Friday, January 20, 2023

Do we really deserve to be tormented forever?

The premise that I'm struggling with today (and many yesterdays) is the one often repeated by traditionalists: all humans deserve the punishment of hell. In other blunt words, humanity is destined [because "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23)] to exist endlessly in the tormenting flames of Hell - and this existence is exactly what we all deserve. We've earned it. There is a salvation to speak of, but the subject that we wrestle with today concerns what God says we deserve before any rescue occurs.

Jonathon Edwards preached this common view of hell in his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".

"They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God... is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell... There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell."

Clearly, I do not believe that God will torment people for an endless period. Not to say that sin does not exact a price. Without atonement, sin does demand payment. The Bible is so very clear about sin's consequences: "The wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23) and again, "...sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:15).

On the other hand, mankind certainly does not deserve eternal life. It is given graciously by a loving Father through the Son who sacrificially died in our place: "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23b)

Though all of this is made clear in God's word, the idea of forever suffering persists in much of the Church's theology. This twisted thinking is what I'm wrestling with today. How is it that so many good-willed people just accept this doctrine so readily?

I want to ask Christians, "Do you really believe you deserve to be tormented in a lake of fire without any end?" I would not argue that we all deserve to die the kind of death that Jesus suffered, or worse. But tormented without end?? How does this kind of punishment achieve God's purposes of redemption and restoration of His creation? How does it accomplish Jesus' promise "Behold, I make all things new!" (Rev. 21:5)?

Since they consider themselves safe from such a fate, I suspect that this question has not been considered deeply by many. However, if you deserve that end and your children deserve that end and I deserve that end, then we should consider it with utmost attention.

To really grasp what traditionalists assert is the deserved fate of millions, I will often sit in front of our impressive black wood stove as it glows red from within. I imagine one hand thrust in the smoldering coals, then my whole self. Sickening as it is, I persist in the mental exercise. Pain that cannot be imagined is assigned to my being by God Himself, who chooses to keep me alive and cognizant of the endless fate He has fixed for me.

And then, NO! I know it cannot be true!

But Mr. Edwards does believe it, and shares his vision with the world:

"The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them...
...O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder... 
...God will have no other use to put you to, but to suffer misery; you shall be continued in being to no other end; for you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and there will be no other use of this vessel, but to be filled full of wrath. God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only “laugh and mock,”"

No. This is not what God is speaking to us in His word. Why have we twisted His words in such a horrible way? Imagine how He feels as we assign to Him the very actions of those who worshipped the Baals. These thoughts are heavy, but only by facing beliefs head on will we understand what is being pushed forward as truth.

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Last Enemy

I watched a movie recently that had an unusually dramatic emotional impact on me. It is called “The Book Thief”. It was only a fictional story based on the book of the same name, but still I wept bitterly and sobbed to God as I considered the darkness and suffering that exists in our world.

The film was about a young girl who is adopted by an older couple in Nazi Germany; the family attempts to hide a Jewish man in their basement. The narrator follows all of the characters in the film to their death. The horrors and sorrows of war and evil were conveyed so poignantly.

Interestingly, the narrator of the movie was Death himself. He seemed a bit smug when he stated with deep-voiced certainty, “No one lives forever.”

"The Grim Reaper" by Funerium

In one way, he was correct; our mortal bodies will either die or be transformed (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Ironically, not even Death will 'live forever'. One day he will also be abolished. Of course, they didn't mention this in the movie, but it is mentioned – many times – in the Scriptures.

“He will swallow up death forever.” - Isaiah 25:8a

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” - 1 Cor. 15:26

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” - 1 Cor. 15:54b

“...our Savior Christ Jesus...abolished death...” - 2 Tim. 1:10

“...there will no longer be any death...” - Rev. 21:4

How will God abolish, destroy and swallow up this 'last enemy'? He will accomplish this in the same way He will abolish, destroy and swallow up all evil and wickedness - in the lake of fire.

“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” - Rev. 20:14

So, the first death will be destroyed by the second death. What kind of place is this lake of fire that can abolish the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23, 7:11)? Since God will make an end of sin (Dan. 9:24, Heb. 9:26), and sin gives birth to death (James 1:15), then it follows that death also will be taken out of the picture.

Goodbye sin, goodbye death! The darkness and old order of things will pass away (1 John 2:8, Rev. 21:4) – the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17). Indeed, all things will be made new! (Rev. 21:5)

Sorry, Death - your power is limited and your days are numbered – so don't be so proud. Yes, I mourned and cried about your reign in this world, but a day is coming when all God's enemies will be destroyed – and you will be the last of them!

