Monday, June 23, 2014

The lake of fire

After years of study on final punishment and so-called hell, my biblical journey brought me to the shores of the lake of fire. So this was it. Final punishment - the end of the line for a variety of people, spiritual beings, a spiritual 'place' and a 'state of being'. You may recognize the last two references as descriptions of Hades and death which are thrown into the lake of fire:

"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14)

Maybe you are like me. I had read that verse many times and then one time it really hit me - death? Hades? How can the lake of fire be a literal place if inanimate concepts are 'thrown' there? Obviously, we are not being taught about a physical place.

The book of Revelation in the Bible is allegorical and very symbolic. Many times the various symbols are explained in other places in Scripture. For example, in Revelation chapter 1 we hear about seven stars and seven golden lampstands and then are told later in the chapter: "the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." So, some mysteries and symbols become very clear.

Continuing in Rev. 20 we read: "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." So, this is a bad 'place' where God throws not only death and Hades but the unredeemed (those who will not attain eternal life). Later we will see that the beast, the false prophet and the devil are also thrown there. Hmmm, all of God's enemies.

But for now, here is my next question concerning Rev. 20:14: What happens to death and Hades when they are thrown into the lake of fire? It seems quite clear that they are destroyed - gone forever from existence. Also, the lake of fire is called the second death, so it is surely pointing in that direction. Since we don't want to assume anything, let's look to Scripture to see if it backs up that conclusion.

We discover the fate of death in 1 Corinthians 15 where it mentions Christ's coming, "… then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death." (1 Cor. 15:24-26) So, we see that, yes, death is rendered idle and is put to an end - it ceases to exist. This corresponds perfectly with Revelation 21:4 which states, "there will no longer be any death". So that bad boy is outta here.

Hades will be a very interesting study in itself. Hades is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol (See Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27 in the NKJV or NASB to see this connection plainly). A complete understanding of Hades is perhaps less attainable.

We do know some things about Hades. It is temporary. At some point, the dead will be taken out of Hades: "…and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them…" (Rev. 20:13) Whenever we see Hades in Revelation, it is always accompanied by its sidekick, death (Rev. 1:18, 6:8, 20:13, 14). These mysterious and morbid partners are both quite unwanted to the human soul. 
"What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?"  (Psalm 89:48)

So, if the lake of fire causes powerful enemies such as Hades and death to cease to exist, to be done away with, to be abolished - then what will become of people that are thrown there? And why is it defined as the second death? Is it called the second death because God will actually keep people alive there to torment them for eternity? Or is it the second death because death is the wages of sin? (Rom. 6:21,23) Malachi 4:1 states it like this: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” For more verses about eternal life/death see "Bible quiz!" post.

I keep saying this, but I will be doing yet another study - on what happens to the enemies of God. Scripture has a fairly clear picture of those outcomes! I also want to explore our English translations of eternal, for ever and ever, everlasting, etc. In the original languages, these words carry a range of meaning with implications beyond the desired simplicity of forever.

For now, consider what 2 Thess. 2:8 describes as the end of the beast (anti-christ): "Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming…" and Daniel 7:11: "…I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire." We know that the beast and false prophet were thrown alive into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20), so the conclusion is that this slaying and destruction will occur in the lake of fire. The duration is unknown, but they along with the devil will undergo torment (Rev. 20:10).

The devil (Satan) also seems to have an end. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) and they will undergo punishment. We also read that Satan will be crushed - a term of destruction (Gen. 3:15, Rom. 16:20) Remember 1 Cor. 15:24-26 where Jesus will abolish 'all rule and all authority and power" - it is also written in this way: "…He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." Indeed, there is "a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries." (Is. 26:11, Heb. 10:27) For God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24, Heb. 12:29).

So, we find ourselves back on the shore of the lake of fire. May this be the closest we ever get to the thing - this instrument of judgment that will burn up and destroy all God's enemies and all evil and sin. The second death is the final end of all that goes into it and the results are eternal.

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I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!