Revelation and the Lake of Fire

Finally, we come to the book of Revelation, which mentions hell in three places. Revelation has a special, but well-recognized, character; it is an example of the apocalyptic literature that became popular in some Jewish circles from about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Another example is the influential book of Enoch we discussed last time.

These writings were penned during times of great cultural stress and insecurity. Special attributes of this genre include visions, heavy symbolism, cataclysmic natural phenomenon, angelic activity, and retribution on the enemies causing the stress. Both Enoch and Revelation are written solidly in this genre. In the case of Revelation, it seems to have been written to bring comfort to Christians being fiercely persecuted and killed by the Roman government.

However, all three instances of hell in the King James translation of Revelation are simply references to Hades, which simply means the abode of the dead.

Chapter 1:

I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Chapter 6:

I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

The final reference to hell, though, is the queen of all Christian images regarding eternal punishment in fire. Chapter 20 states,

The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever…

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Note that the word translated here as ‘hell’ in the King James is ‘Hades’, the abode of the dead, just as it is in the previous passages of Revelation, but Hades is thrown into the dreadful lake of fire. If this is meant to be descriptive, then it is a horrifying turn of events! But apocalyptic literature is NOT descriptive—it is symbolic; it is VERY symbolic. Its effect was to relieve the despair of first century Christians who were undergoing intense persecution. It does not teach doctrines about the afterlife.

Summarizing our review of our recent posts on hell, most Evangelicals and many other Christian believe that the Father will punish certain people eternally in a burning hell. They do not want this to be the case, but they think the Bible teaches it.

They are mistaken; they have combined Old Testament and New Testament references to the abode of the dead, Jesus’ allusions to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, 2 Peter’s reference to tartarus from Enoch, and the book of Revelation’s symbolic lake of fire to create a doctrine of eternal punishment in a burning hell.

Such a place is not what the Father would prepare for those he loves, and the Bible does not teach it.

If there is no burning hell, will everyone then become part of the Father’s family? I don’t think so because there could be some who do not wish to belong. Next time, we will talk about who might reject the Father’s house and what might become of them.

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16 Responses to Revelation and the Lake of Fire

  1. Marc says:

    The Lake of Fire is prepared for Satan and the demons, not mankind. That those who are cast into it are annihilated seems to be confirmed in Ezekiel 28:13-19. Because in the New Creation God’s presence is fully manifested, evil cannot exist. God’s presence will illuminate the repentant to make them righteous, and consume the wicked unto annihilation. Only unrepentant wicked people will perish with Satan and the demons.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Marc,

      As you know, the lake of fire is only mentioned in the book of Revelation. This book is written as an apocalyptic and is so filled with symbolism that I don’t think the lake of fire is meant to describe an actual reality. To me it symbolises the ultimate defeat of evil or wickedness.

      I agree that any people who do not wish to accept eternal life from the Father will cease to exist–that is annihilation. I prefer eternal life!

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      • Marc says:

        The everlasting fire is first mentioned in Matthew 25:41 Tim. When we survey the Scriptures and the writings of the early Church, the recurring admonition is to make a choice between life and death. I believe that most, if not all people, will make the choice for life and they will submit to the punishments and therapies necessary to be born again into the Church in the Heavenly Jerusalem, or on earth. We can hope for the salvation of all, yet it remains to be seen.

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  2. Pingback: Hell and Enoch in the New Testament Writers | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a
    co-worker who was doing a little research on this. And he
    actually bought me breakfast due to the fact that I discovered it for him.
    .. lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!
    ! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your web site.

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  4. I enjoyed reading your series on the various terms translated as “hell.”

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  5. Zach Van Houten says:

    I agree that it is symbolic, and also draws heavily from the Book of Enoch. I also believe like you that those who do not receive eternal life simply will cease to exist (definitely a common sense conclusion). And this seems to be supported, not undermined by the lake of fire. Both by the references to “the second death” and the fact that men are thrown in directly after Death and Hades, which no one believes will be existing in torment. So they are either tormented like Satan and his cohorts or they are destroyed like Death and Hades. Traditionalists always make it clear that they will be tormented like Satan. However, to prove this they use Rev 14:9-11. And this is foolish for a few reasons that become apparent on closer examination of who is tormented, a cross reference with 2 Thess 1:9, and the placement in the narrative of the book. The traditional view draws loose connections and seeks to believe they all point to eternal torment. Thanks for writing about this.

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  6. sblrg says:

    Hi Tim. I want to thank you, first of all, for your website, for your charity in dialoguing with others, for sharing your testimony (I’m on a somewhat similar journey) and for your rigor. I appreciate your thoughts and the case you’ve present against eternal conscious torment (ECT). And although I’m sympathetic to other positions, and although I appreciate your (important) explanations of words that have been translated as “hell,” I’m not entirely convinced by the biblical arguments alone. Although I agree that we need to proceed with caution in extracting doctrine from parables, it still seems to me that Jesus is presenting a scenario where those who reject God will be in some state of eternal torment in the parable of Lazarus the beggar and especially the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:41), even if it’s not in Hades, Gehenna or the Lake of Fire. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on that. Perhaps the argument needs to incorporate some broader theological concerns. BTW, I did some quick research on the early church fathers and it seems that some prominent ones held the view of ECT (but it’s good to know that it wasn’t a consensus … but it wasn’t a consensus for annihilationism either)

    Anyway, thanks again for all you are doing as Jesus’ representative.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Sblrg, thank you for your kind words about the blog, and I appreciate your questions; I think they are very reasonable.

