Thursday, May 19, 2022

Apocalyptic? #41: New Heaven and New Earth

What will our existence in the world to come be like?  Kenneth Burke analyzes human activity in terms of a Dramatistic Pentad.  The word pentad means “five (as in a pentagon—a five-angled or five-sided shape) perspectives or motives” that are found in all human action.  The word dramatistic indicates that we see all five of these motives whenever we watch a “drama” performed at the theater.  The five terms are scene, act, agent, agency, and purpose.  They correspond to the one-word questions Who (agent), What (act), When/Where (scene), Why (purpose), and How (agency)?  All acts (things the performers [or agents] do) occur within some scene, the backdrop for the drama. The various props (or agencies) the performers use to complete their acts are also found within each scene.  No performer/agent performs an act in the drama without some purpose in mind.  Otherwise, the drama seems to be pointless.  Why (purpose) did Colonel Mustard (agent) kill (act) Mr. Boddy in the kitchen (scene) with a knife (agency)?  Do you even have a Clue®?  😊  We need all five terms to understand what is happening in the drama.  Let’s now consider these five perspectives as we view Revelation’s description of life in the New Heaven and New Earth.



When God promises a new creation, there are elements of His older creation scene that He preserves.  By using the terms “new heaven and new earth (21:1),” there remains the sense of a cosmos or universe similar to our own.  Revelation promises a “scene” for future existence that, at the very least, “resembles” the scene in which we currently exist.  Perhaps, it is even the same scene we currently have, but purged of every curse.  Revelation 22:3 (NKJV) says: “And there shall be no more curse.” There was nothing at all wrong with this scene as God originally designed it in Genesis until Adam and Eve sinned and the world was cursed on their account.  God declares on each of the six days of creation that his work is either “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) or very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Ever wanted to see the world or even to travel through space?  Your new, immortal body will be like Christ’s (Philippians 3:20-21); surely, you will be capable of encountering such scenes.  Jesus’ body was capable of appearing in an instant in various locations where the door was locked and of ascending up into the heavens.

Just as there are elements of His older creation scene that God preserves, there are also elements of His older creation that He eliminates: 

1.                  No Sea.  (21:1).  Perhaps, this implies the elimination of any safe haven for the Dragon (Leviathan, at the shore of the sea) and/or the Beast who came up out of the sea (13:1).  This detail may, therefore, be symbolic.  It is possible that the seas will continue to exist in the new Earth.  To where else would the river/fountain of the water of life (21:6) flow?  But then, the River of Life may, itself, be symbolic.  See below.

2.                  No tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain.  (21:4).  These are all curses and “corporal stresses” that are eliminated, as discussed in Apocalyptic? #8.

3.                  No curse (22:3).  Death, pain in childbearing, and a curse on the ground were the major curses from Eden, thus, “corporal stresses.”

4.                  No cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, dogs, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars; they are cast into the Lake of Fire (21:8, 27; 22:15).  With this list of characters absent from the New Heavens and New Earth, God eliminates this possibility of “community stress” from having to interact with these types.  Citizens of the New Jerusalem will not have to encounter these individuals any more:

·         Cowards stand in contrast to the “conquerors” who were willing to die for Christ.  Unlike the conquerors, the cowards continually shrank back and hid or denied their Christianity in order to save their own physical lives (and/or their incomes). 

·         Unbelievers refers to those who heard the message about Jesus, but continually refused to believe it.  (Would atheists be included, here?)

·         The Abominable refers to those who continue to commit certain very detestable sins that are called, in the Law of Moses, “abominations.”  Not every sin was called an “abomination,” but the following sins were explicitly called abominations:   [a.]  offering your children to Molech (Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:10-12—compare to modern-day abortion),  [b.]  having sex with a man as you would with a woman (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, 23:18),  [c.]  witchcraft/divination (Deuteronomy 18:10-12),  [d.]  women wearing men’s clothing and men wearing women’s clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5),  [e.]  prostitution whether by males or females (Deuteronomy 23:18—“dogs” were actually male prostitutes),  [f.]  remarrying a wife you have divorced after she has married someone else (Deuteronomy 24:4; perhaps, God was attempting here to protect the sanctity of the new marriage from the incursion of the former spouse),  [g.]  (merchants) using differing measuring scales in order to cheat customers (Deuteronomy 25:16),  [h.]  and worshiping idols (Deuteronomy 27:15 and elsewhere).  These types of activities were practiced in the religious activities of the nations of Canaan that God was expelling before Israel.  Leviticus 18:25-30 says, “You shall not commit any abominations . . .The men of the land that lies before you have committed all of these abominations, and the land is defiled.”

