“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” – Revelation 20:10
“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14:9-11
These texts are said to support the idea that this is exactly how long the wicked will burn. It is also claimed from these passages of scripture that this is the duration of the flames. The flames supposedly last for ever and the victims of the lake of fire are claimed to burn for just as long. On the surface, these passages seem to support the traditional view. They outright use the words “for ever,” seem to be talking about the lake of fire in both cases, and at least one of them seems to reference the punishment of the wicked while the other is more directly targeting the devil.
With that in view, it is usually at this point that an exultant believer in eternal hell fire exclaims “See! I told you so!” Peter once issued a warning, speaking specifically about the difficulties of understanding scripture. He said, “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things: in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” – 2 Peter 3:16. The passage directly above verse sixteen mentions Paul [“even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you” – 2 Peter 3:15], a fact which makes this a direct reference to his writings specifically.
Targeting Paul’s writings, Peter warned of things present in them which were difficult to understand. He stated that they could be easily wrested from their true meaning, and used to give a message which they did not originally convey. Although Paul’s writings are the primary target, a point worth noting is that Peter specifically mentioned the rest of scripture in this passage. He says, “as they do also the other scriptures” making the statement that people twist the Bible all the way across the board. It is perhaps therefore logical to conclude that this passage is applicable to the rest of scripture as well.
At this point, I want to direct your mind to focus specifically on the statement “hard to be understood.” Anyone who has attempted to study the Bible should be able to recognize that you can find scriptures which fit this description everywhere from Genesis to Revelation. The book of Revelation is especially filled with passages which can be described as “hard to be understood”, to the point where many claim that they cannot understand Revelation. In view of this fact, these passages here would obviously fall under this category. This would logically make 2 Peter 3:16 applicable to this case.
Dear friends, we should be careful not to wrest these passages to our own destruction. We should not conclude that they support traditional thinking without thorough investigation. Previously examined passages, such as Malachi 4:1-3, would seem to create a contradiction between all mentioned verses. Do we as Christians run around with a contradictory Bible? Many have been skeptical of Christianity because of the claim that the Bible contradicts itself. Perhaps for the sake of defending the validity of the Bible, we owe it to ourselves to investigate these matters thoroughly before jumping to conclusions.
A fact often overlooked in regards to both of these passages is their deep symbolic nature. Revelation 20:10 mentions the “Beast and the false prophet.” Revelation 14:9-11 mention the “beast and his image.” If we’re going to take this passage literally, than we need to imagine for a moment that the lake of fire currently has a monstrous beast and some false prophet sizzling in the flames. Perhaps while we are at it we should take Revelation 17:3-4 as though CNN will cover a story about a woman riding a seven-headed beast at the end of time. Friends, this is not how we properly interpret symbolic texts.
What does a beast represent in Bible prophecy? In the book of Daniel, we find the answer to this question. “Thus he said, the fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.” – Daniel 7:23. A beast is therefore a kingdom in Bible prophecy. Are we to believe that an entire kingdom will be burning in the lake of fire throughout all eternity, structures included? My friends, I hope that you are starting to see the foolishness of interpreting symbolic passages literally.
Perhaps we might do well to ask ourselves, what of the primary individual whom the text targets? In order for some one to burn for ever, their existence needs to be perpetuated. Either they need to already be naturally immortal or immortality needs to be granted to them some how. Searching the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, you will not find one text which even remotely suggests that the devil will be granted eternal life. That would be a fairly ridiculous thought, and a heresy in the extreme.
The next question we must therefore ask is, does the devil have an immortal nature? In the book of 1st Timothy we find the following passages, “That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only potentate, the king of kings, and Lord of Lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen” – 1 Timothy 6:15-16.
The fact is that the devil is not immortal. According to this passage, he can be destroyed and he is incapable of living for ever. Only Christ is immortal, and it is therefore impossible for the devil to literally ‘burn for ever’. Since we have already seen that there is no tree of life in the lake of fire, which is the only means that anyone can be perpetuated in order to have eternal life, than it should be clear that the term “for ever” is not to be understood in this sense to mean “through out all eternity” as we might look at it in our limited human understanding.
The term “for ever” in the Scriptures is found in connection with a variety of things which have an end. One such example is found in the book of Jonah. The first passage reads, “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.” – Jonah 2:6. In the second passage we find the following, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” – Jonah 1:17
It would be rather strange to interpret the term “for ever” as used in Jonah 2:6 to mean that Jonah was in the belly of the whale throughout all eternity, when the Scriptures are clear that he was only there for three days and three nights. We may best define the term “for ever” in the biblical sense as simply referencing a period of time, limited or unlimited. It is essentially a type of Hebrew poetic language meaning “until it is over.” We find this concept all over the Old Testament and the Bible. In the book of Deuteronomy there is the following passage of Scripture, “An Amorite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever” – Deuteronomy 23:3.
