Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 4 – The Conquest of Evil
by Gerald R. Thompson
The lake of fire is the final destination for all people who, in the entire history of the world, did not have righteousness imputed to them after the manner of Abraham (prior to the First Advent) or through the ministry of Jesus Christ (after the First Advent). The lake of fire is a place of judgment and torment, and eternal separation from God.
The lake of fire was designed originally for Satan and his demons (Mat. 25:41; Rev. 20:10). The lake of fire will also punish all those whose sins have not been covered by the blood of Christ (Mat. 13:41,50; Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8). The lake of fire is conscious torment, viz., Mat. 13:50 “furnace of fire weeping and gnashing of teeth;” Mark 9:48 “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched; ” and Rev. 14:10 “he will be tormented with fire and brimstone.”
The lake of fire is eternal and irreversible. Rev. 14:11 “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night;” Rev. 20:14 “This is the second death, the lake of fire;” and Rev. 20:15 “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The lake of fire, like several major prophetic characters and events already mentioned, goes by several names in the Bible. The key names are hell, the lake of fire, the lake of fire and sulphur, and in some translations, Gehenna. Because the word hell tends to be ambiguous – it can be defined as either the grave, or as the eventual lake of fire – I will generally avoid using that term here. For clarity, I will use lake of fire to refer to eternal judgment and punishment – what many people commonly refer to as hell.
Whenever I use the terms Sheol (Hebrew), Hades (Greek), or Death, I am referring to the grave only – the place where the wicked dead await the final judgment. Paradise, on the other hand, is where the righteous dead await the final judgment. The secular (non-biblical) connotation is that the grave is where souls go to await final disposition to either heaven or hell. However, this does not mean that Death and the grave are neutral places in the Bible.
The biblical concept appears to be that when a person dies, their fate is not only immediately determined, but they also enter a place of either rest or torment. Thus, in Lk. 16:23 a man in Hades is said to be in torment. In Lk. 23:43, Jesus tells one of the men crucified along with Him that he will be together in Paradise that same day. Paradise (a/k/a Abraham’s Bosom) is a place of comfort and rest. Lk. 16:22-23.
It tells you something about Greek mythology when you realize the Greeks only had one word for the grave, Hades. To them, Hades was where all the dead went – there was no alternative. Talk about having no hope – to the Greeks, everyone is destined for torment. Only in Christianity do we have an alternative grave, Paradise. Thank God we won’t ever have to visit Hades.
Some people take 2 Cor. 5:6-10 to mean that when a Christian dies (is “absent from the body”) that he immediately goes to heaven (“present with the Lord”). The text does not actually say this, however. It only says that, “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” The text also says that all men must receive a reward, good or evil, for what was done while alive (“in the body”). But this refers to the judgment seat of Christ which occurs at the end of history, not when every person dies, as we have already seen.
What is absolutely sure is this – when people die, their souls are not in some sort of spiritual limbo, where their eternal destinies are yet to be determined, as though it were an open question at death. In other words, the Bible does not support the concept of Purgatory. I suspect Purgatory was invented by the Roman church as a way to extract money from parishioners to try to bribe an unbelieving relative’s way into heaven. Of course, any such attempt is pointless. A person’s eternal destination is irrevocably fixed at the moment of death.
Properly speaking, Paradise is not the same as heaven. What we call heaven is really just the New Jerusalem which is yet to come down from the sky and sit on the new earth, neither of which has been created yet. Rev. 21:1-3.
Similarly, Sheol and Hades are not the same as the lake of fire. Rev. 20:14 tells us that Death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire – so they cannot be the same thing. I am not sure the lake of fire even exists yet, as the first mention that anyone is actually thrown into the lake of fire is Rev. 19:20, speaking solely of the Antichrist and False Prophet after Armageddon.
Luke 16:26 informs us that there is a great gulf, or chasm, fixed between Paradise and Hades. I suspect this must also be true of heaven and the lake of fire – they won’t be able to see each other or communicate with each other. I used to conceive of this great gulf as mystical, or spiritual, but it is possible that it just means a very great distance. A very great distance measured in astronomical units such as a light year or parsec.
In other words, the lake of fire could be a distant planet – or not – but in any event it will be a real physical place. Every indication in scripture supports this idea. Do you think that the lake of fire is merely a metaphorical concept? Or that God would not really subject people to unrelenting everlasting torment? Then why does the Bible use such specific, vivid language describing the lake of fire? Outer darkness. Everlasting torment. Burning sulphur. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. If you don’t take these words at face value, I could almost conclude you aren’t taking God seriously.
Heaven, as we call it, will simply be a new earth – a planet. Why not the same for the lake of fire? A planet like Venus, perhaps. A planet located close to a star, full of sulphur, burning with heat, shrouded in clouds resulting in darkness. I don’t know, of course, but it is possible. Heaven is not going to be a place with no floors or ceilings where we just hang suspended in empty space. We are not going to be cruising from galaxy to galaxy. We are going to live on the new earth.
Similarly, the lake of fire is a physical place – just one that can never be left. No one will be able to escape. The inmates of the lake of fire will not be able to break out and travel elsewhere. It is a place of eternal confinement, off by itself away from God and the new earth. Rev. 21:23 says the new creation will not have either sun or moon, but it says nothing about stars or planets. It’s just a thought.
I conceive of the lake of fire as a relatively small, dark, crowded place, where a substantial amount of the torment will come not just from the environment per se, but from the fact that every one will be tormenting his neighbor, and be tormented by them. Imagine a place where it is so crowded people will be tripping over each other everywhere they go.
It will be a place the Bible calls “outer darkness” (Mat. 22:13; 25:30). They can’t even escape each other, must less the place. Always having people in the way, never getting any time or space to oneself, never having a moment alone. As the scripture says, the wicked shall not have any rest (Heb. 3:11, 18; Rev. 14:11).
Constantly hearing people weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, moaning, groaning and screaming. I can imagine people yelling out, “for cryin’ out loud, just please everybody shut up for a second!” But no, the howling just continues unabated. Not just in the distance, but right next door. It’ll be enough to drive everybody crazy.
And since heaven will be a place of eternal light where there are no sun or moon, there will be no days as such. No nighttime or daytime markers of the passing of time. Well, wouldn’t the lake of fire be the same way (except for the eternal light part)? Dark all the time, no nighttime or daytime markers of the passage of time. No time of rest and no sleep – because sleep would give the ability to escape the din for a while. But there won’t be any escape, not even unconsciousness. Just a constant awareness, a continual immersion, an everlasting baptism in pain and agony with no relief in any sense of the word. Youch! That sounds like hell.
* Ver. 8.0. Copyright © 2013-2020 Gerald R. Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.