We continue looking into the repercussions of The Last Millennium. Our previous episodes have explored what happens to the faithful witnesses. Now, we take a look at death, Hades, Sheol, and the lake of fire. We often view these terms as the same thing, but they are actually quite distinct. When Christ initiates The Second Death, Hades is thrown into the lake of fire, ushering in the victory of Christ and His kingdom.
Fire and brimstone
Today’s a very special day because today we get to talk about fire and brimstone. Finally. I know that’s something everybody has been just pining for. And we finally get there in this episode.
Fire and brimstone has kind of fallen on hard times. Have you noticed? When I was growing up, it was pretty ubiquitous in sermons. Perhaps you remember the movie Pollyanna. Pollyanna was about a girl who had missionary parents that taught her the happy verses in the Bible, and to just look at everything as this is an opportunity to trust God. It’s really a great story.
She impacts this pastor who is a fire and brimstone preacher. And in his sermon that he makes in the movie, he begins it with the following line: “Death comes swiftly!” His hair’s falling down in his face, and he has this big menacing expression. And the people in the pews are kind of getting sick to their stomachs. They’re there out of obligation, basically; but they hate Sunday mornings is part of the story.
Death seems less imminent in this generation
I think one of the reasons why fire and brimstone has fallen on hard times in our day and time is because the narrative has changed in our culture. And I think it has changed for very explainable reasons. If you grew up in the early twentieth century before antibiotics were invented and before C-sections became a normal procedure, you faced death all the time. Death actually did come swiftly.
I’m looking at a daughter in law here who would be dead if it weren’t for modern medicine. You’re listening to a speaker who would be dead if not for Penicillin. We would have at least one child with an amputation because of infection if it were not for modern medicine.
But we now pray for children who are 28 weeks to be okay because they’re being delivered by C-section and put in the NICU. And we’ve sort of conquered death to an extent.
There’s still death, but it’s much rarer today than it was.
So the question of, the narrative of what happens to me when I die, which was a very appropriate question that’s in your face all the time in the early twentieth century is not really a pressing question in our society. A pressing question in our society, as offered by the world, is really more like, how am I going to keep my life from getting to be of low quality as I grow really, really, really, really old?
And then the definition of really, really, really, really old changes every decade. When you’re in high school, really, really, really old is 30. And then really, really, really old is 40. And then it just keeps bumping out until finally you say, “I’m really, really, really old.”
We don’t talk much about death anymore. But given the time that we have on earth, it’s just as appropriate a question. And the fact that we haven’t talked about it as much doesn’t mean it’s not still an important topic.
The other thing that happened to fire and brimstone, I think, is that the teaching was inappropriately addressed. What the Bible says about fire and brimstone, I think, was compressed and condensed into a story that’s really not biblical.
You take those two things together, and it’s really just kind of fallen out of favor.
So what I hope to do today is talk about fire and brimstone in the way the Bible talks about it.
Don’t add to these words, and don’t take anything away
Now, I have a very, very strong and urgent approach to this; and I want to start in Revelation 22:18, just so you’ll know where I’m coming from. I’m going to be very careful as I go through this fire and brimstone message.
Revelation 22:18, For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy—That’s Revelation. —of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
I am very motivated not to add anything! So I’m going to do my very best to just talk about what’s here. I’m also motivated not to take anything away.
I want to really talk about what’s here. And what’s here may not fit the narrative you grew up with, because we kind of got things oversimplified when we were growing up.
I’m an investor by trade; and part of what I do is study investor psychology, which is basically decision making. And one of the things that has come to be understood is that when people face information, what they automatically do is invent a story to explain the information. That’s what we do. It’s just how we’re built.
And it takes discipline to actually look at the information as it is and construct a story from the information rather than inventing a story that you want to be the answer to explain away the information.
What we’re going to do today is we’re going to approach this like investors, and we’re going to look at the information. And we have ample reasons to do that because we don’t want the plagues of this book, and we do want to participate in the holy city.
So what I’m going to do here is—we’re in Revelation 20—and I’m just going to read 4 through the rest of the chapter first, and then we’ll just talk about it because this particular chapter is pretty comprehensive about what it talks about. So we’re going to need to talk about it all at once in many respects. Bear with me, please, while I read this passage.
