Usually the truths of Gods Word are pleasant and we love to hear them. But the Bible also teaches subjects which are unsettling and hard to hear. Yet, we need to listen to these truths as well. The spiritual world exists and has its own realities which dont change whether we like them or not. And today our study through the Book of Revelation has brought us face to face with the most unsettling topic of them all
the lake of fire. Between chapters 19 and 21 John mentions this lake five times. At the Lords return the Antichrist and false prophet are sent there. At the end of the Millennium Satan himself is sent there. At the great white throne those whose names are not written in the Book of Life are sent there. And finally, John hears God Himself warn us about this lake. So, its a subject we need to discussespecially so because so many conflicting things are said about it, and it raises such important questions about the heart of God.
This week well limit our discussion to the nature and purpose of the lake of fire. In other words, where is it and what kind of fire burns there? And we have to ask the question, Why would God allow such a place to exist at all? Of course, when we deal with such subjects were peering into a great mystery so well hold our conclusions humbly, realizing we may be wrong. But we do need to try to understand what we read and affirm again the loving heart of God.
1. Distinguishing terms
What happens to people after they die is described by the Bible in various and even conflicting terms. However, I think much of our confusion comes from the fact that we have not recognized that different places are being described.
a) Sheol/Hades: grave, pit
Sheol used 65 times in the O.T. (Ge 37:35; Nu 16:30, 33; Psa 16:10)
Hades used 10 times in the N.T. (Mt 11:23; Lk 16:23; Ac 2:27)
b) Abyss/Pit of Darkness: a temporary prison for fallen angels
Lk 8:31; 2Pe 2:4; Jd 1:6; Rev 9:1, 2; 17:8
Waiting for judgment
c) Lake of Fire/Gehenna: final endless state
The valley of Tophet (2Ki 23:10) in the valley of Hinnom (a place of burning fires)
2. Emphasis by Jesus
No one in the Bible talks about this place more than Jesus. He was deeply concerned to warn us not to go there (Mt 5:22 29, 30; 18:8, 9; 23:33; 10:28; Mk 9:43, 44; Lk 12:5).
3. Different descriptions
Mt 13:42; 2Th 1:9; 2Pe 2:9; 2Pe 2:17; Mt 8:12; Jd 1:13; Rev 19:20
4. What is the purpose of the lake of fire?
a) Options: torture: eternal suffering for sin; purging: suffering until attitude changes; annihilation: merciful cessation of existence
b) Problems: taken literally appears unmerciful, unjust, ghastly; no biblical basis whatsoever; a compassionate attempt to eliminate the thought of eternal suffering
5. When do people and angelic spirits go there?
No one is there yet; the unsaved are now being held in darkness awaiting the judgment; the saved dead are with Christ in Paradise (Lk 23:43; 2Co 5:8; Php 1:23) apparently in spiritual bodies like angels (Dn 10:16, 18)
6. What kind of fire is it?
a) Options: natural fire: natural combustion, fire as we know it meant to produce the most hideous pain known to humans
b) Divine fire: Jude 1:7 eternal fire fell on Sodom and Gomorrah; the pillar of fire; the burning bush; Elijahs altar on Mt. Carmel; the holy fire in the tabernacle; the consuming fire on Mt. Sinai; the fire of the Lord (Nu 11:1; 16:35); Dt 4:24 the Lord your God is a consuming fire.
c) My conclusion: God will only restrain His glory for a limited time. Then He will release it and it will destroy everything not transformed (2Pe 3:7, 10, 12).
7. How God designed humans (Ge 1:27; 2:7; 1Th 5:23)
a) Body: dust; b) Soul: breath of life; c) Spirit: the image of God
8. Can a spirit die?
a) Die: cease to exist
b) Spirit: a conscious personality which is not a product of biological functions
c) My conclusion: No, a spirit is eternal once it has been conceived
9. Can a resurrected body be consumed?
a) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1Co 15:22)
b) Death itself ceases to exist, the last enemy to be abolished (1Co 15:26)
10. Summary (based on my conclusions)
The lake of fire is a way of describing the incredible burst of light and power that happens when God finally releases His undiminished glory. Everything not transformed through resurrection evaporates instantly. However, spirits in resurrected bodies cannot be extinguished. They are eternal.
What is for us eternal bliss as we dwell with the Lord and enjoy Him forever, for those who hate Him being surrounded by His glory is hell. Nothing of the old age has survived. There is no place to escape, only an infinite sea of light.
So the suffering (torture) people experience comes not from without, but from within. Hating God but trapped, tormented forever by His glory. Some say God will mercifully put His hand out to shadow the unrighteous from His glory. I think the torment of hell is because there is no shadow.
a) Fire: shekinah, not combustion
b) Torment: mental, not physical
c) Eternal: a spirit doesnt cease; who you are inside stays the same; what you love and hate is set during this life and doesnt change on the other side
d) Hell: He doesnt create a place of torture; He cleanses the universe by flooding it with His glory; to those who love Him its heaven; to those who hate Him its hell; however, unbelievers dwell outside the gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:15)
a) Were you taught about hell as a child? Describe your picture of it.
b) How should the reality of the lake of fire (however we explain it) change the way we pray and live our lives as believers?
c) Explain Hebrews 12:2. How could Jesus feel joy when He endured the cross?