Thursday, June 23, 2022

“Therefore they could not believe”

In John 6:35-40 and 44-45 we find an explanation for why so many Jews in Christ’s day did not believe in him despite having witnessed so much of what he said and did during his earthly ministry. Here is how these verses read in the Concordant Literal New Testament:


I am the Bread of life. He who is coming to Me should under no circumstances be hungering, and he who is believing in Me will under no circumstances ever be thirsting. But I said to you that you have also seen Me and you are not believing Me. All that which the Father is giving to Me shall be arriving to Me, and he who is coming to Me I should under no circumstances be casting out, for I have descended from heaven, not that I should be doing My will, but the will of Him Who sends Me. Now this is the will of Him Who sends Me, that all which He has given to Me, of it I should be losing nothing, but I shall be raising it in the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who is beholding the Son and believing in Him may have life eonian, and I shall be raising him in the last day.


When reading the above passage it becomes clear that the expressions “believing in me,” “believing me,” “coming to me” and “arriving to me” were used interchangeably by Christ, and are essentially equivalent in meaning. It’s further evident from what Christ declared that believing in him was the inevitable result of having been given to him by the Father. Since those to whom Christ was speaking didn’t believe in him, we can therefore conclude that they hadn’t been given to him by the Father.


The limited scope of those whom the Father was giving to Christ is confirmed by the fact that the same individuals whom the Father was giving to Christ will have life eonian and (therefore) be raised by Christ in the last day (as is evident from the words, ”…that all which He has given to Me, of it I should be losing nothing, but I shall be raising it in the last day”). That is, there will not be anyone who was given to Christ by the Father who won’t have life eonian and be raised by Christ in the last day.


Moreover, just as verses 37-39 indicate that all who were being given to Christ by the Father inevitably believed in him, so verses 44-45 make it clear that no one was able to believe in Christ during his earthly ministry except those whom the Father was “drawing.” In these verses we read the following:


“No one can come to Me if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him. And I shall be raising him in the last day. It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God. Everyone, then, who hears from the Father and is learning the truth, is coming to Me.”


In light of what Christ had declared previously, being “drawn” by the Father should be understood as the means through which the Father was giving certain people to Christ. And since everyone whom the Father was giving to Christ ended up believing in him, it follows that God was not drawing all (or even most) people. This is further confirmed by Christ’s explanation in v. 45 of what it meant to be “drawn” by the Father. According to Christ, to be “drawn” by the Father was to be “taught” of him. That is, being drawn by the Father involved hearing from the Father and learning the truth. And since everyone who was taught of God ended up believing in Christ, it follows that the drawing of which Christ spoke was an effectual act of God that resulted in those drawn inevitably believing in Christ.


The limited number of those who comprised the Father’s gift to his Son (and the limited scope of those who were being drawn by the Father) is further confirmed by what Christ went on to declare in John 6:64-65. In these verses we read the following:


“There are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”


The words of Christ in v. 65 (”…no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”) echo Christ’s earlier words in v. 44 (”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”). As in the earlier verses, we find in these verses the explanation for why those to whom Christ was referring did not believe in him. And that explanation is this: It had not been granted them by the Father to believe in him. According to Christ, then, all who were believing in him during his earthly ministry were doing so because it had been granted them by the Father to do so. It was these – and these alone – who were being “drawn” by the Father.


The clear implication of everything said by Christ in these passages is that it was not possible for anyone to believe in him unless it had been granted them by the Father to believe. However, everyone to whom the Father did grant the ability to believe in Christ was consequently drawn by the Father and given to Christ (and thus believed in Christ).


Greg Boyd on John 6:44


Christ’s explanation for why so many Jews did not believe in him during his earthly ministry is difficult for many Christians to accept. For according to what most Christians believe, God does not determine who will (and who won’t) believe in Christ in this lifetime. It is instead believed that, although God wants everyone to believe in Christ before they die (and is “doing his best” to bring this about), he has given his human creatures the self-determining freedom (or “free will”) to decide their own destiny. According to this view, the one who determines whether or not any particular individual will be among those who receive the salvation that’s promised to believers is, ultimately, the individual himself (and not God).


