Eternal Punishment versus Eternal Punishing
When those who frequent the religious marketplace, hear of eternal punishment, they think of an eternally burning hell, where unrepentant sinners suffer eternal torment, and the “smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Rev. 14:10). There is no question that the wicked will be judged and will be justly sentenced and punished for their sins. But they are destined to suffer eternal punishment, not eternal punishing. In other words, the results of their punishment will be eternal – the punishment they receive will not be eternal. The fire that consumes them will continue to burn, until everything has been consumed, and then the fire will go out. This method of punishment, is consistent with what God has done in the past. The fires God ignited in the past are no longer burning, and the fires that God will ignite in the future, will also eventually cease to burn. The fires of the past are the types and the fires of the future are the antitype.
The State of the Dead
In order to understand God’s method of dealing with the wicked, it is very helpful, to understand the state of the dead. Biblically, there are three different types of death. There is spiritual death, “let the dead bury the dead” (Lu. 9:60). Secondly, there is physical death, biblically called a ‘sleep’ – “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep” (Jn. 11:11). From this physical state of the dead all will be resurrected. Thirdly, there is the second death, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). From this state of the dead there is no resurrection – it is eternal death. [For a fuller exposition of the three states of death see Appendix ‘The State of the Dead’].
The Most Fearful Warning
There are many denunciations of apostasy and rebellion in the Bible, with subsequent warnings about the consequences. But there is none like the third angel’s message. If one receives the mark of the beast, the consequences are very severe:
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. Rev. 14:10, 11.
All the consequences for apostasy and rebellion, in the past, were mild compared to the third angel’s utterance. The third angel’s message is the most fearsome because those who receive the mark of the beast are destined to have the seven last plagues poured out upon them, burn in the lake of fire, and suffer eternal punishment. What does all this mean?
The Wine of Wrath
We have already discussed, that Revelation is composed of warring opposites. One more example is ‘the wine of the wrath of God’ versus ‘the wine of her fornication.’ Those who receive the mark of the beast, do so, because they ‘drink’ the wine of her fornication. The wine of her fornication is the propaganda industry, promoting the cause of the beast and its mark. The people ‘drink’ this propaganda and it makes them ‘drunk,’ so that they cannot think straight. Therefore, they do not have ‘ears to hear’ when they hear the three angel’s messages preached, even when the full volume is turned up, under the power of the fourth angel (see Rev. 18:1-5). Therefore, because they choose to drink the ‘old wine’ and refuse to drink the ‘new wine’ (see Lu. 5:36-39), they have to ‘drink’ the “wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation.” Without ‘mixture’ means that it is undiluted. It is pure wrath, there is no mercy or grace, mixed in, to ameliorate the pain and suffering the wicked will endure.
The Full Cup Principle
Two more opposites in conflict are the cups. The woman riding the beast has a cup, and God has a cup. The woman’s cup is, “full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (Rev. 17:4). She holds out her cup to the people of the world and they ‘drink’ the abominations and filthiness to the point of drunkenness (they wallow in sin). God’s cup is full of, “the wine of the wrath of God.” God’s cup holds the records of sin and corruption, and when it becomes full, it is poured out upon those who filled it:
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them. Ps. 75:8; cf. Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-28; Eze.23:31-33).
When God was in conversation with Abraham, about the land that Abraham’s descendants would inherit, he told Abraham, that he could not have the promised land immediately because, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). In other words, their cup of iniquity was not yet full. In fact, it took approximately 400 years, before the iniquity of the Amorites filled up their ‘cup’ and they reaped the consequences of an overflowing ‘cup:’
Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. Ps. 11:6.
The references to God’s cup in Revelation, are simply a repeat and enlargement of how God has dealt with apostasy and rebellion in the past. We can call it ‘the Full Cup Principle.’
Because God’s people, “refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly” (Isa. 8:6), in the time of Isaiah. The people were forced to drink the ‘waters of the Euphrates’, in the form of the invading Assyrian hosts, swarming over the land, like a mighty flood (see Isa. 8:5-8). The same imagery is used in the three angel’s messages, because the people refuse to ‘drink’ the everlasting gospel, they are forced to ‘drink’ the cup of God’s indignation.
After Jesus sowed the seeds of salvation – nearly 2000 years have passed – the world has filled up its cup of iniquity – probation time has run out – God’s patience has been exhausted – and the nations must ‘drink’ the consequences of their choices. The cup of his wrath, will begin to be poured out, after world-wide close of probation, heralded by the pouring out of the seven last plagues (see Rev. 15:1; 16:1).
The Guilty are not Acquited
When Moses received the second set of the ten commandments on Mount Sinai, God revealed who He was to Moses. He described Himself, in the following terms:
The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Ex. 34:6, 7; cf. Ex. 20:5, 6; 23:7; Prov. 17:15.
The religious market place emphasises the first part of the character of God (grace and mercy), but in the most part they ignore the second part (justice and punishment). It is very important to understand the love and mercy of God, but it is just as important to understand the wrath of God. God has promised the world that he will not clear the guilty, He will not acquit the guilty:
The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. Nahum 1:3.
Judged by our Works
Scripture tells us that we will all be judged. In the judgment, it will be determined who is worthy of grace and mercy, and who is worthy of wrath. The judgment will be made on the basis of our works. It is commonly understood in Christian circles that we cannot be saved by our works, but it is not commonly understood, that the judgment has everything to do with our ‘works:’
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body… 2 Cor. 5:10.
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 1 Cor. 3:13-15.
