Besides the various Hebrew and Greek words translated “hell,” the lake of fire is referred to five times in Scripture. Only two of these refer to a conscious torment, and in both of these cases no humans are included in the description. (Revelation 19:20 and 20:10) In these instances only the wild beast, the false prophet and the Adversary (Satan) are cast into the lake of fire. And as we learned in our study of “aion” in a previous blog they will be tormented not forever and ever, but for the eons (at least two) of the eons.
In Revelation 20:13-15 and 21:7-8 humans being are cast into the lake of fire, but we note that
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- No duration is mentioned, and
- In both cases the lake of fire is further described as “the second death.”
Based on this description I would say two possibilities exist.
We learn from a study of the Scriptures that death is simply a dissolution, or a dis-assembly of the body and spirit … with the body returning to the earth and the spirit returning to God. The soul is in “hades” which is “the unseen” place. Do we have reason to assume that the second death will be any different? We have seen that only the unhuman Adversary, beast and false prophet will be tormented for the eons of the eons. No similar mention is made of humans cast into the lake of fire. It may be as simple as their being put to death once again, forfeiting the allotment of “eonian life” which is granted to believers. In death once again, they await the consummation that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15 which will occur at the end of the eons when God becomes All in all.
Some may object and say that these creatures being cast into the lake of fire are unworthy and unfit to spend eternity with God in the heavens, even at the end of the ages after having experienced the second death. I would contend that none of us who have confessed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour are ready either. It is only because of the work of Jesus Christ that we are made ready to spend eternity with God in the heavens. We fall far short, as do those who have not yet confessed Jesus Christ as Saviour. As we look at the fallen nature even within the body of Christ today (as in the days of the Corinthian believers) we see that only the incorruptible bodies received at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) will enable us to live incorruptible lives in heaven.
The other possibility relative to the lake of fire is a conscious period of refinement, as God prepares those affected for the grand consummation of history as found in 1 Corinthians 15. We are not given a great deal of information about the lake of fire, so this is simply conjecture. But consider the following.
- “Fire” is the Greek “pur,” from which our English words purify and purge come.
- God’s use of fire to purify, instead of to torment, is much more consistent with His character of love.
- God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush (Exodus 3), from which Moses hid his face.
Could it be that the lake of fire is the very presence of God (as when God appeared to Moses), purifying and refining instead of tormenting? Consider Jeremiah 9:6-7 and Malachi 3:2-3 which speak of the Lord being as a refiner’s fire.
I could never understand how God, who is a God of love, could torment in fire forever those who did not accept Jesus Christ as Saviour in this short lifetime. I can fully understand the lake of fire if its purpose (refinement and purification) is consistent with the love of God, with the ultimate goal of disciplining, refining and ultimately saving all creation at the end of the ages.
I do not question that there is a judgment; surely there is! I do not question that there is a lake of fire! But the Bible tells us that the lake of fire is the second death, and it is not eternal but will one day be abolished. (1 Corinthians 15) If we teach that God will punish men eternally for what they have done during this brief lifetime, it is to charge God with injustice.
STUDY THE SCRIPTURES FOR YOURSELF!!
I am not asking you to believe these things based on my opinions. I have presented some Biblical references, but encourage you to study for yourself. Look at all of the occurrences of these key Hebrew and Greek words. Don’t trust the modern English translators who have built their own biases into the translation. Throw off your previously biased images of “hell” and study these references for yourself.
NEXT: The nature of God’s judgment and punishment.
COMING SOON: A review of the many passages in the Bible revealing God’s plan to ultimately save all.