Let Us Go On
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Things that Accompany Salvation
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.
For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love that you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end,
that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)
In the third of the five major warnings in Hebrews, the writer first dealt with the negative side of matters. He began by revealing that the recipients of his message were spiritually immature (5:11-14). Then, immediately following, he exhorted these spiritually immature Christians to “go on to perfection [‘maturity’]” (6:1-6).
Continuing from this point, by way of illustration, drawing from nature, he looked at both sides of the matter from both positive and negative aspects (vv. 7, 8). Then, the writer turned entirely to the positive side to finish the exhortation that he had begun in verse one (vv. 9-12).
Verse nine could perhaps be better understood by translating:
But, beloved, though we are speaking this way, we are persuaded better things of you, things that accompany [i.e., things that have to do with] salvation.” (ref. NIV)
Concerning that to which the writer referred — that which he had been speaking about — he had begun by dealing with the fact that the recipients of his message were “dull of hearing,” babes in Christ (Hebrews 5:11-14). Then he dealt with exhorting Christians to go on to maturity (Hebrews 6:1, 2), though God may not allow some Christians to go on (v. 3). And the reason God may not allow some to go on is then given — the possibility of a Christian who had been allowed to go on to maturity later falling away, resulting in shame and reproach being brought upon Christ (vv. 4-6).
And the writer then called attention to a type of fruit bearing from the world of nature to illustrate the preceding. Such could only be comparable to bringing forth “thorns and briers,” which would be “rejected . . . whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:8).
But before paralleling falling away with the thought of bringing forth fruit comparable to “thorns and briers,” the writer introduced another type fruit bearing — comparable to bringing forth “herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated” (Hebrews 6:7) — anticipating the positive side of the matter that is continued in verse nine.
The nurturing source for this type fruit is “the rain [from heaven],” and this fruit is associated with “blessings from God.” And both the nurturing source and the blessings come from above (cf. John 3:3, 5; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:1-5). The thought has to do with fruit bearing through the proper nurturing source, followed by blessings from God.
Contextually, for a Christian, this would have to do with drinking in the Water of life, the Word of God, which comes from above (cf. John 2:6-9; 4:14); and, through normal growth and activity after this fashion (feeding upon the Word, and, at the same time, allowing works to emanate out of faith [faithfulness]), the individual would mature in the faith and bring forth fruit of a proper kind. That is, as illustrated from the world of nature, he would bring forth “herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated” rather than “thorns and briers.”
The recipients of this message were exhorted to leave the infantile things upon which they had been feeding and go on unto maturity. They were exhorted to stop laying foundations and begin building upon the foundational truths that they had already been taught (vv. 1, 2). And the writer was persuaded “better things” of them than a falling away in the process, with its corresponding fruit bearing, described by the words, “thorns and briers” (vv. 3-9).
Within the text, “better things” are the “things that accompany [‘have to do with’] salvation.” One parallels the other in this respect.
Or, to state the matter another way, that which is encompassed within the expression “better things” from verse nine is associated with fruit bearing from verse seven, which, in turn, is intimately connected with works from verse ten (works emanating out of faithfulness, resulting in fruit bearing of a proper type); and the goal in view — through this interrelated process of faith and works, resulting in fruit bearing — is “salvation” (v. 9).
Viewing the matter within the revealed scope or fashion, one should easily be able to see what salvation is in view. It can’t be the salvation presently possessed by every Christian (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Hebrews 1:3), for our presently possessed salvation cannot, after any fashion, be associated with man’s works, with fruit bearing. The salvation presently possessed by every Christian is a free gift that rests entirely upon the finished work of Christ. And not only has this work been completed, but God is satisfied with His Son’s finished work. Nothing can ever be added or taken away (John 19:30).
The salvation referred to in Hebrews 6:9 is the same salvation to which the writer referred earlier in the warning (5:9). And, prior to that, he had referred to this salvation as “so great salvation” (2:3). Then later in the book he refers to this salvation in connection with Christ’s return (9:27, 28). And then after that he refers to the same salvation as “the saving of the soul” (10:38, 39).