[For more information, you can read my Bible studies about what will happen to God's enemies in “The Adversaries” and also "The Wicked He Will Destroy" ]

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Those who Would Eliminate Hell

“We have a very fear-driven evangelical culture where if you don't toe the line, you get kind of shunned,” says Sprinkle. “It's really kind of scary.”

A new generation of evangelical scholars are challenging the idea that sinners are doomed to eternal torment—but traditionalists are pushing back.
by Mark Strauss at

HELL ISN’T AS popular as it used to be.
Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who believe in the fiery down under has dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent. Heaven, by contrast, fares much better and, among Christians, remains an almost universally accepted concept.

Underlying these statistics is a conundrum that continues to tug at the conscience of some Christians, who find it difficult to reconcile the existence of a just, loving God with a doctrine that dooms billions of people to eternal punishment.

"Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die," wrote the late Clark Pinnock, an influential evangelical theologian.

While religious philosophers have argued over the true nature of hell since the earliest days of Christianity, the debate has become especially pronounced in recent decades among the millions of Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals. The once taboo topic is being openly discussed as well-regarded scholars publish articles and best-selling books that rely on careful readings of Scripture to challenge traditional views.

Click here for the entire article

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What sinoholics can learn from AA

A sinoholic is someone addicted to sin. That's everyone. This conclusion become clear in the reading of the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous. These amazing AA people are so desperate for change (knowing the road they walk leads to death) that they throw off pride and pretending and fully embrace the "cure". For the sinoholic, the cure is Jesus. Do we recognize our own desperate need?

"Would that the Church were like this - ordinary men and women with great need who have found a great Answer, and do not hesitate to make it known wherever they can - a trained army of enthusiastic, humble, human workers whose efforts make life a different thing for other people!"
- Samuel Moor Shoemaker ("What Voices Do You Listen To?")

The following excerpts are taken from "What the Church Has to Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous"

Number One

"The first thing I think the Church needs to learn from AA is that nobody gets anywhere till he recognizes a clearly-defined need. There people do not come to AA to get make a little better. They do not come because the best people are doing it. They come because they are desperate. They are not ladies and gentlemen looking for a religion, they are utterly desperate men and women in search of redemption. Without what AA gives, death stares them in the face. With what AA gives them, there is life and hope. There are not a dozen ways, there are not two ways, there is one way; and they find it or perish.

AA's, each and all, have a definite, desperate need. They have the need, and they are ready to tell somebody what it is if they see the least chance that it can be met.

Is there anything as definite for you or me, who may happen not to be alcoholics? If there is, I am sure that it lies in the realm of our conscious withholding of the truth about ourselves from God and from one another, by pretending that we are already good Christians.

"The relief of being accepted can never be known by one who never thought himself unaccepted. I hear of  'good Christian men and women' belonging to 'fine old church families'. There were no good Christians in the first church, only sinners... Today the last place where one can be candid about one's faults is in the church. In a bar, yes, in a church, no. I know; I've tried both places." (Jerome Ellison from "Report to the Creator")

Let that sting you and me just as it should, and make us miserable with our church Pharisaism till we see it is just as definite and just as hideous as anybody's drunkenness can ever be, and a great deal more really dangerous.

Number Two

The second thing the Church needs to learn from AA is that men are redeemed in a life-changing fellowship. AA does not expect to let anybody who comes in stay as he is. They live for nothing else but to extend and keep extending that help.

It never occurs to an AA that it is enough for him to sit down and polish his spiritual nails all by himself, or dust off his soul all by himself, or spend a couple of minutes praying each day all by himself. His soul gets kept in order by trying to help other people get their souls in order, with the help of God.

Recently I heard an AA say that he could stay away from his Veterans' meeting, his Legion, or his Church, and nobody would notice it. But if he stayed away from his AA meeting, his telephone would begin to ring the next day!

"A life-changing fellowship" sounds like a description of the Church. It is of the ideal Church. But the actual? Not one in a hundred is like this. The laymen say this is the minister's job, and the ministers say it is the evangelist's job, and everybody finds a rationalized excuse for not doing what every Christian ought to be doing, i.e., bring people into the redeeming, life-changing fellowship.

Number Three

The third thing the Church needs to learn from AA is the necessity for definite personal dealing with people... I've heard them laboring with one another, now patient as a mother, now savage as a prize-fighter, now careful in explanation, now pounding in a heavy personal challenge, but always knowing the desperate need and the sure answer.