Among those who hold to this view is Christian theologian, pastor and author, Greg Boyd (who, as a proponent of the philosophical position known as “open theism,” holds to what I would consider to be the most logically-consistent version of the view that humans determine their own destiny). In an attempt to explain how Christ’s words in John 6:44 are consistent with his position that God does not determine who, exactly, will (and who won’t) believe in Christ, Boyd has provided the following remarks on his ministry website:


Calvinists sometimes argue that this passage teaches that the Father chooses and then “draws” certain people to Christ. Those who are “drawn” certainly come to Christ (John 6:37) while all who are not drawn remain in their sin. In short, this passage is interpreted to teach “particular election” (that is, God chooses to save some and not to save others).


It is true that the “drawing” Jesus speaks of is not universal, as some Arminians suggest, since Jesus is here contrasting those who are “drawn” with those who are not. But neither this or any other passage requires us to believe that the Father simply decides who will and will not be drawn. The Father “draws” people (or not) in response to their hearts.


God wants all to be saved and is working in every human heart to get each person to accept the Gospel. But people can and do resist God’s influence and thwart his will for their lives (see e.g. Lk 7:30). When a heart has been successfully opened, however, God goes further and “draws” that person to Jesus Christ.[1]


The only verse referenced by Boyd in support of his view that ”people can and do resist God’s influence and thwart his will for their lives” is Luke 7:30. Here is how this verse reads in the CLNT:


“Yet the Pharisees and those learned in the law repudiate the counsel of God for themselves, not being baptized by him.”


The word translated “counsel” in this verse (boulēn) means “mutual consultation or advice.” It does not mean “influence,” and is a different word than that which means “will” in Scripture (which is the word “theléma”). In the immediate context, the “counsel of God” of which Christ spoke refers to the admonition by John to be baptized (which was in accord with John’s God-given commission and prophetic ministry). Thus, when we’re told that certain Jews “repudiated the counsel of God,” it doesn’t mean that they thwarted God’s purpose or intention regarding their life and eonian destiny. Rather, it simply means that they repudiated John’s admonition to be baptized. However, as we’ll see, their repudiation of “the counsel of God” was in accord with (and an expression of) God’s intention and purpose.


Now, according to Boyd’s view, God’s choice to draw some Jews but not others was based on (and in response to) their own openness to being “drawn” by God. In this way, Boyd is able to affirm that the “drawing” of which Christ spoke in John 6:44 was “not universal” (which is true) while also affirming the commonly-held Christian view that it was God’s plan that all Israelites believe in Christ. What Boyd’s more “nuanced” view implies is that God would’ve drawn all Israelites to himself if only they had yielded to “God’s influence” and allowed him to “open their hearts” so that they could be taught by him. But because the majority of Jews resisted God’s influence, God was prevented from drawing them. Thus, God’s intention to draw all Israelites during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry was thwarted.


The problem with this understanding of why God was only drawing relatively few Jews during Christ’s earthly ministry (as well as afterwards) is that it’s not consistent with the actual explanation with which we’re provided in Scripture. In John 12:37-40 the reader is provided with additional insight as to why the majority of Israelites in Christ’s day didn’t believe in him:


Yet, after His having done so many signs in front of them, they believed not in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet, which he said, may be being fulfilled, “Lord, who believes our tidings? And the arm of the Lord, to whom was it revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, seeing that Isaiah said again that He has blinded their eyes and callouses their heart, lest they may be perceiving with their eyes, and should be apprehending with their heart, and may be turning about, and I shall be healing them.