The salvation in view is connected with a future inheritance (Hebrews 1:2, 14), which is acquired “through faith and patience” (6:12, 15). It is “the hope set before us,” which is “an anchor of the soul” (6:18, 19).
This is the salvation with which Hebrews concerns itself throughout. The entire book deals with this salvation, not with the salvation that Christians presently possess. And when an individual grasps this fundamental truth, not only will the book of Hebrews begin to open to his understanding but so will numerous other sections of Scripture as well.
1) Salvation by Grace through Faith
Let it forever be said that a Christian’s presently possessed eternal salvation was acquired completely separate from any works or merit on unredeemed man’s part. Works or merit, pertaining to eternal salvation, all have to do with Christ’s finished work at Calvary; and man is saved solely on the basis of that which Christ has done, not on the basis of anything that man has done, is doing, or will ever do.
The simple fact is that Christ completed the work, in its entirety, because unredeemed man is totally incapable of acting in this realm, even in the minutest degree. Not only is he dead, rendering him powerless to act, but he is also alienated from God. And apart from Christ’s action on his behalf, he would forever remain in his present dead, alienated state (Ephesians 2:1, 12).
To illustrate man’s inability to act in this realm, refer to a Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 15:52 — the word atomos, from which we derive our English word “atom.” The word is translated in this verse, “a moment.” The reference is to the length of the time which will elapse within the scope of Christians being removed from the earth (raised from the dead and translated) and appearing in the Lord’s presence in the air. This will occur in an atomos of time, further described as comparable to the time-lapse in “the twinkling of an eye.”
The word atomos has to do with “minuteness”; and in 1 Corinthians 15:52 it refers to the smallest unit into which time can be divided, beyond which there can be no further division. A microsecond (one millionth of a second) is a common expression used in our computerized world today. But there are divisions beyond that — a billionth of a second, a trillionth of a second, etc.
Atomos, in 1 Corinthians 15:52, referring to “time,” goes to the farthest point conceivable. This word refers to a particle of time so minute that the only way to really describe it is through the use of the word atomos itself. That is how fast the future resurrection and translation of Christians will occur.
Now, bring the word atomos over into the realm of works. Insofar as man’s eternal salvation is concerned, he cannot do even an atomos of work in this realm. It is impossible for him to perform even the most minute particle of any type of work conceivable, for, in the spiritual realm, he is dead.
And salvation, in its totality, has to do with a spiritual birth from above — a realm in which unredeemed man is totally incapable of acting. In order for man to act in the spiritual, to even a degree described by the word atomos, he first has to be made alive spiritually. He first has to pass “from death to life” (John 5:24). And this is effected through — only and completely through — the birth from above.
All man can do is receive that which has already been done on his behalf. He can do no more than “believe on [put his trust, reliance in]” the One who has performed the Work on his behalf. This is the clear testimony of Scripture from the opening verses of Genesis (depicting events that occurred 4,000 years preceding Calvary [and also prior to this period]) to the closing verses of Revelation (depicting events that will occur 3,000 years following Calvary [and also after this period]).
God’s means for redeeming fallen man never change throughout Scripture. God established a first-mention principle relative to the matter at the very beginning of His revelation to man, in the opening verses of chapter one of Genesis; and once the matter had been established after this fashion, no change could ever occur.
Scripture, at the very beginning, presents the matter of man’s passage “from death to life” as a work performed entirely through divine intervention. The Spirit moved, God spoke, and light came into existence (Genesis 1:2b, 3). The ruined creation (Genesis 1:2a) had no part in the matter at the beginning, and a subsequent ruined creation (man) can have no part in the matter at any later point in time (ref. the author’s book, From Egypt to Canaan, chapters 5-8).
To say that individuals were saved or will be saved via other means in either past or future dispensations (through keeping the law, through any type of works, etc.) is a total misunderstanding of that which God has established as unchangeable at the very beginning of His Word.