In this particular case, “for ever” was defined clearly as being “ten generations.” This is another case in which the term “for ever” was connected to something found to have an end in the Scriptures. Still more striking is what we find in the book of Exodus. For a moment, you should perhaps consider the feasts of the Old Testament sacrificial system. For the most part, the Christian world today does not recognize or keep them. This is simply because most of us recognize that these were done away with, a fact which I will not here dwell upon at this time.
“And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.” – Exodus 12:17. Those who would interpret the term “for ever” in the Bible to always mean “throughout all eternity” would do well to check the foundations for their thinking, especially in view of the fact that this term is clearly connected to something which we learn from later Scriptures was done away with [Colossians 2:14-17]. Interpreting the term “for ever” to mean “throughout all eternity” in this particular sense would not be a sound principle of Bible study, as you would not be comparing one passage with another and therefore ignoring what the rest of the Bible says.
The same mistake has quite obviously been made with Revelation 20:10 and 14:9-11, as many have discarded clearer texts such as Malachi 4:1-3 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 in favor of the term “for ever.” Or they have ignored terms like “death” and “perish” all throughout the bible [John 3:16, Romans 6:23] in favor of the phrase “for ever”, completely neglecting to compare scripture with scripture and basing whole doctrines off one or a few verses.
Beyond the meaning of the term “for ever”, we find other passages in the Bible which speak about the ultimate fate of the adversary of souls. In the book of Ezekiel there is a section which speaks about the enemy. It reads, “Thou hast been in Eden the Garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God: thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned; therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy trafick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” – Ezekiel 28:13-18
There are many identifying marks in these six passages proving that they are really targeting the devil. The first is the phrase “Eden the garden of God.” Very few people were in the garden of Eden. Adam & Eve, Satan, and God are all that the Bible records as having been there. The fact that these passages use the term “Cherub” multiple times indicates that this is really talking about an angelic being of some kind. Verse twelve uses the phrase “Thus saith the Lord” indicating who is doing the talking [Ezekiel 28:12]. These facts are sufficient to eliminate Adam & Eve and God, leaving only Satan left by process of elimination.
Other identifying marks include the fact that this being is described as having its heart “lifted up.” This is a clear statement of pride. In fact, the language used here is identical to that which is used in the book of Isaiah to speak of Lucifer. The verses read, “For thou has said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the North: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most host high.” – Isaiah 14:13-14.
What is the fate of the individual described in these passages? The eighteenth verse states “therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” Terms such as “ashes” and “devour” paint an obvious picture of complete destruction. Just a few passages prior the word “destroy” is used. Since there are clear connections to the devil in Ezekiel twenty-eight, and terms painting a picture of complete destruction are used, it should be clear that the ultimate fate of the devil is destruction and not eternal conscious torment. The adversary of souls, who is not immortal, will eventually be destroyed according to Scripture.
In an effort to get around this fact and support tradition, some have attempted to prove that this is not talking about the devil by citing verse twelve. Their argument is essentially that this verse places the context of the passage around the king of Tyrus, and therefore this cannot be talking about the devil. The entire passage reads, “Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God: Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” – Ezekiel 28:12.
We acknowledge that this passage does in fact reference the king of Tyrus, and that he is in fact the target of Ezekiel 28:12-18. However, this is a phenomenon which is often found in prophecies in the Old Testament. Places, cities, and individuals are used as symbols of future events or other persons. Examples of this fact can be found in Jeremiah 4:23-26 [description of the earth after the second coming], and Isaiah 13:1-17 [where we find obvious end times descriptions such as “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” – Isaiah 13:10]
This fact should also be made evident by terms such as “Anointed Cherub” and “Eden the garden of God.” A cherub is obviously an angelic being, completely eliminating any possibility that this can only be a reference to an earthly king. The clear reference to the garden of Eden, a place where no earthly king has ever been, is a fact which also destroys any possibility that these passages only refer to the king of Tyrus. This case also bears similarities to when Jesus rebuked Peter, saying “Get thee behind me Satan” [Mark 8:33]. Was Jesus talking to Peter or Satan? He was obviously addressing both, because the spirit behind the man was under rebuke. The evidence should be clear that the case is here is similar.
What of Revelation 14:9-11? One might think that the rising of smoke for ever and ever is clear. The mind may picture fires that never go out due to the apparent perpetually rising smoke, yet mental pictures should be set aside in favor of the facts. The symbolic nature of this passage previously dwelt upon should remind us that this passage is not to be taken literally. The imagery used of the “smoke of their torment rising for ever” is a symbol as well. It borrows heavily from old testament imagery.