Are we in the Church like that? Have you ever been drastically dealt with by anybody? Have you ever dared to be drastic in love with anybody? We are so official, so polite, so ready to accept ourselves and each other at face value. I went for years before I met a man that dared get at my real needs, create a situation in which I could be honest with him, and hold me to a specific Christian commitment and decision. One can find kindness and even good advice in the Church. That is not all men need. They need to be helped to face themselves as they really are.

Number Four

The fourth thing the Church needs to learn from AA is the necessity for a real change of heart, a true conversion. As we come Sunday after Sunday, year after year, we are supposed to be in a process of transformation. Are we?

The AA's... are pushed by their need. They are pulled by the inspiration of others who are growing. They are a society of the "before and after," with a clear line between the old life and the new. This is not the difference between sinfulness and perfection, but it is the difference between accepted wrong-doing and the genuine beginning of a new way of life.

Again I quote Ellison, in his Report to God: "...I began to see that many of the church-goers did not really want to find You, because finding You would change them from their habitual ways, and they did not want to endure the pain of change... For our churchman-like crimes of bland, impenetrable pose, I offer shame..."

There should be a breaking down of our pride and unwillingness to change. We should know by now that this unwillingness, multiplied by thousands and tens of thousands, is what is the matter with the Church, and what keeps it from being what God means it to be on earth. The change must begin somewhere. We know it ought to begin with us.

The Attraction

One of the greatest things the Church should learn from AA is the need people have for an exposure to living Christian experience. In thousands of places, alcoholics (and others) can go and hear recovered alcoholics speak about their experiences and watch the process of new life and outlook take place before their eyes. There you have it, the need and the answer to the need, right before their eyes. They say that their public relations are based, not on promotion, but on attraction. This attraction begins when you see people with problems like your own, hear them speaking freely of the answers they are finding, and realize that such honesty and such change is exactly what you need yourself.

No ordinary service of worship in the Church can possibly do this. We need to supplement what we do now... where people who are spiritually seeking can see how faith takes hold in other lives, how the characteristically Christian experience comes to them. Some churches are doing this, but not nearly enough of them.

As I looked over the crowd of [AA's], ...I said to myself, "Would that the Church were like this - ordinary men and women with great need who have found a great Answer, and do not hesitate to make it known wherever they can - a trained army of enthusiastic, humble, human workers whose efforts make life a different thing for other people!"

Let us ask God to forgive our blindness and laziness and complacency, and through these re-made people to learn our need for honesty, conversion, for fellowship and for honest witness!

Excerpts taken from "What the Church Has to Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous" (From "What Voices Do You Listen To?" by Samuel Moor Shoemaker)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Edward Fudge, brilliant and humble

"It is with a heart of profound sadness and triumphant hope that I write to inform you that our precious Edward has been released from his mortal body and rests in the sheltering arms of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom he loved and served all his life. Saturday morning, November 25, 2017, God granted him the gift of an easy passing with his loved ones beside him.

We have been touched by the hundreds of comments we have already received, as word has spread, from so many whose lives have been blessed by him. Edward was a remarkable man whose gifts were many. A brilliant thinker who could engage any scholar on that level, a consummate professional writer who could pack more into three paragraphs than anyone I ever knew, a tender-hearted lover of poetry who regaled us all with Thanatopsis and Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (all stanzas!), and a man with a sweet grin and sense of humor which sometimes veered into intricate puns and corny jokes which he delighted in telling and re-telling to any willing listener. He was nonjudgmental, humble in spirit, kind in manner and as Jesus described Nathanael, "a man in whom there is no guile." He cherished me for over 50 years, since our first Florida College days, delighted in our two wonderful children, and loved his six precious grandchildren who gave him great joy and hope for the future.

But most of all, he was a Jesus man, as he termed it, who loved God with all his heart, believed even through the most difficult of times and circumstances, and loved to spread the good news of God's redeeming grace far and wide. He gave glory to God for every good thing in his life, aware that he was a sinner saved by grace, and prayed often for Jesus to come quickly. He was confident in his salvation through the blood of Jesus, and sure of Jesus' triumphant return on that great Resurrection Day.

We have been grateful for your prayers through the years, and covet them now in this difficult time of loss. Edward has been so proud to meet many of you over the years and we have always referred to you as much more than just readers - you were his gracEmail family! Edward would be sure to add that his writings will live on through his website ( which we will continue to support. There is even an almost completed new book which we hope to finalize in the coming months! May God bless us as we all await that glorious day when the faith shall be sight and our reunions will be sweet."

