WHAT IS THE LAKE OF FIRE?

 

fire

What is the Lake of Fire and what is its purpose? Perhaps few subjects have provoked so much speculation as the lake of fire. Is it literal? Is it only a figure of speech? What is it? The answer of Scripture is plain and clear, and all that is necessary is a consideration of God’s explanation. The teaching concerning the lake of fire does not appear anywhere in Scripture except in the book of Revelation This in itself raises the question, why only in the one book and at the end of the book?

The Lake of Fire is NOT the same as Gehenna. The Lake of Fire is NOT Hades or hell. It is not related to any other references believed to be hell fire? No, it is entirely different.

It is mentioned only in Revelation in just 5 verses toward the end of the book. These are the verses:

FIRST VERSE:

Rev. 19:20 (KJV) And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

SECOND VERSE:

Rev. 20:10 (KJV) 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.

THIRD VERSE:

Rev. 20:14 (KJV) And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

FOURTH VERSE:

Rev. 20:15 (KJV) And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Also to be included in this would be:

FIFTH VERSE:

Rev 21:8 (KJV) But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

It is clear therefore that the Lake of Fire is the second death.

The book of Revelation is full of symbolic or figurative language which represent literal facts. The seven stars (Rev. 1:20) are figures (symbols) and  they represent literal angels or messengers. So with the lampstands and the churches (Rev. 1:20). The statement “the horns are ten kings” features the beast with the horns as a figure and the ten kings as literal. (Rev. 17:12). Likewise, the waters which John saw may not be real water, but the peoples and multitudes and nations are just what these words ordinarily imply. (Rev. 17:15). The meaning of the Lake of Fire in this prophetic book becomes clearer when we examine some of the statements in this book to determine what is literal and what is figurative or symbolic..

The book of Revelation is a prophecy about events that will happen at the close of the age.  But to believe that it is to be taken as strictly literally raises all sorts of problems.

Being told how end time events unfold is very appealing to many Christians. This topic is a big drawing card for preachers and evangelists. Their colorful and eloquent way of explaining how events mentioned in Revelation would transpire is a very popular topic. They claim they have an understanding of the sequence of events to take place on the world stage. In most cases they do not know what they are really talking about. Their appeal lies in linking historical and current events to the words in Revelation. Topics such as “the secret rapture”, “who is the beast”, “mark of the beast”, “the place of safety”, etc. Much of what they say, although of interest to many, is mostly guess work or gobbledygook.

Just how was this revelation to John to be recorded and preserved? Right from the outset notice it:

Rev 1:1 (KJV) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

To signify has to do with signs and symbols. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it –  to be a sign of (something) : to mean (something) See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/signify. So it means a sign or symbol that represents an idea or thought. The synonym for sign is: symbol.

The first eleven verses of Chapter one in Revelation are an introduction regarding where, how, and what John is going to record for us. Much of this introduction can be taken literally, however, not all. Beginning with verse twelve, we are confronted with one symbol after another for most of the entire twenty-two-chapter-book. Everything written in Revelation is true, but not all is to be taken literally. There is no mistaking this simple truth. The book of Revelation is written in symbols. What is written in symbols has a spiritual meaning and application.

Here are a few more scriptures showing this fact.

Rev 2:17 (KJV) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

Will Christ reward the faithful with a literal little white stone? The stone and the name written in it represents something else? Something of much greater value? This is not literal.

Yet another of many verses:

Rev 6:13 (KJV) And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

Do the literal stars of heaven fall on the earth? The smallest known stars are generally much larger than the earth.

And:

The Lamb (Rev. 17:14) is Lord of lords and King of kings. No one believes that a literal lamb will occupy this position, but that the figure of a Lamb represents the Lord of lords and King of kings.

The definition of many of the symbols and figures are contained in the Scriptures. Stars in a hand are not physical stars; frogs out of a prophet’s mouth are not physical frogs, candlesticks are not really candlesticks. Do you really think there is a dead lamb laying on a throne in heaven? If one understands these things are “signs,” figures” and “symbols” then understanding more of the Book of Revelation is possible.

LAKE OF FIRE AND THE SECOND DEATH

There are two kinds of death. One is to be “spiritually dead” and the other is to be dead literally. The “spiritually” dead, or better said, “figuratively” dead are always represented to us as physically alive. The dead who were to bury their dead and those who are minding, or regarding, the flesh (Rom. 8:6) are all physically alive so far as this world is concerned. But they are dead to Christ, not being a part of His body.

