Questions From Readers
◼ Do Jesus’ words at Matthew 11:24 mean that those whom Jehovah destroyed by fire in Sodom and Gomorrah will be resurrected?
In conscientiously responding to this question over the years, we have discussed Jesus’ words at Matthew 10:14, 15; 11:20-24; and Luke 10:13-15. A recent review of this suggests that these verses need not be taken as statements about the future for the people of Sodom/Gomorrah. Before we examine other Bible comments about the people destroyed in those cities, let us consider what Jesus said.
While in Galilee, Jesus “reproach[ed] the cities in which most of his powerful works had taken place, because they did not repent.” He named three: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! because if the powerful works had taken place in Tyre and Sidon that took place in you, they would long ago have repented . . . It will be more endurable for Tyre and Sidon on Judgment Day than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you perhaps be exalted to heaven? Down to Hades you will come; because if the powerful works that took place in you had taken place in Sodom, it would have remained until this very day. . . . It will be more endurable for the land of Sodom on Judgment Day than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24) Jesus made similar statements when sending the 12 disciples out to preach, and later the 70.—Matthew 10:14, 15; Luke 10:13-15.
Prior to 1964, we took these verses to mean that the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum merited eternal destruction. However, Watchtower articles in 1964 and 1965 made it clear that all in Hades, or Sheol, (mankind’s common grave) will come forth in the resurrection and thereafter will be ‘judged according to their deeds.’—Revelation 20:13.
Those articles also reasoned: Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15 say that Capernaum would not be exalted to heaven but be brought “down to Hades,” which, at least, suggests debasement for the people of that city. In the same passage, Jesus mentioned ancient Tyre and Sidon. According to Ezekiel 32:21, 30, people of Sidon, who were condemned by God, went to Sheol. (Isaiah 23:1-9, 14-18; Ezekiel 27:2-8) Since Jesus paralleled Tyre/Sidon with Sodom, that indicated that the people of Sodom were in Sheol too.
A reexamination of Matthew 11:20-24, though, has brought into question whether Jesus was there discussing eternal judgment and resurrection. His point was how unresponsive the people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were and how unlikely it was that they would reform even in the Judgment Day. Saying that it would be “more endurable” for Tyre/Sidon and Sodom/Gomorrah “on Judgment Day” was a form of hyperbole (exaggeration to emphasize a point) that Jesus need not have intended to be taken literally, any more than other graphic hyperboles that he used. For example:
“It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one particle of a letter of the Law to go unfulfilled.” “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” (Luke 16:17; 21:33; Matthew 5:18; compare Hebrews 1:10-12.) We know that the literal heavens and earth will never pass away. (Psalm 78:69; 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:4) Jesus also said: “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Certainly, Jesus did not mean that no rich man could ever become a disciple; some in the first century became anointed Christians. (1 Timothy 6:17-19) Jesus’ use of exaggeration was to stress how hard it is for a rich man to put God before material wealth and comforts.—Luke 12:15-21.
Hence, Jesus’ saying that it ‘would be more endurable on Judgment Day for Tyre or Sodom’ did not necessarily mean that those people will be present on Judgment Day. He could simply have been stressing how unresponsive and culpable were most in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. We say most because some in Capernaum did accept Christ. (Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38, 39) Yet, basically those cities rejected him. Some of their inhabitants, as with the scribes and the Pharisees, may even have sinned against the holy spirit, for which forgiveness is impossible even in the ‘system of things to come.’ Such individuals go to Gehenna.—Matthew 12:31, 32; 23:33.
Aside from Jesus’ words on the point, Ezekiel 32:21, 30 does tell us that pagan people of ancient Tyre/Sidon are in Sheol; so they are in line for a resurrection. What, then, about the inhabitants of “the land of Sodom on Judgment Day”? The mere fact that Jesus paralleled Sidon with Sodom does not establish the future prospects of those wicked ones whom God destroyed with sulfur and fire. But let us see what else the Bible says on the question.
One of the most pointed comments is in Jude 7. Jude had just spoken of (1) Israelites destroyed for lack of faith, and (2) angels who sinned and are ‘reserved with eternal bonds for the judgment of the great day.’ Then Jude wrote: “So too Sodom and Gomorrah . . . are placed before us as a warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.” This text has been applied to the actual cities’ being destroyed everlastingly, not the people. However, in view of Jude 5 and 6, likely most people would take Jude verse 7 to mean a judicial punishment of individuals. (Similarly, Matthew 11:20-24 would be understood as criticizing people, not stones or buildings.) In this light, Jude 7 would mean that the wicked people of Sodom/Gomorrah were judged and destroyed everlastingly.*
Looking elsewhere, we find it noteworthy that more than once the Bible links the Flood and Sodom/Gomorrah. In what context?
When asked about “the conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus foretold the coming “end” and a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning.” (Matthew 24:3, 14, 21) He went on to speak of “the days of Noah” and what “occurred in the days of Lot” as being examples of people who took no note of warning about coming destruction. Jesus added: “The same way it will be on that day when the Son of man is to be revealed.” (Luke 17:26-30; compare Matthew 24:36-39.) Was Jesus illustrating just an attitude, or does the context in which he used these examples suggest that eternal judgments were involved?
Later, Peter wrote about God’s judgments and His punishing those deserving it. Then Peter used three examples: The angels that sinned, the ancient world of Noah’s time, and those destroyed in Sodom/Gomorrah. The latter, Peter said, ‘set a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come.’ (2 Peter 2:4-9) Thereafter, he compared the destruction that people suffered in the Deluge with the coming “day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” That precedes the promised new heavens and new earth.—2 Peter 3:5-13.
Likewise, at the end of the present wicked system, will those whom God executes have had a final judgment? That is the indication of 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9: “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 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 from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.”
There is an interesting similarity in phraseology between this description and what Jude said occurred in the case of Sodom. Furthermore, Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 19:11-21 indicate that “the goats” cut off in the coming war of God will experience “everlasting cutting-off” in “the lake of fire,” which symbolizes permanent annihilation.*—Revelation 20:10, 14.
Consequently, in addition to what Jude 7 says, the Bible uses Sodom/Gomorrah and the Flood as patterns for the destructive end of the present wicked system. It is apparent, then, that those whom God executed in those past judgments experienced irreversible destruction. Of course, each of us can confirm that by his proving faithful to Jehovah now. In that way we will qualify to be alive in the new world to see whom he resurrects and whom he does not. We know that his judgments are perfect. Elihu assured us: “For a fact, God himself does not act wickedly, and the Almighty himself does not pervert judgment.”—Job 34:10, 12.
At Ezekiel 16:53-55, “Sodom and her dependent towns” are mentioned, not in connection with the resurrection, but figuratively with regard to Jerusalem and her daughters. (Compare Revelation 11:8.) See also The Watchtower, June 1, 1952, page 337.
Compare “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of August 1, 1979.