Unsaved man simply cannot act in the spiritual realm. Such is impossible. And there is no such thing as man, at any point in his history (past, present, or future) being partly saved and able to perform works to complete his salvation. It is either all or nothing. Man has either passed “from death to life” or he is still dead.
As stated in Jonah 2:9, “Salvation is of the LORD.” It has always been that way, it remains that way today, and it always will be that way.
2) Salvation of the Soul
The salvation of the soul though is another matter entirely. The spiritual birth from above — salvation by grace through faith — has to do with man’s spirit, not with his soul. Redeemed man, a trichotomous being, has a redeemed spirit, an unredeemed soul (that part of man that is in the process of being redeemed), and an unredeemed body (not presently being redeemed, as the soul, but to be redeemed at Christ’s return).
Insofar as man’s spirit is concerned, salvation is a finished matter. This is the part of man that was made alive at the time of the birth from above (Ephesians 2:1, 5, 8). Then, redeemed man’s soul is in the process of being saved (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18; Hebrews 1:14; 10:36-39), a salvation to be realized in its completeness (or not realized) at the time Christians appear before the judgment seat of Christ at the end of the present dispensation (1 Peter 1:4-9).
And the salvation — “redemption” — of the body is future as well and will be realized at the time of the adoption (actually, the structure of the Greek text in Romans 8:23 shows the redemption of the body to be synonymous with the adoption), which is part and parcel with the saving of the soul.
Thus man, as a trichotomous being, has been saved, is being saved, and is about to be saved. Salvation, within its complete scope, is not only past but is also present and future as well.
However, one must exercise care when dealing with these different aspects of salvation so as not to confuse one with the other. Verses of Scripture that pertain to one must not be removed from their contexts and applied to the other. If this is done, the end result will be two-fold:
1) Confusion concerning the salvation message on the one hand.
2) Corruption, distortion, or destruction of parts or the whole of the salvation message on the other hand.
For example, the salvation of the spirit is dependent entirely upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary, but the salvation of the soul is dependent on the works of the individual who has passed “from death to life.” Such works though must emanate out of faithfulness (James 2:14-26) — faithfulness exercised by the one now in a position to act in the spiritual realm — and it is these works (or lack of these works, resulting from unfaithfulness) which will come under review at the judgment seat (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
And one can easily see what would happen if a person took Scriptures having to do with the present aspect of salvation and applied them to the past aspect of salvation, or vice versa. Man’s works would either be brought over into an area where works of this nature cannot exist (brought over into the message of salvation by grace through faith), or such works would be rendered meaningless by trying to place the message of salvation by grace through faith (where man’s works cannot exist) within the present aspect of salvation (where man’s works must be operative).
(The preceding would be comparable to going to God’s work of restoring the ruined creation in Genesis chapter one and moving His works from day one into His works in days two through six, or vice versa.
On day one, the earth was entirely passive, for the earth was completely incapable, in and of itself, of effecting restoration. All was of divine intervention — the Spirit of God moved, God spoke, and light came into existence [vv. 2b-5]. But once the light had begun to shine out of the darkness [John 1:5; 2 Corinthians 4:6] and the earth had emerged from its watery grave, the earth began to bring forth [vv. 9-11].
And so it is with ruined man. Divine intervention has to occur first, allowing light to shine out of darkness and man to be removed from his watery grave, so to speak. Only then can he, as the earth, bring forth.
These things must be viewed and understood in the same divine framework and order in which they were established in an unchangeable fashion in the opening verses of Genesis.)
Through the salvation effected by the birth from above (which has to do with the spirit), man has been placed in a position where he can perform works acceptable or pleasing to God (which has to do with the soul). Works are now possible, for he now has spiritual life and can exercise faith in the realm from which man’s works can ensue.
That is, after he has passed “from death to life” he can then exercise faith in his spiritual life — a life that he did not possess prior to the birth from above — and works, pleasing to God, can emanate out of faithfulness of this nature.
