Saturday, October 11, 2014

In the Presence of the Lamb

"Tender Shepherd" by Theresa Gomes

There are some sobering realities associated with final punishment. The wrath of God is a frightening future outpouring that is described throughout Scripture (Ps. 59:13, Rom. 1:18). There is punishment - including torment, retribution (God repaying for what we have done, Heb. 10:30) and death. Some will suffer greater condemnation (Matt. 11:24, Luke 20:47) and therefore have more severe consequences (more lashes, Luke 12:47-48). Some will not be released from their punishment and suffering until they have 'paid the last cent' (Matt. 5:26, Luke 12:59).

I believe Revelation describes an unremitting (day and night), extended period of torment specifically for Satan, his angels, the beast and the false prophet. In the end, however, I believe the lake of fire will consume them also (Rev. 17:8,11) and God's unstoppable fire will succeed in burning up all the chaff and all the refuse. The Lord's creation will be clean! Free from sin and evil. (Rev. 21:27)

One verse I would like to take a closer look at is Rev. 14:9-10. It describes some really harsh consequences for those that receive the mark (note the very specific group description) in the last days: 

"Then another angel,… saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will 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 goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:9-11)

There is so much information that we could explore in there. For example, the phrase "…with fire and brimstone" deserves a whole study on its own and I plan to do that (along with studies on weeping, gnashing teeth, and smoke rising). But for now, I would like to zero in on the statement that anyone who worships the beast "will be tormented… in the presence of the Lamb." Yikes, that is really scary. What a paradox! Kind of like "…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Rom. 16:20). 

The question I am asking is: does this describe people in hell who will be there eternally or is it a provisory punishment (eventually having an end)?

So let's start with first things first.

We know the Lamb is Jesus (John 1:36, Acts 8:32, 1 Pet. 1:19, Rev. 5:12). The tormented are specifically people on earth who are deceived by the false prophet and worship the beast and his image. We also read descriptions of this group suffering in Rev. 16:2 and 10 in various judgments - and possibly in Rev. 9:4-6.

There is one problem for the traditionalists saying this is the everlasting suffering of hell - the torment is happening in Jesus' presence. We know 2 Thess.1:9 says clearly about final punishment:

"These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power."

Three times Jesus also declared that as Judge he will say to the condemned, "…depart from Me." (Matt. 7:23, 25:41, Luke 13:27)

We understand that final punishment includes being 'thrown out' (Matt. 22:13, 25:30, Luke 13:28) of His presence. So why does John say the beast worshippers are tormented in the presence of the Lord?

Remember the promises of God to repay according to His justice:

"According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies… He will make recompense."  -  Isaiah 59:18 

"For the LORD is a God of recompense, He will fully repay."  -  Jer. 51:56 

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS."  -  Matt. 16:27 

"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord."  -  Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30 

"For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you."  2 Thess. 1:6 (see also Rev. 6:9-11)

This principle is illustrated in Deut. 25:2* as the judge in court finds a man guilty: "…then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt."  It sounds harsh, but no different than being punished in Jesus' presence.

We should also touch on the other 'hell-sounding' part of the verses we are considering: "…the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast…"

Smoke rising forever

Scripture uses the image of smoke rising as a recurring symbol of destruction. It comes from Genesis 19 where we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham got up early the next morning and looked out over the valley, he saw, "…the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace." (19:28) We know that these cities were completely destroyed (Gen. 19:13,29, Deut. 29:23, Is. 1:9, Jer. 50:40, Lam. 4:6, Luke 17:29).

The destruction of Sodom is an illustration (example) of the coming wrath of God:

“...the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe... just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, ... are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." (See Jude) 

"… in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them allIt will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”  (Luke 17:26-30) 

“He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.”  2 Peter 2:6

Talk about unambiguous. It doesn't get any more clear-cut than that!

Sodom's destruction is the most well-known example, but the illustrative principle of smoke rising from a destroyed city is repeated through the Bible (see Joshua 8:20-21, Judges 20:40, Isaiah 34:9-10 and Rev. 19:3).

God so often describes His judgments on wickedness with the picture of burning up with fire (Ps. 21:9, Is. 29:6, 66:24, Matt. 3:12, John 15:6 ).

"Upon the wicked He will rain coals of fire; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup."  (Psalm 11:6)

One of the most graphic descriptions of judgment executed by the Lord is found in Isaiah chapter 34. I recommend reading the whole context. It speaks of His anger toward all nations and that "He will totally destroy them." (34:2) The text goes on to describe God's judgment on "Edom, the people I have totally destroyed." (34:5)

"Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch.It will not be quenched night or day; Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever."  - Isaiah 34:10

So, the destruction is complete and the smoke still rises. It symbolizes the finality and the complete end of those destroyed. It announces God's triumph over His enemies and that they are destroyed forever. John borrows the imagery from Genesis and Isaiah to illustrate the destructive and complete end of 'the great harlot', also called 'the great city':

Again, we see the same picture of the Lord in His judgment, tormenting and destroying this 'harlot': "…and she will be burned up with fire…" (18:8) The kings of the earth will lament  "…when they see the smoke of her burning."  (18:9)  "…and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city? …in one hour she has been laid waste!’ (18:18-19) "…the great city, …thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer." (18:21)

So, now we can read the following verses with a context to the smoke rising forever and ever. It does not mean that 'the harlot' will be judged continually into eternity, but that her destruction is accomplished forever.

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” Rev. 19:1-3

Whew. So now we can again apply the smoke-rising-forever imagery on our verse at-hand. Let's look at it again: "…and he will 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 goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image…" (14:10-11) Just like the great harlot, these will be tormented and done away with in the lake of fire. Their torment is continual while it lasts (no rest day and night). I wonder if this event corresponds to the non-stop torment by the 'scorpions' where the victims are unable to die for five months, even though they wish for it (Rev. 9:5-6)?

Also, why does it say immediately, in the same paragraph: "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints…" (14:12)? Why would the saints need to endure and have patience during this event, if the final judgment had taken place and they were experiencing eternal life? We haven't even gotten to the Bowl Judgments yet (chapter 16). We appear to be in the middle of the tribulation with these tragic events taking place on earth. Jesus' second coming to earth happens in chapter 19 where "He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." (19:15) This demonstrates why context is so important - the context of the chapter, the book and the entire Bible.

Revelation is a very difficult book. It is full of allegorical language and symbolic images. I don't pretend to understand it all. However, there are many clues as to the meaning of much of the text. If the whole counsel of the Word is taken into account, the concept of human souls being tormented forever begins to lose its footing.

One thing we know: the BIble is always true. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31) "…fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

[If you actually read through this study (also posted under 'studies') please leave a quick comment and let me know your thoughts - critical or otherwise. Thank you!]

*[If you are wondering that a law from the Torah illustrates a truth for Christians today just look a few verses down to Deut. 25:4 - “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." You will find the principle spelled out in the New Testament: For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written…" 1 Cor. 9:10-11]

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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!