In the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, we find a similar symbol used to describe the end of the whore of Babylon. “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleuia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of her servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleuia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.” – Revelation 19:1-3.
Clearly these passages from Revelation 19 must be telling us that smoke will be literally coming off of the great whore for ever. The redeemed will be in heaven witnessing a smoking whore riding a beast, just sort of sizzling. This simply must be what these passages are teaching. In all reality, I hope that you might once again see the fallacy of taking symbolic texts far too literally. Going that route would require us to believe that there will be a literal dragon with wings that breathes fire trying to devour a pregnant woman standing on the moon with stars on her head [see Revelation 12]. Perhaps this is also something CNN will cover a story on as we get closer to the end of time.
To my knowledge, the book of Revelation uses this symbol twice. Once in the fourteenth chapter and again in the nineteenth. So we are then left with the question, “just where does this symbol come from and what does it mean?” In the book of Isaiah we find similar language used to describe the destruction of Idumea. Below are the passages which show us these facts.
“For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.” – Isaiah 34:5 [Context]
“For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned to pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” – Isaiah 34:8-10
“But the cormorant and the bittern shall posses it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. And the thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be a habitation of dragons and a court for owls.” – Isaiah 34:11-13
In the tenth verse of Isaiah thirty-four, we find the words “the smoke thereof shall go up for ever”. The language here used is similar to that which is found in the nineteenth and fourteenth chapters of Revelation and is therefore the exact same symbol. The language which immediately follows is that of complete destruction. We find words used such as “from generation to generation it shall lie waste” immediately followed by descriptions of emptiness and fortresses becoming dwelling places for animals. Even though the smoke was said to “go up for ever” and flames were said not to be “quenched night nor day”, the flames therefore went out. We might therefore conclude that the rising of the smoke is completely symbolic in nature, and does not mean that the flames are perpetually active. In this case, it seems to be a symbol designating complete destruction.
This same symbol is clearly used in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. We may therefore go so far as to state that these passages symbolize complete destruction and not eternal conscious torment as many claim. To further illustrate this fact, we need only ask the question “will the flames eventually go out?” In 2 Peter we find some passages that shed light on this subject.
“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” – 2 Peter 3:7
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” – 2 Peter 3:10
“Seeing then that all these things shall be disolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and goodness. Looking for and hasting the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” – 2 Peter 3:11-13
The first passage uses phrases such as “kept in store” and “reserved” to reference the “heavens and the earth”, stating that they are “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” The term “against” clearly connects the fate of the wicked with the destruction of the earth by fire. No one would deny the fact that the punishment of the wicked is here referenced in this passage from 2 Peter, as terms such as “day of judgment” and “perdition of ungodly men” are used. In view of this fact, it is logical to conclude that the punishment of the wicked will take place on the earth at the end of time.
In 2 Peter 3:10, we find an expansion of the information given in 2 Peter 3:7. The verse states, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” Terms like “heat” and “burned up” display the obvious presence of fire in this passage, connecting the verse back to 2 Peter 3:7 which stated that the Earth was “reserved unto fire.” The phrase “burned up” implies that the earth will be completely consumed in the fire, and nothing will be left. It is also logical to conclude that everything on it will be destroyed with it, ungodly inhabitants who are being punished included. This is a fact which is confirmed by other passages of scripture [Malachi 4:1-3].
The language used just a few verses down in 2 Peter 3:11-13 not only expand on this, but hammer the last nail in the coffin of the “eternally burning hell.” Peter starts out by saying “Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved”, a statement which is a clear reference to his early language in 3:10 and 3:7. He then goes on to reference the earth melting with fervent heat. The thirteenth verse sticks out the most out of the three. It states, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” – 2 Peter 3:13.
Given the order in which Peter mentions events, starting first with the destruction of the earth by fire, and then moving into the creation of the new earth, it is logical to conclude that the flames will eventually go out. If the earth is to be burned up, and then eventually made new, how is it to continue burning with its ungodly inhabitants throughout all eternity? Such a thought does not make any sense given the facts. It would make even less sense to suggest that the wicked will be still burning somewhere on the new earth. It is therefore impossible for Revelation 14:9-11 to be suggesting that the lake of fire will burn for ever.
Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 20:10 do not prove the doctrine of eternal conscious torment any more than Matthew 5:30 proves Jesus to be commanding us to literally chop our hands off. Such would of course be a foolish thought in the extreme that any thinking Christian in the right mind would question and condemn as error. These verses prove nothing and have been perverted to support a false theory which has invaded the Christian Church thousands of years ago.