The “Lake of Fire” and Its Purpose
WHAT is the “lake of fire”? We find this expression used in the Bible only in the book of Revelation, and there its mention is confined to the small area of Re chapters 19 to 21. A possible allusion to it is also found at Matthew 25:41.
Who or what goes into the “lake of fire”? Among the things mentioned are the “wild beast” and the “false prophet.” Death and Hades are put into this “lake.” We also read that the Devil (and along with him his associate demons) is hurled into the “lake” after his final attack on God’s sovereignty.—Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14.
In examining these texts we readily see that the “lake of fire” is not a literal pool of flame. The “wild beast” is symbolic, as earlier shown in Revelation chapter 13, the “image” of it being described in Re chapter 17, where we are told that the seven heads of the “beast” represent seven ‘mountainlike’ kingdoms. These are understood by Bible commentators to be the seven world powers of Bible history. The five that had “fallen” were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. The one that “was” at the time the apostle John wrote was Rome. The seventh has proved, from historical events, to be the Anglo-American World Power.—Rev. 17:9, 10; compare Daniel chapter 8.
Similarly the “false prophet” is not a person, but is a system or an organization. A “prophet” claims to have inspired information for the direction of others. A “false prophet” would mislead others, to turn them away from God and toward false worship. What does this “false prophet” do to accomplish such purpose? He is shown in another guise in Revelation 13:11-17 as a two-horned “wild beast.” As such he is depicted as performing in front of the seven-headed “wild beast” the signs with which he misleads “those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who render worship to its image.”—Rev. 19:20.
Since the “wild beast” and the “false prophet” are symbolic, the “lake of fire” is necessarily symbolic.
Further supporting this conclusion is the fact that the abstract thing, “death,” is also hurled into the “lake of fire.” Death cannot be literally burned.
Moreover, the demons are thrown into the “lake.” These are angels, spirit persons. Being spirit, they cannot be hurt by literal fire, which is a physical product of chemical combustion. In fact, we read often of spirit persons manifesting themselves to humans in a flame.—Ex. 3:1-5; Acts 7:30; Judg. 13:20; Ps. 104:4; Dan. 7:9, 10.
Of what, then, is the “lake of fire” a symbol? The Bible says that it is, or that it means or symbolizes, the “second death.” (Rev. 20:14) This cannot mean that everything that goes into it dies a second time, for “death and Hades” have not died or gone out of existence in the past. The expression “second death” distinguishes this death, which is permanent and everlasting and from which there is no resurrection, from the death brought upon the human race by Adam. Adamic death is one “kind” of death, a death that all men inherit through no personal fault of their own. The “second death” is another “kind” of death. Individuals that go into the “second death” merit it because of their own deliberate choice of sin and enmity toward God. This is evident by the action of those the Bible speaks of as being sentenced to the “second death.”
Further evidence or testimony as to what the “lake of fire” represents and who finally receive the judgment of this death is found in Revelation 21:7, 8. After describing the good effects that the New Jerusalem will bring about in the earth, the prophecy quotes the words of God, saying: “Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I shall be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowards and those without faith and those who are disgusting in their filth and murderers and fornicators and those practicing spiritism and idolaters and all the liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur. This means the second death.” All persons who choose such a way of life and spurn God’s provision of Christ’s atonement sacrifice for recovering from such a degraded condition will thus be obliterated forever from existence.
So God’s fiery judgment comes upon all those who are his avowed enemies. Of those of the “Gog and Magog” crowd who follow the Devil in his renewed attack on God’s sovereignty at the end of the thousand years, we read: “Fire came down out of heaven and devoured them.” They go into the “second death.” The “lake of fire” likewise burns up all humans who do not obey the “things written in the scrolls” of instruction during Christ’s thousand-year rule. None of these finally find their names written in the “book of life.” (Rev. 20:9, 12, 15) The same punishment of “second death” is executed upon Satan and his demons, who are hurled into the “lake of fire.” All are everlastingly dead.