But what about literal, physical death? Is the second death different from the first death? It is usually supposed that the second death must differ from the first. Indeed, few believe that it is a death at all. Yet the moment that we realize that the word death is chosen here as a definition of the lake of fire we are compelled to admit that it imperatively must have its ordinary meaning. Death IS the absence of life. When a word is used as the principal factor in a definition it must retain its usual and accepted significance.

A long list of the consistent use of the word seconds could be given to substantiate this, but a few will prove the point. We have the second day (Gen.1:8), the second river (Gen.2:13), a second son (Gen.30:7), the second month (2 Chron.30:2), etc. A day is still a day whether first or second. Ariver is still a river first or second. a son is still a son whether he is a first son or second son.

While we must maintain the essential similarity of the first and second deaths, they undoubtedly differ in scope and intention. Regarding the first death, with few exceptions, all humanity enter it, while only unbelievers partake of the second. The first death is due to the operation of natural law of aging and death and seizes saint and sinner alike. The second is due to the judicial action of God at the White Throne and no saint shall ever have any part in it. The saint, those of the body of Christ, will have been resurrected and received imortality long before this event.

An article providing more information on the first death can be found at this link on this web site. For the sinner and unbeliever the first death is a place of oblivion until being raised for the resurrection of judgment at the Great White Throne. As stated in a previous article, the dead have no consciousness , having no concept of the passage of time. The first death envelopes the sinner in oblivion, so that, so far as his consciousness is concerned, he is ushered into judgment immediately after dying. Unbelievers cannot be imortalized during the eons. What shall be done with them until the consummation? The second death is the answer. Just as the first death held them for judgment, so the second death will hold them for reconciliation.

Many Christians will argue that the “Lake of Fire” is literal and that the “second death” is a fiery torture chamber for evildoers. That is completely false.

There are three main views within Christianity as to what this “Lake of Fire” is.

1….Mainstream Christian Belief

Fundamentalist Christians are the largest group who believe that the lake of fire is a literal fire. They also believe this lake of fire is just another term for HELL. If you read the previous articles in this web site under the topic of HELL, you can see that an ever burning fire to torture evil people, referred to as Hell, is a pagan doctrine. The Greek word Hades which means grave should not have been translated as “hell”.

But their explanation contradicts the idea that the lake of fire is literal. They teach that the lake of fire is literal fire that burns like real fire, but they then contradict the literalness of this fire by teaching that it doesn’t actually burn up anything: It just causes unbearable pain. They also deny the truth about the second death because they don’t believe those in the Lake of Fire ever die and lose consciousness.

It is a physiological impossibility for a literal fire to cause pain on the nervous system of a person and yet never actually kill them and burn them up if the fire is applied eternally. Furthermore, real fire does not cause symbolic or figurative death–real fire causes real death.

2… Belief of many Sabbath Keeping Churches of God and Jehovah Witnesses

Another group of Christians, primarily Jehovah Witnesses and many Sabbath keeping Churches of God, consider that the Lake of Fire is the place that God annihilates people who refuse to accept Christ as Savoir. They use the parable of “Lazarus and the Rich Man” as proof of this doctrine. More about this parable in a later article.

They teach that both the lake of fire and the second death are symbolic and not literal. They believe that this phrase does not represent a place or condition of literal torment in literal fire forever. However, they believe that it does picture or represent the total annihilation of all those who are judged and are not granted salvation.

This belief is certainly much more merciful than the Christian fundamentalist one, however, it too is not in harmony with other scriptures. Think about the fact that God tells us that there is a spirit in man, every human being, and that spirit returns to God when a person dies (Eccl. 12:7). What happens to the spirit if a person is “annihilated”? Not to mention the fact that it would prove our heavenly Father either unable or unwilling to save most of humanity. What kind of an eternal example would that be for those who are saved and inherit imorrtality? God tells us to “love our enemies” while He Himself “hates the majority of humanity” by destroying most of them for all eternity? This teaching is also wrong.

3….Another Group Believes

A small group believes that the Lake of Fire is real of the fact that our God is a consuming fire and His fire is good; not vindictive nor used to torture or totally destroy evil people. His consuming fire will ultimately destroy death, hell (the grave) and sin. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Cor. 15:26). There is only a small group who are of this latter persuasion. But it is the only way that these Scriptures on the lake of fire and the second death will harmonize and not contradict the rest of God’s Word.

THE LAKE OF FIRE

There should be no question as to the certainty of this lake of fire; neither should there be any doubt as to the consequence of being cast into it. The few Scriptures in Revelation with their seemingly dreadful foreboding should be a concern to all of the potential consequences of sin.

