The Hell of the Bible
"The lake of fire and brimstone" is several times mentioned in the book of Revelation, which all Christians admit to be a book of symbols. However, they generally think and speak of this particular symbol as a literal statement giving strong support to the torment doctrine, notwithstanding the fact that the symbol is clearly defined as meaning the Second Death: "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the Second Death," etc. (Rev. 20:14.) It is sometimes spoken of as "a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19:20), the element brimstone being mentioned to intensify the symbol of destruction, the Second Death, burning brimstone being one of the most deadly elements known. It is destructive to all forms of life.
The symbolism of this lake of fire is further shown by the fact that the symbolic "beast" and the symbolic "false prophet," and death and hell [hades], as well as the devil and his followers, are destroyed in it.—Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8.
This destruction or death is called the Second Death in contradistinction to the First or Adamic death, and not to signify that everything which goes into it dies a second time. For instance, death (the first or Adamic death), and hades, the grave, are to be cast into it; this work will require the entire Millennium to accomplish it; and in no sense will they ever have been destroyed before. So also "the devil," "the beast," and "the false prophet," will never have been destroyed before.
From the first, or Adamic death, a resurrection has been provided. All that are in their graves shall therefore come forth. The Revelator prophetically declares: "The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell [hades, the grave] gave up the dead which were in them. … And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened." (Rev. 20:13, 12.) It was in view of God's Plan for redeeming the race from Adamic death that in both the Old and New Testaments it is called a "sleep." In Israel's history of the good and the wicked it is repeatedly stated that they "slept with their fathers." The Apostles used the same symbol, and our Lord also. But no such symbol is used in reference to the Second Death. On the contrary, the strongest figures of total and utter destruction are used to symbolize it, viz., "fire and brimstone"; because that will be a destruction from which there will be no recovery.
Blessed thought! the Adamic death, which claimed the whole race for the sin of their progenitor, shall be forever swallowed up, and shall cease in this Second Death into which it is to be cast by the great Redeemer who bought the whole world with the sacrifice of Himself. Thus God tells us through the Prophet, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave [sheol]. I will redeem them from death. … O grave [sheol] I will be thy destruction." (Hos. 13:14.) The first or Adamic death shall no longer have liberty, or power over men, as it has had for the past six thousand years; no longer shall any die for Adam's sin. (Rom. 5:12; Jer. 31:29, 30; Ezek. 18:2.) Thenceforth the New Covenant, sealed with the precious blood, shall be in force, and only wilful transgressions will be counted as sin and punished with the wages of sin—death—the Second Death. Thus will the Adamic death be cast into and swallowed up by the Second Death.
And hades and sheol — the dark, secret condition, the grave, which in the present time speaks to us of a hope of future life by God's resurrection power in Christ—shall be no more; for the Second Death will devour no being fit for life—none for whom there remains a shadow of hope, but such only as, by the unerring Judge, have been fully, impartially and individually found worthy of destruction. And Satan, that lying tempter who deceived and ruined the race, and who with persistent energy and cunning has sought continually to thwart the purpose of God for our salvation through Christ, and with him all who are of his spirit, "his angels," shall be destroyed, and shall never awake from death to trouble the world again. Here he is said to be cast into "the lake of fire," the Second Death; and St. Paul in Heb. 2:14, referring to the same thing, calls it destruction: "that he might destroy death, and him that hath the power of death, that is the devil." And "the beast and the false prophet," the great false systems which have long oppressed and misled nominal Christendom, shall never escape from it. These systems are said to be cast "alive," that is, while they are still organized and operative, into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.—Rev. 19:20.
The great Time of Trouble, the Lord's judgment, which will utterly destroy these systems, will undoubtedly cause great social, financial and religious difficulty, and pain to all those identified with these deceived and deceiving systems, before they are utterly destroyed. These systems will be cast in, destroyed, at the beginning of the Millennium, while Satan's destruction is reserved until its close, when all the "goats" shall have been separated from the "sheep," and they shall perish with Satan in the Second Death as "his angels," messengers or servants. None of those abominable characters among men, who, knowing the truth, yet love unrighteousness—none of "the fearful and unbelieving"—those who will not trust God after all the manifestations of His grace afforded during the Millennial Reign of Christ—nor the abominable, who, at heart are murderers and whoremongers and sorcerers and idolaters and liars; none of these shall escape from the Second Death, to defile the earth again. All such after a full and abundant opportunity for reformation will be judged unworthy of life, and will be forever cut off in the Second Death, symbolized by the lake of fire and brimstone.