There is not a spark of life in the “second death,” which is the everlasting punishment for those who willfully disobey God. There was not a bit of life in the first kind of death, that which came to Adam’s offspring by his first sin. That first kind of death would have been permanent had it not been for the love and undeserved kindness of Jehovah God in providing Christ’s sacrifice. The “second death” is permanent, for there is no atonement sacrifice for those going into it. The apostle Paul wrote:
“If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.”—Heb. 10:26, 27.
NO CONSCIOUS TORMENT
Those in the “lake of fire” do not have life. Their names are not written in any “book of life.” And life is life, whether spent in pleasure or in suffering pain. Accordingly, there is no consciousness or feeling of pain or suffering in the “lake of fire,” because there is no life there at all. Why, then, does the Bible speak of the Devil, the “wild beast” and the “false prophet” as being “tormented day and night forever and ever” in this “lake”?—Rev. 20:10.
It is because they are under the torment of restraint. When Jesus was on earth, the demons entreated him not to order them to go away into the “abyss.” (Luke 8:31) In a parallel account of the same incident, the demons asked Jesus: “Did you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” (Matt. 8:29) This being put into the “abyss” will be a “torment” because it will be a restraint.
Satan and his demons are, therefore, to suffer the “torment” of restraint by being hurled into the “abyss” just prior to the thousand-year reign of Christ. They will be restrained from all activity during that thousand years. Then they will be loosed after the thousand years end. (Rev. 20:7; compare Revelation 11:7; 17:8.) After the final attack on God’s sovereignty, the Devil and his demons are hurled into the “lake of fire,” where they suffer the “torment” of everlasting restraint, without letup, in the “second death.” They are completely annihilated, never to appear again. Moreover, all that they accomplished, all their works, will be erased from the universe.—1 John 3:8.
The truth that this being put into the “lake of fire” does not mean conscious pain of torment is shown in that the “wild beast” and the “false prophet,” both symbolic of systems or organizations, are spoken of as being “tormented day and night.” But systems or organizations cannot suffer pain. The “lake of fire” annihilates, destroys them. They are restrained from operating, forever. Never will such wicked organizations rise up to dominate or disturb mankind.
Also, death and Hades, mankind’s common grave, are done away with in the “lake of fire,” in that Adamic death will have been completely wiped out and Hades will have been emptied and will receive no more such dead. (Rev. 20:14) Certainly these two inanimate things can feel or experience no conscious suffering, but they can be restrained, put out of the way, forever.
The “lake of fire,” which means, or symbolizes, the “second death,” also ‘burns with sulphur.’ (Rev. 21:8) Sulphur ignites at a low temperature and burns quickly, thus tending to consume things that would not otherwise burn so readily. Sulphur was anciently used in fumigation. Thus the “lake that burns with fire and sulphur” would well represent a complete, everlasting destruction universally of everything and everyone that has “contaminated” it, carrying on filthy practices, challenging God’s sovereignty and bringing reproach upon his name. The “lake of fire” or “second death,” though always possible for God to use on the willfully disobedient, will not hold any threat to those who have been proved everlastingly loyal through the test of Satan’s loosing after the end of the thousand years of Christ’s reign. The faithful survivors of that test will have God’s guarantee of protection and the sustaining of their lives forever.—Rom. 8:21.
Thus the “lake of fire” is an important factor in God’s purposes. It is not something contrary to the personality of Jehovah God, who never conceived nor would ever countenance the eternal conscious torment of anyone. (Jer. 19:5; 32:35) It is in harmony with his personality of justice and loving-kindness, however, for God to clear out wicked troublemakers forever. For it is essential that justice be carried out in the universe for the sake of peace and order in behalf of those who want to do what is right.—Ps. 145:20.
Jehovah is not a ruler who is going to let crime and criminals continue to run rampant, taking away all peace and joy of living from law-abiding people. Neither is God harsh, so that there is no help for those who want to change their ways. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) He allows full and fair opportunity for all. Those who go into the “lake of fire,” which is the “second death,” actually choose everlasting death rather than life, of their own free will and accord, because they selfishly violate the laws of the Universal Sovereign. He rightly requires respect and exclusive devotion. This cleaning out of such hardened rebels is the only way the universe can have peace. May all who want life learn about Jehovah’s ways so as to have their names written in the “book of life” for everlasting happiness.