In this episode, we continue our study on how The Bible talks about hell. We begin by exploring the usages of fire and the lake of fire. Fire is often associated with a process of purifying. Ultimately, we conclude that sin does not pay––now or in eternity. God will purify us of all unrighteousness, either now or at his throne. The main point of all Biblical prophecy is to make us aware of this reality, allow God to change us now, and encourage us to choose God in this life rather than face Him unprepared in the next.
If Hades is temporary, and we can’t really know all that much about it, how it works, what can we know?
The lake of fire
Let’s talk about the lake of fire. Happy topic. It is actually a much happier topic than you think.
Fire in the Bible
First, let me just talk about fire in the Bible. Can you give me some things, particularly from the Old Testament, that relate to fire? Just give me some pictures that come to your mind.
Burning bush. Who was in the burning bush? Satan, obviously, right? Because the fire is all about hell and Satan. Is that who was there? God! God was there. What’s up with that? Isn’t fire bad?
What else? What other picture do you have about fire in the Bible? The pillar of fire. Satan was in the pillar of fire, and he went and did…Oh no, wait! God led the Israelites in the pillar of fire, didn’t he? He was the pillar of fire. Isn’t that interesting?
What are some others? Fire came down and consumed the altar to Baal. Here’s Elijah, and he says, “Whoever consumes the offering, whoever is the God of fire, that’s the real God.” The prophets of Baal cut themselves and screamed all day long, and Elijah’s over there mocking them. He prays, and the fire comes down and consumes them.
There’s actually a deal when the angel comes to the parents of Samson, I think it was, and they do an altar, and they do a sacrifice, and he actually walks over in the fire and just ascends in it. That’s a really cool picture. It’s almost like Star Trek.
Sodom and Gomorrah. Raining fire from heaven. Who sent the fire? God or the angels.
Good. You’re doing awesome. What else?
Nebuchadnezzar. Yeah! They throw the three guys in the fire, and they look in there, and he says, “There’s four! The fourth one is like an angel, the Son of God!” They’re walking around in there having a party. They don’t even smell like smoke! They’re actually enjoying themselves. Isn’t that funny?
How about Sinai? What happens on Sinai? Trumpets, smoke, fire; and what Moses tells the Israelites, he says, our God is a consuming fire. Isn’t that interesting?
The sacrifices have to burn, and it purifies, and he says, that smells good!
All the instances of the lake of fire
Let me now tell you every instance I could find where it sounds like lake of fire.
I’m going to tell you that phrase only shows up right at the end of Revelation. That’s the only time we have the phrase. But I went back looking for every instance. I’m a high-level person, not a detail person, so I did a lot of skimming here.
The first place I found was in Daniel 7. Let’s look at Daniel 7. We’ve got the lake of fire, the first aspect of the lake of fire in Daniel 7. Revelation largely reproduces the imagery of Daniel.
Let’s look at Daniel 7:9:
“I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated—Who’s that? God.
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame—isn’t that interesting?
Its wheels a burning fire;
What is in your mind when you hear that? A fiery throne with wheels on it. That’s a little too wild for me. I don’t exactly know what that is. On the top? On the side? Underneath?
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
It kind of sounds like that furnace, doesn’t it?
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.
“I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking—This starts off “as I considered the horns,” and anybody that wants to go to UT needs to really think about this passage.
I watched till the beast was slain—I don’t think that’s a longhorn there; this is actually the antichrist—and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame.
I find this fascinating because here we’ve got the beast, the beast being slain, all the fire right around the throne and proceeding from the throne, and the beast is thrown in.
2 Thessalonians 1
Let me go to 2 Thessalonians 1. It’s the next one I could find.
2 Thessalonians 1:7. and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.
Sure sounds “lake of fireish.”
That’s about it—until you get to Revelation—that I could find. Most of the rest of it is Sheol and Hades.
Let’s go to Revelation 14:9. This is the first time that the actual phrase comes up.
Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image—same guys in Daniel 7—and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand,
he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. 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 ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
I’m sorry, that is not the first time the lake of fire shows up. This is a “lake-of-fire-sounding” verse with the beast.
Then let’s go to Revelation 19:20. I think this is the first time it shows up.
Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? These guys don’t die. They just go straight into the lake of fire.
And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.
I hear sometimes this whole kind of God-has-to-be-nice contingent, and the God-has-to-be-nice contingent has this narrative that in the Old Testament God was mean because he just started out kind of nasty and grumpy. Through time, as he dealt with us, and we straightened him out, he got mellow and permissive and is really nice now. He would never do those things again.