According to what we read in the above passage, it wasn’t just the case that the majority of Israelites didn’t believe in Christ; rather, it was that they could not believe” (cf. John 8:43). We can, therefore, conclude that every Israelite in Christ’s day belonged to one of two groups:


1. Those whom the Father was drawing and giving to Christ (and who, as a result of being drawn by the Father and given to Christ, ended up believing in Christ)


2. Those whose eyes had been “blinded” and whose hearts had been “calloused” (and who, consequently, “could not believe”)


We can further conclude from the above passage that the unbelief of those Israelites who didn’t believe in Christ was in accord with God’s purpose concerning them. This is evident from the use of the following expressions:


1. “…that the word of Isaiah…may be being fulfilled…”


2.Therefore they could not believe, seeing that Isaiah said again…”


3. “…lest they may be perceiving with their eyes…”


The very fact that the unbelief of most Israelites in Christ’s day fulfilled prophecy proves that their unbelief was something that was planned by God (and that it was, therefore, necessary). We can thus conclude that it was not God’s will that all (or even most) Israelites in Christ’s day believe in Christ.


In Romans 9-11 we find further confirmation of the fact that the “calloused” or “hardened” state of the unbelieving Israelites who were not being drawn by God was in accord with God’s plan. For example, in 11:11-15 we read the following:


What then? What Israel is seeking for, this she did not encounter, yet the chosen encountered it. Now the rest were callousedeven as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.


And David is saying, “Let their table become a trap and a mesh, And a snare and a repayment to them: Darkened be their eyes, not to be observing, And their backs bow together continually.”


From the immediate and larger context it’s evident that the calloused condition of the majority of Israelites in Paul’s day was one in which they had been made insensitive and unreceptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity (which, it should be noted, constituted the evangel or “gospel” through which a member of God’s covenant people could be saved). But notice that it is God who made Israel “calloused.” He is the one who gave the majority of Israelites “a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.” This means that the calloused state of the majority of Israelites is in accord with God’s plan. But why would God do this? One reason is provided in Romans 11:11-15. In these verses we read the following:


I am saying, then, Do they not trip that they should be falling? May it not be coming to that! But in their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.


Now if their offense is the world’s riches and their discomfiture the nations’ riches, how much rather that which fills them! Now to you am I saying, to the nations, in as much as, indeed, then, I am the apostle of the nations, I am glorifying my dispensation, if somehow I should be provoking those of my flesh to jealousy and should be saving some of them. For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what will the taking back be if not life from among the dead?


When Paul wrote of “their offence” and “their casting away” he had in view the majority of Israelites that constituted the nation of Israel in his day. Thus, by the time Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, the majority of Israelites had been “cast away” by God. And we know from verses 7-9 that the “casting away” of Israel is equivalent to God’s bringing “callousness, in part” on the nation – i.e., God’s giving Israel a “spirit of stupor” so that they could not (and still cannot) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. God “cast away” the nation of Israel when he gave the majority of Israelites a “spirit of stupor” and made them insensitive and unreceptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity. It was this operation of God that made it possible for salvation to go to the nations (i.e., through the heralding of Paul’s evangel among the nations), and which resulted in the state of affairs that Paul referred to as “the conciliation of the world.”


Moreover – and as I’ve written about in greater depth elsewhere (see my study on Paul’s Olive Tree Parable)[2] – the coinciding states of affairs that Paul referred to in the above passage as the “casting away” of Israel and “the conciliation of the world” are not permanent. Both are going to come to an end at some future time (and this time may be much nearer than many people realize). In Rom. 11:25-32 we read the following:


For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written,


Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them Whenever I should be eliminating their sins.


As to the evangel, indeed, they are enemies because of you, yet, as to choice, they are beloved because of the fathers.


For unregretted are the graces and the calling of God. For even as you once were stubborn toward God, yet now were shown mercy at their stubbornness, thus these also are now stubborn to this mercy of yours, that now they also may be shown mercy. For God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all.