Several prophetic pen pictures of the Millennial Age and its work, in chapters 20 and 21 of Revelation, clearly show the object and result of that Age of trial, in harmony with the remainder of the Scriptures already noted.
Chapter 20, verses 2, 4, 11, with verses 1, 2, 10, 11 of chapter 21, show the beginning of that Age of Judgment, and the restraining of blinding errors and misleading systems. The "Beast" and the "False Prophet" are the chief symbols, and represent the organizations or systems of error which together constitute "Babylon." This judgment against the "thrones" of the present time, and against "the Beast and the False Prophet" systems follows speedily upon the introduction of this Millennial judgment reign. The thrones of the present dominion of earth will be "cast down," and the dominion transferred to the great Prophet, Priest, King and Judge, "whose right it is." (Compare Dan. 7:14, 22; Ezek. 21:27.) Then the systems of error will be speedily judged worthy of destruction, "the lake of fire," "the Second Death."—Rev. 19:20.
Thus the second destruction or death begins quite early in the new Judgment: it begins with the false systems symbolized by the Beast, False prophet, etc., but it will not reach the world of mankind, as individuals, until they have first had full trial, with full opportunity to choose life and live forever. Chapters 20:12, 13, and 21:3-7, indicate the blessed, favorable trial in which all, both dead and living (except the Church, who, with Jesus Christ, are kings, priests, joint-heirs and judges), will be brought to a full knowledge of the truth, relieved from sorrow and pain, and freed from every blinding error and prejudice, and tried "according to their works."
The grand outcome of that trial will be a clean universe. As the Revelator expresses it, "Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth … heard I saying, Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever." But this result will be accomplished in harmony with all God's dealings past and present, which have always recognized man's freedom of will to choose good or evil, life or death.
We cannot doubt then that in the close of the Millennial Age, God will again for a "little season" permit evil to triumph, in order thereby to test His creatures (who will by that time have become thoroughly acquainted with both good and evil, and the consequence of each, and will have had His justice and love fully demonstrated to them), that those who finally prefer and choose evil may be cut off—destroyed. Thus God will for all eternity remove all who do not love righteousness and hate iniquity.
We read, regarding that testing, that Satan will endeavor to lead astray all mankind, whose numbers will then be as the sand of the sea for multitude; but that many of them will follow Satan's evil example and choose evil and disobedience, with past experience before them, and unhampered by present weaknesses and blinding influences, we need not suppose. However, when God does not tell us either the number or the proportion of those to be found worthy of life, and those to be judged worthy of death (the Second Death), we may not dogmatize. Of one thing we may be confident, God willeth not the death of the wicked, but would that all should turn to Him and live; and no one will be destroyed in that "lake of fire and brimstone" (figurative of utter destruction — Gehenna) who is worthy of life, whose living longer would be a blessing to himself or to others in harmony with righteousness.
Utter and hopeless destruction is intended only for wilful evil doers, who, like Satan, in pride of heart and rebellion against God, will love and do evil notwithstanding the manifestations of God's disapproval, and notwithstanding their experience with its penalties. Seemingly the goodness and love of God in the provision of a Ransom, a Restitution, and an opportunity of life for those men who had none in this life instead of leading all to an abhorrence of sin, will lead some to suppose that God is too loving to cut them off in the Second Death, or that if He did so he would give them other, and yet other future opportunities. Building thus upon a supposed weakness in the Divine character, these may be led to try to take advantage of the grace (favor) of God, as a license for wilful sin. But they shall go no further, for their folly shall be made manifest. Their utter destruction will prove to the righteous the harmony and perfect balance of Justice, Wisdom, Love and Power in the Divine Ruler.
The true character of the goat class is portrayed thus: The fearful and unbelieving [who will not trust God], the abominable, murderers [brother-haters], whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters [such as misappropriate and misuse Divine favors, who give to self or any other creature or thing that service and honor which belong to God], and all "liars"—"whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" [in a word, all who do not love the Truth and seek it, and at any cost defend and hold it] "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone [Gehenna, symbol of utter destruction], which is the Second Death." Rev. 21:8.) Such company would be repulsive to any honest, upright being. It is hard to tolerate them now, when we can sympathize with them, knowing that such dispositions are now in great measure the result of inherited weakness of the flesh. We are moved to a measure of sympathy by the remembrance that in our own cases, often, when we would do good evil is present with us. But in the close of the Millennial judgment when the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall have given every advantage and opportunity of knowledge and ability, this class will be an abhorrence and detestation to all who are in harmony with the King of Glory. And the righteous will be glad when, the trial being ended, the gift of life of which these shall have proved themselves unworthy, shall be taken from them, and when the corrupters of the earth, and all their work and influence, shall be destroyed.