Well, have you ever read Revelation? Come on! He rides down on a horse and just wipes everybody out! There’s way more death and destruction in Revelation than everything else all put together. God says, “I never change.” He doesn’t like death, and he doesn’t like sin. He’s purging it all out; and he’s going to right the whole world. How can you right the whole world if you don’t fix the stuff that’s broke?
So the beast and the false prophet go straight into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20 and 21
Let’s look at 20:14. We looked at this already. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
We’ve now introduced another term. This could be talking about the event of casting Death and Hades into the lake of fire. Or it could be talking about that the lake of fire equals the second death. I’m not sure which it is. I tend to think it’s the latter, that he’s talking about this lake of fire is the second death.
Now we get some additional clues that we have to look at.
Revelation 20:15. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:10. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. It’s interesting, the beast and the false prophet go first, alive; and later on Satan’s thrown in there with them. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
One of the things you have to watch in the scriptures, there’s this forever term, aion eis, which means age. It can just mean your lifetime. It can mean a lot of things. This is aion eis of aion eis; it’s ages of ages, which I think is as close as you get to forever.
We know at least these three are in there forever, in the lake of fire. The lake of fire is an eternal spot.
Revelation 21:7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Let me give you some clues, here, that we also have to consider in addition to this lake of fire. Remember, Hades has gone into the lake of fire and now the lake of fire is now what’s left.
Let’s look at a couple other things. Let’s look at Rev 20:5. 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.
Probably the most disturbing—the verse that got me going down this road to understanding was this next verse.
He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death
Revelation 2:11. I want you to understand that an overcomer, in this letter to the seven churches, is controversial. What I see people do, if you read commentaries, they’ll say, if it’s something good, then an overcomer is somebody that goes to heaven; and if it’s something bad, it’s somebody that looked like an overcomer but really wasn’t, or something like that. It doesn’t even make any sense to me.
What I looked at and saw is that the last church, Jesus says, “If you overcome as I overcame—” and I said, well, overcomer can’t mean “believe in Jesus for your salvation” because Jesus didn’t believe in Jesus for his salvation.
Jesus didn’t need salvation. Jesus is salvation. He didn’t receive salvation. What he did is he overcame sin and temptation, and his name was lifted above every name as a result. That’s where Jesus was. That’s what an overcomer is.
In 2:11 it says, Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’
I started looking at this and saying that just sounds like if you’re an overcomer, you’re not hurt by the second death; and if you’re not, you are.
What in the world’s up with that?
The fire will test each one’s work
Let me give you one more passage. It’s a passage we accept even though we don’t like the purgatory idea; we have our own substitute for it. We call it the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Look at 1 Corinthians 3:9. This is, I think, the same kind of imagery. Paul writing, and Paul’s Jewish. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
each one’s work will become clear—how? for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss—
There’s another passage in Revelation where these people are taken vengeance on, and they’re right at the throne of God. There’s this in-the-presence-of-God picture.
What did Isaiah do when he went in the presence of God? Did he say, “Now I’m happy all the day”?
Woe is me! I’m a man of unclean lips! I see my own sinfulness! I want it to go away! God’s merciful to him. What does he do? He burns his lips off with a coal. Is that something you would want? Well, the answer should be yes because it’s better than having nasty lips.
Do you see the point? This is a purging that’s taking place.
Knowing the terror of the Lord, aim to be well pleasing to him
One more. 2 Corinthians 5:9. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present—in this body—or absent—in the presence of God—to be well pleasing to Him.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord—the fear of the Lord—we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Rewards and penalties throughout eternity
Here’s what I do with all this. I started this whole prophecy-thing with the history of people looking at prophecy is they miss the big point; and I think the reason we do that, as people, is because we want to create a system we can manipulate, like the medieval church did. I mean, those guys made a gazillion dollars off that manipulation. We don’t want to do that.
The big point from the last lesson was sin is a bad idea. It’s not worth it. It doesn’t pay—in this life.
The lesson from this week is sin is a really bad idea. It doesn’t pay forever.
Serving and overcoming and doing all the things that are really painful in this life—obeying God is a very painful thing—pays enormous dividends. Paul says beyond what we can even think or imagine to those who love him. That’s the big point.
The lake of fire is…
I’m going to tell you what my model is. You can totally throw this out the window if you want to. It’s just a model. Here’s my model: I think the lake of fire is Jesus.
That’s kind of crazy sounding, isn’t it? Until you think about “pillar of fire.” Our God is a consuming fire. A throne of fire. Fire in the fiery furnace.