    You are right that there was not a consensus among the 2nd century fathers, and beyond, regarding what happens at death, and I think this is because Jesus didn’t address these issues. He was not interested in discussing these things but was focused on the good news of the kingdom and what it meant for believers. He was bringing his followers out of a legalized approach to God and life and into a different kind of relationship based on God’s love.

    If we read closely, we discover that there were many secondary things Jesus did not choose to clarify for us. I think the story of Lazarus is clearly a parable due to its context and message; I assume you have already read my discussion on that.

    I think the story of the sheep and goats was also a parable with the point that people (perhaps those influenced by the legalism of the Pharisees) should be careful in thinking themselves favored when, in fact, they were not following the will of the Father in attending to the needs of other people. The scenario called to mind the popular notion among those Jews of a harsh end-time division and judgment which they had apparently picked up from Persian religion during the period of Persian rule. The point was not to provide information on the future but to illustrate the Father’s will that we love each other.

    Jesus does sometimes warn of a coming judgment, but they are warnings–not threats. I believe such a judgment is a natural consequence of people’s hearts rather than punishment from God.

    I hope this is helpful, but we can discuss your questions further if you wish. Have a great day! ~Tim

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    • sblrg says:

      Thanks for your response, Tim. I want to reiterate my appreciation for your refreshing and enlightening blog. I also find much of what you say to be quite rigorous and compelling (e.g., your stuff contra legalism), which is equally important to me. I can’t say, however, that I’m convinced that there is no teaching of ECT in the Bible. But I’d like to switch gears slightly and ask for your thoughts on another passage that is not directly related to ECT but, I think, still has some bearing the discussion.

      The passage I’m thinking about is the conclusion of the Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:27, where the king (who certainly appears to represent Jesus) delights in seeing his enemies killed in front of him. Again, we could write this off because it’s a parable, but I’m not sure that’s being entirely faithful to the text. We could say that it is a warning, which it certainly is, but the rhetoric seems incredibly over-the-top. If I remember correctly, your view of the Bible is that it is a collection of writings from people who felt a connection to God. This view appeals to me as it helps us to explain some of the stuff we find in the OT. And although there IS improvement from OT to NT, is it possible that there still some stuff that some NT writers still haven’t gotten right (e.g., ideas of a vengeful God), that they then felt the need to attribute to Jesus? I know that’s a pretty “radical” view which I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but failing that, I kind of see the fundamentalist view as the most compelling.

      Anyway, thanks in advance for your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Hello Sblrg, you ask a good question: Is this parable placed in the mouth of Jesus by Luke? Well it is certainly possible that the details were influenced by those who first heard it and then passed it down orally through their religious community until Luke finally heard it. They would have told the story based on what they heard and how it impacted them–rather than a word-by-word repetition of what Jesus said.

        However, I don’t think this is at all a story of punishment in hell. Note that this section begins, “While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”

        Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for Passover, and some thought he would declare himself and establish the kingdom of God on the spot. But Jesus knew the kingdom was not be a worldly kingdom as they thought, and he also know he was going to die.

        So he told a story!

        He told of a person going to a distant country to be appointed king of his own country. People would have been on board with this story at once because this is exactly what the son of Herod the Great did some 35 years earlier by going to Rome. However, Jesus uses this story to share something else; but remember that parables are told to illustrate a main point–the individual details don’t matter much.

        You are right that Jesus is talking about himself. He is going away, and as king he will return. At that time his followers will be at various levels of commitment to kingdom living (represented here by care of the minas). Variations of this theme are found repeatedly in the gospels. We are urged to follow kingdom living by genuinely loving others, treating them appropriately, and helping to meet their needs. Some will be more committed to this than others.

        But I think Jesus’ final words have little to do with us; they are simply part of the story of Herod’s son. There were community leaders who had gone to Rome also to convince Caesar to not grant Herod’s son kingship–and Herod’s son was a very vengeful person. Jesus was telling the story of Herod’s son with reference to himself, but not all the details applied to Jesus.

        Does this help?

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  8. theotherlestrangegirl says:

    Since I don’t have a blog about religion, I am leaving my own little mini-article response to this here, which I will call:

    The Sad Reason I Became a Christian (and Many Others Do Too)

    Becoming a Christian is supposed to be a good thing. I mean, agreeing to a close relationship with a perfect, loving, and gentle God? FANTASTIC, right? What a gift!

