What is the “everlasting destruction” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9?
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power….”
Is this passage talking about “evil people” or is it talking about “evil qualities?” The word translated as “who” in verse 9 can either mean “whatever” or “whoever.” The word “them” is not in the original Greek but is supplied by the translators.
Thus, we need to refer to other Pauline passages regarding the postmortem fire of vengeance, such as 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, to clarify Paul’s thinking in this area. In this passage, the man whose works are judged “suffers loss,” but “he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” Thus, this passage suggests that what gets punished and lost is a “whatever” and not a “whoever.” God punishes with eternal destructions evil notions, not evil nations. Remember, the ancient writers, especially Paul, used personification to describe both virtue and evil all the time.
In other words, the ancient writers used a word that can be translated as EITHER a “whoever” or a “whatever.”
The Bible authors pervasively used a literary technique called “personification.” The ancient writers personified most everything. Personification is the representation of an object, concept, trait, or quality AS IF it were a person. Again, wicked nations become wicked notions. External giants become internal strongholds of fear. Wisdom and foolishness, in the Book of Proverbs, are both personified as women lifting up their voices in the street. Consider Paul’s personification of sin ruling as a king in his body, and the “old man” and “new man” as personifications of two warring powers in the new creature after baptism.
So, for Paul to say that the personification of all the dark dynamics within us will be destroyed is a wonderful thing, not a fearful thing.
Let me propose a thought experiment to highlight this dynamic.
Assume for a moment that we each have a cancerous brain tumor which is impacting our mental perceptions, morality, and moods by causing us to act erratically, selfishly, violently, and destructively. The cancer has altered our personality and created a false identity, a villainous personae with hostile intent, fearful delusions, toxic traits and unhealthy values.
Now, further assume our father is the world’s best surgeon. He has tried to treat us from our youth onward with a healthy diet, cleansing habits, and other non-invasive techniques. But, we simply have not invested in treatment. We refuse to believe we are really sick and have refused to cooperate. We have become more and more codependent towards our cancerous and false-selves. We have returned again and again to carcinogenic habits, carcinogenic thoughts, and carcinogenic actions which have so warped our perceptions.
Our brain sickness worsens over the many decades of our life. We eventually become bed ridden. We have gotten to the point where we can’t even remember who our father is. We still vaguely recognize his kind face when he comes to our bedside, but we can’t place him. Now that we have finally become totally immobile, our father enters the room. He tenderly strokes our foreheads and confidently tells us it is now time. We are too weak to resist his treatment any longer. He informs us he is going to perform surgery on us and remove and destroy the cancer within us.
When we awake from surgery, we instantly know we are different. We feel a thousand pounds lighter. Our personality has changed. No, that’s too mild a word– our personalities have been transformed into something brighter and better. An appalling appendage has been removed. We don’t recognize ourselves anymore. The memory of who we were has now been revealed as a delusion, a malignancy now removed. The old fears, the old lusts, the old hostilities, are all gone.
We now see things, everything, differently. The old “carcinogenic self,” corrupted with a thousand dark distortions, is gone. Our father-surgeon enters our recovery room with a jar in his right hand. Inside the jar is the removed tumor which has diseased our lives. He briefly jiggles the jar to show us the tumor, and then makes this statement: “This cancerous-identity will never afflict you again. I am casting him/her/it into a medical incinerator. The angelic nurses have nicknamed this incinerator ‘the lake of fire.’ This is because the sickness will be forever drowned in flames, forever submerged and contained by a wise firewall, never more to afflict any living thing.”
As we consider his words, we ask ourselves, “Wht did father refer to the tumor as a he, she, or it?” Then the answer comes. It DID have a personality. It DID have a mindset. It DID have emotions. It DID seem alive. It DID have a voice other than my own, although it was often disguised as my own. So, even it was ultimately revealed as an “it,” it also seemed to be some sort of living personage, albeit an inauthentic one.
End of the thought experiment.
So, the Thessalonians passage is simply saying that whatever carcinogenic carnality (i.e. the wood-hay-stubble) needs to be destroyed by the Lord’s “wise fire” will, in fact, be destroyed per the 1 Corinthinan 3 passage. Again, to repeat, there the man “suffers [destructive] LOSS, but is himself saved, yet so as by fire.” This is so similar to the verse where an unrepentant sinner is “turned over to Satan for the DESTRUCTION of his flesh THAT His spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” 1 Corinthian 5:5. This is the EXACT same principle of “partial” or “piecemeal” destruction so that the spirit of the man himself may be saved. The word for “destruction” in 1 Corinthians 5:5 is the exact same Greek word used in this Thessalonians passage.
What is it the man loses, what is destroyed, what is it the man suffers? Here is the answer: the wrenching away of a false, carnal, carcinogenic, fleshly identity. It is certain we take nothing with us to the judgment flames, except the identities we have built for ourselves. What ELSE could we suffer and lose, if its not that portion of our soul NOT built on the rock of Christ? Jesus allegorically taught that poisonous appendages of our being could be severed from us and cast into postmortem flames SO THAT our CORE remaining self could fully embrace heaven. “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” Matthew 18:9. This passage is just Jesus informing us of the postmortem surgery to come. He will remove all malicious content from our souls.
So the text simply says that for a surgical period known only by God, His presence (what the church fathers called His “wise fire”) will purge all people with a kind of partial and remedial destruction, the exact same thing 1 Corinthians 3 and 5:5 claim above. But the only thing severed and destroyed are our sick appendages, the false and carcinogenic sin masks which we allowed to be grafted onto our souls, BUT NOT our essential selves, the authentic selves we were created to be.