It is this aspect of salvation with which the book of Hebrews deals. The warnings apply to the saving or the losing of the soul, never the spirit. The former can be forfeited, but not the latter; and a person must be in possession of the latter before anything in the former would even apply in his life.
(For a comprehensive treatment of the overall subject of the saving of the soul, see the author’s books, Salvation of the Soul and From Egypt to Canaan.)
Work and Labor of Love
The “better things” being manifested by those whom the writer addressed in verse nine of chapter six are described through the use of two words in verse ten — work and love. They were manifesting a “work and labor of love” with respect to Christ through ministering to other Christians.
Such a ministry could take any number of forms — from giving “a cup of water” to “teaching and admonishing one another” (Mark 9:41; Colossians 3:16). And there is an underlying principle upon which the inseparable connection between ministering with respect to Christ and ministering to others rests (as in Hebrews 6:10), which is clearly revealed in Matthew 25:31-46.
The passage in gospel of Matthew has to do with a judgment of two classes of saved Gentiles coming out of the Tribulation, and the revealed principle remains unchanged. This principle is the same in the gospel of Matthew, the book of Hebrews, or any other place and time in Scripture that touches on the matter. It is an unchangeable part of the unchangeable Word.
According to Matthew 25:34ff, these Gentiles coming out of the Tribulation will be judged on the basis of specific works, necessitating either faith or the lack of faith preceding their works or their lack of works. And they, accordingly, will have previously been divided into two groups (v. 33):
1) Those exercising faith, with works following.
2) Those not exercising faith, with no works following.
Christ will judge the faithful first, on the basis of their works (vv. 34-40). After that, He will judge the unfaithful, on the basis of the absence of works (vv. 41-46).
Neither judgment will have anything whatsoever to do with the eternal salvation of those being judged (no more so than issues at the judgment seat of Christ will have to do with a Christian’s eternal salvation). The entirety of the judgment surrounding both groups will occur solely on the basis of the works of those being judged (something that can never have anything to do with man’s eternal salvation). But note the principle drawn from the judgment of both groups.
Both groups are judged solely on the basis of their actions (dispensing or not dispensing meat, drink; ministering or not ministering to others). And note that metaphors are being used throughout — sheep, goats, meat, drink — the same as previously seen different places earlier in the same discourse (Matthew 24:45-25:30).
Then the principle is clearly given: By those in one group, the faithful, ministering in this manner, they had ministered to Christ Himself. That is, they had accorded Christ the same treatment that they accorded those to whom they had ministered (vv. 37-40).
The same thing is again taught — though from a negative aspect — relative to Christ’s dealings with the second group, the unfaithful. Those in this group had not ministered in the same manner at all. There was no exercise of faith, with no works issuing forth.
And the principle is again clearly revealed, though reversed: by not exercising faith, with no ministry following, these individuals, unlike the faithful, had not ministered to Christ. That is, they had accorded Christ the same treatment that they had rendered to those to whom they had been called to minister (vv. 44, 45).
(For additional information on Matthew 25:31-46, refer to the author’s book, The Most High Ruleth, Chapter 3, pp. 43-45.)
In Hebrews 6:10 the principle remains the same. Through ministering “to the saints” these Christians had shown the same “work and labor of love” “toward His [Christ’s] name.” That is, in the light of the way that the matter is set forth in Matthew 25:34ff, they, in reality, were ministering to Christ Himself through their ministry to the saints.
These Christians were performing works because of their love for the brethren. But these works were not emanating out of love per se. Rather, these works, along with the manifested love, were emanating out of faith.
“Faith” must come first; and even though love is placed above faith in the sense of greatness (1 Corinthians 13:13), love cannot exist apart from faith. This is fundamental and primary. Apart from faith there can be neither love for the brethren nor a ministry to the brethren. The matter must be viewed as it is seen in Hebrews chapter eleven: “By faith Abel . . . By faith Enoch . . . By faith Noah . . . .” The entire pilgrim walk is as stated in Romans 1:17:
. . . from faith to faith: as it is written. The just shall live by faith. (cf. Habakkuk 2:4)
And the entirety of the matter is about the saving of the soul. Note the two verses leading into Hebrews chapter eleven:
Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone [if any of the just, exercising faith] draws back [stops exercising faith], My soul has no pleasure in him.