20:4. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison
And will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.
They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.
The devil who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who 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, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
There’s a lot of stuff in this, isn’t there?
Who sits on the thrones?
Last time, we did 20:4-5, and we saw that the thrones and they that sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus—
In this passage, it just talks about those who were beheaded, those who lost their lives in the tribulation as being the ones set on the thrones. And what we postulated is that since the twelve apostles were told you shall sit on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel, and since Jesus tells us in 3:21, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne—” it seems reasonable to presume that the witnesses here will be joined by these other groups of people reigning in the millennial kingdom.
But you see in verse 5, But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were teleo were finished, were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
While this passage is not comprehensive—and we know from other passages that there’s more to it than just this—there’s an emphasis here. And the emphasis here, I think, is pretty clear. And that is who’s going to reign and who isn’t.
Remember, the word throne shows up 41 times in Revelation. And in verse 11, there it is again. We started this whole thing in the throne room. And we saw all these plagues and everything that were dispersed on the earth that were authorized from the throne room. And we kept going back to the throne room.
And now the entire earth flees from the face of Jesus, so the old heaven and earth are done away with. There’s going to be a new heaven and earth. We’ll talk about that in chapter 21. And the center piece is the great white throne. So we still have the throne, even after everything’s done. The throne is still there; God is still on it.
Overcome as Christ overcame
The overriding question is, who’s going to reign with Jesus? And the answer is those who were faithful witnesses. By application, the rest of the Revelation, it is those who are overcomers. Because remember Jesus said to those who overcome as I overcame. And what did Jesus overcome? Temptation. He was tempted in every way as we are.
Philippians 2. He learned obedience. Even to death on a cross.
Even though he was in heaven and was king of the universe, he did not hoard that. He did not say this is all I need. When the father said, “Would you go and do something else for me?” he didn’t say, “Wait a minute. I’m retired. Wait a minute—I’ve already done my part! I’m already the king of the universe. Why would I want to go do that?”
He said, “I’ll do it.” And he lowered himself to become a man and served and was a faithful witness and didn’t fear death. And even though he didn’t want death, he faced it down. And because of that, Philippians 2 said, his name was elevated above every name. He was already elevated above every name as God. But now he’s elevated as a human. Now he’s the top human on top of being the top God. And the beginning of that passage says have this mind in you which was also in Christ who didn’t take the position you have and say, “Well, how can I keep this getting more and more comfortable all the time?” or “How can I keep elevating my fame?” —or whatever it is that’s interesting to you—but rather say, “How can I make this available as a steward? What do you want me to do, God? How do you want me to put this at risk for your kingdom? How do you want me to be a faithful witness and not fear death? I’ll go where you want me to go.” That’s who’s going to reign.
Not just kings but also priests
Look at verse 6, because something else is going to be added. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and reign with Him a thousand years.
Isn’t that interesting? It’s not just kings. It’s priests. Does that ring a bell? King-priest?
Let’s look at Hebrews 12:14. You recall in Hebrews that Jesus is the superior priest and the superior king. And Jesus is the one that paves the way as the new priest according to the order of Melchizedek who’s both the king of peace as well as a priest unto God to whom Abraham tithed. Remember that? He’s the model king-priest. And we are called to follow in those footsteps.
What we do with our gifts has consequences
In Hebrews 12:14 it says, Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator—porneuo—or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
There’s a consequence to not exercising the gifts we’re given. We have the grace of God. It’s given to us. It’s a gift. It can’t be taken away. We are God’s children; that’s irreversible.
But what we do with that gift has incredible consequences. Amazing consequences! And what seems to be the case is that there’s going to be large swaths of people, like Esau, who in this life say, “What good does it do me to suffer now for what seems nothing later? What good is it? Why don’t I just seek as much comfort now as possible, and then I’ll just trust God’s grace later.”
They’re going to be like Esau who realizes, “I sold my birthright!”
