DEFINITION AND PURPOSE STATED
“The lake of fire was part of a scene in a vision of the apostle John. This lake of fire was the place of incarceration and chastisement for grotesque creatures which represented world-dominating political systems in the vision, and for personified figures for death and hades. When Christ returns in glory and power, He will bring all the political systems of this world to their knees. They will be subjected to the rule of the reborn, priestly nation of Israel. There will be a worldwide reign of strict justice and righteousness. The servitude and chastisement to which the nations will be subject during this reign is the literal reality that was figuratively shown as a lake of fire in John’s vision. The lake of fire—the second death is not literal death” (Phil Scranton, “Journey to and through the Second Death” p.173).
The fact that death and hades are cast into the lake of fire after they are emptied at the great white throne resurrection shows there is a change in the second death from the first death. No longer will death be allowed to run its full course. This explains why there is no hint of a resurrection from the second death in Scripture.
The lake of fire—second death is the means in which God will refine those not yet reconciled to Him through the blood of His cross. Through this sentence of the lake of fire their eyes will be opened to the fact that they are in need of righteousness and will come to see their offensiveness to God because of their disobedience. The function then of the lake of fire under Christ’s rule is to provide a means in which no one will be cut off from union and fellowship with God. When the “fire” of the second death has burned out all remaining evil from creation, then it will be no more. It is at this time that Christ’s rule (including all governmental authority under Him) will cease because there will be no longer a need for it. Delegated authority will cease because there will be no more opposition.
Then will it be “that in the name of Jesus every knee should be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Deut. 4:20 – “But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a People of inheritance, as ye are this day.” Israel’s subjection to Egyptian rule was described as the “iron furnace.” This was not a literal furnace but they were to some degree, suffering affliction.
1Kings 8:51 – “For they be Thy People, and Thine inheritance, which Thou broughtest forth out of Egypt, from the midst of the furnace of iron:”
Jer. 11:4 – “Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey My voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be My People, and I will be your God:”
Isa. 48:1O – “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
God refined the nation of Israel in this furnace of affliction. Literal fire is used to refine and purify things, which is also why silver is mentioned in the context. The figurative “iron furnace” represents Israel’s afflictions while in subjection to the Egyptians. God used those afflictions to refine them, to cause them to want to leave Egypt to go where He wanted them to be. Israel’s sufferings were actually for her benefit.
Matt. 13:41-42 – “The Son of Mankind shall be dispatching His messengers, and they shall be culling out of His kingdom all the snares and those doing lawlessness, and they shall be casting them into a furnace of fire. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.
Matt. 13:49-50 – “Thus shall it be in the conclusion of the eon. The messengers will be coming out and they will be severing the wicked from the midst of the just. And they shall be casting them into a furnace of fire. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”
In both parables the good are gathered into the kingdom, while the wicked are cast into the furnace of fire. Again, the furnace of fire is not literal; rather, it refers to a chastening and loss. The lamentation and gnashing of teeth show it involves mental anguish and remorse.
These two parables find their fulfillment in the latter days just before and including the return of the Son of Mankind at the conclusion of the eon (13:40-41, 49). The timeline of these events coincide with the glory throne judgment described in Matt. 25:31-46.
Matt. 25:41 – “Then shall He be declaring to those also at His left, ‘Go from Me, you cursed, into the fire eonian, made ready for the Adversary and his messengers…’”
This “fire eonian” is further described in verse 46 – “And those shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian.”
The fact that the “fire eonian” is described as “chastening eonian” shows it is not literal fire. “Fire eonian” is figurative language referring to the chastisement that the Gentiles who are living when Christ returns, who had been persecuting His brethren, will have to undergo. This fire eonian will continue throughout Christ’s millennial reign. These “goat” Gentiles are the darnel or sons of the wicked one in Matt. 13:38-39, 41-42 and the wicked of Matt. 13:49-50. Instead of Israel being in subjection to the Gentiles as we saw in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, now Gentiles are in subjection to Israel and her king—Christ.