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition [‘destruction,’ ‘ruin’], but of those who believe to the saving of the soul [lit., ‘of faith with respect to a saving of the soul’]. (10:38, 39)
Then chapter eleven continues, without any type of break,
Now faith [contextually, to a saving of the soul] is . . . .” (v. 1)
Consequently, there must first be “faith” (i.e., “faithfulness” on the part of the individual — simply “believing” that which God has said). Then “love” and resulting “works” can issue forth. Love is the motivator for the works, but the source for love is the same as the source for works. They both emanate out of faith (cf. James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:9).
Full Assurance of Hope
The recipients of this message had been praised for their “work and labor of love” (Hebrews 6:10), and their actions were mentioned after this fashion for a purpose. Immediately following, in verses 11 and 12, the writer uses their faithfulness in this realm in order to exhort them in another realm. He turns from one thought to another, and the thought to which he turns is the same thought that is emphasized over and over throughout the epistle. At this point in the book it is seen to be — both textually and contextually — his one driving, burning desire underlying everything that he wrote in the epistle.
In order to grasp the full force of the writer’s frame of mind and that which is being said, note the word “desire.” In the Greek text, the preposition epi is prefixed to the word translated “desire” in the English text (forming epithumeo), intensifying the word. A more literal rendering when bringing the thought conveyed by the intensified Greek word over into English would be, “earnestly desire.”
Note, for example, the difference between how the word agonizomai (strive) is used in Luke 13:24 without the preposition epi prefixed and in Jude 3 with the preposition prefixed. In Luke the word is simply translated “strive,” but in Jude the word is translated “earnestly contend [or, ‘earnestly strive’].” The passages set forth a striving with respect to entering the “strait gate,” and an earnest striving with respect to “the faith.”
Hebrews 6:11 reveals an earnest desire on the part of the writer to see those to whom he was writing expressing the same diligence in their lives “to [‘toward,’ or, ‘with respect to’] the full assurance of hope” that they had shown in their “work and labor of love” among the saints. He called attention to their present positive actions as they ministered among the saints and exhorted them to manifest the same positive actions with respect to “the full assurance of hope.”
What though is meant by “the full assurance of hope”? This is the heart of the matter, with the whole thought turning on these words.
The words “full assurance” is the translation of a Greek word that conveys the thought of full conviction, certainty, assurance wrought through understanding. Note the same word in this respect as it is used in Colossians 2:2 and Hebrews 10:22. In Colossians 2:2, the word “understanding” is really not part of the strict definition though. But the thought would have to be there by implication, for there could be no confident conviction or confident assurance apart from an understanding of the matter in view.
And, viewing the context, the whole overall thought of “understanding” could only fit perfectly within that which is stated in Hebrews 6:11, for the verse appears toward the end of a section in which the main thrust of the entire matter has to do with an exhortation to “go on to perfection [‘maturity’]” (vv. 1ff). The end result of this maturity is presented in verse eleven (further explained in v. 12) as bringing them into a position where they could understand and, consequently, have a confident, expectant conviction of the hope set before them (in the sense of one day realizing this hope).
The “hope” itself is simply that blessed hope from Titus 2:13, associated with the “appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (ASV). In Titus 1:2; 3:7 this hope is clearly revealed to be associated with an inheritance awaiting the saved that will be realized in the coming age.
Note Titus 3:7. There is first a justification; then there is an inheritance awaiting the justified, connected with the “hope of eternal life.” The words “eternal life,” from aionios in the Greek text, could be better translated “life for the age” in this passage. This word is used different places in the Greek text in the sense of both “eternal” and “age-lasting,” and the manner in which it is used in any given passage will always be governed by its textual usage.