Although Paul referred to the majority of Israelites in his day as “enemies because of you” (for their calloused condition is what has made it possible for divine mercy to be shown to the nations), they are nevertheless said to be, “as to choice…beloved because of the fathers.” Thus, the unbelief and “stubbornness” of Israel as a nation is only temporary. After the entering in of “the complement of the nations,” God will “take back” his chosen people (i.e., by removing the “callousness” and “spirit of stupor” that is presently on the nation so that Israel becomes more sensitive and receptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity). When this takes place, Israel will ultimately become a nation comprised of believing Israelites, and will be saved from their sins at Christ’s return.


We can thus conclude that it was God’s plan all along that the majority of Israelites in Christ’s day remain in unbelief with regard to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity. And not only this, but this state of affairs involving Israel is to continue until the future time referred to by Paul in Romans 11:15 and 25-27 (i.e., when the “taking back” of Israel occurs, and God removes the “callousness” that is currently on the nation). Until this future time comes, only a chosen remnant within Israel is being saved (Rom. 11:1-8). Thus, contrary to Boyd’s assertion, it is simply not true that God has been ”working in every human heart” to get as many people (including Israelites) as possible to believe the truth about Jesus or to ”accept the Gospel.”


The fact that it’s not God’s purpose that all (or even most) people believe the truth through which believers are saved does not, however, mean that God doesn’t want everyone to be saved. It simply means that God doesn’t want everyone to be saved at the same time, and in the same way. That God does will the salvation of all mankind is clear from what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:4. There, we read that God “wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth.”


The Greek verb translated “wills” in this verse is theló, and – in contrast with the word boulēn in Luke 7:30 – means to decide, intend or purpose something. In Romans 9:16 (cf. v. 22), the word was used by Paul to refer to man’s volitional activity:


“Consequently, then, it is not of him who is willing, nor of him who is racing, but of God, the Merciful.”


In verse 18, however, it refers to the volitional activity of God:


“Consequently, then, to whom He will, He is merciful, yet whom He will, He is hardening.


Notice that, when God’s will is in view, Paul used the word to refer to something that will necessarily occur. In fact, every other time that Paul used this word in his letters to refer to God’s volitional activity, he had in mind something that, by virtue of being willed by God, would certainly take place, or had already taken place (1 Cor. 4:19; 12:18; 15:38; Col. 1:25-26). In no instance did Paul ever use this word to refer to something that God would like to occur (or that God “wishes” would occur), but which will not ultimately take place. The will of the Creator will ultimately prevail over the will of the creature; whatever God intends to happen will happen. As Paul’s imaginary objector correctly affirms in Rom. 9:19, no one can successfully resist God when it’s his intention that something occur.


God’s ability to save anyone whom he wills to save is completely unlimited. In accord with this fact, God is just as capable of saving people in the future as he is capable of saving people in the present. And since, according to what we read in 1 Timothy 2:4, God wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth, we can conclude that all mankind shall be saved and come into a realization of the truth.



[2] See also part two of my study on the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th “week” prophesied in Daniel 9 (The Timing of the Snatching Away in Relation to the 70th Week).

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Why Revelation doesn’t support the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment”

Two passages of Scripture that are commonly believed by Christians to provide clear support for the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment” (i.e., “hell”) are Revelation 14:9-11 and 20:10-15. 


The main reason why these passages are seen by many Christians as such conclusive “proof-texts” for this popularly-held doctrine is that, in most English Bibles, the phrase “forever and ever” in used in connection with the torment of certain individuals. However, as I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere (see, for example, this article), the Greek expression for which the phrase “forever and ever” is used as the equivalent in most Bibles – i.e., “eis tous aiónas tón aiónón” – literally means “for the eons of the eons.” The “eons” that are in view in this particular expression are referred to elsewhere as “the oncoming eons” (Eph. 2:7), and are simply the future eons of Christ’s reign. And since Christ’s reign will have both a beginning and an end (1 Cor. 15:22-28), it follows that the eons for which he’ll be reigning – i.e., the “eons of the eons” – will also have a beginning and an end. 