    Yes, it is fantastic. But the sad truth is that many people, myself included, become Christians for very, very wrong reasons that I fear would make God weep.

    I asked Jesus into my heart when I was about 8 years old because, well, I was told to. But, me being ever stubborn me, I never did anything I was told unless I saw a good reason to do so. And boy, did I have a good reason to ask Jesus in. It’s the same reason many of us have.

    I would guess that most non-Christians, even those who have rarely been to church in their lives, are familiar with the basic concepts that most people associate with Christianity. Become a Christian and go to a heavenly paradise, or don’t become a Christian and burn in eternal torture for all time. Got it.

    From the perspective of an outsider looking in, let’s say I’m not sold on Christianity just yet. Is God really there? Did Jesus ever exist? Is the Bible just the greatest fairytale ever told? I’m not sure.

    If I’m right, then when I die, I just die. Cease to exist. No biggie. It’s not like I’ll be conscious of it. It’s like eternal sleep.

    But if I’m wrong, then I get marched to a lake of fire. And not just until I turn to ash, either. I continue to burn. FOREVER.

    That’s…quite a big risk to take. I mean, if I become a Christian and then find out it’s all a lie, I still just cease to exist and haven’t really lost anything. But if I don’t become a Christian and it’s all true, I’ve just damned myself to suffer for all eternity.

    Well, I guess I better become a Christian…just in case.

    This was roughly the rationalization that ran through my 8-year-old mind. Better err on the side of caution. Who wants to be tortured forever because you made the wrong decision?

    This is also, I fear, the same reason that many people become Christians. Because they’re just too afraid not to.

    Many churches incorrectly preach damaging messages about a horrific hell and what really happens to sinners. And it scares people. A lot. Even non-believers shrug their shoulders and say they don’t believe in any of it, and yet, there is that little inkling of doubt in the back of their mind…What if? Are you really willing to risk it?

    As I see this around me now and remember my own feelings, it breaks my heart. It makes me cry to see a band of Christians, trembling with fear, and asking Jesus to please, please save them from that. I remember my own fear.

    I actually asked Jesus to come into my heart many different times, because I wanted to make double, triple, quadruple sure that it worked. What if I said it too fast the first time? What if I didn’t use the right words? What if I wasn’t asking sincerely enough? What if, what if, what if?

    This, as you can imagine, leads into a spiraling web of fear, grief, pain, and agony. And, if you ask some people, that’s what being a Christian means.

    Oh, how I weep.

    Let’s bring Jesus into this mix and hopefully you will see, just as I did, how this image of a Christian doesn’t match up with Jesus. At all.

    Actually, Jesus is the reason I started questioning everything I had ever been taught in the church. Here I was, a scared, meek Christian, just begging that I was being good enough to avoid the lake of fire.

    And yet, as I read the words of Jesus, he gently offered his love and rest to me. It was as if he were speaking to me personally. He saw the way I trembled in his presence, and He whispered that I had nothing to fear from Him, and I never will.

    This didn’t seem like the god that would throw people into a burning torture if they stepped one toe out of line.

    This seemed like a god who dried tears, calmed racing hearts, and healed even the deepest of wounds.

    None of it made sense. Which was right? The angry, vengeful God who punished severely, or the gentle, loving Jesus who had become my closest and truest friend?

    I can’t speak for what happens after death for sure, of course. But I can say that Jesus is real, very real. He said if you seek Him, you will find Him, and that’s true. He is everywhere, already forgiving you before the words even leave your mouth.

    I feel no anger around Jesus, no threat of an oncoming punishment. There is no pain, no hatred, no fear. Only love, and acceptance, and kindness.

    For this reason, becoming a Christian IS amazing.

    And that’s why it breaks my heart when I still know that many people become Christians out of pure, blinding fear. It’s not what Jesus wanted at all.

    I can only hope that those people come to know the true Jesus, as I did. I hope they feel the love and let go of their fear, so they can finally begin to live the fulfilling, beautiful Christian life as they were meant to.

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  9. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Wow, Strange Girl, this is great! Your experience of being motivated by fear of eternal punishment in hell is very real. I experienced the same thing as a conservative Christian and knew many others, and still discover others even now, who are motivated by that same fear.

    You said: “I asked Jesus into my heart when I was about 8 years old because, well, I was told to. But, me being ever stubborn me, I never did anything I was told unless I saw a good reason to do so. And boy, did I have a good reason to ask Jesus in…Become a Christian and go to a heavenly paradise, or don’t become a Christian and burn in eternal torture for all time. Got it.”

    I agree with you that many other people become ‘Christians’ for this same reason–they are afraid not to accept Jesus because of the possibility of eternal hell. Like you (and me), they often accept Jesus several times just to be sure. I weep, too, for all this unnecessary fear and stress.

    I think you are right on target with your solution: “Let’s bring Jesus into this mix and hopefully you will see, just as I did, how this image of a Christian doesn’t match up with Jesus. At all.”

    I don’t know what happens after death either, but I firmly believe that it does not include punishment by God in hell or otherwise. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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