With regards to the final punishment of men, does it last to the age or to the ages?
What does the Bible say, literally?
(i) This verse says to the “ages” (subset) of a larger time frame of the “Ages” (Set).
“And a third angel did follow them, saying in a great voice, ‘If any one the beast doth bow before, and his image, and doth receive a mark upon his forehead, or upon his hand,
he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy angels, and before the Lamb,
and the smoke of their torment doth go up to ages of Ages; and they have no rest day and night, who are bowing before the beast and his image, also if any doth receive the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9 – 11)
(ii) This verse says to the “age” (age-during).
“And these (wicked) shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.” (Matthew 25:46)
Is this a contradiction in the Bible?
No, far from it.
Let’s look into the “details” of these verses in “full” to understand what is written.
In fact there are two types of non-contradictory explanation for this but I can’t seem to see which might be meant here.
Here they are:
(1) Generally, the punishment of men lasts to 1 age only, via-Judgment Day sentencing (Matthew 25:46).
However, a ‘select’ group (of men, not all men) belonging to those “who worship the beast and receive his mark” (Revelation 14:9) will be punished ‘longer in time’, namely the “same” duration (in words) for Satan himself, namely to the “ages of Ages” (Revelation 14:11).
(2) If the sentencing of Revelation 14:11 happens ‘before’ Judgment Day, then we may also argue as follows:
The “ages” (plural) refers to exactly “two ages” only for men’s punishment.
Hence, the punishment for this ‘select group’ of men (Revelation 14:9) lasts for “two” ages only (Revelation 14:11), the “current age” and the “next or coming age”.
Next, we note that the “age during punishment (in Matthew 25:46) is a Judgment Day sentence, meaning it refers to the “punishment in the next or coming age”.
Thus, these verses coherently agree that the punishment of men is to “two ages” (current & next age) in light of this interpretation.
Which is it conclusively?
I don’t know.
The punishment of Satan to the “ages of Ages” (Revelation 20:10 – see below) which has the same phrase in Greek as the one for the ‘select group of men’ (in Revelation 14:11) may refer to “different” time periods simple because the word “ages” literally means “an undisclosed/unknown limited period of time”.
Here is that verse describing the punishment of Satan:
“and the Devil, who is leading them astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night — to the ages of the Ages.” (Revelation 20:10)
It is generally believed that Satan and his angels’ punishment to the “ages” may refer to a longer time period than men’s. It could be the same 2 ages (as men) also (in duration) though.
These are inconclusive as only God knows exactly and thus Willed to keep it “hidden” only revealing the “general idea” for the “time period” meant for all these punishments, namely a “limited” (but long) undisclosed time period of the “age or ages”.
As Sadhu Sundar Singh (a reputed Universalist Christian of our recent time) once remarked to some theological students from Calcutta who questioned him thus (just before his mysterious disappearance into the Himalayas somewhere in 1929):
(Question #3)* Did the Sadhu think there was eternal punishment? —
“There was punishment, but it was not eternal…Everyone after this life would be given a fair chance of making good, and attaining to the measure of fullness the soul was capable of. This might sometimes take ages.” – Sadhu Sundar Singh.
*I personally have this original biography book on Sadhu Sundar Singh (as written by the reputed both Harvard & Oxford graduate, Dr A J Appasamy) which contains this “exact quote”.
In fact, in the music video for the song “Beautiful Reason” (link below), a portion of this book is shown together with this quote too!