Survival or Destruction at the “Great Tribulation”
“These will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”—Matthew 25:46.
1, 2. What opinion have some expressed, and why is this dangerous and to be avoided?
THE idea of certain ones being destroyed everlastingly is repulsive to some. This is true of universalists, who believe that eventually everyone will be saved. Away back in the third century C.E., the religious writer Origen toyed with the idea of ultimate salvation for all. Without going that far, some today who claim to be Christians express the opinion that perhaps all humans will be resurrected, including all future victims of the “great tribulation.”—Matthew 24:21, 22.
2 Unwittingly, those who entertain this idea are getting dangerously near to Christendom’s doctrine of a “general resurrection.” The mainstream churches teach that the dead bodies of ALL the deceased will be raised to join their respective souls in heaven or in “hell.” However, the Bible does not teach such a “general resurrection” as understood by Christendom, nor that ALL the dead, even the wicked, will be resurrected or brought back to life.
Not All the Dead Will Be Resurrected
3. How did Jesus indicate that not all would be resurrected?
3 Jesus indicated that not everyone would be resurrected. He was replying to a sly question put to him by the Sadducees, who believed that nobody would be resurrected. He spoke of “those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead.” (Luke 20:35) His words imply that not all will have proved worthy of being resurrected in God’s promised new system of things.
4. According to Revelation chapter 20, from where will the dead come forth, but what symbolic place does not give up its dead?
4 In Revelation chapter 20, which deals with the resurrection of the “rest of the dead” who do not share in the “first resurrection,” the Bible says that the “sea” and “Hades” give up the dead in them. It does not say that the dead come forth from the “lake of fire,” or “second death,” elsewhere called “Gehenna” (Geʹi Hinnomʹ, Hebrew). (Luke 12:5) Just as the word “sea” designates the collective watery grave of those who died in the depths and whose bodies were never recovered for an earthly burial, the Greek word haʹdes does not refer to any individual tomb but, rather, to the common earthly grave of mankind. It corresponds with the word “Sheol” found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus states: “I became dead, but, look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) During his millennial reign he will use these “keys” to free from death those “counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead.”
5. What is symbolized by “Gehenna”?
5 On the other hand, nowhere do the Scriptures state that Christ has the keys of Gehenna. He spoke of Gehenna, saying: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him [Jehovah] that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matthew 10:28) Commenting on this passage in his book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? (French), Professor Oscar Cullmann writes: “psy·kheʹ [soul] here does not mean the Greek concept of soul but should rather be translated ‘life ‘. . . . W. G. Kümmel . . . also writes with good reason: Matt. 10:28 ‘does not seek to highlight the immortality of the soul, but underlines the fact that God alone can destroy not only earthly life but also heavenly life.’” Yes, Gehenna represents utter destruction from which no resurrection is possible. The New Bible Commentary (Second Edition, page 786) defines Gehenna as “a description of ‘the second death.’”—Revelation 21:8.
6. Show from the Bible that some go to Gehenna before the 1,000-year Judgment Day and therefore have no hope of being resurrected.
6 Now, the Bible definitely shows that some end up in the symbolic Gehenna before the 1,000-year Judgment Day begins. Jesus told the unrepentant scribes and Pharisees that they and their Gentile proselytes were ‘subjects for Gehenna’ or, literally, ‘sons of Gehenna.’ (Matthew 23:15, 33-35; see also John 9:39-41; 15:22-24.) If even a proselyte of the Pharisees became a subject for Gehenna ‘twice as much so as themselves,’ how much more so Judas Iscariot, who made a heinous deal with them to betray God’s Son! Jesus implied this when he called Judas “the son of destruction.” (John 17:12) Similarly, unrepentant apostates go, at death, not to Sheol, or Hades, but to Gehenna. (Hebrews 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:1) The same is true of dedicated Christians who persist in willful sin or those who “shrink back.” (Hebrews 10:26-31, 38, 39) These are merely examples to show that some, even in “this system of things,” have committed the sin for which there is no forgiveness, not even in the system of things “to come.” (Matthew 12:31, 32; compare 1 John 5:16.) They will, therefore, not be resurrected.
