Prophecy on Mount Olivet
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Those on His Left Hand
Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;
I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.”
Then they also will answer Him, saying, “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?”
Then He will answer them, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46)
Contrary to common, widespread interpretative views on Matthew 25:31-46, the only time Christ will deal with unsaved Gentiles when He returns to the earth — preceding His actual 1,000-year reign over the earth, with His co-heirs — will be when He treads the winepress at what is commonly called the battle of Armageddon. Christ’s judgment of Gentiles, as seen at the end of the Olivet Discourse, when He returns and sits on the throne of His Glory, will be with saved Gentiles alone, not with both saved and unsaved Gentiles.
And this judgment, as any other judgment at this time, will be with the kingdom in view. This judgment, as any of the other judgments, will have to do with either realizing an inheritance in the kingdom or being rejected for an inheritance in the kingdom. And the basis of this judgment will be the previous actions of those being judged, whether they ministered or didn’t minister to Christ’s brethren, the Jewish people, during the Tribulation.
Those having ministered to the Jewish people during the previous Tribulation will realize an inheritance in the kingdom; those who didn’t minister to the Jewish people during the previous Tribulation though will be turned away, rejected for an inheritance.
In this respect, the matter will be very similar to that which is seen in Christ’s previous dealings with Christians at His judgment seat, as seen in the four parables covering the Christian section of the Olivet Discourse.
In the first of these four parables, one is received alongside, and another is turned away. And receiving alongside or being turned away is seen, in a subsequent parable, to be with a view to the kingdom that the Nobleman had gone away to receive.
The same thing is seen in the judgment of saved Gentiles. The ones on His right hand will be received in the same manner as seen in the previous parable (actually, all four previous parables, all covering different facets of the same thing) — received alongside; and the ones on His left hand will be turned away, as also seen in this parable (again, in all four parables).
Being received or being turned away in this manner has to do with the same thing previously seen in these parables. It has to do with an inheritance in the kingdom, which will be realized by some and not realized by others.
The Kingdom in View
Everything surrounding Christ’s return is seen having to do with the kingdom that He had gone away to receive. When Christ returns, between the time His feet touch the Mount of Olives and the time He and His co-heirs ascend the throne and reign (Zechariah 14:4, 9), numerous things, of necessity, will have to occur.
At the time Christ returns, Satan will still be in power, with Antichrist seated on His throne; an unconverted Israel, which Satan will still be seeking to destroy, will still be scattered among the nations; and the Gentiles, saved mainly as a result of the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangels, who survived the Tribulation, will still be scattered throughout the nations of the earth as well.
Christ will deal with Israel first, relative to conversion, repentance, and restoration to the land, as well as calling the nation before Him in Judgment; and everything will be with a view to the kingdom.
Then the incumbent powers must be removed from their positions, which is what is seen in Revelation 19:17-20:3 (allowing Christ and His co-heirs to take the scepter and reign). The beast and false prophet will be dealt with first (19:20), the armies of the beast (led by the kings of the earth [19:21]) will then be dealt with, and then Satan himself (which can only include his angels as well) will be dealt with (20:1-3).
Christ will then deal with the saved Gentiles, both those surviving the Tribulation in Matthew 25:31-46 and those having been slain during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9-17; 20:4-6); and His dealings with these Gentiles, as His dealings with the Jews, will be with a view to the kingdom.
In short, everything surrounding Christ’s return will have one one thing at the forefront: the kingdom that He had gone away to receive.
Gentile nations, comprised of unsaved Gentiles surviving the judgments of the Tribulation, will enter into the Millennium and populate the millennial earth. And not only will they enter into this time in natural bodies, capable of procreation, but atmospheric conditions will once again be of a nature that man can, as in the antediluvian world of Noah’s day, live for hundreds of years, even for the entire duration of the Millennium, in a natural body (ref. Chapter 9 in this book). Thus, the population of the earth, over time, can only increase, evidently dramatically.
(The common thought and teaching that only saved Gentiles will enter into the Millennium is based on a misunderstanding of Matthew 25:31-46, attempting to make this section of Scripture teach a judgment of all the Gentiles at the time of Christ’s return, both the saved and the unsaved.
This though is not what Matthew 25:31-46 or any other section of Scripture teaches. The millennial earth, at the very beginning, will evidently be populated by unsaved Gentiles, forming nations, occupying different geographical locations throughout the earth.)
