Is the punishment for sin eternal torment?
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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.
If Revelation were to be understood literally then you might be correct. However, Revelation is a book of symbols.
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 (Greek semaino) it by his angel unto his servant John:
As it is without doubt that the Bible uses symbolic as well as literal terminology, it is evident that we are required to discern the one from the other.
Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
We need to decide whether this lake of fire and brimstone is real or symbolic. The text tells us that the lake is (or represents) the second death.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
I believe the lake of fire to represent complete destruction for the following reasons:
Death cannot be literally cast into a lake of fire
Hell cannot be literally cast into a lake of fire
The Beast which theoretically could be cast into a lake of fire cannot be understood as a literal beast. There is no such beast with seven heads and ten horns literally tormented in a lake of fire – it represents something else which will be destroyed.
The false prophet (which is another name for the two horned beast) is not a literal person – it represents apostate religion - something which cannot be literally tormented by fire.
The devil is not the fallen angel of Christian mythology but rather a symbol for the propensity to sin which resides within man both individually and collectively in human government and society, which cannot be literally cast into a lake of fire or tormented.
Into this (symbolic) lake are thrown:
· The Beast (not literal – represents Godless government)
· The False Prophet (not literal – represents apostate Religion)
· Death (not literal – represents mortality)
· Hell (not literal – represents the grave)
· The Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41) (not literal – represents the propensity to sin and its advocation)
· All those rejected at the Judgment seat (literal?)
If the lake is not real it follows that those rejected cannot be literally thrown into it.
We ask the question ‘What does the lake represent’.
The answer is given to us twice - in v.8 and again in v.14
‘the lake... is (represents) the second death.
From this we understand that those raised from the dead for judgment who are rejected will die for a second time.
What happens when we die?
Psalms 146:4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
There is no conscious existence in death.
By dying for the second time they are excluded from the presence of God and his Glory forever. Paul calls this ‘everlasting destruction’.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction <684> from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
We note that he also says that this is what they are punished with.
Paul is here surely speaking literally not symbolically.
Using Strong’s Concordance the word destruction is translated ‘die’ (in context meaning to be destroyed) in Acts 25:
Acts 25:16 To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die <684>, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.
The same word is translated ‘waste’ in Matthew 26 in the sense that the ointment, having been used, was gone forever.
Matthew 26:8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste <684>?
We can understand then that the lake of fire is a symbol for utter destruction.
To recap again
Into this (symbolic) lake are thrown:
· The beast (Godless government) – destroyed forever
· The False Prophet (False Religion) – destroyed forever
· Death (All accepted will be made immortal) – destroyed forever
· Hell (Graves will no longer be necessary) – destroyed forever
· The Devil and his angels (No more propensity to sin) – destroyed forever
· All those rejected at the Judgment seat (die for the second time) – destroyed forever
The plain language used elsewhere is that the wicked shall perish (be destroyed).
Psalms 37:20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
Jesus came to save us from perishing.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish <622>, but have everlasting life.
The choice is be saved or be destroyed.
James 4:12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy <622>: who art thou that judgest another?
Using Strong’s, the meaning of the word translated perish or destroy seems clear in other places.
Mark 3:6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy <622> him.
Luke 6:9 Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy <622> it?
The terms ‘destroyed’ and ‘eternally tormented’ would seem to me to be mutually exclusive.
I am forced to the conclusion that the fate of the unjust is literally to die again and be destroyed forever.
The eternal fire or Gehenna fire (Mark 9:45) that shall not be quenched has the limited sense of not being put out until all that it is intended to consume has been consumed.
We see the figure used of the destruction of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 17:
Jeremiah 17:27 But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
The fire is not still literally burning in Jerusalem. The destruction was accomplished, the fire has been quenched. The language is symbolic.
Those who do not understand the gospel are not responsible for judgment. When they die they stay dead. They will not be resurrected.
Along with all those that have never heard the gospel they will remain in the ground forever.
Psalms 49:19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
This is why Jesus says
Matthew 8:22... let the dead bury their dead.
Without understanding they were dead while they lived and when they died they would remain dead.
Those that will be raised to judgment are those that understand the truth and make their choice in the light of it.
The horror of the judgment comes from seeing with our own eyes what we have rejected and being condemned to die again.
Luke 13:28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
God is the judge of what makes a man eligible for resurrection and Judgment.
The sentence for sin is death, not everlasting torment.
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
If God brings us to a knowledge of salvation and we wilfully continue to sin then the sentence is still death but with the added punishment that we will be raised to see the promised kingdom of God and then die again.
It is only the false doctrine of the immortality of the soul and its conscious existence after death which makes eternal torment a possibility.
Once we understand Bible teaching that when a person dies his soul dies because the soul is the person and that there is no conscious existence after death, eternal torment becomes a none starter.
To have eternal torment one must have eternal life in a conscious state.
The Bible teaches that eternal life is a reward given to the righteous not to the wicked.
I doubt that you would wish to consign your enemies to eternal torment.
Much less so would a God of love who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
If you want to come to grips with what the Bible really teaches, why not take the free online Bible study course available on our website, www.thisisyourbible.com? This course will give you a background in the major themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. As with everything we offer, there is no cost to you other than your time and effort... You will also have a personal tutor to whom you may pose questions either from the course itself or those questions which come to you as you read the Bible.
I hope this helps.