Paul tells us that God, “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). The first angel’s message tells us when this judgment begins. The third angel’s message tells us what happens to those whose works are judged to be evil, and not covered by the blood of Christ.
The 144,000 have their works tried by fire, when they stand on the sea of glass “mingled with fire” (Rev. 15:2). And just like the three worthies cast into the furnace by Nebuchadnezzar they survive the test (because of their works). The wicked have their works tested by fire when they are cast into the lake of fire (see Rev. 20:10-15). They, like Sodom and Gomorrah, do not survive the test (because of their works).
Tormented by Fire and Brimstone
Those who are cast into the lake of fire, are “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” (Rev. 10). This occurs after the final executive judgment as portrayed in Revelation chapter 20:
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. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Rev. 20:10-15.
Chapter 20 provides us with the chronological events that take place after the second coming. The saints are taken to heaven. In heaven they take part in the executive judgment of the wicked. After the 1000 years, the New Jerusalem descends from heaven. The wicked are raised. The wicked try to capture the city. Fire descends from heaven – this is the lake of fire. The lake of fire encompasses the whole earth, it totally consumes the wicked, and cleanses the earth. God creates a new earth.
If the lake of fire is on the earth, and if God creates a new earth, then this must mean the fire goes out. It goes out after all the wicked and all the combustible material of the earth is consumed. Because there is nothing left to burn the lake of fire is terminated. This is consistent with the all-important Type and Antitype Principle and the Repeat and Enlarge Principle. The lake of fire is the antitypical application of types employed when peoples and nations had filled up their cups of iniquity (see below).
Degrees of Reward and Punishment
The tormenting by fire and brimstone can only be fully understood when it is recognised that there are different degrees of reward and punishment, for both the righteous and the wicked. Jesus told several parables, indicating that there would be different degrees of reward and punishment, depending on one’s works (see Matt. 13:47-50; 21:28-46; 22:1-14; 25:1-46; Lu. 11:43-49; 19:11-27). In addition to the parables of Jesus, all of Scripture teaches the same lesson, that there will be a recompense depending on the works and deeds of the people:
And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work. Ps. 62:12.
Who (God) will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath… Rom. 2:6-8.
Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 1 Cor. 3:8.
Because there are different degrees of reward and punishment, the torment the wicked endure in the lake of fire, will also be by degrees. Each and every individual will be sentenced to a specific time period in the lake of fire, according to their works – God will not acquit the guilty – all will be recompensed for what they have done. Eventually, all in the lake of fire will be consumed, they will all suffer the second death, from which there is no resurrection.
Forever and ever
Some alternative views, are created over the fate of the wicked, because it is stated, “the smoke of their torment, ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Rev. 14:11). This statement about torment coupled with the phrase ‘forever and ever’, would appear to support the popular notion of an eternally burning hell, where the wicked are tormented forever and ever. However, as already noted the Book of Revelation is using; terms, ideas, language, incidents and events that have occurred in the past and recorded in the Old Testament. Therefore, to understand forever and ever, we need to understand how this term is used in the Old Testament. Therefore, we need to ask, is there a type in the Old Testament, upon which the smoke going up for ever and ever, is the antitype? Yes, there is!
The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea… For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. Isa. 34:6, 8-10.
This event recorded by Isaiah, is the day of vengeance (the close of probation) on the nation of Idumea (aka Edom), and its capital city Bozrah. It is this destruction that serves as a type, upon which the equivalent day of vengeance, decreed upon those who accept the mark of the beast, is the antitype. In the type, the destruction includes burning pitch and brimstone, and the smoke from the burning goes up forever and ever. The literal ruins of Bozrah are well known to the archaeological world today, and it has been excavated. The fire of pitch and brimstone has long since been extinguished and there is no more smoke. The meaning is therefore clear, there was utter destruction by fire, but once the fires had consumed everything that was possible to burn, then the fires would go out, and the smoke of the burning would continue up, for ever and ever, never to return (meaning never rebuilt, no restoration).
There is a principle established here. We can call it, ‘the Conditions Determine the Longevity Principle.’ Another example, of the principle in action includes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah suffering “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). But the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are not burning today. The meaning is that the effects of the burning are eternal – Sodom and Gomorrah will never exist again. The smoke of their torment has also gone up forever – the smoke has dissipated, it will never return. This is also the meaning, of the destruction of those, who receive the mark of the beast, in the lake of fire. It is not their torment that goes on for ever – it is the smoke of their torment that goes up for ever – never to return. In other words, there is no possibility of resurrection, they suffer the second death. The lake of fire burns until there is nothing left to burn. Once there is nothing left to burn, the fire will go out. Just as the fires in Bozrah and Sodom and Gomorrah also eventually went out. [Other examples of ‘the conditions determine the longevity principle include; Ex. 21:6; 2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron. 34:25; Ps. 21:4, 52:8, 145:1, 2, 148:6; Isa. 30:7, 8, 66:24; Jer. 7:7, 20, 17:27; Eze. 20:47, 48].
There is much popularity, in the religious market place, for the concept of an eternally burning hell, and the wicked being eternally tormented. Some of the Scriptural justification for this notion, is taken from the message of the third angel’s message. However, when one “rightly divides the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), by employing the biblical principles of interpretation, one finds that God will indeed not acquit the guilty, but He will not torture the wicked forever and ever. They will all perish in the lake of fire, they will all suffer the second death, from which there is no resurrection. The consequences of everyone’s choices is eternal. It is not eternal punishing, it is eternal punishment.