Risen from the Dust
There are a number of verses that are commonly used, or perhaps misused, in support of eternal torment. On the surface they might appear to corroborate eternal torment. However, when they are fully evaluated, they suggest nothing of the sort.
One of the most common passages used to support eternal torment is Revelation 14, but in reality it has no association with the Lake of Fire, and is not even in the same dispensation of time, "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Revelation 14.9-11 KJV bible).
The problem with using Revelation 14 to support eternal torment, is that it's not talking about the eternity or the Lake of Fire, but rather Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age. We already know that at the appearing of Christ, there will be spiritual light and fire radiating outward from him, that brings torment to the wicked, "And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames" (Isaiah 13.8 KJV bible), (see also ch.22 Day of the Lord). They will be tormented by Christ's presence because he is the Living Word, and the Word cuts through their lies, and exposes their ignorance and treachery.
Notice how Revelation 14 describes the worshippers of the beast being tormented in the presence of the Lamb and his angels, "and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb" (Revelation 14.10 KJV bible). In contrast, the Lake of Fire will exist away from the Lord's presence, and apart from that which is holy, "For without [outside] are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" (Revelation 22.15 KJV bible). Revelation 14 describes the torment being in the presence of Christ, but Revelation 22 tells us that the Lake of Fire will exist away from him. This is how we know Revelation 14 is referring exclusively to Christ's return, because the torment takes place within, and as a result of, the presence of Christ and his angels.
The followers of the beast will be tormented day and night during the millennium, as they are driven into the outer darkness, "They told the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of his wrath has come; and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6.16-17 KJV bible). The radiant presence of Christ will bring torment to the wicked, driving them away from the light and into the spiritual shadows. The shock and agony caused by his unexpected return is represented as spiritual smoke, that ascends forever and ever, "And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever..." (Revelation 14.11 KJV bible). While the torment only takes place during the millennium period, the smoke from it is described as eternally ascending. This is because the cataclysmic severity of the torment generates such heavy smoke that it can never dissipate away. Therefore, we see in these details that Revelation 14 refers to the torment and cup of wrath that will be unleashed at the second advent, and should not be confused with the eternal Lake of Fire.
Another passage that is sometimes misused to support eternal torment is Luke 16.20-31. Luke 16 contains a description of the rich man and Lazarus, where two individuals die, one finding himself in Paradise, but the other finding himself in torment, " And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell [Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame" (Luke 16.22-24 KJV bible). As with Revelation 14, Luke 16 is often taken out of context, and has no real connection with the eternal Lake of Fire.
This passage is irrelevant to the doctrine of eternal torment, because verse 23 clearly describes (in the Greek) the rich man as dwelling in "Hades". Some individuals do experience torment in Hades, but the torment is not eternal because Hades is not an eternal hell, "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Hades] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell [Hades] were cast into the lake of fire..." (Revelation 20.13-14 KJV bible). Not only will the dead be released from Hades in the future, but then Hades itself will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire. Thus, they are different places; Hades being a temporary hell, but the Lake of Fire being a future eternal hell (see also ch.2 Hades and Gehenna).
This is why the rich man asks for Lazarus to go back into the world, and warn his brothers about the afterlife, "For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment" (Luke 16.28 KJV bible). Hades only exists at this present time, which is why the rich man wanted to send Lazarus back from the dead. However, at the time of eternal judgment, when individuals are condemned to the Lake of Fire, the world as we know it will have ended (Revelation 20).
One section that is often cited as being proof of eternal torment, is the description of the devil in the Lake of Fire, found in the last chapters of Revelation, "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 19.20 KJV bible), "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 20.10 KJV bible). Unlike some of the other passages we've looked at, these verses are about the Lake of Fire. The first one foretells the capture and punishment of the beast and the false prophet at Christ's return. The second one foretells the devil being cast into the Lake of Fire after the millennium. Both of these verses are straightforward in their depiction of all three being tormented unceasingly in the Lake of Fire, forever and ever.