Israel will be placed at the head of the nations here on earth, with the Jewish people realizing their calling. A converted Jewish nation will not only rule over the Gentile nations but will send the evangels out, worldwide, to reach the Gentiles with God’s message; and God will bless the nations through Israel (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 43:7-11; Jonah 1:2ff).
(As the 144,000 of Revelation 7, 12, 14 began carrying God’s message to Gentiles worldwide during the last half of the Tribulation [forming a first-fruit of the nation], the entire nation will continue this task during the Millennium [forming the main harvest].)
Then, in the heavens, Christ and His co-heirs will rule the nations as well, which will evidently be through representatives here on earth. And this could possibly be accomplished through saved Gentiles, those seen on Christ’s right hand in Matthew 25:34-40, who realize an inheritance in the kingdom.
(The present kingdom under Satan is structured after the preceding fashion. Powerful angels in Satan’s kingdom rule from a heavenly sphere through men in corresponding positions of power here on earth [Daniel 10:12-20]. In this passage from Daniel, there is both a “prince of the kingdom of Persia” and “kings of Persia” [evidently lesser rulers under the prince] in the heavens, which would correspond to both the main ruler and lesser rulers under him who ruled over the Persian kingdom here on earth.
Governmental power and authority originates in the heavens — “Heaven rules [KJV: “the heavens do rule]” [Daniel 4:26b] — and progresses from rulers in the heavens through rulers on the earth. Governmental powers throughout the Gentile nations possess corresponding governmental powers in Satan’s kingdom in the heavens in this fashion. Powers in the heavens rule through these corresponding powers on the earth. Or, to turn that around, the powers on earth govern under these corresponding powers in the heavens.
This is the manner in which the government of the earth is presently structured, which is also the same manner in which the government of the earth — all of the Gentile nations — will be structured yet future, though under Christ and His co-heirs rather than Satan and his angels.
There is one exception to the preceding — the government of the nation of Israel, for Israel is” not reckoning itself among the nations” [Numbers 23:9]. Israel, though possessing a government of the same type, with powers in the heavens ruling through powers on earth [it must, for “the heavens do rule”], rules separate from powers in Satan’s kingdom. Israel’s ruling angel in this respect is Michael, separate from Satan’s kingdom [Daniel 10:21].
And, as previously noted, the coming kingdom of Christ can only be established after the same fashion, with Christ and His co-heirs ruling from heavenly places through corresponding powers among the nations here on earth. This though would be over the Gentile nations alone [note that overcoming Christians have been promised power over the nations, not over Israel (Revelation 2:26, 27)].
The twelve apostles would seem to be the lone exception, having been promised power over the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:27-29]. And, since other rulers over Israel will be needed in the heavenly sphere of the kingdom, these positions may very well be filled by Old Testament saints who qualified to rule from the heavens prior to this part of the kingdom being taken from Israel [cf. Matthew 8:11, 12; Luke 13:28, 29; Hebrews 11:8-16].)
“Eternal Life” and “Everlasting Punishment”
All judgments preceding the Millennium have the kingdom in view. But the wording of Matthew 25:41, 46 — those on Christ’s left hand going away into “everlasting punishment,” in “everlasting fire”; or those on His right hand entering into “eternal life” — would appear to clearly teach something different. Such though is not the case at all.
There is a translation problem to begin with, and once this has been straightened out and the whole of the two parts of Matthew 25:31-46 are viewed together, along with being viewed in the light of related Scripture, particularly the larger context of the Olivet Discourse — comparing Scripture with Scripture — the matter becomes quite clear. In fact, when this is done, it becomes impossible to teach that which is almost universally taught in this passage (i.e., a judgment of both saved and unsaved individuals, with eternal verities in view [eternal life and/or eternal damnation]).
1) The Translation Problem
The translation problem lies in the words “eternal” and “everlasting” in Matthew 25:41, 46. In the English translation, “eternal life” is used relative to all those on Christ’s right hand, and “everlasting punishment” is used relative to all those on His left hand.
“Eternal” and “everlasting” in these verses are both translations of the Greek word aionion, which is the adjective form of the noun aion. Both words mean the same thing, which is a meaning other than “eternal,” though the words could be thought of in the sense of “eternal” if the context permits.