The Finality of Jehovah’s Judgments
7. What further proves that Jehovah pronounces final judgment against some even during the present system of things?
7 The very fact that Jesus stated that “blasphemy against the spirit” would be forgiven neither “in this system of things nor in that to come” should convince any who have doubts on the subject that Jehovah pronounces final judgment against some even during “this system.” Such become “guilty of everlasting sin.” They will have “no forgiveness forever.” (Mark 3:28, 29) Why, then, should they be resurrected?
8. (a) How should we show the same attitude as Jehovah? (b) Why should we have confidence in Jehovah and his Son as Judges, and what example can be cited to illustrate the finality of divine judgment?
8 Naturally, as dignified witnesses of our God Jehovah, we do not go around threatening people with destruction. We share Jehovah’s viewpoint on things. Of him, it is said that he is “patient,” because “he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) On the other hand, we should avoid becoming overly emotional and, perhaps unwittingly, criticizing Jehovah’s way of handling matters. Jehovah is a perfect Judge. (Deuteronomy 32:4) The same is true of Christ Jesus. (John 5:30) When a case is brought before imperfect human judges and goes through the entire judicial process, from the lowest court right through to the highest court of the land, men consider that justice has been done, and no further appeal can be made. Why, then, should we doubt Jehovah’s judgments and their finality?—Psalm 119:75.
9. How does Matthew 10:28 indicate the finality of Jehovah’s judgments?
9 While Jehovah has shown himself to be wonderfully “patient” because he “desires all to attain to repentance,” he knows that not all humans will repent. That is why Jesus warned us to “be in fear of him that can destroy both soul [life] and body in Gehenna.” Commenting on this passage, the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states: “Matt. 10:28 teaches not the potential immortality of the soul but the irreversibility of divine judgment on the unrepentant.”
10. What did Jesus state concerning the “many” and the “few,” and what is the meaning of the Greek word translated “destruction”?
10 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction [Greek, apoleia], and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14) Greek lexicons define apoleia as meaning “annihilation,” “eternal destruction” (Arndt & Gingrich) or “definitive destruction, not merely in the sense of the extinction of physical existence.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) There is, therefore, no Biblical foundation for sentimentally believing that people living today, who face the greatest “tribulation” since the world began, have any other choice but “life” or “destruction.”—Matthew 24:21, 22.
Survival or Destruction
11. (a) What is meant by the expression “day of Jehovah”? (b) What “great day of Jehovah” is still ahead, and what will then occur?
11 “The great day of Jehovah is near.” (Zephaniah 1:14) Never have those words been more ominous. True, there have been other special periods in history when Jehovah executed his judgment and glorified his holy name, and each of these was a miniature “day of Jehovah.” Unfaithful Jerusalem, Babylon and Egypt experienced such ‘days.’ (Isaiah 2:1, 6-17; 13:1-6; Jeremiah 46:1-10) But the greatest “day of Jehovah” is still ahead. It is the “day” when Jehovah’s judgment will be executed upon Christendom, the rest of Satan’s world empire of false religion and his entire wicked system. It is “a day of fury, a day of distress and of anguish, a day of storm and of desolation.” The prophecy continues: “‘And I will cause distress to mankind, . . . it is against Jehovah that they have sinned. . . . Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah’s fury; but by the fire of his zeal the whole earth will be devoured, because he will make an extermination, indeed a terrible one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.’ . . . Before there comes upon you people the burning anger of Jehovah, before there comes upon you the day of Jehovah’s anger, seek Jehovah, all you meek ones of the earth, who have practiced His own judicial decision. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.”—Zephaniah 1:15–2:3.
12. Does Zephaniah’s prophecy refer only to Judah, or is it broader in its application?
12 Even many of Christendom’s Bible researchers recognize that this prophecy did not apply just to Judah but foretold “a universal judgment upon the whole world” (Keil-Delitzsch), “the end of an age of sin” (French Ecumenical Bible), “the ‘day’ when universal judgment will be visited upon all wickedness and the wrath of God be poured out upon all who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—New Bible Commentary, Second Edition.
13. (a) According to Paul, when is the “day of Jehovah” due to occur? (b) What is “the man of lawlessness,” and what judgment awaits that symbolic “man”?