·         Murderers.  Those who kill their own children are not the only murderers, of course.

·         The Sexually Immoral (those practicing porneia) refers to the prostitutes mentioned above and below as “abominations,” as well as other sexual sins.

·         Dogs.  Deuteronomy 23:18 also calls “dogs” [male prostitutes] an “abomination” similar to female prostitutes (see above).  Perhaps, the name “dogs” came from some often-embarrassing activity of male dogs, interacting with humans.

·         Sorcerers.  The Greek word for the practice is “pharmakeia” from which we get the English term “pharmacy.”  Drugs (pharmaceuticals) were used to induce strange experiences for non-medical purposes, as they are today, whether or not sorcery is involved.  The divination/sorcery (mentioned above) was also called an abomination.

·         Idolaters are also very frequently listed as an abomination (see above).

·         Liars.  Those who feel they are not guilty of the activities of other types of individuals found in the Lake of Fire might still have some conscientious stress (feel guilty) concerning this one.  For example, did I lie when I told my children there was an Easter Bunny?  Besides the three passages mentioning that liars will be in the Lake of Fire, John in Revelation only uses the “lying” terminology two other times.  Once, in Revelation 14:5, John says that no “lie” is to be found in the mouths of the 144,000, for they are without fault before the throne of God.  Perhaps, all of their untruths—including the Easter Bunny thing—have been forgiven and, thus, they stand without fault.  The only other time John (and Jesus) calls someone a “liar” in Revelation is in 2:2, where Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for “test[ing] those who say they are apostles and are not, and [finding] them liars.”  I rather suspect that John had this weightier accusation of “liars” in mind as he compiled the Lake of Fire list.  That is to say, lying in matters of consequence would be the important factor.  When the serpent told Eve, “You shall not surely die,” it was a matter of grave consequence.  When the Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” they imply a type of court scene where witnesses perjure themselves, causing grave consequences.  When false apostles (and false prophets) lie about themselves and their messages, it is a matter of grave consequence.  What is clear in the false apostles’ example is that there will be “so-called” Christian leaders who find themselves cast into the Lake of Fire.


Besides God and Jesus, the agents in the New Heavens and New Earth will be Christians (which term I will use from here on out for all whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life (21:27), the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb (21:2).  As I explained in Apocalyptic? #8, their new nature will be different from the “cursed” nature that followed the Fall.  After the Fall, humans experienced every kind of stress (corporal, competence, community, confusion, conscientious, chrono, and cash stresses).  Now, John offers us a glimpse of an existence in which there is no stress at all.  Described as a “city” that comes down out of heaven from God, this list of Christians’ attributes seems more symbolic than literal, however.  What many confuse as a description of the scene of our existence is actually a description of the perfection of God’s people:

a.                   Shaped like a huge Holy of Holies (21:16).  It is a perfect cube; the measurement would be in cubic miles rather than square miles, as a city on earth now might be measured.  Its width, length, and height are each 1380 miles (=12,000 stadia), whereas, the width, length, and height of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple were each 20 cubits (II Chronicles 3:8).  This symbolism suggests that the Christians will now be the dwelling place of God, just as his presence was seen to dwell in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple.  New Jerusalem, unlike the old Jerusalem, has no temple, for God and the Lamb are its temple (21:22).  There will be no community stress between Christians and God.  There is no separating wall.

b.                  Containing the Tree of Life (22:2).  This symbolism suggests that the Christians will have access to the Tree of Life (from Eden), and hence, will live forever.  There will be no chrono stress.

c.                   Containing the River (Fountain) of the Water of Life (21:6, 22:1).  This symbolism suggests that, as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  This is another reference to the eternal life of the Christians.  Again, there will be no chrono stress

d.                  Having as her light, the Shekinah/Glory of God and the Lamb (21:11, 23; 22:5).  What light is brighter than the Sun and every star in the universe?  The Shekinah.  It totally illuminates even the darkness.  No confusion stress; we will know all things.