Thus far we have seen how “fire” is used in a figurative sense referring to affliction and chastisement for both Israel and the Gentiles. The furnace of fire in Matt. 13 is the same as the fire eonian of Matt. 25. Now I’d like to show that the fire eonian of Matt. 25 is also the lake of fire in Revelation.
The judgment of Matt 25 takes place when Christ returns and is seated on the throne of His glory (25:31). This is the beginning of His millennial reign. Notice the fire eonian to which these Gentiles are cast into is the fire that is made ready for the Adversary and his messengers (25:41). In Revelation 19:20 and 20:10 we read that the wild beast, the false prophet, and the Adversary are cast into the lake of fire where they will be tormented day and night for the eons of the eons. Thus, in combining Matt. 25:41 with these verses in Revelation, we learn that the fire eonian and the lake of fire are but two titles for the same thing. Therefore, since the fire eonian is figurative fire referring to the chastisement, then the lake of fire would also have to be figurative referring to the chastening that the Adversary and his messengers will have to undergo.
One may ask at this point if literal fire is even able to torment spirit beings? “The messenger of Yahweh was seen by Moses as a flame in a bush…the angel of the Lord who led the Israelites through the wilderness was seen as a pillar of fire every night. The messenger to Samson’s parents ascended into heaven in the flame of the altar. God’s messenger walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace, protecting them from the heat. Spiritual messengers are called ‘flames of fire’ (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:7). There is absolutely no implication these spiritual beings were experiencing torment when they appeared at these times in fire. The false prophet has power to use and control fire, calling it down from heaven into the earth (Rev. 13:13)…While these passages may not be deemed proof positive that spirits cannot be tormented by literal fire, they certainly raise significant doubt. So much so, that the burden of proof lies upon those who would insist spiritual beings can indeed be tormented in literal fire. In fact, the spirits seem rather to have a great dread of being confined to water (Lk. 8:31; see also Rev. 20:1-3), a substance quite different from fire. The bondage of spirits is apparently more intensive in the darkness of gloom than it is in the burning brightness of fire (2Pet. 2:4; Jude 6)” (Phil Scranton, “Journey to and through the Second Death” pp.80-81).
The time words associated with the fire of Matt. 25 and the lake of fire are the Greek “aion” and “aionios” (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:10). Most English versions erroneously render these words as “eternal,” “forever,” and “everlasting.” However, these versions must also use words such as “age,” “ages,” and “world” because the concept of endlessness doesn’t make sense in certain contexts (see Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Rom. 16:25, 26; 2Cor. 4:4; Titus 1:2; Gal. 1:4, 5; Eph. 3:9-11; 1Tim. 6:17-19). The truth of the matter though is that “age” (eon) and “age-during” (eonian) fit in every occurrence where these two words are found in the Greek Scriptures. Endlessness is an adopted idea that is foreign to these words. Versions such as Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, and the Concordant Literal New Testament are a few versions that consistently translate “aion” and “aionios” correctly.
“Realizing that the eons in God’s purpose are not endless will open the door to a greater understanding of that purpose (Eph. 3:9-11). And consistent translation of these terms will open panoramic new vistas of God’s workings. The correct translation of these words will also raze the abusive myth of endless torment for the lost” (Phil Scranton, “Journey to and through the Second Death,” p.55)
Matt. 8:11-12 – “Now I am saying to you that many from the east and the west shall be arriving and reclining with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, yet the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”
Matt. 22:13-14 – “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Binding his feet and hands, cast him out into outer darkness.’ There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”
Matt. 25:29-30 – “For to everyone who has shall be given, and he shall have a superfluity, yet from the one who has not, that also which he has shall be taken away from him; and the useless slave cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”
In the above passages the Lord is speaking concerning the yet future kingdom of the heavens to which the Israelites throughout the centuries have been looking forward. “From these passages it is clear that outer darkness means being locked outside of the blessings of the kingdom while others freely enter in. And surely this outer darkness is a condition in which people consciously exist, otherwise their remorse would not be described as “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (“Journey to and through the Second Death,” pp.109-110).