13 The apostle Paul associated the “day of Jehovah” with the “presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2) After having spoken of the “apostasy” that eventually produced “the man of lawlessness,”—the apostate clergy class of Christendom’s churches—Paul adds: “Then, indeed, the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8) The apostate clergy will be ‘done away with’ or ‘brought to nothing’ at the very beginning of the “great tribulation.” (Revelation 17:1-5, 16, 17) That class is also termed “the son of destruction [apoleia],” which means they are heading for “eternal destruction” in Gehenna, like their counterpart in Jesus’ day.—2 Thessalonians 2:3; Matthew 23:33.
14. Why will many others “perish,” so what choice is before all mankind?
14 But what about all the people who have followed the clergy and their “unrighteous deception”? The apostle Paul speaks of these as “perishing [literally: “destroying themselves”], as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved. So that is why God lets an operation of error go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12) Today, the world has become a sink of wickedness, immorality and corruption. The majority of mankind ‘take pleasure in unrighteousness’ and do “not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved.” (Compare Ezekiel 9:4-7.) Therefore, they will be “judged” and will perish “as a retribution.” At the coming “great tribulation” the choice is quite clear. It is either survival or destruction.
Flight to the Kingdom for Survival
15. How does the parable of the “sheep” and the “goats” state the choice for all nations of mankind?
15 Yes, “the great day of Jehovah is near. It is near, and there is a hurrying of it very much.” (Zephaniah 1:14) We are living in a time of judgment when “all the nations” are gathered before Christ Jesus. The people of all those nations are being separated into two classes, the “sheep” and the “goats.” The end result is plainly stated: “everlasting life” for the “sheep,” and “everlasting cutting-off” for the “goats.”—Matthew 25:31-33, 46.
16, 17. (a) How does 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 show the finality of Jehovah’s judgment executed at the “great tribulation”? (b) In addition to the persecutors of God’s people, who will be destroyed, and why?
16 Again showing the finality of Jehovah’s judgment, Paul writes: “It is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation [apokalypsis] of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon 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.”—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
17 Notice that the “judicial punishment of everlasting destruction” is executed not only upon “those who make tribulation” for God’s people but also upon “those who do not know God” and “those who do not obey the good news.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains why “those who do not know God” are “inexcusable” and why they will be judged. (Romans 1:18-20; 2:5-16) The “angel flying in midheaven,” spoken of in Revelation chapter 14, summons all “who dwell on the earth” to “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived.” Therefore people are urged to “worship the One who made the heaven and the earth and sea.” Those who fail to do so, and all those who put faith in Satan’s political “wild beast” rather than in God’s Messianic kingdom, will be destroyed with that “beast” in “the great winepress of the anger of God.”—Revelation 14:6, 7, 9, 10, 14-20; 19:11-21.
18. (a) What must any who hope to survive now do? (b) Whom does the Bible mention as surviving the “great tribulation,” and what prospect lies ahead of them?
18 Any who hope to be “concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger” must “seek righteousness, seek meekness” and ‘practice Jehovah’s own judicial decision,’ rather than criticize it. (Zephaniah 2:2, 3) Any who hope to be considered by God’s Judge as “sheep” to be spared must prove themselves to be “righteous ones,” actively aiding Christ’s anointed “brothers,” who form the “faithful and discreet slave” class. (Matthew 25:33, 40, 46; 24:45-47) The only ones to whom the Bible extends hope of surviving the “great tribulation” are Christ’s “brothers,” or “chosen ones,” and the “great crowd” of “sheep” who ‘render God sacred service’ without letup, constantly saying for all to hear: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” As baptized disciples drawn from “people of all the nations,” this “great crowd” is shepherded by the Lamb, Christ Jesus, who guides them to “fountains of waters of life” that will never fail. “And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”—Matthew 24:21, 22; 25:34; 28:19, 20; Revelation 7:9-17.
□ What do Christendom’s churches mean by the “general resurrection” of the dead, but is this doctrine Biblical?
□ What scriptures indicate that not all the dead will be resurrected?
□ What is “Gehenna”?
□ What shows that Jehovah pronounces final judgment against some even during the present system of things?
□ What will happen in the “day of Jehovah,” and will those executed be resurrected?
□ What must be done for survival, so what work is more urgent than ever?
[Picture on page 27]
Judas, “the son of destruction,” will be among those not resurrected