But this is not the case at all in Matthew 25:31-36. Contextually, in this section of Scripture, the word aionion could not possibly be understood as “eternal” or “everlasting.”
(Neither the Hebrew text of the Old Testament nor the Greek text of the New Testament contains a word for “eternal.” Olam is the word usually 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; cf. Psalm 136:1ff]. 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 by 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.)
2) The Complete Text Itself
The problem seen with the common, erroneous interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46 when viewing the complete text has been alluded to in the previous data concerning aion and aionios. That which is seen in this section of the Olivet Discourse is a judgment of saved Gentiles at the time Christ returns, with the kingdom in view. Yet, the translation, “eternal” in connection with those on Christ’s right hand and “everlasting” in connection with those on His left hand, completely removes matters from the issue at hand.
(The kingdom in view throughout the Olivet Discourse is the coming 1,000-year reign over the earth, when Christ and His co-heirs will sit on the throne as seen in Revelation 3:21, “My throne [Christ’s throne],” and rule over the present earth.
The kingdom as it will exist beyond that time — after the destruction of the present heavens and earth [the heavens associated with the earth, not the universe as a whole] and a new heavens and new earth have been brought into existence, with power emanating from “the throne of God and of the Lamb” [2 Peter 3:10ff; Revelation 22:1, 3] — is another matter.
The kingdom in view when Christ and His co-heirs reign over the earth from “My throne” has to do with the government of this present earth and will last for 1,000 years. This is the kingdom in view throughout all three sections of the Olivet Discourse, with the overcomer’s promises in Revelation chapters two and three having to do with this 1,000-year kingdom alone.
And, to enlarge upon the preceding, this is the kingdom in view anyplace in Scripture — Old Testament or New Testament — where promises have been made to Israel or to Christians regarding the kingdom. All distinctions for faithfulness and unfaithfulness — whether relative to Jews, Christians, or Gentiles — have to do with this 1,000-year period alone, not with the eternal ages.
The kingdom in view beyond the Millennium has to do with the new heavens, the new earth, and with power emanating from “the throne of God and of the Lamb” [which can only be universal in nature]; and this continuing facet of the kingdom will be eternal in length.
Refer to the Conclusion in this book for additional details on the preceding.)
The translation in the English text in Matthew 25:34, 46 has made “inherit the kingdom” (v. 34) synonymous with “eternal life” (v. 46) for those on Christ’s right hand, which cannot be true at all. Realizing an inheritance in the kingdom can only be equated with “life for the age,” never with eternal life, which is exactly how the Greek word aionios, used with “life,” should, contextually, be translated and understood.
And, in like fashion, contextually, “everlasting punishment” should be properly translated “age-lasting punishment.” That which those on Christ’s left hand receive would be the antithesis of that which the ones on His right hand receive. Instead of realizing an inheritance in the kingdom, they would be rejected for this inheritance; and, instead of possessing life for the age, they would realize the opposite, expressed in a slightly different way in verse forty-one — “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting [aionios, ‘age-lasting’] fire . . . .”
3) Comparing Scripture with Scripture
To understand that which is meant by “age-lasting fire,” one of the best places to begin is with the overcomer’s promises in Revelation chapters two and three and see the same thing befalling non-overcoming Christians (also seen in a different fashion in the four parables in the Christian section of the Olivet Discourse). And this can be seen in the second of the overcomer’s promises, in the message to the Christians in the church in Smyrna, in Revelation 2:11b:
. . . He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.
Not being hurt or being hurt by the second death is in connection with overcoming or not overcoming. The promise that the one overcoming will not be hurt by the second death in Revelation 2:11 clearly portends the opposite for the non-overcomer. That is, the overcoming Christian will not be hurt by the second death, but the non-overcoming Christian will be hurt by the second death. And the whole of the matter is in relation to realizing or not realizing an inheritance in the kingdom, not with eternal life.
The expression, “the second death,” appears three times in Revelation chapters twenty and twenty-one (20:6, 14; 21:8), where it is used in connection with judgments of both the saved and the unsaved and where it is, as well, associated with “the lake of fire” in connection with the judgments of both the saved and the unsaved.
And in the light of Revelation 20:4-6; 21:7, 8, which deal with the saved in connection with overcoming or being overcome, referencing the second death, Revelation 2:11 can mean only one thing:
Overcoming Christians, as stated in Revelation 2:11, are not going to be “hurt by the second death.” But the inverse of that has to be equally true as well, for the promise carries a clearly implied warning. Non-overcoming Christians are going to be “hurt by the second death,” defined in Scripture as having “their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8b).