Outer Darkness is the opposite of inner light. The inner light is that which Isaiah prophesied—the glory of Yahweh (Isa. 60:1-3). John also spoke of the inner light in Rev. 21:24-25. “And the nations shall be walking by means of its light, and the kings of the earth are carrying their glory into it. And its portals should under no circumstances be locked by day; for there shall be no night there.” The Lord’s glory shall shine upon Israel/the new Jerusalem. His glory will be so bright that the Gentiles outside will be able to see it.
Matt. 24:48-51 – “Now if that evil slave should be saying in his heart, ‘Delaying is my lord,’ and should begin to beat his fellow slaves, yet may be eating and drinking with the drunken, the lord of that slave will be arriving on a day for which he is not hoping, and in an hour which he knows not, and shall be cutting him asunder, and will be appointing his part with the hypocrites. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”
Luke 12:46 – “…the lord of that slave will be arriving on a day for which he is not hoping and at an hour which he does not know, and shall be cutting him asunder and shall be appointing his part with the unfaithful.”
To be cast asunder does not imply that they are killed. It refers to those living during the times of the kingdom, but are not allowed to receive the blessings of the kingdom. To be cut asunder means to be cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“Wailing and gnashing of teeth is an expression depicting one who has suffered an unutterable loss. Imagine those Jews who were devout in their religion (but not from the heart) and were expecting their Messiah to come…think of the feelings of those chosen people, when they stand outside, observing the glorious splendor in which they could have participated…surely they will wail and gnash their teeth in anguish over their loss” (Journey to and through the Second Death” pp.110-111).
Some of the parables I have mentioned deal with those people living at the time of the Lord’s return. Yet sometimes they can be applied to the people of the first century that heard them. Consider the following:
Christ uses similar language in Luke 13:26b-29, but here He is addressing His comments directly to His listeners:
“Then should you be beginning to say, ‘We ate and drank in your sight, and in your squares you teach!’ He also will be declaring: ‘I am saying to you, I am not acquainted with you! Whence are you? Withdraw from me, all workers of injustice!’ There there will be lamentation and gnashing of teeth, whenever you should be seeing Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, yet you cast outside.”
Now when will the unbelieving Jews of the first century see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom while they are left out? They will be dead until the resurrection at the great white throne judgment. The only time these Jews will observe kingdom citizens enjoying its benefits while they were left out is when they will be in the lake of fire—the second death.
“It stands to reason that the expressions, ‘cut asunder,’ ‘cast into outer darkness,’ ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth,’ and other expressions used by Christ in the parables, are all descriptive of the conditions many will enter into after the great white throne judgment. One would expect, then, that such phrases are synonymous with ‘the second death.’ And then it would be found that the Scriptures actually have a great deal to say about the second death” (“Journey to and through the Second Death” p.113).
Rev. 22:12-15 – “Lo! I am coming swiftly, and My wage is with Me, to pay each one as his work is. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Origin and the Consummation. Happy are those who are rinsing their robes, that it will be their license to the log of life, and they may be entering the portals into the city. Outside are curs, and enchanters, and paramours, and murderers, and idolaters, and everyone fabricating and fondling falsehood.”
Those living in John’s day were to rinse their robes and live a holy life. “Only by doing so could they be sure of having access to the city…those who do not rinse their robes are outside. The outside demanded by the context is outside the new Jerusalem…If those who do not rinse their robes are outside the new Jerusalem, they must be alive on earth during the final eon. This indicates that the second death must be understood figuratively” (“Journey to and through the Second Death” p. 125).
The Jews to whom the Lord was speaking would have understood such terms as “cut asunder,” “cast outside,” etc. The rinsing of the robes for example, was something the Israelites did when they were preparing to enter into covenant with God (Ex. 19:10). Likewise, individuals who were pronounced unclean had to go wash their clothes before they could be brought out of isolation (Lev. 13:6, 35, 46, 58; 14:8).
Lev. 13:45-46 – “And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.” As long as one has an infection, his residence must be outside the camp. He is cut off (isolated) from Israel being outside.