This consideration alone completely undermines any support that these passages from Revelation could be thought to provide the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment.” However, there are additional reasons for believing that both passages – even when they’re understood in accord with a “literal-if-possible” hermeneutic – are consistent with the scriptural truth that all sinful beings shall ultimately be reconciled to God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.


The fate of the wild beast worshippers 


The first passage I’ll be considering is Revelation 14:9-11. This passage reads as follows in the Concordant Literal New Testament:


And another, a third messenger, follows them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone is worshiping the wild beast and its image, and is getting an emblem on his forehead or on his hand, he, also, is drinking of the wine of the fury of God, blended undiluted in the cup of His indignation, and he shall be tormented in fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy messengers and in the sight of the Lambkin. And the fumes of their torment are ascending for the eons of the eons. And they are having no rest day and night, those worshiping the wild beast and its image, and if anyone is getting the emblem of its name.”


As has been recognized by a number of scholars, the way in which the messenger’s warning is worded is an example of a literary device known as inverted parallelism (or “chiasmus”).[1] This literary device is quite common in Scripture, and involves a sequence of elements of a sentence, paragraph or chapter which are then repeated and developed, but in reverse order. With regard to Rev. 14:10-11, the chiastic structure of the messenger’s warning could be represented as follows:


(A) If anyone is worshiping the wild beast and its image, and is getting an emblem on his forehead or on his hand

   (B) he, also, is drinking of the wine of the fury of God, blended undiluted in the cup of His indignation

       (C) and he shall be tormented in fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy messengers and in the sight of the Lambkin. 

       (Ci) And the fumes of their torment are ascending for the eons of the eons.

   (Bi) And they are having no rest day and night,

(Ai) those worshiping the wild beast and its image, and if anyone is getting the emblem of its name.


As is evident from the literary structure of these verses (i.e., the inverted parallelism), the final element in the sequence of events being depicted is the smoke (or “fumes”) ascending as a result of the eschatological judgment of the worshippers of the wild beast (Ci). The literary structure also makes it clear that it is while the worshippers of the wild beast are “drinking of the wine of the fury of God” that they are “having no rest day and night.” That is, the restlessness of these worshippers coincides with the time during which they’ll be undergoing the judgment that’s figuratively described as “drinking of the wine of the fury of God.”


But when will these worshippers of the wild beast begin “drinking of the wine of the fury of God?” Answer: This judgment upon the worshippers of the wild beast will begin when the “seven bowls” referred to in Rev. 15:7 and 16:1-21 (i.e., the “seven bowls brimming with the fury of God” and “the seven bowls of the fury of God”) begin to be poured out. We’re further told that “the fury of God” will be “consummated” in the calamities associated with them (Rev. 15:1). It is while these seven bowls of the fury of God are being poured out that the worshippers of the wild beast will be “having no rest day and night.”


But when will the worshippers of the wild beast be “tormented in fire and sulfur”? Notice that this event is said to occur in the sight of the holy messengers and in the sight of the Lambkin.” The twice-used expression “in the sight of” clues us in as to when this event will be occurring. The next time we find a description of Christ (“the Lambkin”) and the holy messengers together is in Rev. 19:11-14. In these verses we find the following description of Christ’s “second coming” at the end of this eon:


And I perceived heaven open, and lo! a white horse. And He Who is sitting on it is called "Faithful and True," and in righteousness is He judging and battling. Now His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, having names written of which no one except Himself is aware, and He is clothed in a cloak dipped in blood, and His name is called "The Word of God." And the armies in heaven, dressed in cambric, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.