Rev. 20:9 tells of the destruction of those individuals who join with Satan in the last rebellion; and verse 15 tells of that same destruction in other words, using the symbol "lake of fire." They are devoured or consumed in fire. This being the case, the torment of verse 15 cannot refer to these human beings who are consumed, destroyed. Hence the question narrows down to this, Will Satan and a False Prophet and a Beast be tortured* forever? and does this verse so teach?
*The words translated "tormented" and "torment" in Rev. 20:10; 14:10, 11, are in the Greek basanizo and basanismos, the former a verb, the latter a noun. All Greek lexicographers agree that the first meaning of the verb is "to test," "to examine"; that its second meaning, derived from the ancient custom of testing persons by torture, e.g., in the ordeal, is "to test by torture," "to examine by torture"; and that its third meaning is "to torture," "to torment." In Acts 22:24 we have apart from the word an illustration of how ancient examinations were held by scourging, i.e., torture. The noun basanismos has the same three meanings in noun form. (See any Greek lexicon, but as the best authorities, especially, Liddell and Scott on the classical, and Thayer on the Biblical uses of these words.) In Rev. 20:10; 14:10, 11 the primary, and not the tertiary meaning of these words should be given. In Rev. 14:10 the thought seems to be that the destruction (fire and brimstone) of the institutions, symbolized by the Beast and the False Prophet, will be a very sore trial, test, to their devotees, who believe these institutions to be Divinely sanctioned, whereas they are Divinely disapproved. In Rev. 14:11 the meaning seems to be that the memory, history (smoke, what is left after a thing passes away, ceases to be), of the sore trial, test, of such devotees will eternally come up in men's minds. The meaning in Rev. 20:10 is very similar: Eternally will the perfect minds of God's creatures, found worthy of life, examine the nature, character, fruits and history of the Devil, Beast and False Prophet; and as often as they examine them, will they draw the true conclusion from their examination, that these three things are deservedly in the lake of fire and brimstone, i.e., in annihilation. In Isa. 14:12-14 under the symbol of one man, because of their cooperation, the Devil, Beast and False Prophet are described, as to their evil deeds; then verses 15-20 describe the "examination"—"shall be tormented"—of Rev. 20:10; while verses 21-27 describe the casting of these into the figurative lake of fire and brimstone. The remark that the words basanizo and basanismos are derived from the word basanos, a touchstone, a means of testing and examining metals to determine their purity or their alloyedness, will prove helpful to a proper understanding of their signification. Had the Translators given us the primary, and not the tertiary meaning of these words, they would not only have prevented the widespread delusion, but would have spread the correct thought on the meaning of Rev. 14:10, 11; 20:10.—EDITOR'S NOTE.
We answer in God's own words, "All the wicked will He destroy." Concerning Satan, the arch enemy of God and man, God expressly advises us that he will be destroyed, and not preserved in any sense or condition.—Heb. 2:14.
The beast and false prophet systems, which during the Gospel Age have deceived and led astray, will be cast into a great, consuming trouble in the close of this Gospel Age. The torment of those systems will be aionion, i.e., lasting. It will continue as long as they last, until they are utterly consumed. So also the system of error, which will suddenly manifest itself at the end of the Millennial Age and lead the "goats" to destruction, will be consumed. (Rev. 20:7-10.) That deceiving system (not specified as to kind, but merely called Satan, after its instigator) will be cast into the same sort of trouble and destruction, in the end of the Millennial Age, as the Beast and False Prophet systems are now being cast into it, in the end of the Gospel Age.
Rev. 19:3, speaking of one of these systems, says: "Her smoke rose up forever and ever." That is to say, the remembrance ("smoke") of the destruction of these systems of deception and error will be lasting, the lesson will never be forgotten—as smoke, which continues to ascend after a destructive fire, is testimony that the fire has done its work.—See also Isa. 34:8-10.
Of Rev. 14:9-11 we remark, incidentally, that all will at once concede that if a literal worshiping of a Beast and Image were meant in verse 9, then few, if any, in civilized lands are liable to the penalty of verse 11; and if the Beast and his Image and worship and wine and cup are symbols, so also are the torments and smoke and fire and brimstone.
