“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” – Matt. 25:41
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” – Romans 9:22
Question: Since the Bible teaches predestination, what do we do with Matthew 25:41, where Jesus seems to be saying that the Lake of Fire was prepared only for the devil and his angels, not for unsaved human beings? How do we reconcile this verse with Romans 9:22, where Paul talks about vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
Answer: This is such a fantastic question. If I’m summarizing it correctly, you’re asking, “With what intent did God create Hell? Did he create for the purpose of Satan and his angels or for the purpose of unsaved mankind as well?” It’s a difficult thing to try and discern God’s intentions. It may suit us best to simply say that God’s perpetual intention is to bring himself glory. So in that sense, God created Hell with the intent of bringing himself glory, which is exactly what Romans 9:22-24 points out. Unless God directly declares for us his intentions beyond that, then we are just speculating.
With that said, let me give you my best attempt at answering your question. I believe the doctrine of predestination is firmly grounded throughout all of scripture. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we have… been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” 1 Peter 2:8 says, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” Further references would include Prov. 16:4; Rom. 8:30; Rev. 13:8; etc. So the doctrine that God in advance has declared who will be with him in Heaven for eternity is not being questioned. Matthew 25:41 says that Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. This is the only reference to this truth in all of scripture that I’m aware of. Basic Biblical Interpretation requires that we always interpret the unclear passages in light of the clear passages and not the other way around. In this example, the Matthew passage is confusing while predestination is very clear. So I believe there are two ways to interpret Matthew 25:41 without damaging the biblical teaching of predestination.
First, Jesus could be speaking temporally not purposefully. That is to say that chronologically first hell was created in response to Satan and his angels, and chronologically second man deserved it as well. It is clear through the account of the fall of man in Genesis 3 that Satan sinned before Adam and Eve. We don’t know when Hell was created, but it could have been created after Satan and his angels fell, but before Adam and Eve fell. In this way, Hell could be prepared for the devil and his angels first.
Second, Jesus could be referring to God’s desire versus God’s decree. This can get a little tricky because it requires an understanding of God’s will working on several different levels. God’s decree has ordained that certain men will be in hell for eternity (Jude 4) and yet God’s desire is clearly stated that he would like all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). If Jesus were speaking in reference to God’s desire and not God’s will, he could rightly say that Hell is prepared only for the devil and his angels. God never declares a desire to save Satan or the demons (Heb. 2:16). So it is safe to say that his desire is for Satan and his angels to be in Hell, but it is his decree that wicked men join them.