(For additional information on the preceding, refer to the author’s book, Salvation of the Soul, Chapter 6, “Hope, Inheritance, Salvation.”)
The manner in which aionios is used in Titus 3:7 is evident. The justified (those in possession of eternal life) cannot be made “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” There is no “hope” connected with eternal life (the salvation of the spirit, which is ours through simply believing on the Lord Jesus Christ [John 3:16]). “Hope” is something that may or may not be realized, and “hope” in Scripture is connected with the saving of the soul, life for the age, the inheritance awaiting Christians (e.g., cf. Hebrews 6:18, 19; 10:23, 36-39 [Hebrews 10:23 should literally read, “Let us hold fast the confession of the hope . . . .”]).
And this “hope” is exactly where the writer of Hebrews wanted those to whom he was writing to fix their attention. He earnestly desired that every one of them would show the same diligence that they were expressing in their “work and labor of love” to a full conviction and expectation of the hope set before them. And he wanted them to hold this conviction and expectation “unto the end.”
(One can easily see, from these verses, a parallel problem existing in Christendom today. Christians involve themselves in numerous ministries — some with “diligence” — but how many of these same Christians know anything about “the full assurance of hope”? How many exhibit the same “diligence” in this realm?)
Through Faith and Patience
Continuing with this same line of thought, the writer called attention to something that he had previously stated (cf. Hebrews 5:11; 6:12); and he then brought the exhortation to a close (v. 12), prior to once again going back to the Old Testament Scriptures to furnish the background and support for the subject under discussion (vv. 13ff).
Those being addressed were spiritually immature, but the exhortation, as previously given, was, “let us go on . . . .” (Hebrews 6:1). In verse twelve, the word “slothful” (KJV) is a translation of the same word rendered “dull of hearing” in the previous chapter (5:11). The writer used the word in chapter five to best describe the present immature condition of those in view. And now, in chapter six, he uses the same descriptive word again as he exhorts these Christians to not remain in their present immature state but to go on to maturity, for a revealed purpose.
To perhaps better understand exactly where the writer had been and was going with this whole line of thought, note verse eleven and the first part of verse twelve in a more literal rendering, with a few explanatory thoughts:
And we earnestly desire that every one of you [those in 5:11ff] do show the same diligence [as exhibited in their ministry among the saints (v. 10)] with respect to a full conviction and expectation of the hope [derived through knowledge, as they moved from immaturity to maturity] to the end [that is, hold this ‘hope unto the end,’ with a full conviction and expectation that it will one day be realized]:
In order that you might not remain dull of hearing [5:11 (or ‘slothful’ as rendered)], but . . . .”
The latter part of verse twelve, immediately following the preceding rendering, then provides the stated purpose for the entire exhortation; and the remainder of the chapter provides background and support from the Old Testament. The remainder of the chapter is thus simply Scripture substantiating, supporting, and explaining Scripture.
Those being addressed were exhorted to go on unto maturity so that they could “imitate [‘imitators,’ in the sense of governing their pilgrim walk] of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v. 12b).
There is a future inheritance in view (which is the manner in which the book of Hebrews begins [1:2] and continues [1:14], revealing an inheritance belonging to firstborn sons [cf. 2:10; 12:16, 17, 23]); and Christians will come into a realization of this future inheritance only through governing their present pilgrim walk after a manner described by the words, “faith and patience.”
Note the exact words of the text:
. . . through faith and patience [lit., ‘patient endurance’] inherit the promises” (v.12b).
“Patient endurance” would go hand in hand with “faith,” for there could not be a continued walk by faith apart from patient endurance (James 1:2-4).
And this is exactly what one finds at the capstone of the book of Hebrews (chapters 11, 12a), leading into the heart of the last of the five major warnings (12:16, 17) — a warning that deals specifically with the rights of the firstborn.
Chapter eleven is the great chapter on faith in Scripture, but this chapter must be understood in conjunction with the preceding ten chapters. Throughout chapter eleven, drawn entirely from the experiences of faithful Old Testament saints as they patiently endured under various trials and testing, one will find the words, “By faith . . . By faith . . . By faith . . . .”