e.                   Having great high walls (1380 miles high) with twelve gates on which were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12-13).  City walls are for the protection of those who dwell inside the city.  This symbolism suggests that, since the height, like the width and length, is 1380 miles (=12,000 stadia), there is perfect “protection and safety” for the Christians (including those Jews represented by the “twelve tribes of Israel”).  There will be no corporal or community stress.

f.                    Having twelve foundations for the wall on which were written the names of the twelve apostles (21:14).   The apostles’ doctrine (New Testament) is the foundation or basis for the Christians’ existence.  There is no confusion stress; we know the truth.

g.                  Having precious stones adorning the twelve foundations for the wall-- jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst—no doubt, corresponding to the twelve stones on the high priest’s breastplate, worn whenever approaching the Shekinah. (21:19-20).  This symbolism suggests that Christians collectively are the high priests who can enter into the presence of God.  Revelation 20:6 (NKJV) says that Christians “shall be priests of God and of Christ.”  There will be no competence stress.

h.                  Having “pearly gates” (21:21)—each gate was a pearl—along with having “streets of gold” (21:21).  These are not descriptions of the scene in which we will act; they are descriptions of the beauty and worth of Christ’s bride.  To say the least, however, Christians will have no “cash stress.”  To corroborate, John even says that the New Jerusalem will hold the glory of the nations in it (21:24-26). 



By definition, an act is something one does, purposefully, of his/her own free will and accord.  Gone will be the times of the evil inclination in the human heart, so whatever one does will be within the will of God. The specific act of humans mentioned in Revelation is “reigning” (22:5).  This seems like the same activity given to man in the first creation, before the Fall.  Genesis 1:27-30 (NKJV) states: God created man in His own image . . . male and female He created them . . . and God said to them . . . have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”  Such “activity” as reigning and having dominion implies complete freedom.  Without the physical restrictions, even of time and location, Christians may well be able to explore all parts of the universe, to engage with the plant and animal worlds as Adam and Eve did, and to interact with all other Christians from every generation (as God saw that Adam needed Eve with whom to interact) as well as with God and Jesus. 


Incidentally, Jesus says that there will be no more marriage when we rise from the dead (Mark 12:25), but that doesn’t mean that we won’t interact with our loved ones from our earthly experience.  We need each other socially (although “socially” is still too weak a term to express our intense interaction needs), as God saw when He created Eve, and as God Himself probably felt when He created man, in the first place.  Adam and Eve certainly interacted before they sinned and ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Only after they ate did they notice that they were naked and were only then told to be fruitful and multiply.  Sex (and reproduction) was a consolation prize for having lost eternal life.  Since we will have regained eternal life, there will be no further need for the consolation prize of reproduction and sex.  Some portions of Islam differ from Christianity partly in the sense that some Muslims look forward to sexual gratification in paradise (72 virgins), and Christians are not thus obsessed with sexual gratification.

                   The picture often painted by preachers of the entirety of human activity being spent eternally singing “Holy, Holy, Holy!” and “Worthy are God Almighty and the Lamb” (while there will automatically be that kind of activity as part of our interaction with God and Jesus) was largely drawn from Revelation 5 and 6.  Those chapters were designed to depict God’s and the Lamb’s united rulership over the cosmos during this world, not a picture of the New Heaven and New Earth.



New existence will, almost certainly, call for new agencies, the methods by which acts are performed.  These agencies will exist primarily within the capabilities of the glorified bodies inherited by Christians.  Since communication and creativity are parts of the image of God humans were given at Creation, there will certainly be communication and may well continue to be creative agencies employed by Christians.


            On pages 41-42 of my book The Logic of Christianity, I wrote:

What PURPOSE would motivate [God] an AGENT capable of ACTING to create and sustain life forms through the AGENCY of LOGOS to do so?

