Is The Lake Of Fire Meant To Be Taken Literally
The lake of fire may be real, but is it a literal lake of boiling flame?
This is something we dont know.
The Bible uses a lot of figurative language regarding fire. It is used to portray a refining force, purging iniquity. For example, Zechariah 13:9 says, This third I will put into the fire I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them I will say, They are my people, and they will say, The Lord is our God.
It is also often used to speak of destruction. When God wanted to warn of imminent destruction through the Old Testament prophets, He often used fire imagery. For example, Isaiah 66:15-16 says, See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord.
On the other hand, sometimes, the fiery judgment is literal. In Genesis 19, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were famously destroyed by the Lord with burning sulfur from the heavens.
Whether the lake of fire is a literal pool of lava or this is just a metaphor for something we cant fully comprehend, it is clear that the lake of fire is a place of ultimate destruction, the inescapable destination of Satan and those who rebelled against God, the second death.
But Doesnt The Text Say That People Are Cast Into The Lake Of Fire
Revelation 20:13-15 says that the sea, and death, and hads gave up the dead that were in them, who are judged at the Great White Throne Judgment, before being cast into the Lake of Fire.
And then Revelation 21:8 seems to list the sorts of people who are cast into the Lake of Fire, such as the cowardly, unbelieving, murderers, sexually immoral, and liars. If this judgment is not specifically upon people, then what is happening to the people who are described in these ways?
Some scholars try to argue that John is referring only to a past historical event here, in which cities and nations were destroyed by fire.
For example, since Sodom and Gomorrah were characterized by the sorts of behaviors described in Revelation 21:8, and since these cities were destroyed by fire, and since the ruins of these cities likely lie at the bottom of the Dead Sea , some scholars say that this is what John is referring to in this text.
But this cannot be the case, for when people died in those historical events, this was their first death. Revelation 20:13-15 says that people are resurrected and brought back to life to face judgment, and are then sent to the Lake of Fire.
But note that the text does not say that the humans who end up in the Lake of Fire will be tormented the Lake of Fire .
Unlike the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, humans are not tormented in the Lake of Fire. They are actually sent there to escape torment. A careful reading of Revelation shows how this works.
The Lake Of Fire In Revelation : 10 14 And : 8
Bradley Jersak sees these statements as an apocalyptic threat of being leveled by the fire of Gods wrath, historically fulfilled through obliteration by foreign armies. In Revelation, the threat is specific to Jerusalem .
Indeed, passages like Isaiah 1:7-10 equate the city of Jerusalem with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, indicating that they will share similar fates. Other cities that behaved in similar ways also experienced similar ends .
But the destruction of Jerusalem was not the end of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was resurrected from the ashes, so that one can go and visit it today. Furthermore, Jerusalem will play a significant and prominent role in the future, including in eternity when a New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God .
In this way, the restoration of Jerusalem appears to be a foreshadowing, or firstfruits, of the restoration of other cities that also experienced fiery judgment and destruction. For example, the description in Ezekiel 16:53-55 and 47:1-12 seems to indicate that the Dead Sea valley, along with the cities that are in them , will also experience a restoration to fruitfulness, life, and fertility when Jesus returns and brings healing to this world.
It seems, therefore, that there is something unique in eternity about being cast into the Lake of Fire.
Though the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were burned with fire and brimstone, they will be restored.
Though Jerusalem was brought to ruin through fire and war, it too will be restored.
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What Will Existence Be Like For Those In The Lake Of Fire
The truth is that we do not know. But it wont be torment or torture. It wont be burning and screaming in agony for all eternity. Scripture does not say what their existence will be like, or if it can even be called existence.
It seems that the life in the Lake of Fire is a place where people are allowed to live as they want.
It is a place where they will be given true human freedom apart from God, which is what many people think they want, but which is actually not freedom it is slavery. It will likely be similar to life on this present earth, but without physical death.
While this initially sounds like heaven, such an existence will end up being hell. People who try to live life apart of from God, live life in a way that God never intended it to be lived. This way of living does not build loving relationships, but ruins and destroys them. It is a selfish, hateful, broken way of living.
And a truly hellish existence is having no way out of this sort of living.
True hell is an eternal existence in a sin-filled world without the blessed escape through death.
Currently, we have a way out through death and resurrection. But if there is no death, there can be no resurrection, and so those who experience the eternal second death are living in a hell of their own making.
For people who were created for community and relationships, this truly is a living hell. But it is a hell constructed by their own choices.
The Lake Of Fire: This Is A Symbol
In Part 8, I will be discussing and revealing the true meaning of the lake of fire.
The lake of fire in scripture is definitely an enigma. Unlike hell, the lake of fire and brimstone is actually a part of scripture and this too can be explained. The phrase lake of fire appears only 5 times in the whole bible and they are all in the book of Revelations. If you have studied Gods Word for any length of time, you already know that the book of Revelations is probably the most complex and misunderstood book in the bible. Lets look at all 5 verses that use the phrase lake of fire.
Revelation 19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a LAKE OF FIRE BURNING WITH BRIMSTONE.
Revelation 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the LAKE OF FIRE AND BRIMSTONE, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the LAKE OF FIRE. This is the second death.
Revelation 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the LAKE OF FIRE.
Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass and he sent and SIGNIFIED it by his angel unto his servant John:
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What Is The Lake Of Fire In The Bible Is It Hell
My book, What is Hell? is now available . I am doing a series of podcast studies that focus on some of the content from the book. The studies look at the eight key terms that are often equated with hell, and about a dozen key passages that are thought to teach about hell.