That is the key to inheriting the promises. The matter is simply as stated, “By faith” — remaining faithful (continuing to believe God, a continuance involving patient endurance) under various trials and testing.
These Old Testament saints,
. . . all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” (11:13)
They exercised faithfulness with respect “to the saving of the soul” (10:39b).
Then note how Hebrews 12:1 begins:
Therefore we [Christians] also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [the Old Testament saints in chapter 11], let us . . . .
The implication is clear. These Old Testament saints ran the race after a particular fashion, with a goal in view; and Christians are to run the race after the same fashion, with the same goal in view — the saving of the soul, which is with a view to an inheritance out ahead, to be realized in the coming age.
End of Chapter
The following are additions, per footnote above
(Matthew 25:31-46 comprises a section of the Olivet Discourse often used attempting to show that only saved individuals will populate the earth at the beginning of the millennium. Those following this line of thought teach that this section has to do with a judgment of all living Gentiles surviving the Tribulation, both saved and unsaved, with the saved being allowed to enter into the kingdom and the unsaved being cast into the lake of fire.
A teaching of this nature has its sole basis in a misunderstanding of this section of Scripture. By its own internal evidence, eternal salvation or damnation is not the subject matter in Matthew 25:31-46. The subject at hand has to do with realizing or not realizing an inheritance in the kingdom, not with eternal verities [v. 34].)
And, in keeping with the preceding, the Greek word aionios, translated “everlasting” and “eternal” in vv. 41, 46 would, in the light of v. 34, have to be understood as “age-lasting,” not “eternal” as it has been translated in most versions of Scripture.
Neither the Hebrew of the Old Testament nor the Greek of the New Testament contains a word for “eternal.” Olam is the word translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” or “perpetual” in English translations of the Old Testament, and aion [a noun] or aionios [the adjective form of aion] are the words translated “eternal” or “everlasting” in the New Testament [aidios, an older form of aionios, used only two times and meaning exactly the same as aionios, is the only exception (Romans 1:20 and Jude 6)].
Olam, aion, and aionios all have to do with “a long period of time,” which, if the context permits, can refer to “eternity” [e.g., the Aionios God in Romans 16:26]. But the words standing alone, apart from a context, cannot be understood as “eternal.” Context is the all-important factor to ascertain the length of time in view when these words are used.
Aion and aionios are usually thought of and used numerous times in the New Testament in the sense of “an age.” And a usage of this nature is even brought over into English. For example, the English word “aeon [or ‘eon’]” is derived from the Greek word aion.
The only way in which the Greek text can express “eternal” apart from textual considerations is through a use of aion in the plural [e.g., Luke 1:33; Hebrews 13:8, referring to “the ages,” i.e., ages without end, which would comprise eternity] or a double use of aion, in the plural and articular both times [e.g., Revelation 1:6; 4:9, 10, referring to “the ages of the ages,” again, ages without end].
And the use of aionios in Matthew 25:41, 46, referring to an inverse of that seen in verse thirty-four [failing to realize an inheritance in the kingdom] can only be understood as “age-lasting.” It can only be understood as referring to the outcome of a judgment of unfaithful saved Gentiles coming out of the Tribulation.
A judgment of the unsaved, with eternal verities in view, could not possibly be the subject at hand in Matthew 25:41, 46. First, the context will not permit such an understanding of these verses; and second, inheritance in the kingdom, contextually in view, would limit this judgment to the saved alone. Note Romans 8:17: “And if children, then heirs…”
“Sheep” and “goats” (vv. 32, 33), can only be understood contextually as a metaphorical way of describing two classes of saved individuals, similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. The unsaved and eternal verities simply cannot be in view in either passage. Rather, in both passages, only the saved, with a view to an inheritance or non-inheritance in the kingdom, can be in view.