Sara Faye (Edward's wife)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sprouting eyes

I'm writing these thoughts today to encourage others who have discovered that the traditional hell doctrine is largely unbiblical - and they feel alone in that discovery, as if seeing things no one else can see.

Remember William Wilberforce from the post called "Hell on earth..." ? He and his friends also experienced this phenomenon of exposing a truth - only to be rejected or ignored by the majority (and most notably the powers that were).

“But how is it possible that humanity for so long tolerated what to us is so obviously intolerable? And why did just one small group of people...suddenly see this injustice for what it was? Why in a morally blind world did Wilberforce and a few others suddenly sprout eyes to see it? [They] were something like the characters in horror films who have seen “the monster” and are trying to tell everyone else about it – and no one believes them.” 1

I'm not comparing myself to Wilberforce, but on a smaller scale, it feels as if I've 'seen the monster': eternal conscious torment teaching - and am trying to tell others... but many don't care or even want to investigate to see if it be true. To some, the monster is not monstrous enough - or at least they believe it is a monster placed in our doctrine by God, so it must be tolerated.

I can relate to how Wilberforce must have felt when sharing with seemingly decent human beings the facts on the slave trade - and the facts made no headway in their hearts and mind:

“He hadn't yet seen that respectable gentlemen and noblemen, when presented with evils and cruelties more horrible than they had ever dreamed, would nonetheless yawn and shrug and turn away, or that, given what seemed an exceedingly clear choice between good and evil, they would choose evil... he could hardly believe that others wouldn't leap to do what was right when they finally knew the facts. He was mistaken.” 2

I was naive in my expectations as well. When the facts about ECT are laid out, the case against it is so powerful that I was confident any sincere, Bible-believing follower of Jesus would rush to investigate further and respond in an appropriate manner. I, too, was mistaken.

I have to admit, it was comforting to find other believers (respectable, educated men even) who also experienced the very same phenomenon. Greg Stump, in the excellent book "Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism," writes:

"My abiding interest in hell, and the reason why I've poured so much of my thought, resources and conviction into this topic, has to do with the fact that there are so many Christians who claim quite confidently that hell will consist of eternal conscious torment, yet I personally... have found the biblical, theological, and philosophical evidence for this perspective to be weak and insubstantial. In contrast, I discovered that the case for conditional immortality and the final destruction of the unsaved was comprehensive and compelling...

And yet despite my own experience of the inferiority of the traditional view and the seemingly clear evidence and scriptural basis of the conditionalist view, there were so many other thoughtful and intelligent believers who have claimed the exact opposite - in fact, ECT has been the position of the majority of Christians throughout church history. And this is what has made me, and so many others, obsess over the issue.

How can it be that the evidence in favor of conditionalism appears so clear to those of us who have been convinced and yet is received with such skepticism by our fellow Christians? This experience is baffling, having an almost Kafkaesque quality to it, and it is honestly what has driven my own obsessive interest in the topic." 3

I've received messages from believers who felt like they were the only ones in their church to find the doctrine of traditional hell to be unscriptural. They even feel like heretics. Like outsiders. I certainly know how you feel. If it weren't for my husband, I would also be quite alone in this. Yes, we have the Lord, but there is something so very powerful in a united community.

Even so, my friend, be encouraged. After I sprouted eyes to see, it was soon made clear to me that there is a great and growing number of believers who share the same view. So many of them, in fact, that there is a name for this fellowship: conditionalists (simply meaning folks who believe that God's gift of eternal life is conditional). You are certainly not alone.

For those who have eyes to see, those who are sprouting eyes, and for those yet to see - please visit the website and learn what they have to teach. Don't just give lip service to believing Scripture alone, walk in it! And see.

1  Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2007, p. xiv
2  Ibid, p. 121
3 "Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism", edited by Chris Date, Greg Stump and Joshua Anderson with a foreword by John G. Stackhouse. Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon. 2014.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Smoke rising - a picture of destruction, not torment

"But the wicked will perish: Though the LORD's enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke." 
                                                                        - Psalm 37:20

Rising smoke in the Scriptures is a clear symbol of total destruction. The phrase “her smoke rises forever” simply means the destruction is permanent (in other words, 'eternal'). If you can be patient and follow with me through several verses, this conclusion becomes so evident. There is no need to have fuzzy ideas about smoke rising meaning eternal conscious torment!

