Goats can become sheep. I wonder if Darwin came up with his evolutionary thoughts when he read the Bible. Insects had four legs in the Old Testament and with some research, we find that goats can become sheep in the New Testament.
One way of interpreting Jesus’ separation of the sheep from the goats is to think that either feeding or not feeding the hungry will send you to heaven or hell for the duration of time. Not so.
Eternal life doesn’t mean “heaven” and eternal punishment doesn’t mean “hell” after we die.” I have to repeat this: Eternal life and eternal punishment do not mean “heaven or hell after you die.” The NKJV and NIV Bible commentaries say it themselves: in biblical days, ”eternal life” referred to the quality of life only God can give you in the present day and age. The duration of it is determined by your own actions.
When you are taught something as a child, you have no evidence to argue it. When a sensationally appealing idea like burning bad people forever gets started, there’s not enough water in the oceans to put out that delicious rumor. It’s a human construction and comes out of human nature. Burn the bad people…give them what they deserve. An eye for an eye. Or better yet, give them more punishment than they deserve.
But this reaction is not Christ-like. To be Christ-like is to save those who don’t deserve it, including us.
So what do eternal and everlasting mean?
The Greek concordances that offer definitions tell us that eternal and everlasting mean: from the beginning of time to the end of time, i.e., unlimited duration. Yet Christians have done extensive research that contradicts this contemporary impression.
The Hebrew and Greek words in the Old Testament, from which the English words eternal and everlasting arise, are never, NEVER, used to indicate anything other than a period of INDEFINITE duration, and most of time (80%) they refer to times of LIMITED durations. To think the New Testament writers contradicted the meanings of Greek and Hebrew languages in the era they lived is unreasonable.
Here are some examples taken from some awesome research on these words:
“Everlasting”(41) is applied to God’s covenant with the Jews; to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple.(42) The word forever is applied to the duration of man’s earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi’s leprosy; to the duration of the life of David; to the duration of a king’s life; to the duration of the earth; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the time they were to dwell in Jerusalem; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the time Jerusalem was to remain a city; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the laws and ordinances of Moses; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; to the time the righteous were to inhabit the earth; and to the time Jonah was in the fish’s belly.(43)
Everlasting and eternal refer to limited periods of time, or in fewer instances, to what has always been and always will be.
Jesus used eternal to refer to what happens to people who do or do not love their neighbors through acts of kindness and compassion. One will inherit (partake in, share in) eternal life, the other will partake in eternal punishment. The time you spend in either state of being may be indefinite or limited depending on your actions.
“Life” refers to the absolute fullness of life that is offered by God (the God who is Love); the life that is real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, blessed. Eternal life is the quality of life God wishes all to share in. This is the kingdom in which you find peace, love, joy, kindness, patience, etc.
The Greek word used for “punishment” is a disciplinary kind of punishment, the consequences that “have always been and always will be,” not a judge’s sentencing a criminal to penal justice. One usage of the Hebrew word for eternal connected with punishment is found in Ps. 9:5, “Thou hast destroyed the wicked. Thou hast put out their name forever and ever.” The wicked person is not given endless torment, but oblivion (or a synonym is obliviousness). They don’t get it. They don’t understand it. They don’t share in the quality of life God offers them. Yet eternal punishment is an indefinite (often, limited) period of time.
Goats who have been ignoring the needs of others can wake up to true life and the joy of helping those in need. Goats can become sheep if they start loving their neighbors, treating others the way they want to be treated. Imagine that. I think this is really good news.
But it’s also bad news. The bad news is that sheep can forfeit eternal life. If they hurt others, they lose the quality of life God wants for them. Oh well, that just means we’ve got to keep at it – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Just do it.