The “armies in heaven” are the holy messengers (cf. Matt. 13:41, 49-50; 16:27; 24:31; 25:31; Mark 8:38). Here is how the apostle Paul described this future event in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 (note his reference to both Jesus Christ and the messengers of heaven):


“…if so be that it is just of God to repay affliction to those afflicting you, and to you who are being afflicted, ease, with us, at the unveiling of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful messengers, in flaming fire, dealing out vengeance to those who are not acquainted with God and those who are not obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ…” 


“Those who are not acquainted with God and those who are not obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ” will undoubtedly include the worshippers of the wild beast when Christ returns. But will the “vengeance” that will be dealt out to these people at this time involve them being endlessly tormented? No. Paul went on to write that those to whom “vengeance” will be dealt out will “incur the justice of eonian extermination from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength…” As I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere (see Are Unbelievers Destined for “Everlasting Destruction?”), the expression translated “eonian extermination” in this verse has nothing to do with anyone undergoing “eternal conscious torment.” Rather, the phrase expresses the idea of mortal humans being killed/destroyed at Christ’s return (and then remaining dead for the entirety of the future eon that will begin at this time).


In accord with what Paul wrote concerning the fate of the wicked on the day of Christ’s return, we read the following in Malachi 4:1-3:


“For behold! The day of Yahweh is coming, consuming as a stove, and it devours them. And all the arrogant and all doing wickedness become straw. And the coming day sets them aflame, says Yahweh of hosts, which will not leave to them root or bough. Yet the Sun of righteousness shall radiate to you who fear My name, and healing is in its wings. And you shall come forth, and you prance as calves of the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they are becoming ashes under the soles of your feet in the day which I am making, says Yahweh of hosts.”


Moreover (and in accord with what we know to be the case about the destructive nature of fire and sulfur), the very first judgment involving fire and sulfur that we find described in Scripture resulted in the destruction of those who underwent it (Gen. 19:23-29; Luke 17:29). Similarly, the first judgment involving fire and sulfur that’s described in the book of Revelation will also result in the death of those who will have a part in it (see Rev. 9:13-19). As was the case with the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah (and as will be the case with those who will be killed in the judgment referred to in Rev. 9:13-19), any torment that will result from the use of fire and sulfur in the judgment referred to in Rev. 14:9-11 will last for no longer than it takes for the fire and sulfur to bring about the death and destruction of those being judged.[1]


But what about the expression “for the eons of the eons” in Rev. 14:11? Notice that we’re not told the worshippers of the wild beast will be tormented for this duration of time; rather, “the eons of the eons” are said to be the duration of time for which the smoke that’s associated with the torment of the wicked will be ascending. However, we have good reason to believe that the torment that will be suffered by “those worshipping the wild beast and its image” will not continue for as long as we’re told the smoke will be ascending. Support for this understanding can be found in Revelation 18:8-19 and 19:1-3. In these verses (which concern the future judgment of the city of “Babylon”) we read the following:


Therefore in one day shall her calamities be arriving; death and mourning and famine. And she shall be burned up with fire, for strong is the Lord God Who judges her. And the kings of the earth, who commit prostitution and indulge with her, will be lamenting and grieving over her whenever they may be observing the smoke of her conflagration, standing afar off because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe! Woe! that great city! Babylon, the strong city! for in one hour your judging came.’


After these things I hear as it were the loud voice of a vast throng in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power is of our God, for true and just is His judging, for He judges the great prostitute who corrupts the earth with her prostitution, and avenges the blood of His slaves at her hand.” And a second time have they declared, “Hallelujah!” And her smoke is ascending for the eons of the eons.


Notice that we’re told the smoke of the city’s conflagration will be “ascending for the eons of the eons.” However, we have good reason to believe that the conflagration (and associated “torment”) of the city – as well as the smoldering results of its conflagration – will not actually be continuing for this future duration of time. According to what we read in 2 Peter 3:5-13 and Rev. 21:1 (cf. 20:11), both the present earth and the heaven that surrounds it are going to be destroyed and replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth.” The destruction of the present heaven and earth will occur at the end of the first eon of Christ’s reign (i.e., after the events described in Rev. 20:1-10).


