny of the inhabitants of Tyre. But he shows that they will go down into the grave, and the city and its inhabitants can no longer be found. However, Jesus said according to Matthew 11:21, 22 that the inhabitants of Tyre will get a resurrection.

I will use one more example, namely, the destruction of Edom. I quote Isaiah 34:9, 10:

9 And her torrents must be changed into pitch, and her dust into sulphur; and her land must become as burning pitch. 10 By night or by day it will not be extinguished; to time indefinite its smoke will keep ascendingFrom generation to generation she will be parched; forever and ever no one will be passing across her.

As in the case of Tyre, Isaiah was not discussing the eternal destiny of the inhabitants of Edom. But he discussed the complete destruction of Edom, which was illustrated that the smoke of the devouring fire would continue to ascend for a long time with no end in sight.

On the background of these Hebrew examples, I return to the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. The setting is the relief that the Thessalonians will get when God executes those who have persecuted the Thessalonians. If Paul follows the Hebrew idiom, the words “everlasting destruction” refer to the completeness of this destruction. Now the Thessalonians can have full relief because their persecutors are found nowhere. This would mean that Paul was not discussing the eternal destiny of the persecutors.

In my view, this is the most natural explanation because there is no other place in the Christian Greek Scriptures where the eternal destiny of God’s enemies is discussed, except in Revelation 20:15, where those who do not pass the final test are thrown into the lake of fire.

The words “everlasting destruction” may have two different interpretations:

1)   The words may describe the eternal destiny of the persecutors of the Thessalonians.

2)    The word may describe the  final judgment and the removal of the persecutors of the Thessalonians. But do not describe their eternal destiny.

WHEN WILL THE PUNISHMENT OCCUR?

Paul speaks about the revelation of Jesus Christ in the future great tribulation. How can this be connected with the persecution of the Thessalonians in the 1st century CE? It could suggest that the revelation of Jesus Christ was imminent when Paul wrote the letter. However, the verses in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 are written to counter such a view.

A comparison with Matthew 24:3-22 may illuminate this issue. The disciples asked a question where they connected the presence of Jesus with the 1st century CE. In his answer, Jesus described some events that in a small scale would happen in the 1st century CE. But the full scale of these events would occur when he in the future received the power as king in God’s Kingdom and his presence was a reality. It is likely that God gave the Thessalonians some relief from their persecutors in the 1st century CE. But the full scale fulfillment would occur in connection with the revelation of Jesus.

It is very important understand that those “who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus” does not refer to all humans in the 1st century CE, or refer to the 8 billion+ humans who live today. These words did apply to Paul before he became a Christian. But according to 1 Timothy 1:13, he “acted in ignorance and with a lack of faith.” Therefore, he was forgiven, and the same can be applied to most people in this world, they are ignorant and lack faith. Moreover, Jesus Christ bought all these with his ransom sacrifice. And each one will get a chance on Judgment Day to accept or reject the ransom sacrifice.

According to the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 pointing to a small fulfillment in the 1st century and a full scale fulfillment during Jesus’ presence, we can expect that persons today who are like the persecutors of the Thessalonians in the 1st century CE will be those who fulfill 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and receives an eternal destruction, if Paul refers to the destiny of the people and not just to the completment of the judgment. The words of John in Revelation 1:7 support the view that those who have the same characteristics as those who persecuted the Thessalonians will receive everlasting destruction:

Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, and those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief because of him. Yes, Amen.

Those who pierced Jesus are dead, so the reference must be to persons who live when the great tribulation comes, who have the same characteristics as those who pierced Jesus.

The important point here is that the everlasting destruction that is mentioned does not refer to all persons in the world who are not worshipping God in spirit and truth. But it refers to the small group of persons who persecuted the Thessalonians, and probably by extension, refers to a small group of people who lives when the great tribulation comes, and who act in a similar wicked way as those who persecuted the Thessalonians.

And whether the words refer to the completeness of the judgment or to the eternal destiny of those who are judged is an open question.

WHO ARE THE ARMIES OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH (REVELATION19:19-21)?