(The extensive use of “metaphors” in sections of Scripture such as Matthew 13, 24, 25 must be recognized. Note, for example, “meat” or “food” in Matthew 24:45; 25:35, 42, all part of the same discourse. The use is metaphorical in chapter twenty four [referring to that which is spiritual, the Word of God], when dealing with the judgment of a servant; and the servant rendering an account at the time of his Lord’s return is with a view to regality [realizing or not realizing a position with Christ in the kingdom (cf. Luke 12:42-48)]. Why should the matter be viewed after any different fashion in chapter twenty-five when also dealing with a judgment of individuals at the time of the Lord’s return, with a view to inheritance in the kingdom [exactly the same as regality previously seen in chapter twenty-four, though stated in a different manner]?
Understanding the preceding after this fashion [which, in reality, is the only contextually correct way to view this section of Scripture] will, again, show that only saved individuals can possibly be in view throughout Matthew 25:31-46. Both those depicted by the “sheep” and the “goats” are seen as being in a position to dispense “meat,” “food.” Unsaved man cannot occupy a position of this nature.
There is no such thing in Scripture as a judgment of unsaved Gentiles at the end of Man’s Day, prior to the millennium. Rather, the millennium itself will form their judgment in this respect, for the millennium will simply be 1,000 years of a righteous judgment, when Christ and His co-heirs will rule the nations with a rod of iron.)
The epistle of Titus centers on the Christians’ relationship to both “hope” and “the coming age,” for it is in the coming age that the hope of our calling will be realized. Hope in Titus 2:13 is called “that blessed hope” and is associated with the “appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (ASV). The structure of the Greek text shows the “appearing of the glory” as the object of one’s hope (through placing both “blessed hope” and “appearing” under one article). Christians are the ones who possess this hope, as they are the ones who are to be partakers of Christ’s glory when it is revealed. In this respect, participation in the coming glory of Christ will be the realization of the Christians’ present hope, for one cannot be separated from the other.
The word hope is also used in this same framework within its two other appearances in Titus (1:2; 3:7). In Titus 1:1 & 2, hope is associated with a “mature knowledge” [“acknowledgment” (v. 1) is epignosis (mature knowledge) in the Greek text] of truth, and with “(aionios) life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (v. 2). Then, in Titus 3:7, this “hope” is reserved for the justified alone, and it has to do with a future inheritance:
That having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal [aionios] life. (Titus 3:7)
The Greek word aionios appearing in Titus 1:2; 3:7, translated “eternal” in most English versions, does not itself mean “eternal.” The Greek language actually contains no word for “eternal.” Aionios can be, and many times is, used in the sense of “eternal”; but this meaning is derived from its textual usage, not from the word itself. Aionios refers to “a period of time,” usually thought of as “an age.”
The only way the Greek language can express “eternal,” apart from textual considerations, is by using the noun form of aionios (aion) in the plural (“ages” [e.g., Luke 1:33; Hebrews 13:8]), or by using aion twice in the plural (“unto the ‘ages [aionas]’ of the ‘ages [aionon]’” [e.g., Revelation 1:6, 18; 4:9, 10; 5:13, 14; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 14:11; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5]). A person using the Greek language thinks in the sense of “ages,” with eternity being thought of in the sense of “endless ages,” i.e., “aeons,” or “the aeons of the aeons.”
Aionios life in Titus 1:2; 3:7 — a hope associated with an inheritance set before the believer — must be understood contextually to mean “age-lasting,” referring to the coming age, the Messianic Era. “Eternal life” cannot be in view at all. Neither “hope” nor “inheritance” is used pertaining to eternal life that Christians presently possess; but both words are used numerous times concerning Christians and their relationship to the coming kingdom (with its glory), which is what is in view in the book of Titus. The hope (the blessed hope) set before every Christian is simply that he/she may, at the judgment seat of Christ, be found qualified to occupy one of the numerous, proffered positions with Christ in His kingdom. A Christian — already in possession of eternal life — may or may not realize this hope, for such depends entirely upon one’s faithfulness during his present pilgrim walk.