Does “everlasting” mean forever?
If there was ever a need to understand the meaning of words, it has to be in the reading of the Word of God within the Bible, because words taken out of context can lead you where you do not want to go. Context means to read the words that surround the word or passage of interest because that helps explain the true meaning or message of the event or act you are reading about. Words can mean exactly what they say, or they may be ambiguous or even superlative, which is an exaggerated form of speech.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “forever” and “everlasting” in their truest sense, as a limitless time of permanency; that is, from a present point forward in time, whatever the subject, event, or action, it will last or endure through all time.
Second Thessalonians 1:9 says that a day is coming during which the wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction. Note: It does not say everlasting punishment. It says everlasting destruction. Surely this means the destruction will be everlasting while the punishment will only last until the wicked are consumed in the lake of fire, for Malachi 4, speaking of the same day, says that the wicked will be burned up! The burning fire is temporary—it goes out when the body is burned up—but the resulting destruction is everlasting.
If you were to say “I have stopped smoking forever,” you would mean that you will never again smoke. Therefore, words often mean exactly what they say. But not always. For example, someone might say “That tree reaches clear to the sky,” or “He threw that ball with the speed of a bullet.” That’s an exaggerated form of speech, and we use such language all the time—and so does the Bible.
In Exodus 21:6, Moses said that if a slave loves his master, the master shall bore his ear with an aul and the slave shall serve him “forever”! Will Moses have a slave in the coming kingdom? I think not. In this case forever means till one or the other dies!
Stanley Roberts, Sr.