It sounds like hell

Interviewer: What, in your opinion, is the strongest argument for the traditionalist side and how would you answer it?

Edward W. Fudge: "If by 'strongest' you mean the argument from whose clutches those bound by it find it most difficult to escape, it is not a scriptural argument at all. It is the argument that says: "The church has always taught unending conscious torment and therefore it must be right."

Aside from the fact that the assertion itself is false, the sweeping change of mind on this subject is driven most of all by a close reading and examination of the Bible. If someone puts ecclesiastical tradition ahead of biblical teaching, that person is rarely motivated to consider change.

At first reading, the strongest scriptural argument for the traditionalist side might be the moment in John's vision on Patmos when he sees the beast and the false prophet tossed into the lake of fire where the devil already is, with the comment that they are tormented day and night forever (Rev. 20:10). However, there is good reason to conclude that even this passage does not support the traditional side.

The lake of fire and brimstone, or lake that burns with fiery sulfur (NIV) is named for the agent of destruction that rained down from heaven on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, leaving in its wake only rising smoke—clear evidence of a completed wipeout (Gen. 19). It is surely significant that John borrows language from the annihilation of Sodom to name and to describe the site of final punishment. Death and hades are also thrown into the lake (Rev. 20:14).

Commentators and theologians from all major views of hell are agreed that this refers to the disappearance of death forever and to the everlasting cessation of hades. For these two abstractions, both incapable of sentient suffering, the lake of fire stands for their extinction and annihilation. In these closing chapters of Revelation, the word "torment" itself sometimes means a total destruction and death. The wicked city "Babylon," is pictured as a woman. In Chapter 18, her judgment is "torment and grief," which turns out to be death, mourning, and famine, and she is consumed by fire. It is not unthinkable, therefore, to understand "torment" of the devil, beast and false prophet as death and consumption by fire which is never reversed.

Interestingly, there are no people in this verse--only the devil, beast and false prophet. The latter two are symbolic personifications of anti-Christian institutions: ungodly government (the Roman state) and antichrist religion (the emperor cult). By the time the vision reaches the point described in Revelation 20:10, all human followers of the beast and false prophet already have been killed, either by sword in the first diabolical mustering of troops against the Rider on the White Horse (Rev. 19:21), or by fire from heaven in the second such adventure a thousand years later (Rev. 20:9).

For humans, the final options are either life or death. Whenever John mentions humans in the lake of fire, he is always careful to identify the lake of fire as "the second death." Then, to strengthen the symbol, he contrasts the second death with something representing life, whether the book of life (Rev. 20:14-15), or the spring of the water of life (Rev. 21:6-8).

Even if we knew none of the above, it would not be proper to interpret dozens of clear statements throughout the Bible to fit one or two symbolic passages in the Book of Revelation. It is a well-established rule of interpretation that one should read symbolic or unclear texts in the light of texts that are non-symbolic and clear, not the other way around.

Nor is it appropriate to choose an opinion supported by a handful of texts at best and to discard an alternate view that has the support of many multiples more of scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. The preponderance of evidence favors the latter, and this principle justifies our accepting the conditionalist case even if we have a few unanswered questions remaining."

From an interview with Edward W. Fudge

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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!