Abraham Maslow might term such a PURPOSIVE motive as “self-actualization.” . . . [God] created logically-reproducing life forms “because [He] could.”  And, given the existence of human AGENTS who are capable of ACTION, themselves, we must assume that this self-actualization PURPOSE extended to the desire/PURPOSE of creating and sustaining other AGENTS who (like [Himself]) were also capable of ACTION, COMMUNICATION, and forms of CREATION.  From Maslow’s motivational theory, we see that motives include not only the ultimate motive of self-actualization, but also the social motive.  If the LOGOS could create a being, similar to [Himself], capable of ACTION and COMMUNICATION, that LOGOS must also have a SOCIAL PURPOSE/motive.  . . .  SOCIAL  PURPOSE  motivated  the  AGENT [God]  to  create  a  CREATIVE, COMMUNICATIVE, ACTION-BASED life form [mankind] with which [God] LOGOS THE AGENT could communicate.

If God has a social purpose and His created humans have a social purpose, it only makes sense that the primary purpose for our activity in the New Heaven and New Earth will be to interact and communicate with God, Jesus, and our fellow citizens of the New Jerusalem.



            My goal in writing Apocalyptic Apologetic:  Nails in the Coffin of Atheism was not to condemn atheists to the Lake of Fire or to gloat that those whose continual “acts”—however cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderous, sexually immoral, dog-like, drug-related, idolatrous, or false—might secure their part in the fiery Lake.  It was (as I believe John’s was in writing Revelation) to demonstrate in history the trustworthiness of biblical apocalyptic prophecy and to warn, and thus, divert those prone to practicing such acts from the Lake of Fire.  Atheists who take solace in the possibility presented in the previous post that annihilation (rather than eternal torment) might await them should instead take note in this final post (of the much more positive motivation):  all the things they will be missing in the New Heavens and New Earth . . . and repent.  I don’t want you to be annihilated.  I really want to see you and interact with you there!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Apocalyptic? #40: The Lake of Fire


Prior to celebrating the New Heavens and New Earth, in the New Jerusalem, one final negative scene must be considered—the Lake of Fire.  It has now been more than three months since I published my last blogpost, but I hated to replace it on my blog’s landing page since it continued to receive hits.  As it turns out, in a timely fashion, I published the post entitled “The Final Battle of History” on January 13th of this year.  In it, I speculated concerning problems with Russia, China, and Iran.  Then, on February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine and the world has been obsessed ever since with viewing the genocidal war crimes Putin has committed (like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and more recently, Muslim terrorists and Xi Jinping—although we shouldn’t forget Planned Parenthood in our list of killers and atrocities).  These entities, like the Beast and False Prophet, may well be candidates for induction into the Lake of Fire.  Russia has received support from China, as both China and Russia have allied themselves with Iran.  What I had written as “speculation” was happening before our eyes.  Unbelievably, the Biden administration is still using Russia to negotiate a treaty with Iran for us (which could threaten the very existence of Israel)!  China is breathing out threats concerning invading Taiwan and Iran is still breathing out threats about annihilating Israel.  Nevertheless, the blog series must continue.  We are nearing the end (I mean the end of the blog series, not necessarily the world).

One might refer to the final negative scene of the Apocalypse as the ultimate “nail in the coffin of atheism.”  As I point out on pages 6-7 of my book ArguMentor, the agnostic philosopher Kenneth Burke observes in Attitudes Toward History (p. 52-53): 

Atheism (and, in keeping, a categorical denial of immortality) is a statement of faith that necessarily cannot be substantiated by a “weighing of all the evidence.”  When you find a man who is exceptionally eager to deny the possibility of immortality (as though he “could not rest” without a constant “secular prayer” to the effect that death is absolute) you may legitimately grow quizzical of his intensity.  Why such zest?  Might it not come from a fear of punishment after death?  For it is obvious that, if the possibility were either death or heaven, there would be no incentive for a man to become engrossed in the denial of immortality.  He would let the matter slide, content to await his sojourn in paradise when it came, and to go about his business in the interim.  If, on the other hand, the possibility of immortality contained for him the likelihood of his taking up permanent residence in hell, he would have “good emotional reasons” for wanting to “pray” immortality out of existence.  Hence, when we see a man who goes out of his way to amass evidence that “proves” mortality, we should take his engrossment as a somewhat unwieldy and roundabout way of cancelling guiltiness.  The man . . .  who says “absolutely not” is driven by . . . the fear of immortality (which could only derive from a latent fear of hell that stimulated him thus indirectly to “legislate” the possibility out of existence).