The typology is to see the infection of the skin as a figure of sin. Leaven is the same idea. Disease is the result of death and sin. So these people are placed outside of the camp that is holy. Israel is to be a holy nation.
Notice in Leviticus the one who had the skin infection and was outside the camp, had to cry, “Unclean, unclean.” When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne he said of himself, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isa. 6:5).
The important point I want to stress from these passages is the fact that there was a way for those who were cut off, who were outside, to come back into the camp. As I said in the introduction, all those who find themselves in the lake of fire outside the blessings of the kingdom, outside of the new Jerusalem, one by one will come to see their own uncleanness in relation to Christ, their own unrighteousness in relation to the righteousness of God, and will realize they are very much in need of God’s mercy and grace.
Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened upon eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and for the first time they realized they were naked. For the rest of their lives they would be getting to know what good and evil is, just like we do.
Why was it though, that upon eating they could all of a sudden see each other’s flesh (skin)? Is it not likely that Adam was clothed with light, but after his disobedience, he had lost that light? Then upon seeing themselves for who they really are, they tried to cover their own inadequacy with fig leaves, all of which shows that man is unable of his own ability and efforts to restore that which was lost and to have fellowship with God.
What is important and necessary for Adam and Eve’s good is what God did. Because of their disobedience they were driven out from the garden of Eden (or we could say fellowship with God). Outside of the garden they would be experiencing hardship and pain. Life would now become a struggle. However, this is not all, for God also gave them a promise concerning Eve’s Seed (Gen. 3:15) and covered them with coats of skins (Gen. 3:21).
The judgment in the Garden of Eden was the first race-wide judgment. Adam and Eve, representative of the whole of humanity, were cast outside. Humanity had become estranged and enemies in comprehension by wicked acts (Col. 1:21). Yet God, just as He provided a covering for Adam and Eve, because of His vast love, seeing that while we are still sinners, Christ died for our sakes (Rom. 5:6). This is the means that God has provided for all humanity to be brought back into the camp (fellowship) with Him. Just as God slew the animals that He placed on Adam and Eve, so Christ was sacrificed that we may have the righteousness of God and life upon us (Rom. 3:21, 22; 4:25). No longer are we outside in darkness, for upon believing, we become sons of light and sons of day (1Thess. 5:4-5) and are baptized by God into Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3).
The great white throne finishes the last race wide judgment. All who have not been previously resurrected and glorified will at that time be resurrected and judged for their works (Rev. 20:11-15). If anyone is not found written in the scroll of life, he is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).
The lake of fire at this time is referred to as the second death (Rev. 20:14). This may be in reference to the fact that the great white throne judgment deals with resurrected subjects whereas in Rev. 19:20 and Matt. 25 the subjects are still alive. The term second death is also more fitting since the great white throne finishes the last race-wide judgment.
All such ones who have the lake of fire imposed upon them will find themselves outside of the new Jerusalem. “The lake of fire will provide the trial needed to burn the disposition of the flesh out of their life, preparing them for the receiving of God’s Spirit” (“Journey to and through the Second Death” p.149). Generations of individuals will be in subjection to Christ’s righteous rule. The affliction of each individual will be just what is needed to get rid of all that is false and bring about a realization of the truth (1Tim. 2:4).
At the great white throne, judgment is given out, but as a throne, rule flows from it as well during the final eon. “All of the governing and political aspects that would be expected from such a throne will indeed issue forth. But when Christ becomes Lord of all, then the need for rule will cease to exist, and all delegated offices of rule and authority will be abolished. Perhaps then the great white throne will become a great white dais. Every rational creature will voice their judgment that the Son of God is worthy to rule all.” (“Journey to and through the Second Death” p.172). It is then that God’s purpose of the eons and of His creation will be fulfilled (Eph. 1:9-11; 3:8-11) and God becomes All in all (1Cor. 15:28).
“To God be the glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the eons! Amen!” (Eph. 3:21).
(Completed May 8, 2014)