Nothing ought to be more clear as one reads through the Bible than the truth that justice in human eyes is far different than divine justice. While the human race has perpetrated the most horrid crimes, such as genocide, and other great sins and acts of injustice, many people feel little hesitation to consider themselves objective judges of the actions of God.
So man begins to pare God down to size in his own vision. He believes that, certainly, a good and just God would not condemn for all eternity the great majority of mankind. How could that, in any sense of the word, be considered just?
A great obstacle to such a view is the testimony of the whole Bible and of the words of Jesus Christ himself. So people do one of two things: they either reject the truth of Scripture altogether or they mangle its clear teaching by twisting words and definitions.
Jesus opened for us a scene of the final judgment in Matthew 25.31-46. He tells, in part, the basis of judgment. After mentioning those on the left, the negligent, who do nothing to promote the people of the Kingdom, he says,
And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25.46.
A bit earlier the King had consigned the accursed disobedient to the “eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!” v. 41.
A punishment intended for Satan and his minions has been repurposed for disobedient humans.
Remember, this is Jesus the Messiah speaking. This is not identified as a parable and, even if it were, he would be speaking of a spiritual reality to represent a truth.
We must recognize that the eternal fire and punishment will last as long as the eternal life which the righteous will receive. In the original Greek text the three uses of the word “eternal” is the very same word, just as it is in our English NET version. (The KJV used, apparently, for sake of variety, two different terms.)
One of the most important lessons to take from this truth is this: We have but one chance in this life to be the people God wants us to be. One of the great points of the gospel of Matthew is that Israel was being expelled from the Kingdom as God’s people and the new church would bring forth the proper Kingdom fruits, cf. Matthew 21.43. The Lord guided history to the unfolding of the Kingdom for all who are willing to be what Israel was not.
This truth ought to strike fear into our hearts: “people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment” Hebrews 9.27. If judgment will carry us into eternity, either for life or punishment, we do not have the luxury of waiting a single hour to make our lives right with God and to do all his will, especially in promoting the interests of his Kingdom, which is the point of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25.
The Kingdom is about saving souls, ours and others. And in saving others, we save ourselves. Judgment for eternity is about how well we fulfill this, the will of God.