Therefore, before looking toward the happy features of the world to come in the next blogpost, it is fitting that this unhappy scene of the cosmic drama be first considered. 


Revelation 20:14-15 (NKJV) describes a judgment, just prior to the creation of the new heavens and new earth: “This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire.” Revelation 21:8 (NKJV) elaborates: “[T]he cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”  These passages are not John’s first discussions of the Lake of Fire, however.  According to Revelation 19:20, the first individuals to be cast into the Lake of Fire were the beast (understand:  Nero) and the false prophet (understand:  the Jewish high priesthood).  This initial consignment to the Lake of Fire occurred at least 1000 years before the Dragon/Devil/Satan was finally cast into the Lake of Fire.  Revelation 20:10 (NKJV) reports that, after his 1000 years of incarceration in the Abyss, and after he raised up Gog and Magog, only to see their destruction: “The devil, who deceived them, was [THEN?] cast into the Lake of Fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” 

The Stream of Fire

In Apocalyptic? #32, under my categorization of hapax legomena, I observed that, prior to John’s Apocalypse, no one had ever used the expression “Lake of Fire.” Nevertheless, Daniel had used the expression “stream of fire” (Daniel 7:10) and we are, therefore, able to logically deduce what John means by his expression “Lake of Fire.”  On page 72 of Revelation:  The Human Drama, I comment:

For John, as for other Jews of his generation, a concept of a whole from which parts spring up and to which they return is the concept of the Nehar di-Nur (the "stream of fire").  Louis Ginzberg states:  "Thus there are angels who spring up daily out of the stream Dinur (='stream of fire'; comp. Dan. 7.10); they praise God, and then disappear.  Out of every word uttered by God angels are created."  Ginzberg says that the Rabbis further connected this stream with at least one star:  "The stream of fire in which the sun bathes, is identical with the Nehar di-Nur."  An easy connection would be to see other . . . "stars," bathing in and arising out of the stream of fire, as well.

John equates “stars” with “angels” in Revelation 1:20 (NKJV): “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”  Revelation 12:3-4 (NKJV), in an allusion to “fallen angel stories,” describes Satan as: “a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.”  As Revelation 12:9 (NKJV) continues, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.  On page 151 of Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication (Logology), I comment:

John is familiar with the "stream of fire."  He does not mention this stream, but he describes a "Lake of Fire" into which the Devil and his angels are thrown.  Not only is John familiar with the "stream of fire," he even adds a twist to the concept:  A “stream” keeps on flowing, but a "lake" is the end of the line.  Water flows into a lake, but does not flow out.  According to Ginzberg, later Jewish writers speak of souls passing through the river of fire where "the wicked" are "judged."  Whether these Jewish writers originated the idea of a river of fiery judgment or picked up on John's "Lake of Fire" is uncertain, but their concept does seem to demonstrate the ease with which fiery judgment and the stream of fire may be connected.

Fiery Punishment

Matthew 25:31-46 (NKJV), while not using John’s “Lake of Fire” terminology, appears to be discussing the same phenomenon, but he adds the notion that this everlasting fire (Lake of Fire?) was actually “prepared for the devil and his angels.”  If the Lake of Fire was PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS, it seems only appropriate that (after the Beast and False Prophet), the first entity consigned to the Lake of Fire at the end of history would be the Dragon/Devil/Satan—followed, of course, by “the goats” (or, as Revelation 20:14-21:8 puts it: “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire . . . the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars.”  Death and Hades” of 20:14 might be understood as either the devil’s angels (for example, the Angel of Death) or the inhabitants of the abode of the dead (Hades) whose names were not written in the Book of Life.  Matthew cites the words of Jesus:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory . . . All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  . . . Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world . . . Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


Besides calling this scene “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment,” Matthew also refers to the scene as Gehenna.  Although John never uses this “Gehenna” terminology, I state on page 54 of my book The Logic of Christianity:  A Syllogistic Chain:

The Hebrew word for Hell is Gē Hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom), the name of an area outside of Jerusalem where apostate Israelites had sacrificed their innocent children to the false god Molech.  Due to this SCANDALOUS practice of killing children, Gē Hinnom became a name that forever after was considered cursed.  Hell in both Judaism and Christianity is referred to as the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna, in the Greek New Testament).