The Lake of Fire has two functions. One has to do with the fate of the beast, false prophet and Satan. The other has to do with its function for unbelievers.

LAKE OF FIRE — THE BEAST, FALSE PROPHET AND SATAN

There are two verses that mention the Lake of Fire in connection with the the beast, false prophet and Satan

Rev. 19:20 (KJV) And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

This is the first time that “lake of fire” is mentioned in scripture. It is where the beast and false prophet are cast at the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. It is also where Satan (Adversary) is cast after deceiving the nations at the end of the millennium.

Rev 20:10 (KJV) 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 (eons of the eons).

If the beast and false prophet are mortal, then a real lake of fire would burn them up making it impossible for them to be tormented for the two coming eons. “For ever and ever” is a wrong translation. See the articles under “Plan of God” for an explanation. If the beast and false prophet are supernatural, or spirit, then fire would not harm them. Fire has no effect on spirit. But these beings can be tormented, which is quite different than being tortured.

Torment does not mean torture as some would infer. A loving God does not torture, but He can cause torment. Torment is an agitated or agonizing state, either in nature or in the mind. This word tormented or torment is from the Greek word (βασανίζω – Strong’s G928) transliterated as basanizo.

One example of the use of the Greek word basanizo is in Matthew 14:24

Mat 14:24 (KJV) But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed (Greek word basanizo meaning tormented) with waves: for the wind was contrary.

This tells us that the sea was “tormented”, not tortured. The sea was violent with swelling forceful waves. The Greek word would not be translated as tortured.

Another example of this torment pertaining to people was the mental anguish experienced by the centurions servant where we read:

Mat 8:6 (KJV) And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented (Greek word basanizo).

Note that torment in the lake of fire is only mentioned in connection with the evil spirit beings. We see that the phrase the lake of fire occurs five times in the book of Revelation, and in only two of these occurrences is there said to be consciousness and torment. The three individuals–Satan, the Wild Beast, and False Prophet are the only ones said to be tormented for a set length of time in the lake of fire. They are seized and cast into the fiery lake alive, and exist in its torment for the ages of the ages (eons of the eons) and not forever. They are there until the consummation, when death, sin and the lake of fire are finally abolished.

LAKE OF FIRE — ITS AFFECT ON UNBELIVERS

First, there is no Lake of Fire or second death experienced by belivers.

Excluded from experiencing this Lake of Fire and the second death are those in the soon coming resurrection which Jesus refered to as the resurrection of life These are they who are of the body of Christ, the Elect of God.

Rev. 2:11 (KJV) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Rev. 20:6 (KJV) Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

However, the ungodly, will have their part in the Lake of Fire and second death. Jesus referred to this as the resurrection of judgment (not damnation as some versions have it).

John 5:29 (CLV)  and those who do good shall go out into a resurrection of life, yet those who commit bad things, into a resurrection of judging.

In the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians Paul explains the three classes who are to be given never ending life, that is – imortality. These are 3 separate occurances. Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected from the dead which occurred over 2 millenia ago. He was the first of the first fruits. Next is the resurrection of life which is yet to occur at the end of this age(eon). It is the resurrection of the saints of God, those who are the Elect, those who are called, chosen and faithful. Then there is a final resurrection, the resurrection of judgment. This is when the rest of humanity are brought before the great white throne, to be judged by Christ. This resurrection is yet in the distant future, at the close of the eons.

In the last resurrection, the dead, small and great, will stand before the white throne to be judged and experience the lake of fire. This experience is not for the purpose of torture or torment. The lake of fire is the second death (Rev. 20:14).

For the vast majority of humanity who are resurrected at the white throne it is a place of judgement and condemnation. They will behold Jesus Christ, the righteous judge and Savior, seated on His white throne, not a black throne.

It is here that all the irreverence and injustice of men will receive just adjudication and all wrongs will be made right. After justice has been fully meted out to each one (but excluding those who are part of the present age of grace and faith) thereafter the second death will have jurisdiction over them for a while.

The lake of fire is not presented as a place of suffering, but a place of judgment and condemnation, in connection with the great white throne judgment. There is no value for the thought that the lake will destroy or burn out the second death. It is the second death.

Rev. 20:15 (KJV) And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Why, you may ask, is this death accomplished by means of fire? God uses various methods to attain His ends, and there is always supreme proficiency and suitability in the instruments He employs. In Noah’s days He cleansed away the rampant sin by means of water. And was not water a purifier well suited to the task? The flood did not purify its victims, but the earth on which they lived; neither does the lake of fire purify those who are cast into it.

