The most difficult passage that I will need to deal with in my discussion of Jesus’ view of the afterlife is the famous teaching about the last judgment of the “Sheep and the Goats,” found only in the Gospel of Matthew, there are reasons for thinking it is something Jesus actually said. Doesn’t it teach eternal torment for the wicked, instead of annihilation? I’ve concluded that the answer is no. See if you find my reasoning persuasive.
The passage comes at the tail end of Jesus “apocalyptic discourse” (Matthew 24-25), two chapters of Jesus’ discussion of what will happen at the end of time and of how people need to prepare for it. To conclude the discourse, Jesus describes the coming Day of Judgment, when the great cosmic judge, the Son of Man, sits on his throne, judging all the nations of the world gathered before him (Matthew 25:31-46). This is not merely the judgment of the righteous and wicked in Israel, but of all the pagans as well. The Son of Man separates all the peoples into two groups, the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. He then addresses the sheep, welcoming them into the amazing kingdom God has prepared for them as a reward for all the good they did during their lives, because: “When I was hungry you gave me something to eat, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you welcomed me, when naked you clothed me, when sick you visited me, when in prison you came to me” (25:35-36). The sheep are completely confused and ask what he can possibly mean. They have never even seen him before. How could they have done any of these things for him? He replies, “Truly I say to you, as much as you did these things to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (25:40).
He then turns to the goats, and …
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