            Jesus and his brother James do not always use the term Gehenna as a place of torment to which humans will be sent.  James 3:6 (NKJV), writing to Jewish Christians, refers to Gehenna as the fiery source for the negative use of the tongue: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell (Gehenna).”  Matthew, also writing to Jewish Christians, uses the term more times than does any other New Testament writer.  Luke and Mark, whose gospels are addressed more to Gentile Christians, each use the term Gehenna in one instance only.  Luke 12:5, in reporting the same teaching of Jesus that Matthew 10:28 records, warns not to fear those who kill the body, but, instead, to fear Him who has the power to cast into (i.e., destroy both soul and body in) hell (Gehenna).  Hell, here, certainly sounds like a destination.  Mark 9:43-47, in reporting the same teaching of Jesus that Matthew 5:27-30 and Matthew 18:6-9 record, recommends (using hyperbole?) cutting off your hand (or foot) or plucking out your eye rather than having both hands, (feet,) and eyes to be cast into hell (Gehenna).  Here, hell also sounds like a destination.  Matthew 5 cites Jesus using this teaching with regard to the issue of adultery and looking at a woman to lust after her, while Mark 9 and Matthew 18 cite Jesus using the teaching with regard to the issue of causing “one of these little ones who believe in me to sin/stumble.”  Mark repeatedly adds and emphatically that the fire of Gehenna shall never be quenched.

To these two teachings of Jesus regarding Gehenna, Matthew 5:22 (NKJV) adds, “[W]hoever says [to his brother], ‘You fool (moron)!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (another use that sounds like a destination).  But, in another unclear use of the term, Matthew 25:1-15 (NKJV) describes Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees: “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.  . . . [they] travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, [they] make him twice as much a son of hell (Gehenna) as [them]selves.”  Jesus’ comment in Matthew 16:18 IN THE KING JAMES VERSION that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against” the Church translates as not Gehenna, but Hades, as hell.  The NKJV corrects the translation.

Is Hell Annihilation or Unending Torment?

This much seems certain:  The fire of the Lake of Fire (aka, Gehenna) is described as being permanent.  Mark 9:43-47 repeatedly calls it an unquenchable fire.   Matthew 25:31-46 refers to everlasting fire.

There is some suggestion that the fire, while unquenchable and everlasting, may be the only part of the Lake of Fire/Gehenna that is permanent.  This thought leads some to believe that annihilation is the result from being cast into the Lake of Fire.  That interpretation will be discussed shortly.  Perhaps, John’s point, however, is that there is never a return or release from being cast into the Lake of Fire/Gehenna, whereas, the Dragon’s incarceration in the Abyss/Bottomless Pit in Revelation 20:1-3 and 7 was only temporary (albeit, for one thousand years).  In Revelation 9:1-11, the plague of locusts (see Apocalyptic? #28) emerged from the Abyss/Bottomless Pit.  In Revelation 11:7 and 17:8, the Beast ascends from the Abyss/Bottomless Pit.  If entities may, at some point, leave the Abyss/Bottomless Pit, incarceration there is not permanent consignment.  One might also compare the temporary torment of the Rich Man (vs. Lazarus) in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:19-31).  Luke 16:23 states that the Rich Man was in Hades, not in Gehenna, but that he was, nevertheless, experiencing fiery? torment.  The term here used for torment is from the same etymological root as John’s term for the eternal torment of the Lake of Fire in Revelation 20:10. Nevertheless, since John in Revelation states that Hades is cast into the Lake of Fire, Hades is probably understood by John to be a temporary abode of the dead.  Revelation 1:18 states that Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades.  The Lake of Fire, on the other hand, even if torment is experienced in both it and in Hades, is permanent.

What Constitutes Torment?