The climax of God’s purpose is described in the Book of Revelation, and we read in 19:17-21:

17 I saw also an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice and said to all the birds that fly in midheaven: “Come here, be gathered together to the great evening meal of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of military commanders and the flesh of strong men and the flesh of horses and of those seated on them, and the flesh of all, of freemen as well as of slaves and of small ones and great.”19  And I saw the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the one seated on the horse and against his army. 20 And the wild beast was caught, and along with it the false prophet that performed in front of it the signs with which he misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who worship its image. While still alive, they both were hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur. 21 But the rest were killed off with the long sword that proceeded out of the mouth of the one seated on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

Verse 19 says that the armies of the kings of the earth waged war against the judge Jesus Christ. How can that be? According to the vision of Paul in Acts 9:3-5, when he was on his way to Damascus persecuting followers of Jesus, this is the same as persecuting Jesus. This means that because Jesus is invisible, the armies of the kings of the earth will wage war with Jesus by waging war with his followers on the earth. Exactly how this will happen we do not know, but the context suggests that this will happen shortly before or during the great tribulation.

What is the destiny of the soldiers in the armies of the kings? Verse 20 shows that the wild beast and the false prophet, which are symbols of organizations, will be hurled into the symbolic lake of fire. But verse 21 says that “the rest” will be killed by the judge Jesus Christ. This probably includes the soldiers of the armies. Will the killing of the mentioned persons indicate eternal annihilation? The lake of fire is the symbol of the second death, eternal destruction, and those persons who at the end of the thousand-ear-reign of Jesus will not serve God, are said in 20:15 to be hurled into the lake of fire, thus being annihilated forever. Because “the others,” which may include the soldiers in the armies of the kings are said to be killed but not hurled into the lake of fire, they will be in line for a resurrection because they were bought by Jesus Christ.

The soldiers are persecuting the people of God, and that could suggest that they will be destroyed forever, just as those who were persecuting the members of the congregations in Thessalonica, according to 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. However, the real question is whether each soldier had his or her personal chance to accept or reject the ransom sacrifice. If that was not the case, which is most likely, God’s righteousness and love would prevent the person from eternal annihilation.

Who are the soldiers in the armies of the kings? Of course, we do not know their identity, and neither do we know how many persons are soldiers in the armies of the kings. But they can hardly exceed 28 million because this is the number of all the soldiers in the world today. The number is probably much smaller because it is difficult to believe the armies of all the 195 countries of the world will be united in an all-out attack on the people of God.

We must also ask about the personal responsibility of each one of the soldiers in the armies of the kings. The members of the Governing Body say that the enemies of God, those who are “outright opposers” will be destroyed in the great tribulation. These are, in reality, enemies of God because they attack his people. But the soldiers in an army just obey the orders of their superiors, and they do not necessarily have any animosity toward the people of God.

How shall we understand the words of Revelation 19:15 (above) and 14:14-20 (below) where we read:

15 And out of his mouth protrudes a sharp, long sword with which to strike the nations, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron. Moreover, he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

14  Then I saw, and look! a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was someone like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.15 Another angel emerged from the temple sanctuary, calling with a loud voice to the one seated on the cloud: “Put your sickle in and reap, because the hour has come to reap, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 And the one seated on the cloud thrust his sickle into the earth, and the earth was reaped.17  And still another angel emerged from the temple sanctuary that is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle.18 And still another angel emerged from the altar, and he had authority over the fire. And he called out with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, saying: “Put your sharp sickle in and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes have become ripe.” 19 The angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and he hurled it into the great winepress of God’s anger. 20 The winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress as high up as the bridles of the horses for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

The King Jesus Christ shepherds the nations with a rod of iron, and the meaning of this is seen in the prophecy in Psalm 2:9:

You will break them with an iron scepter, And you will smash them like a piece of pottery.”