Jesus IS the great physician. He makes all things new, including us. Especially us. He desires to treat, purge, and heal us NOW with our cooperation. This is better in every way. But, if not now, then the crisis heightens in the postmortem age to come. But, either way, the heavenly Father will ULTIMATELY see all men healed, restored, and reconciled so that Christ “may be all in all.” 1 Corinthians 15:22-29.
Let me address one last grammatical point to about the term translated everlasting destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
“Eternal Punishment” and “eternal destruction” are the terms used in the English translation of the Bible on which most people base their view of eternal conscious torment in Hell. The former term in the Greek is “kolasis aionios,” while the latter is “olethros aionios.” Both use aionios. Let’s examine each.
So let’s start with kolasis aionios. If this term does indeed mean eternal punishment, then Hell would seem to be foreverrrrrrrrrr.
But, such is not the case. lets first consider the opinion of the great Greek scholar William Barclay, who was professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament and the very popular Daily Study Bible Series. Barclay discusses this point regarding Matthew 25:46 in his well-known autobiography:
“One of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is ‘kolasis,’ which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature ‘kolasis’ is never used of anything but ‘remedial punishment.’ The word for ‘eternal’ is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato – who may have invented the word – plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to put it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.”
To summarize then, Greek word “Aionios,” which is sometimes translated as “everlasting” in Scripture (as in “everlasting punishment”), does NOT, in fact, mean “unending or everlasting in quantity of time.” Rather, “Aionios” speaks to an “indeterminate age set by God alone.” The word refers to a certain quality (not quantity) of being – – whether it be “aionios life” or “aionios remedial-punishment.” Aionios is always qualified by what it is describing.
For instance, the word “great,” when applied to a merciful sentence imposed by a kind-hearted judge, might refer to a small amount of time in jail. Conversely, “great,” when applied to an atrocious crime, for which the judge throws the book at the defendant, might refer to a life-sentence in jail.
Similarly, the duration and quality of aionios when applied to the life of God is entirely different than when it is applied to the chastening or punishment of God. “Great life” in God is certainly unending since death will have been completely defeated, but the unending length is not the primary essence of that “Great life.” Rather, the limitless quality of being totally at one with the Lord is the key aspect of this “Great life.” On the other hand, “Great punishment” by God will not be unending since He punishes to correct and rehabilitate and He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pet. 3:9.
Life in God is not everlasting because it is aionios, but rather aionios is everlasting because it is referring to life in God. Conversely, aionios punishment is not temporary because aionios means temporary, but rather aionios is temporary in this context since God’s chastening is curative and incapable of being eternally resisted. “For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a lifetime: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy ‘cometh’ in the morning.” Psalm 30:5.
Aionios then, by itself, means an “indeterminate age,” not an “unending age.” Only the context of the passage provides guidance as to the actual quality and duration of the age.
Now to couple the same word “aionios” to the word “olethros”(destruction) in the Thessalonians passage, we need to see that it likewise mistranslates the word aionios as eternal. Plus, the sense in which “destruction” here is used is the same sense as described in 1 Corinthians 3:15 to refer to the fiery destruction of our wood, hay and stubble “false and carnal identities”, though we ourselves will be saved, yet as by fire.
The Thessalonians passage is simply saying that whatever carnal wood-hay-stubble carnality needs to be destroyed by the Lord’s “wise fire” will, in fact, be destroyed per the 1 Corinthinan 3 passage, where, to repeat, the man “suffers [destructive] LOSS, but is himself saved, yet so as by fire.” This is so similar to the verse where an unrepentant sinner is “turned over to Satan for the DESTRUCTION of his flesh THAT His spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” 1 Corinthian 5:5. This is the EXACT same principle of “partial” or “piecemeal” destruction so that the spirit of the man himself may be saved. The word for “destruction” in 1 Corinthians 5:5, is, in fact, the exact same Greek word used in this Thessalonians passage. So again this “aionios destruction” refers to an age of purging in God’s purging fire of correction.
What is it the man loses, what is destroyed, what is it He suffers? The wrenching away of a false, carnal, fleshly identity. It is certain we take nothing with us to the judgement flames, except the identities we have built for ourselves. What ELSE could we suffer and lose, if it’s not that portion of our soul NOT built on the rock of Christ.
So the text just says that for a punishment period known only by God, His presence (what I call His wise fire) will punish believers with some kind of partial and remedial destruction, the exact same thing 1 Corinthians 3 and 5:5 claims above. But he only thing destroyed here is our evil identities, the false sin masks we she behind, BUT NOT our essential selves who we were created to be.
The Rotterham Emphasized Bible translates “kolasis aionios” in Matthew 25:46 as “age abiding correction.”
Young’s Literal Translation translates “kolasis aionios” in Matthew 25:46 as “punishment age.”
The Concordant Literal Translation translates “kolasis aionios” in Matthew 25:46 as “chastening eonian,” or “chastening age” in other words. Our English word “eon” derives from the Greek word “aionios.” Eon, as we use the word, speaks of ages or cycles of indeterminate amounts of time. The term is often used in the plural form, such as “It’s been eons since we’ve talked,” or “Eons ago the universe was formed.” The point is that we don’t even use the term today to refer to “everlasting” in the sense of never-ending. Think how silly it sounds to pluralize “everlasting” into “everlastings,” yet “eon” is pluralized into “eons” all the time.