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!