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:23(-28), the Rich Man petitions Abraham to “send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”  Despite the fact that this torment is not permanent because it is in Hades—not in Gehenna or the Lake of Fire—this is the closest parallel to Revelation 20:10 (NKJV) in which: “The devil . . . was cast into the Lake of Fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”  Since the devil is a “celestial” entity, Jesus’ assumed power to “torment” demons was posited by one claiming to be demon-possessed in Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28, and Matthew 8:29.  There, the man who believed he had a Legion of demons assumed that Jesus had the power to “torment” the demons.  Indeed, the appearance is that, at least, the devil and his angels (plus the beast and the false prophet) will be tormented forever. 

Not all “torment” discussed in the New Testament (or even Revelation) seems to be the variety in which flames of fire cause the torment.  According to Matthew 4:24, Jesus healed those with diseases and “torments.”  Matthew 8:5-6 reports that the centurion’s servant was “tormented” by paralysis.  Matthew 14:24 and Mark 6:48 report that the disciples in their boat (on the Sea of Galilee) were “tormented” by waves and the difficulty of sailing in rough seas.  In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:34 narrates that the unforgiving servant was placed with the “tormentors” until he should repay all that he owed.  In 2 Peter 2:8, Lot’s righteous soul was “tormented” by seeing and hearing the filthy conduct of the wicked in Sodom.

In Revelation 12:2, the process of giving birth was associated with “torment.” Women who have given birth can empathize.  In Revelation 11:10, the two witnesses (Moses and Elijah/the Law and the Prophets?) “tormented” those who inhabited the land of Israel. In Revelation 9:5, there was “torment” (but not death) inflicted by the plague of Locusts.  Using Josephus, I explain this plague in Apocalyptic? #28 as the rape of the land by Simon son of Giora in 69 A.D.  In Revelation 14:9-11 (NKJV), those who worship “the beast and his image . . . shall 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 ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night.”  While this sounds as if it might be Lake of Fire torment, the Lake of Fire is not mentioned here.  Does this passage mean that the torment of the Beast worshippers will last forever or does it just mean that “the smoke of their torment” will ascend forever?  Is this the same smoke of their “torment” alluded to in Revelation 18:7-8, where Jerusalem/Babylon’s “torment . . . will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire.”  These two passages sound similar to Revelation 18:9-10 (NKJV): “the smoke of her burning . . . fear of her torment . . . ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  (See also 18:15.)  This specific torment of Jerusalem was experienced in history (in 70 A.D.)—not in the Lake of Fire.

What Constitutes Everlasting Punishment?

Since Matthew 25:31-46 (NKJV) quotes Jesus as promising to “say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these will go away into everlasting punishment,” two things seem clear:

1.       The fire of the “Lake of Fire” is everlasting.

2.      Those whom Jesus designates as “goats” will experience “everlasting punishment.”

What is not quite as clear, however, is that the everlasting punishment of those humans cast into the Lake of Fire will be an everlasting “torment.”  John calls this everlasting punishment, resulting from being cast into the Lake of Fire “the second death.”  What that description means will be considered, momentarily.  Also problematic is the Matthew 10:28 warning not to fear those who kill the body, but, instead, to fear Him who has the power to “destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).” If both soul and body are “destroyed” in Gehenna, what sort of existence remains to be “tormented” forever?  Would the permanent personal destruction of one’s body and soul be considered “everlasting punishment”?

The Second Death

Revelation 20:14-15 (NKJV) describes “the second death,” the fate of “anyone not found written in the Book of Life [who] was cast into the Lake of Fire.” Revelation 21:8 (NKJV) specifies: “[T]he cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”  Revelation 2:11 assures the faithful church at Smyrna that whoever overcomes will not be hurt by the second death and Revelation 20:6 assures those who are part of the first resurrection that the second death will have no power over them. 