Revelation gives us our most well-known imagery of smoke rising in the Bible. And it gets much of its imagery and language about the Great Harlot (whose smoke rises forever) from Jeremiah. It is possible to learn what the NT is teaching by understanding the old.

There is a thread of commonality through 1. Sodom and Gomorrah, 2. the destruction of Babylon, Edom and Assyria in the OT and 3. the destruction of The Great City (Babylon the Great or the Great Harlot) in Revelation.

Concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19: “He [Abraham] looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.” (v. 28)

Sodom serves as an example of complete destruction: “The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur – nothing planted, nothing sprouting... it will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah...which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger.”(Deut. 29:23)

Sodom as the example of the destruction of Babylon: “Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Is. 13:19)

“As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah...” declares the LORD, “so no one will live there; no man will dwell in it [Edom].” (Jer. 49:18)

“As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah...” declares the LORD, “so no one will live there; no man will dwell in it [this time Babylon].” (Jer. 50:40)

“At the sound of Babylon's capture the earth will tremble; its cry will resound among the nations.” (Jer. 50:46) – this is exactly the description of the fall of 'Babylon' in Revelation 18.

“Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives! Do not be destroyed because of her sins! It is time for the LORD's vengeance; He will pay her what she deserves.” Jer. 51:6 – this is clearly a foreshadow of the great judgment and wrath of God that will be poured out in the end of days. (See Rev. 18:4)

Babylon the great city; the Great Harlot – but not a person! A personified city or system of the world. “In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” (Rev. 18:24)

In Revelation 17, John recounts that one of the angels who had the seven bowls said, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot...and on her forehead was written, a mystery, “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”

I think that pretty much sums up all the evil in the world – a system personified by this 'Great Harlot'. She is sitting on this 'beast' which is described in Revelation 17 as well. In the end, however, “the ten horns...and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose...”

“The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” - Rev. 17:18 (Read about historical Babylon for insight into her judgment in Isaiah 47. “Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame.” v. 14)

Rev. 18 - “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird." (For the historical background for this description, see Is. 34:9-17)

"For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.

'Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any for her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remember her crimes(see Jer. 51:45, Isaiah 48:20, and Rev. 18:4)

Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup.

Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she have herself (remember, this is not an actual person, so in what manner will 'she' receive torture and grief?) ... in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over herTerrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power!” (note the phrase 'smoke of her burning' and 'torment' - these descriptions about a city!")

“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls....and bodies and souls of men.”

“All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.... terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out: “Woe! Woe, O great city,...In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!”

“When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, “Was there ever a city like this great city?”

What is God's purpose concerning 'Babylon'? “God has judged her... Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder...and threw it into the sea, and said, 'With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown downnever to be found again.” (Rev. 18:20-21)

Then, continuing in Rev. 19, we see celebration over this judgment in heaven, “Hallelujah! ...for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute... Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever. (1-3) We just saw how she had been burned up, 'never to be found again', so this smoke symbolizes her complete destruction.

So, if the smoke of her rises up forever, does this mean 'she' is still in existence, being tormented with fire – forever? If we make a parallel to what our doctrine teaches about 'people in hell' where they will be tormented forever and their smoke rises, then we would conclude 'yes'. But, obviously, as we look at the whole of Scripture, we know with certainty that the great harlot is destroyed and will 'never be found again'. The smoke rising is a symbol of her complete and permanent destruction (remember the image of smoke rising after the destruction of Sodom).

Also, her 'torment' is not a physical, personal torment because she is not actually a person, but a city – or a system – that will suffer a complete overthrow by God Himself.

Another nation that is completely destroyed by God is Edom. This earthly judgment also foreshadows final judgment. Notice the smoke rising 'forever' as a symbol of its permanent destruction:

“Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! [Sounds like Sodom's fate, doesn't it?] It will not be quenched night or dayits smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.” Is. 34:10

Do you think that Edom's smoke rising will literally continue 'forever' on the earth? No, we know with certainty that there will be a new heaven and new earth. (For an insight into the Hebrew language that we translate 'forever' please see “Letter to a friend: Eternity check”). We see the same language used in the verse below:

“And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” - Rev. 14:11

This verse is automatically turned into eternal conscious torment to fit the traditional hell doctrine. However, if we consider the root of the images that John is using, the meaning comes to light. Notice the repeating phrases, “day or night” and “smoke... will rise forever” - this is borrowed language from the OT so we can understand what is happening in these judgments. Namely, destruction.
We have seen what the wrath of God looks like concerning the great harlot, her torment, and the smoke rising. So, in the light of those realities, we can better understand that those who worship the beast and take the mark “will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger... and...will be tormented with fire and brimstone... in the presence of the Lamb.