What was a birthright? It was not a physical inheritance he gave up. It was the inheritance to be the reigner, to sit on the throne of his family, to be the one that got the double blessing which is—I’m now the CEO of the family. That’s what he didn’t care about: all that responsibility. Who cares about that? I’m hungry. I want a bowl of soup.
So I feed my appetite now, and I’m unwilling to serve this path. I’m unwilling to walk this path of obedience. I’m unwilling because I’m hungry. I need my appetite satisfied.
Later you look back and say, “Uh oh.” That was a really bad idea. I want to reverse it.
It’s too late. Too late to reverse the consequences of the actions we take sometimes. Sometimes God lets us reverse those things, sometimes he doesn’t.
So it really matters! Some people will be priests and kings, and some will not.
The second death
Now it seems confusing to us because of the way we tend to think about things. Because it says, This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power.
This is hard because the second death, very clearly, is the lake of fire, and we can see that in verse 14. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
So if all believers are children, some are overcomers; some are not. Some are priests and kings and reign with Christ, and some don’t. And the ones who reign are in the first resurrection. All seems to be fairly clear here. Then what is this power that the second death has over those who aren’t in the first resurrection? And how can the lake of fire hurt someone who is God’s child? How does that work?
It’s very uncomfortable turf. We don’t like the idea that there is this severe of a consequence for not overcoming. And what in the world is that consequence? It sounds terrible.
Let’s look at what we can see. Let’s not speculate about anything else but what we can see, for the reason aforementioned. Let’s not add anything; let’s not take anything away.
The lake of fire is not Hades
Let’s first talk about Death and Hades. We are used to thinking about hell as a place. And we tend to take the lake of fire and Hades and make them the same thing. But they’re not.
Verse 14. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. You can’t cast Hades into Hades. They have to be two different things.
While Hades is clearly a place, the lake of fire is something else; it’s not Hades. So that’s an important distinction.
Let’s talk about Hades for a minute. There are multiple instances of Hades in the Bible. Depending on your translation, it may say Hades; it may say hell. Let’s just look at them all because this is an important topic.
Matthew 11:23. Capernaum will be brought down to Hades for not being enthusiastic enough about Jesus. So there’s a town going to Hades.
Let’s look at Acts 2:31. He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.
This is Peter speaking about Jesus’ resurrection, and he’s quoting a Psalm. And in that Psalm, if we went back and looked at it, you would see the word Sheol: You shall not leave my soul in Sheol, my life in Sheol. So in the New Testament, the word Hades is a substitution for the word Sheol.
And Sheol, in the Old Testament, if you go look at it, seems to encompass death, graves, pits, and the place you go when you die.
Hades is a place with two sections, a gate, and a key
That is really fascinating because Hades was a very well-developed Greek concept of a place. And it was a place where you could go. It had two compartments. It had a personification as well. And we saw the personification of Hades and the personification of Death riding out on the horses from the throne room, right? So pretty well developed.
We saw that picture in Luke 16:23. And being in torments in Hades—this is the rich man—he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
There you are. There are two compartments. You can see across them.
Then 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.’
But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
We can apparently talk across this gulf, but we can’t go and actually travel across the gulf.
That’s very Hades-like, and that’s something that Jesus used as a parable. In Matthew 16:18, the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church.
If you think about that as a gate of a walled city, has an invasion taking place, the invasion is the church. And the church will prevail and invade Hades. That’s a pretty cool concept.
Death and Hades
And we know Death and Hades are like peas in a pod. They rode out together. They’re thrown into the lake of fire together. The last enemy that’s defeated is, who? Death. Death and Hades. We’re going to win against Death and Hades. 1 Corinthians 15 says, Death where’s your victory? Hades, where’s your victory?
In Revelation 1:18 we saw that Jesus has the keys of Hades. It’s a place with a door, a gate. And a gate has a key, and Jesus has that key.
In Revelation 6:8 we saw Death and Hades, thanatos and Hades commissioned, go forth as the first horse, the pale horse of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Hades gets burned up
Then we have these verses in Revelation 20. That’s all the instances of Hades in the New Testament. It’s a place. It’s a place with two compartments. But it gets thrown into the lake of fire, just like earth burns up, and the heavens we know now burn up. So does Hades. And something else takes its place: the lake of fire.