This is the same as we read in Revelation 19:20, that the wild beast, which symbolizes the political nations will be hurled into the lake of fire. Regarding the wine and its grapes. The Watchtower of July 1, 1967, page 407, says:

Speaking of the victorious army under Jesus Christ, Revelation says: “He treads too the press of the wine of the anger of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (Rev. 19:15) This global winepress will crush the political vine of the earth with all its political branches, huge clusters of grapes, wicked deeds and oppression, which are the fruitage produced by their kingdoms. Grapes are usually crushed at wine-making by human feet, but not so with the vine of the earth. God threshes with horses’ hoofs the product of this vine. The Word of God and his heavenly armies leap into the winepress and stamp it out until they completely express the “anger of the wrath of God the Almighty.” It is a time of victory, and just as in Palestine winemaking was a festive time, the treaders will doubtless shout and sing as they trample out the grapes. (Jer. 25:30; 48:33) It will result in a terrible destruction, but it will be selective, Jehovah God destroying only those who really are against him and his kingdom and the interests of all men.Rev. 14:18-20; Joel 3:12-17.

The Watchtower speaks of “the political wine,” and this may or may not be correct. There is nothing in the context that identifies the wine. As in Revelation 19:21, there is a difference between the political nations and persons who live in these nations. The Governing Body claims that all humans who live when Armageddon comes, except Jehovah’s Witnesses  will be eternally annihilated. This is not written anywhere in the Scriptures. Revelation 19:21 says that “the rest” (hoi loipoi) were killed by the long sword that proceeded out of the mount of the one seated on the horse. This rest is not identified. The grapes of the wine symbolize humans. But these humans are not identified.

No passage in Revelation or another book in the Bible says that all those that are living when Armageddon comes, except the true Christians, will be eternally annihilated.

There is also another viewpoint that has been mentioned by the members of the Governing Body. The Watchtower of October 15, 1995, page 27, points to a possible situation:

Many are exposed to our message as we preach from house to house or informally. Others may learn of Jehovah’s Witnesses and what we represent in ways unknown to us. When judgment time arrives, to what extent will Jesus consider community responsibility and family merit? We cannot say, and it is pointless to speculate.

The words that it is pointless to speculate seem to be wise. But bringing up the issue of community responsibility is, in reality, a rejection of the value of ransom sacrifice. Community responsibility means that if a person is a member of an ungodly unit of humans that will be eternally annihilated, he will also be eternally annihilated because he has not left the community. In the article “Manslaughter” in the category “The eleven disfellowshipping offenses,” I demonstrate in detail that “community responsibility” in connection with a person’s final destiny is nothing but fiction and does not exist. The quoted words present the possibility that persons may be eternally destroyed without having had the possibility of accepting or rejecting the ransom sacrifice, and this is the same as a rejection of the value of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus.

ETERNAL ANNIHILATION OR DESTRUCTION WITH A HOPE OF RESURRECTION?

I will now make a synthesis of passages in the Christian Greek Scriptures that are used by the members of the Governing Body to prove that billions of humans will be eternally annihilated.

Revelation 20:15 Those who follow Satan in his rebellion after the thousand-year-reign of Jesus Christ will be hurled in the lake of fire that symbolizes the second death or everlasting annihilation.
Matthew 25:31-46 According to verse 41, the goats will experience “the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” This means that the goats, who are persons who have been invited to live in the earthly paradise, but have rejected the ransom sacrifice, will experience everlasting annihilation.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 According to verse 42, the weeds “will be collected out from his kingdom,” which means that they have sinned against the holy spirit. They will be pitched “into the fiery furnace,” and this means that they will experience everlasting annihilation.
2 Peter 3:7 The ungodly people who will experience destruction include “the earth,” all people who live when Armageddon comes will experience “destruction” (apoleia). This means that they will die. But whether all of them, or some of them will get a resurrection is not stated.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 Those who persecuted the Thessalonians, and those who do the same in the time of the end, will experience everlasting destruction (apoleia). Whether this means everlasting annihilation without any hope of a resurrection we do not know.
Revelation 19:19-21 The armies of the kings of the earth will be killed by Jesus Christ. This is seen as a contrast to the organizations that will be thrown into the lake of fire. The soldiers of these armies will get a resurrection because of the ransom sacrifice.

CONCLUSION

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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