Since we know that ultimately those who do not inherit eternal life will “pay the penalty of eternal destructionaway from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9) this cannot be a picture of hell where the condemned spend eternity.

These opposing verses simply cannot both be true. If you understand the whole teaching of Scripture, where God will destroy His enemies, then the confusing and apparent contradictions disappear.

To clarify further, let's return to Isaiah 34 and read more about the future judgment of all nations (“For the LORD has a day of vengeance” v. 8):

“Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!
The LORD is angry with all nations;
His wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy* them,
He will give them over to slaughter.” (1-2)

* The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the LORD, often by totally destroying them; also in verse 5: “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.”

Edom (or Esau), estranged brother of Israel, represents the godless (Heb.12:16). Throughout Isaiah, there are descriptions of judgment on God's foes, and blessings to His people. For the purpose of this study, I am highlighting verses that demonstrate specifically how God executes Judgment – in the past as well as what He will do in the future. However, there are too many to list so it is always a wise choice to go and read the context for yourself.

As you continue reading in Isaiah 34, there is death, destruction and desolation (“its smoke will rise forever” v. 10). Verse 3 is graphic: “Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood.” This verse mirrors the very last verse in Isaiah, often quoted – most notably quoted by Jesus – but often misused by traditionalists to support eternal torment.

And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against Me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Is. 66:24) Notice that these are dead bodies. They are the enemies that God has slain and 'thrown out'. The worm is known for devouring dead flesh and the fires burn up refuse. The worm will not die as it consumes the dead bodies; likewise no one can put out the fire that burns up and destroys. It is a loathsome sight – disgusting to see, but a testament to what happens to those who rebelled.

Let's back up and examine some verses that will shed light on that final verse, Isaiah 66:24.

Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness will last forever...” (Is. 51:7-8)

My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts, but you will cry out from anguish of heart and wail in brokenness of spirit... the Sovereign LORD will put you to death.” (Is, 65:14-15)

...the hand of the LORD will be made known to His servants, but His fury will be shown to His foes. See, the LORD is coming with fire... For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD.”  (Is. 65:14-16)

With this Scriptural foundation, we can read Jesus' words in the gospel of Mark and not be confused by His teaching: “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. For everyone will be salted with fire.” (9:47-49)

God will execute His final judgment on his enemies by casting them into the lake of fire (Jesus called it Gehenna) where they will suffer eternal destruction. As Jesus states in Matt. 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

And, to come full circle, this complete and permanent destruction is represented in Revelation by smoke rising.

To recap:

First, we see Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed: “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” (Gen. 19:24) and the smoke rising afterwards (Gen. 19:28). This judgment is used as an example of 'eternal fire' in Jude 1:7 - “...Sodom and Gomorrah...serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

Again: “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 (See also 2 Peter 3:7).

And again: “It was the same as happened in the days of Lot... 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 17:28-30)

Isaiah's account of judgment on Edom (the people 'devoted to destruction') says, “It will not be quenched night or day; Its smoke will go up forever.... it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever.” (34:10) Keep in mind this is an earthly judgment. If you study the word that we translate 'forever', it becomes apparent that our English words fall short of the original meaning. Basically, the Hebrew word means “the end time is hidden” or you could say “it will last as long as it will”. (For a more thorough study on this, see “Letter to a friend: Eternity check”.) In any case, the earthly situation we understand does not last literally for ever, but a very long time.

Concerning God's enemies during tribulation: “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...” Rev. 14:11

Concerning the 'Great Harlot', which is not a person but a system: “And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” Rev. 19:3 (The caps tell us this verse is taken from the OT, specifically Isaiah 34:10) Also remember, she was described as being tormented, 18:6-7,15. She was 'burned up with fire' (18:8) and the kings of the earth weep and lament to see the 'smoke of her burning' (18:9,18). “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.” (18:21) and yet the saints celebrate her smoke rises up forever. It is clearly an image of complete and utter destruction.

So, if this is all confusing and long-winded, just remember that Babylon, in the book of Revelation, represents all that stands against God (read also Zechariah 5:5-11)...

And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonian's pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” Isaiah 13:19