Unfortunately, the phrase “second death”—like the phrase “Lake of Fire”—is another hapax legomenon of John’s.  The phrase appears nowhere else in the Bible.  When one interprets the Lake of Fire in terms of the second death, one is effectively interpreting one hapax legomenon through the lens of another hapax legomenon.  Not a happy picture!  Nevertheless, something still might be learned from Daniel’s “stream of fire” terminology to assist in understanding John’s “second death” terminology.  Once we posit that the everlasting fire was actually prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:31-46), Jewish understanding of the stream of fire in Daniel 7.10 presents the rest of the picture:  the view that angels only exist to carry out “words” uttered by God.  Once the word from God has been accomplished/fulfilled, the specific angel generated by that word is no longer necessary.  The angel comes out of the stream of fire only to accomplish his task and then, once it is complete, he returns to the stream of fire.  Whether or not Daniel 7:10 supplies this full explanation is irrelevant.  The fact that John and his Jewish-Christian audience were aware of it is all that was necessary for John to utilize and adapt the concept.  Since John never specifies a “sin” of which the devil and his angels are guilty, but only states, in Revelation 12:7-11, that Satan’s role as “accuser” in heaven is eliminated because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Satan/the Devil/the Dragon is “cast out” of Heaven to Earth (the Fall of Satan).  As I mentioned in Apocalyptic? #23, this amounts to Progressive Step One in the ultimate destruction of Satan.

Progressive Step Two occurs in Revelation 20:1-3, immediately following the Battle of Armageddon (the conclusion of the seals and trumpets and plagues) as Satan is bound and thrown into the Bottomless Pit/Abyss, thus ending for 1000 years his role as the raiser of world empires.  He is then released from the Abyss for a while, following the 1000 years, in order to raise world empires once more.

Progressive Step Three occurs in Revelation 20:7-10, at the conclusion of the 1000 years, after he has gathered Gog and Magog from the four corners of the “Land” (of Israel) to surround and attack the Beloved City and the Camp of the Saints.  Fire comes down from Heaven and destroys Gog and Magog and the Devil is cast eternally into the Lake of Fire.

Since, according to the Rabbinic understanding of the “stream of fire,” once any angel has accomplished his task, he returns to the stream of fire, it appears that the purpose for the Lake of Fire as it relates to the Devil and his angels is to finally and completely eliminate all of the tasks of the Devil and his angels—tempter, accuser, executioner (death angel), raiser of world emperors, (in short) to ELIMINATE EVERY SINGLE CURSE that was placed on mankind as a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve.  Revelation 22:3 (NKJV) states regarding the New Jerusalem/New Heavens/New Earth: “And there shall be no more curse.”  Death, pain in childbearing, and a curse on the ground were the major curses from Eden.  Ugaritic texts (ancient Semitic texts at least as old as the earliest Biblical Hebrew texts) refer to Leviathan, the dragon as described in Revelation, as "the accursed one of seven heads."  Matthew 25:31-46 (NKJV) quotes Jesus as saying “to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these will go away into everlasting punishment.”

Again, according to Ginzberg, "Out of every word uttered by God angels are created."  Some of those words uttered by God are curses.  The Lake of Fire was designed to take out (of circulation) every one of those curses.  And, while He is at it, those who are “cursed [will He cast] into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  Associating the concept of “death” (as in second death) with the Lake of Fire, perhaps John is thinking of the Dead Sea, a thousand feet below sea level, down into which all of those dead Jewish bodies floated in the Plague of Water turned to Blood (Apocalyptic? #25).  No water ever flows out of the Dead Sea.  Lake Asphaltitis is the Roman name for the Dead Sea, which was full of dead bodies that were carried down into it by the river.  John was, perhaps, envisioning such a dead lake, out of which nothing flows, as his Lake of Fire, tying in the stream of fire concept associated with angels.  If all of that was in John’s mind, he may well have envisioned an annihilation of those humans whose names were not found in the Book of Life. 

A major role of Satan ever since the Garden of Eden was “tester.”  He tested Eve with the forbidden fruit.  She failed the test.  Down through the ages, he has tested all humans, even Jesus.  Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV) states that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Due to Jesus receiving a grade of 100 on his test, all those who remain faithful to him are promised forgiveness and eternal life.  His test score is imputed to all of his followers, just as Adam and Eve’s failing test score had previously been imputed to their offspring. 

If the possibility that the Lake of Fire will simply end with the annihilation of non-Christians somehow brings comfort to atheists who hope that mortality is the end, what can I say?  If by Jesus saying that they will be “destroyed,” he means destroyed—rather than tormented day and night forever—and that somehow brings them comfort, I pity them.  I could understand, however, if God simply wanted to be rid of them along with the devil, his angels, and all curses.  They have no faith and “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV).  Yet, this is just my opinion on the eternal consequences of the Lake of Fire.  I could be wrong.  Atheists, don’t just take my word for it!