“Fire” in Scripture is associated with the judgment of the saved as well as the judgment of the unsaved. And though the Christians’ works will be tried “by [‘in’] fire” at the judgment seat, this is not synonymous with Christians having a part in “their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Rather, at this judgment, Christians will be shown to have either overcome or to have been overcome, with the carrying out of decisions and determinations made at the judgment seat occurring at a time following these events. And it will be at this time, following judgment, that non-overcoming Christians will be “hurt by the second death,” which is associated with the lake of fire.
(Note in the judgment of the unsaved in Revelation 20:11-15 that the second death and the lake of fire enter into the matter only following judgment. The second death and the lake of fire come into view only following decisions and determinations pertaining to the judgment of the unsaved.
And it will be the same for the saved preceding this time. They will first be judged. Only then, only following the decisions and determinations pertaining to their judgment, does the second death and the lake of fire come into view.)
a) The Overcomer’s Promises
The word “overcome” is a translation of the Greek word nikao, which means “to conquer” or “to gain a victory over.” The thought inherent in the word nikao (or nike, the noun form of the word) always means to be victorious in a contest or conflict. The “overcomers” are the conquerors, the victors; they are the ones who will have successfully run the race of the faith; they are the ones who will have conquered the numerous encountered obstacles along the way.
There are seven different overcomer’s promises in Revelation chapters two and three, and each promise is millennial in its scope of fulfillment. That is, these promises will be realized by overcoming Christians, or they will fail to be realized by Christians who have been overcome, during the 1,000-year reign of Christ after Christians have had their works tried “by [‘in’] fire” at the judgment seat.
(There can be no such thing as Christians being hurt by the second death beyond the Millennium, for Revelation 21:4 plainly declares that there will be no more death during this time. Former things of this nature will have passed away.
Nor can the Son invite Christians to sit on “My throne” [the seventh and last overcomer’s promise; Revelation 3:21] beyond the Millennium, for He will not be seated on this throne at that time. Instead He will be seated with His Father on “the throne of God and of the Lamb” [Revelation 22:1, 3].
During the Millennium, regal power over the earth will emanate from the Son’s throne above the present earth. But during the ages beyond, regal power over the universe will emanate from the throne of God and of the Lamb on the new earth.)
Christians have been saved with a view to being overcomers and bringing forth fruit. This matter comprises the very heart of the message that is to be proclaimed to Christians throughout the dispensation. Israel has been set aside during this time, and God is calling out another people — a separate and distinct people — “for His name,” taken mainly from among the Gentiles (Acts 15:14).
Those whom God is presently dealing with comprise an entirely new creation, which is neither Jew nor Gentile, forming one new man “in Christ.” And God is extending to individual members of this one new man, to Christians, the privilege of overcoming and bringing forth fruit, with a view to their occupying positions as joint-heirs with His Son in the heavenly sphere of the coming kingdom.
God has set aside an entire dispensation for this purpose, and judgment at the end of this dispensation will reveal man’s response to this privilege. Some Christians will be shown to have overcome, possessing works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones”; but other Christians will be shown to have been overcome, possessing works comparable to “wood, hay, straw.”
The overcomers will, at that time, inherit the promised blessings of Revelation chapters two and three; but those shown to have been overcome will be denied these blessings. This is the subject matter dealt with in the opening three chapters of the book of Revelation.
b) Being Hurt of the Second Death
That which is in view concerning a non-overcoming Christian one day being hurt of the second death following decisions and determinations at the judgment seat, as previously seen, is explained later in this same book. The second death for the non-overcomer is having a “part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8); and having a part in the lake of fire is explained by and through God’s dealings with the unsaved in the previous chapter as being “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15).
And seeing individuals cast into “the furnace of fire” in Matthew 13:42, 50 is simply another way of expressing the same thing.
(The parables in Matthew chapter thirteen deal with the Kingdom of the Heavens and fruit bearing, not with eternal salvation. Thus, the subject matter has to do with the saved, not with the unsaved.