Since, at the end of the first eon of Christ’s reign, the very earth on which the destroyed city of Babylon will be located is itself going to be destroyed (and then replaced by a new earth), it follows that the smoldering remains of the doomed city that will be present on this earth during the next eon will not exist during the final eon. It is, therefore, impossible that the city of Babylon will continue burning or smoldering “for the eons of the eons.” And just as we have good reason to believe that the direct cause of the smoke that we’re told in Rev. 19:3 will be “ascending for the eons of the eons” after Babylon is judged by God (i.e., the burning or “conflagration” of the city) will not actually be continuing for this future duration of time, so we have good reason to believe the same concerning the direct cause of the smoke referred to in Rev. 14:9-11 (i.e., the fire and sulfur in which the worshippers of the wild beast will be tormented when Christ returns).


Cast into the lake of fire


The next verses we’ll consider are Rev. 20:10-15. Here is how v. 10 reads in the CLNT:


“And the Adversary who is deceiving them was cast into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the wild beast and where the false prophet are also. And they shall be tormented day and night for the eons of the eons.”


Some believe that the three entities that we’re told will be “tormented day and night for the eons of the eons” are actually impersonal things, and are being personified (just as death and hades are personified in Rev. 20:13-14). However, as I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere (see, for example, this article), we have just as much reason to believe that the first of the three beings mentioned in this verse – i.e., “the Adversary” (or Satan) – is a superhuman, spiritual being as we have to believe that the celestial messengers Michael and Gabriel are superhuman, spiritual beings. It’s also significant that, in contrast with the wild beast, the false prophet and the Adversary, we’re not told that death and hades will be “tormented” in the lake of fire after being “cast” there. This fact suggests that, unlike death and hades, Satan and his companions should be understood as personal beings (and not merely impersonal things that are being personified by John).[2]


However, in contrast with the “kings of the earth and their armies,” there is good reason to believe that the “wild beast” and “false prophet” are something other than mortal, flesh-and-blood beings. Based on what we’re told elsewhere in Revelation, it would seem that these intelligent entities are actually non-human beings who belong to the same category of spiritual beings as Satan himself (see, for example, Rev. 11:7, 17:8 and 16:13-14). And this would put them in a separate category of beings than those who we’re later told will be delivered from death and hades in order to be judged before God (Rev. 20:11-15).[3]


Now, as noted earlier, the expression translated as “for the eons of the eons” in Rev. 20:10 refers to the future eons of Christ’s reign, and does not denote an endless duration of time. Thus, even if we weren’t provided with any further revelation in Scripture concerning the destiny of the three wicked spiritual beings referred to in this verse, we would have no reason to believe that their torment in the lake of fire will never end. However, the apostle Paul made it clear that all sinful, estranged beings – whether those who are on the earth or those who are in the heavens (i.e., Satan and his messengers) – will ultimately be subjected to Christ and reconciled to God (1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:10; 4:10; Phil. 2:9-11; 3:21; Col. 1:20).


After we’re told of the eonian fate of Satan, the wild beast and the false prophet in Rev. 20:10, we read the following concerning the judgment of everyone who will be dead when the next eon ends. Here is how Rev. 20:11-15 reads in the ESV:


Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 


The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.


By referring to those who are to be judged at this future time as “the dead,” John was identifying them with the people whom he’d referred to a few verses earlier as “the rest of the dead.” In Rev. 20:4-6 we read the following:


Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.


The expression “first resurrection” (or “former resurrection”) implies that there will be another resurrection occurring later, and what we read in verse 5 makes it clear that this implied second resurrection for “the rest of the dead” will be occurring sometime after “the thousand years” have transpired. We also know that, when the judgment described in Rev. 20:11-15 takes place, the “thousand years” will have finished. It is at this time that those referred to as “the rest of the dead” in v. 5 are restored to life so that they can be judged.[4]


Moreover, there’s no good reason to understand the lake of fire as anything other than a literal place that will be used by God to bring about the immediate death of those who are to be cast into it (i.e., those whose names will not be found written in “the book of life”). This understanding of the lake of fire is in accord with the fact that it’s referred to as “the second death” when human beings are in view (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 13-15; 21:8). Just as the second resurrection that’s implied by the reference to the “first resurrection” (or “former resurrection”) will be just as literal as the first resurrection (and will involve those who are literally dead being restored to life), so the second death will be just as literal as the implied first death (and will involve a literal return to a state of death/lifelessness). It is simply the death that will occur for those who, after being restored to life in the second resurrection (and then judged before the great white throne), will have to die again. And a literal lake burning with fire and sulfur would certainly accomplish the second death of any mortal cast into it.