Do not be disturbed by this fact, as though it entailed excessive suffering and agony. A death by fire is not necessarily painful. God has allowed many to die the first death by means of fire. Some are unconscious before they have time to feel the flames. Others, especially His own witnesses, have suffered agonies at the stake. The lake of fire is not presented as a place of suffering, but a place of death, in connection with the great white throne judgment.

Even in todays judicial system, if a court rules the death penalty, a most humain method to carry out the sentence is sought. It could be, for example, electrocution, or lethal injection. They use the least painful process. So does God. The lake of fire is the executioner of the great white throne. Death would come instantaneously and almost painless. And fire purifies. It accomplishes a chemical change. The death and disintegration in the lake of fire produces no pestilence. It is a sign that sinners shall no longer defile the universe. To make this appear as though the sinners themselves were cleansed by this fire is a most serious mistake. To suppose that it serves to purify them from sin is an enormous error. Christ alone can cope with sin. Their cleansing must come through Christ, not through the purgatorial pains of the burning lake.

All who appear before the Judgment Throne are sinners. During their lifetime sin operated in them and caused their death The soul that sins shall die, is not merely a natural law operating in man. It is also the result of the trial by the One who sits on the White Throne. Is it not perfectly just that a judicial review of their acts should lead to the same sentence? After suffering for their sins, all who appear before the great white throne are destined to die again. The means for this is the lake of fire.

Jesus tells us in Mat. 12:41 and 42 that even the Queen of the south and the people of Nineveh will rise before the great white throne. They will endure far less pain and suffering than the evil doers of past times such as Hitler and Stalin. Some “beaten with few strips” and some “with many”. The pains and penalties are inflicted according to their deeds. All the tangled affairs of humanity are adjusted and set right.

Let us be clear on this:  no sufferings of the sinner can purge his sins. That is accomplished solely by the sacrifice of Christ. It has been suggested that the lake of fire is a purging process, a cleansing agency, calculated to rid the sinner of his sin and make him fit for God’s presence. Its great fault lies in that it provides a substitute for the sufferings of Christ.

DEATH is the designation which God Himself has placed upon the lake of fire to describe its effect upon those who are chastised at the great white throne. Our thoughts about the burning lake are usually the very opposite of this. We imagine it a place of torture, of pain prolonged and excruciating, of terror and despair, of hopeless and helpless horror. Few of our false notions are as difficult to displace as this.

Do we see the absolute necessity of the fire ? It is not to torture the sinner but to do away with sin. God cannot be All in mortal men. He will not dwell in corruptible bodies. The sinner feels and does hardly anything upon being cast into the lake. There is no conscious, long-lasting torture, no gradual cleansing of the old, no miraculous life within the flames of death. It is a merciful provision that sudden trauma blunts the nerves so that they do not function. Based on scripture there is no reason for thinking that the lake of fire will cause significant pain to any who are cast into it.

In the final age (eon) death is suspended. In the final eon there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev, 21:1). There is no more death (Rev. 21:4). Then in the consummation (end of the eons) death it is abolished. The first death cannot be the last enemy. It is the second death which has this distinction. One of the special characteristics of the new earth will be the absence of death, for no one will die, and those who are dead will continue to be confined to the fiery lake. But when the consummation comes, when all the other foes of God and man have been subdued, then will death – the second death – yield to the life-giving power of the Glorious Christ. As, in Adam, all had died, so, in Christ, shall all be made alive at the consummation.

God’s justice will then be vindicated and the path made clear for their reconciliation at the consummation. At the White Throne, He ushered them into His presence and paid them the wages which they were due—death. After righting all the wrongs, and sweeping away of all false and deceptive illusions, the road to reconciliation is very short.

CONCLUSION

The main point of all this is to accept God’s declaration that, for those who are judged before the great white throne, the lake of fire is the second death. If we take God at His word, exactly and accurately, and add nothing to it and take nothing from it.

It is simply a fact, then, that in the second death, life is non-existent, no matter how much the conclusions of some proponents of eternal torment hold to the proposition that the second death is a second lifetime in the fiery flames of never ending hell. From a clear grasp of Revelation 20:14 alone, it becomes evident that any such a position is dreadfully wrong. The lake of fire is the second death.

Literal death entails the absence of life; and, in the case of the second death, death is literal. The second death, however, will only continue until the consummation. Death will finally be gone forever, the last enemy to be destroyed.

1 Cor 15:26 (KJV) The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

In that glorious day, death will be abolished and all will be immortalized (vivified), that God may be All in all.

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