The casting of death and the grave into utter destruction, the Second Death, during the Millennial Age, is a part of the utter destruction which will include every improper, injurious and useless thing. (Isa. 11:9; Psa. 101:5-8.) The Second Death, the sentence of that individual trial, will be final: it will never be destroyed. And let all the lovers of righteousness say, Amen! For to destroy the Second Death, to remove the sentence of that just and impartial trial, would be to let loose again not only Satan, but all who love and practise wrong and deception, and who dishonor the Lord with their evil institutions—to oppose, offend and endeavor to overthrow those who love and desire to serve Him and enjoy His favor. We rejoice that there is no danger of this, but that Divine Justice unites with Divine Wisdom, Love and Power, to bring in everlasting righteousness on a permanent basis.
"The wicked shall be returned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." (Psa. 9:17.) This statement of the Lord recorded by the Psalmist we find without any qualification whatever, and we must accept it as a positive fact. If the claims of "Orthodoxy" respecting hell were true, this would be, indeed, a fearful message. But let us substitute the true meaning of the word sheol, and our text will read: "The wicked shall be returned into the condition of death, and all the nations that forget God." This we believe; but next, who are the wicked? In one sense all men are wicked, in that all are violators of God's law; but in the fullest sense the wicked are those who, with full knowledge of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the remedy provided for their recovery from its baneful effects, wilfully persist in sin. As yet few—only consecrated believers—have come to a true knowledge of God. The world knows Him not, and the nations cannot forget God until they are first brought to a knowledge of Him. The consecrated have been enlightened, led of the Spirit through faith to understand the deep and hidden things of God, which reveal the glory of God's character, but which, though expressed in His Word, appear only as foolishness to the world.
As we have hitherto seen, this will not be so in the Age to come, for then "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isa. 11:9.) Much that we now receive by faith will then be demonstrated to the world. When He who has ransomed man from the power of the grave (Hos. 13:14) begins to gather His purchased possessions back from the prison-house of death (Isa. 61:1), when the sleepers are awakened under the genial rays of the Sun of righteousness, they will not be slow to realize the truth of the hitherto seemingly idle tale, that "Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man."
We have also seen that the gradual ascent of the King's Highway of Holiness in that Age will be possible to all, and comparatively easy, because all the stones—stumbling-blocks, errors, etc.—will have been gathered out, and straight paths made for their feet. It is in that Age that this text applies. Those who ignore the favoring circumstances of that Age, and will not be obedient to the righteous Judge or Ruler, Christ, will truly be the wicked. And every loyal subject of the Kingdom of God will approve the righteous judgment which turns such an one again into sheol — the condition of death. Such an one would be unworthy of life; and, were he permitted to live, his life would be a curse to himself and to the rest of mankind, and a blemish on the work of God.
This will be the Second Death, from which there will be no resurrection. Having been ransomed from the grave (sheol) by the sacrifice of Christ, if they die again on account of their own sin, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin." (Heb. 10:26.) "Christ dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." (Rom. 6:9.) The Second Death should be dreaded and shunned by all, since it is to be the end of existence to all those deemed unworthy of life. But in it there can be no suffering. Like Adamic death, it is the extinction of life.
It is because through sin mankind had become subject to death (sheol, hades) that Christ Jesus came to deliver us and save us from death. (1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14.) Death is a cessation of existence, the absence of life. There is no difference between the conditions in the Adamic and Second deaths, but there is hope of a release from the first, while from the second there will be no release, no return to life. The first death sentence passed upon all on account of Adam's sin, while the Second Death, can be incurred only by wilful, individual sin.
That the application of our text belongs to the coming Age is evident, for both saints and sinners go into sheol or hades now. This Scripture indicates that, in the time when it applies, only the wicked shall go there. And the nations that forget God must be nations that have known Him, else they could not forget Him; and never yet have the nations been brought to that knowledge, nor will they be until the coming time, when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole earth, and none shall need to say unto his neighbor, Know thou the Lord, for all shall know Him, from the least to the greatest of them.—Isa. 11:9; Jer. 31:34.
The Hebrew word goi, rendered "nations" in this verse, is elsewhere used by the same writer and rendered "heathen," "Gentiles" and "people." The thought seems to be, any who do not become God's covenant people, even though they be not openly wicked. The nations (Gentiles, all who under that full knowledge do not become Israelites indeed) who are forgetful or negligent of God's favors enjoyed, and of their duties and obligations to Him, shall share the fate of the wilfully "wicked," and be cast into the Second Death.
In further proof of this, we find that the Hebrew word shub, which in our text is translated "turned," signifies turned back, as to a previous place or condition. Those referred to in this text either have been in sheol or are liable to enter it, but being redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, will be brought out of sheol. If then they are wicked, they, and all who forget God, shall be turned back or returned to sheol.
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