We can therefore conclude that, in contrast with the purpose that the lake of fire will serve for the three wicked, spiritual beings who will be cast into it (and for whom the lake of fire is not referred to as “the second death”), the lake of fire will not be a place of torment for the humans who are to be cast into it. Rather, its purpose will be to return those whose names aren’t written in the “book of life” to a state of lifelessness (and thus a state of oblivion, since – unlike the living – the dead have no knowledge or awareness of anything). But this unconscious, lifeless condition will not be permanent. At the end of his eonian reign, Christ is going to abolish death, the “last enemy,” by vivifying everyone who, at this time, will be either dead or mortal (1 Cor. 15:22-26). Thus, everyone who is going to be cast into the lake of fire and returned to a lifeless condition will, at the end of Christ’s reign, be permanently saved from death by being vivified in Christ. And, having received the same kind of “indissoluble life” that Christ himself presently enjoys, they will be subjected to Christ and become part of the “all” in whom we’re told God shall be “All” (1 Cor. 15:27-28).



[1] Although some have objected to the view that the “fire and sulfur” mentioned here (and elsewhere in Revelation) should be understood literally, I’ve argued elsewhere on my blog that the literal understanding makes more sense (and is more consistent with the rest of Scripture) than the alternative view. See, for example, the following study on this subject:  “The Lake Burning with Fire and Sulfur”: Literal or Figurative? (Part One)  

[2] Further support for this understanding is found in Rev. 19:17-20, where we read the following: 

And I perceived another messenger, standing in the sun. And he cries with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which are flying in mid-heaven, “Hither! Be gathered for the great dinner of God, that you may be eating the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of the strong, and the flesh of horses and of those sitting on them, and the flesh of all freemen as well as slaves, and of small and of great.” 

And I perceived the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, gathered to do battle with Him Who is sitting on the horse and with His army. And the wild beast is arrested, and with it the false prophet who does the signs in its sight, by which he deceives those getting the emblem of the wild beast, and those worshiping its image. Living, the two were cast into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. 

There’s no good reason to understand the “kings of the earth and their armies” referred to in these verses as anything other than literal individuals who will be “gathered to do battle with [Christ]” at the time of his return to earth. And since we’re told that the “wild beast” (and, apparently, the false prophet as well) will be accompanying these kings and armies at this time, it’s reasonable to understand the “wild beast” and the “false prophet” as individual, intelligent beings as well. 

[3] Some have wondered how three superhuman, spiritual beings could be tormented in a literal lake burning with fire and sulfur. However, it should be noted that we’re not actually told that the torment of these three beings will be caused by the fire or the sulfur with which the lake will be burning. We’re simply told that, after they’re cast into the lake of fire, they will be “tormented day and night for the eons of the eons.” It’s possible that their torment will simply be derived from the fact that their confinement in the lake of fire will be continuing for such a long period of time (“for the eons of the eons”). Being confined to this location – and thus stripped of the great experiential freedom and influence they once enjoyed before being cast into the lake of fire – will be bad enough. But the relatively lengthy period of time during which they must remain confined will likely be an equal (if not greater) source of torment for them.

[4] The very fact that those who are to be judged at this time are depicted as being given up by “Death and Hades” (or “death and the unseen”) indicates that, when standing before the throne, these people are no longer dead. Death is a state of lifelessness, and “Hades” refers to the domain of those who are dead. When we’re told that “Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them,” it simply means that those referred to as “the rest of the dead” in Rev. 20:5 are being restored to a living existence (and thus ceasing to be in the lifeless condition they were formerly in).