I think what’s going to happen is we go, as believers, we’re going to go to this Judgment Seat of Christ; and I think there’s going to be pain as what’s left of the nastiness of our lives is burned away.
When I first started thinking about that, I really didn’t like it. And as I’ve gone a little deeper in life, I like it a lot.
I was reading C. S. Lewis one day, and he said, “Do you want to go through all of life with all that junk?” I thought, “No!” Don’t you hate the flesh-part that you have to struggle with? Don’t you want it all singed and taken away and learn the lessons that you need to learn?
We can be purified now or later
Here’s the thing: I get a chance to purge that now. It’s painful.
The clear picture I get from this is I can have the refining fire of Jesus in my soul today, or I can have it at the judgment seat. Either way, I’m going to be purified. He’s telling me, really clearly, if you’ll do it now, I’ll bless you beyond your wildest imagination. That’s motivating to me.
You know what sin I struggle with the most? Now I get everybody’s attention.
James 4 says to him who knows what’s good and does not do it, to him it’s sin. That’s pretty broad, don’t you think? I have been given the ability to do all kinds of good, as every American has. I’m concerned about it. I think about it every day. You know why? Because I get it. I get that there’s going to be fire.
In our resurrected bodies, we won’t need an intermediary between us and the light
The rest of my model’s this: I think our new resurrected bodies are going to have a plant capability. Have you noticed that everything we do is dependent on the sun? And in the new earth, will we need sun? No. Why? Jesus is the light. If you were standing next to the sun, what would happen to you? You’d just burn up, right? There’s going to be something different here. We can stand next to the sun, and it’s not going to bother us any.
Right now we depend on the sun, but we have to have an intermediary for everything. What’s the intermediary for us to benefit from the sun? Plants. Plants take the energy from the sun, then we eat the plants. I don’t think that’s going to be necessary anymore. As a matter of fact, I think we’re just going to revel in this light.
Others will be tormented by the light
The same light we revel in is going to be the same light that causes the other people to recoil.
Let me just look at this last part of Revelation. Revelation 22:12. This is the very last part of the Bible.
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life—This is one of the rewards in the sequence of the seven churches.—and may enter through the gates into the city. Not everybody gets to go in.
But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
I told you that time sequencing in prophecy, you can’t always bank on; this could be rolling back before the new earth. My best reading, though, is this is in the new earth. Who in the new earth could defile the city? Who in the new earth is immoral and loves and practices a lie?
There’s this real fascinating verse in Isaiah 14. It says that—it’s talking about Satan—Oh how you’ve fallen from heaven, O son of the morning, Lucifer. And it says people are going to walk by and say, “Is that the man that made all the nations tremble? That?”
The rest of my picture is, I think, the people who don’t have this resurrected capability are going to be in pain and torment by the son, by this light, this light that’s just going to debilitate them.
The picture I get is the lake of fire is going to be right amongst us. There’s going to be the opportunity to walk along and say, “That’s Satan? He’s just a little pile of ashes now.” That’s the picture I get.
If you don’t like that picture, do your own. It doesn’t bother me a bit.
Sin has consequences now and forever
What’s the big point? The big point is sin has consequences now and forever. Obedience has massive consequences now: love, joy, peace, patience, a better life. And forever: rewards beyond what we can even imagine.
The picture I was going to get Brandon to do that I think is a great picture of this is the creature Gollum. Gollum got what he wanted, right?
If you know this story, he wanted the precious, the little ring. He’s just totally obsessed on this ring. “I have to have it!” He becomes this miserable and wretched creature that always wants to live underground. When he goes outside, what does he say about the sun? “We hates it! We hates it!” It’s just debilitating to him.
I kind of think Tolkien kind of got that picture.
The darkness hates the light, doesn’t it? You’ve done this before. Haven’t we all done this? We get into sin, and we start perpetuating it, and truth starts coming in. “No! No! I don’t want truth!”
Embrace the light
Let’s embrace the light. Let’s embrace the consuming fire. Let’s embrace the purifying fire.
When God brings trials into your life, it’s a tremendous opportunity to be purged of sin in this life and learn to walk in this obedience that makes you not only a fulfilled person in this life, but the kind of person that can be the reigning person rather than the purged person.
I’m not even going to pretend to talk about how that works. I don’t know. I just get this overall model that there’s going to be this massive opportunity to be in the light, and there are going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to like that, and they’re not going to like it forever.
It ought to be motivation for us, the way we live our lives; and, also, to serve others because as we serve others, maybe they can escape the power of sin themselves.