However, there is something about Revelation 19.20 and 20.10, that should stand out to the deeper student. The beast and the false prophet are not actual entities, but rather different manifestations of Satan. The beast symbolizes a future one world political system, and the false prophet is a role that Satan will play as the spiritual leader and messiah of that system. Similarly, the devil (Greek: diabolos), is Satan's most basic and fundamental role, that of a slanderer and disparager working to exploit rifts between man and God.
To understand the unity of these three manifestations, look at Revelation 16.13, "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet" (Revelation 16.13 KJV bible). This is not describing one unclean spirit from three separate mouths, but three from the same mouth. The voice of the devil or dragon is also the voice of the political beast, and the voice of the false prophet; because he is the voice, mind, and authority of all three. These incarnations and personas of Satan are cast into the Lake of Fire at different times, to show the sequential destruction of his power and influence. The beast and false prophet will be destroyed first, and then after the millennium Satan as the devil or dragon will enter the Lake of Fire, and all three personas will be tormented forever.
But if we assume the eternal torment described in Revelation 20.10 refers only to manifestations of evil, then what will be the fate of Satan himself? This is fully addressed in Ezekiel 28, "I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more" (Ezekiel 28.18-19 KJV bible). This passage foretells that a fire will come forth from his midst and consume him, so that he shall not be or exist anymore. This fire from his midst or center, is the ruinous effect caused by the Lake of Fire when he is cast into it on Judgment Day. It destroys the internal mind or thought process, bringing him to figurative ashes. The spiritual carcass continues on, but internally it is brought to nothingness in the second death (see ch.29 Lake of Fire).
Finally, even if you reject this line of reasoning, and conclude that Revelation 20.10 refers to Satan himself being tormented forever, who really cares what will happen to him? Given the transcendent nature of the Lake of Fire, one can't extrapolate that it will have the same effect on everyone and everything cast into it. Satan and his angels are certainly more culpable and deserving of eternal torment than even the worst of humanity.
There are a number of other verses that might be construed to support eternal torment. One example is Daniel 12.2, which contrasts the fates of the righteous and wicked on Judgment Day, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12.2 KJV bible). At the second resurrection, Christ will raise up the righteous to everlasting life, but the wicked will be raised into shame and everlasting contempt. However, this shame and everlasting contempt is not what the wicked will experience in their own minds, but rather what the perception of them will be among the living.
Recall, that historical Gehenna was a garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem, where the dead bodies of criminals were sometimes thrown. The treatment of the exposed and decaying corpses in historical Gehenna, was a great shame and dishonor upon the individuals cast into it. Likewise, eternal Gehenna will exist outside of eternal Jerusalem, and the exposed spiritual corpses of the wicked will be an eternal monument of shame and reproach upon them, "Outside [the city] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying" (Revelation 22.15 NASB bible). So the legacy of the wicked among the living will be one of eternal contempt and loathing, that continues on long after they have expired.
Another verse to consider in relation to eternal torment is Matthew 25.46, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25.46 KJV bible). What exactly is meant here by everlasting or eternal punishment? It doesn't necessarily mean that the wicked will be tormented forever, but rather that their punishment is everlasting because they have no chance of ever being restored or brought back to life.
This is similar to when someone describes a certain artifact as being lost forever. It was lost to mankind at one point in time, but the implication is that it can never be brought back. This is also similar to Hebrews 6.2, which makes mention of eternal judgment, "Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6.2 KJV bible). This phrase, "eternal judgment", doesn't mean that people will be continually judged every day, for all eternity. Rather the judgment of that great day will happen at one point in time, but its results will endure unchanging forever and ever.
Finally, there is another description of the Lake of Fire to consider, which is the one given in the parable of the wheat and the tares, "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13.41-42 KJV bible). This is describing how at the great white throne judgment, the angels will gather the tares or weeds (used symbolically for the wicked), and cast them into the Lake of fire. Naturally, when the tares are initially gathered up and cast in they will be grieved and tormented, but they will eventually be overcome and destroyed in Lake of Fire.
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