If you want to learn the truth about hell and what the Bible actually teaches about hell, make sure you get a copy of my book, What is Hell?
Also, if you are part of my discipleship group, there will be an online course about hell as well.
In previous studies, we have looked at the words sheol, gehenna, abyss, tartarus, hades, and the outer darkness. In each case, we have seen that none of these words describe a place of everlasting torment for unbelievers in a place of burning fire.
But what about the Lake of Fire? Surely this term refers to hell as a place of eternal suffering and torment in flames for unbelievers doesnt it?
Well lets see.
Identical To Gehenna The Valley Of Hinnom
Gehenna is mentioned 12 times in the Bible. Like the lake of fire, it is a symbol of eternal destruction. Although some translations render this word as hell, Gehenna is different from hell .
The Valley of Hinnom
The word Gehenna literally means Valley of Hinnom, referring to a valley just outside Jerusalem. In Bible times, the city residents used this valley as a garbage dump. They kept a fire constantly burning there to destroy refuse maggots consumed anything that the fire did not reach.
Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of everlasting destruction. He said that in Gehenna the maggot does not die and the fire is not put out. He thus alluded to the conditions in the Valley of Hinnom and also to the prophecy at Isaiah 66:24, which says: They will go out and look on the carcasses of the men who rebelled against me for the worms on them will not die, and their fire will not be extinguished. Jesus illustration describes, not torture, but complete annihilation. The worms and fire consume carcasses, or dead bodies, not living people.
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The Teaching Of The Old Testament And The New
The Old Testament clearly teaches that the punishment of the wicked is simply deaththe cessation of life. The dead know nothing . There is no continuing existence after death. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, twice says, The soul that sins shall dienot suffer for eternity . Death is the penalty for those who sin.
Gods judgment on the wicked is described by the prophet Malachi. Under Gods inspiration he wrote: For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, that will leave them neither root nor branch. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this, says the LORD of hosts .
Ashes are all that are left when something is burned up, and this is what will happen to the incorrigibly wicked when they are thrown into the lake of fire. This is what the Old Testament teaches regarding the punishment of the wicked, and this teaching is also upheld by Jesus in the New Testament.
Notice Christs words: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell . Note carefully that Jesus did not speak of eternal torment for disobedienceinstead, He spoke of ones soul and body being destroyed. For further explanation of this verse, see What Christianity Gets Wrong About Hell.
So What And Where Is The Lake Of Fire
In the days of Jesus and John, what we now call the Dead Sea was referred to by some as the Lake of Fire, or the Fiery Lake .
The Dead Sea sits on a fault line, and during the several thousand years prior to the first century AD, it used to regularly erupt, spewing forth tar, pitch, bitumen, asphaltites, smoke, sulphur, and flame. As a result, the Greeks even named it the Lake Asphaltites.
But the Greeks were not the only ones to describe the sea in such a way. The Wisdom of Solomon also records that Lot escaped the fire that came on the Five Cities, cities whose wickedness is still attested by a smoking waste .
Diodorus Siculus, a first century BC historian, wrote this about this region: The fire which burns beneath the ground and the stench render the inhabitants of the neighboring country sickly and very short lived .
Philo, writing in the days before the ministry of Jesus, said that the valley of the Dead Sea was filled with fires, which were very difficult to extinguish, and that many of these fires had been smoking and burning for a very long time, even to his own day .
When Josephus was writing his history of the Jewish wars, he said that one could still see the burnt remnants of the five cities, and that fruit from the region dissolves into smoke and ashes if plucked .
The first century geographer Strabo called the valley a land of fires because there were frequent boiling outbursts of fire in the region, and the entire area smelled of sulfur and brimstone .
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Eternal Torment Not Annihilation Or Soul
There are many passages of Scripture that are clear that annihilationism, as taught by the Watchtower Society, Seventh-Day Adventism, and other cults, is false. The Bible clearly teaches the eternal torment of the wicked. For a general overview of the Biblical teaching on this doctrine, please read Prepare for Judgment and examine the resources here. In the study below the teaching of the last Word from God to mankind, the book of Revelation, will be examined.
Consider the following texts in the book of Revelation:
Scripture is clear that the bottomless pit is by no means a place where any created being is annihilated:
9:1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomlesspit.
9:2 And he opened the bottomlesspit and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
9:11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomlesspit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.
11:7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomlesspit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
20:1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomlesspit and a great chain in his hand.
Is The Lake Of Fire Hell
Our English word hell doesnt have a direct translation in the Bible. Many terms are used interchangeably nowadays to refer to what awaits those who reject Christ, but the Bible differentiates. Lets unpack the different terms that the Bible uses.
In the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, the place after death is commonly referred to as the grave or Sheol . This is just the place of the dead, not necessarily relegated to good or evil. Hades is the New Testament Greek equivalent of Sheol.
Gehenna is the word used in the New Testament for what we might think of more as hell, and is used to refer to a place of punishment, fire, or banishment .
The lake of fire of Revelation is what might be called a final hell. Note that death and Hades are thrown into the lake , indicating that it is separate from Hades.
The implication is that the souls of those who rejected God wait in Hades until the time comes for the final judgment of Revelation 20:12-15:
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Tables On The Lake Of Fire Passages
|Rev. 19:20||And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs cin his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.|
|Rev. 20:10||And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.|
|Rev. 20:14||Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.|
|Rev. 20:15||And if anyones name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.|
|Rev. 21:8||But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.|