Further, in Matthew 13:1, Christ going out of “the house” [a reference to Israel] and down by “the seaside” [a reference to the Gentiles], the one new man “in Christ” [about to be brought into existence at the time these parables were given] is seen throughout the first four parables. In this respect, those gathered out of Christ’s kingdom, which “offend” and “practice lawlessness,” who are cast into a furnace of fire, can only be identified as saved individuals.
Also, this casting into a furnace of fire in Matthew 13:42, 50 occurs before the Millennium. The unsaved cast into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:15 occurs following the Millennium. They are not the same.)
But is the second death, being cast into the lake of fire, something that will be carried out in a literal sense? Or, is Scripture dealing with metaphors at this point? And, if the latter, what about the unsaved being cast into the lake of fire at the end of the Millennium, in Revelation 20:11-15?
If one is literal, would not the other have to be literal as well? Or, if one is metaphorical, would not the other have to be metaphorical as well?
c) Allowing Scripture to Interpret Scripture
In John 15:6 and Hebrews 6:8, saved individuals are spoken of in a metaphorical sense, where a burning with fire is referenced. And the context both places has to do with either bearing fruit or not bearing fruit, which is exactly the same thing that is seen in the Matthew thirteen parables. Or, as the matter is expressed in Revelation chapters two and three, it has to do with either overcoming or being overcome.
And the negative side of the matter is expressed at least two other ways in Scripture — being cast into Gehenna (a reference to the place of refuse outside the city walls of Jerusalem at this time; Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 23:15, 33) or being cast into outer darkness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
Overcoming or not overcoming and being unhurt or being hurt by the second death in Revelation 2:11 is expressed a slightly different way in Romans 8:13:
For if you [a reference to ‘brethren’ in v. 12] live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Whether Gehenna or outer darkness in Matthew, a burning with fire in John and Hebrews, being cast into a furnace or lake of fire in Matthew and Revelation, or suffering death or being hurt by the second death in Romans and Revelation, different facets of exactly the same thing are in view.
All of these are used in contexts showing that they have to do with saved people in relation to fruit bearing and the kingdom.
By comparing Scripture with Scripture, it is plain that these are simply different ways of expressing the same thing. And since a literal casting into outer darkness, Gehenna, or a furnace or lake of fire could not possibly be in view (for these different places could not possibly be looked upon as referring to the same place in a literal sense), it is evident that metaphors are being used throughout.
But relative to the unsaved and the lake of fire, this is simply not expressed other ways in Scripture as it is with the saved, leaving no room for any thought other than understanding the matter as literal, not metaphorical.
Aside from the preceding, it is clear that all Christians, faithful and unfaithful alike, will be in the kingdom. This is seen in the type in Genesis chapters eighteen and nineteen. Both Abraham and Lot, in the final analysis, are seen on the mount (a “mountain” in Scripture signifies a kingdom). But note the stark difference in the place that each occupied.
Abraham stood before the Lord, where he had always stood (18:22; 19:27). Lot though found himself in a place separate from the Lord, in a place where he also had always stood (19:1, 30).
“Everlasting [‘Age-Lasting’] Fire”
Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting [age-lasting] fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
As has been shown, similar verses to the preceding are used different places in the New Testament relative to non-overcoming Christians. And, with this in mind, understanding how these verses are used, the matter concerning how that which is stated in Matthew 25:41 relative to those on Christ’s left hand is to be understood should be evident without further comment.
(Why does Scripture associate non-overcoming Christians with the lake of fire in relation to Christ’s millennial reign, in the manner previously seen [which would be the same for those on Christ’s left hand in Matthew 25:41]? The answer would be the same as the reason why Scripture associates the unsaved with the lake of fire throughout the endless ages of eternity, following the Millennium.
The lake of fire was not prepared for man. Rather, it was prepared “for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41]. It was prepared for those who had rejected God’s supreme power and authority, as Satan sought to acquire power and authority above that which had been delegated [Isaiah 14:13, 14]. Thus, in this respect, the lake of fire is connected with regality.
And man, created to replace Satan and his angels, finds his connection with the lake of fire on exactly the same basis. Saved man, ignoring the very reason for his salvation [which is regal], will find himself associated with the lake of fire during the Millennium [an association connected with all that the existence of the lake of fire implies]. And unsaved man, ignoring salvation and the reason for man’s creation [which, again, is regal], will find himself associated with the lake of fire throughout the endless ages following the Millennium [an association connected with all that the existence of the lake of fire implies].)