This is the fourth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.
The ultimate destiny of the wicked is the same habitation created for Satan and his demons – a place in English we call “hell,” and a place Jesus and the New Testament writers describe variously as Gehenna, “outer darkness,” “eternal fire,” “eternal punishment,” “lake of fire,” and “the second death.”
While Sheol and Hades generally depict the temporary abode of the dead, Gehenna and its associated terms describe the place of everlasting future punishment for those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).
The term Gehenna is derived from the Valley of Hinnom. Located southwest of Jerusalem, this steep, rocky valley is the scene of human sacrifices to pagan deities (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6) and is declared the “Valley of Slaughter” by Jeremiah (Jer. 7:31-34).
The picture of a place where fires are never quenched and worms never stop feasting on corpses became to the Jewish mind an appropriate representation of the ultimate fate of idol worshipers.
Previously: Fire came down from heaven – Revelation 20:9
Rev. 20:10 – The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (HCSB)
The lake of fire
At last we come to the end of the father of lies. John records, “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (v. 10). The lake of fire and sulfur is, of course, hell, or gehenna in the Greek. The name is drawn from the Valley of the Son of Hinnom just outside Jerusalem, a place where apostate Israelites in Old Testament times sacrifice their children to the pagan god Moloch. Hell is a place of conscious existence where Satan, demons and the wicked spend eternity apart from Christ.
This passage should be seen in light of Rev. 14:9-11, which describes the destiny of the one who worships the beast: “he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
Jesus calls hell “the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). People who reject God’s gracious offer of eternal life join Satan and his demons in the lake of fire. Jesus also calls hell “outer darkness” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is place where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched, meaning that the resurrected bodies of unbelievers do not die and are not annihilated.
Hell is a place to be avoided at all costs, yet a place where no person or demon goes beyond his or her will. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’”
Rev. 14:9 – And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, 11 and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (HCSB)
A third angel follows the other two and pronounces woe on those who worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their foreheads or hands. The consequences of rejecting God – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of scripture – are spelled out plainly. The one who embraces the beast will experience the consequences of his or her rebellion.
First, the beast worshiper will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger” (v. 10a). The Greek word for “cup,” poterion, is used 82 times in the New Testament (HCSB) and denotes a drinking vessel of any sort. Commonly, a cup is a small bowl made of pottery, wider and shallower than today’s tea cups. However, the wealthy enjoy their drinks in goblet-shaped cups of metal or glass. The cup used at the Last Supper likely is an earthenware bowl large enough for all to share.
Figuratively, however, throughout the Bible the word “cup” may describe a measure of blessings or wrath divinely allotted to people or nations:
- In Psalm 16:5, David calls the Lord “my portion and my cup of blessing.”
- In Psalm 116:12-13, the writer declares, “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.”
- But in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet warns, “Wake yourself, wake yourself up! Stand up, Jerusalem, you have drunk the cup of His fury from the hand of the Lord; you who have drunk the goblet to the dregs – the cup that causes people to stagger.”
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus agonizes over His impending suffering and death, He prays, “My Father! If it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
- And moments later, after Peter cuts of the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus tells him, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” The cup Jesus endures, of course, is His sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross to secure our salvation, a most bitter cup as “the One who did not know sin [became] sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s also a cup Jesus endures “for the joy that lay before Him” because it results in our salvation (Heb. 12:2).
But now in Revelation the cup, which the Babylonians entice the world to drink, is turned into the cup of God’s wrath.
One of the most disturbing truths of the Christian faith is the doctrine of hell. Atheists use it to deny the existence of a loving God. And Christians find themselves squeamishly defending the notion that a good God sends some people to a place of everlasting torment.
“Hell is of course the greatest evil of all, the realm of the greatest conceivable suffering,” writes Christian author Dinesh D’Souza in God Forsaken. “Consequently, hell poses perhaps the deepest difficulty for Christian theodicy [an attempt to reconcile the goodness of God with the existence of evil]. Far from resolving the theodicy problem, hell seems to make it even worse.”
Atheist Robert Ingersoll asserted that hell “makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend.”
Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering so repugnant he rejected it in favor of annihilation.
Even C.S. Lewis shuttered at the concept of hell. “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power,” he wrote.
Rev. 9:1 – The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. 5They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment [them] for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like gold crowns; their faces were like men’s faces; 8they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10and they had tails with stingers, like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this. (HCSB)
Smoke came up out of the shaft
When Abaddon opens the shaft of the abyss, John records that “smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft” (v. 2). Some commentators, like Matthew Henry, see the smoke symbolically: “The devils are the powers of darkness; hell is the place of darkness. The devil carries on his designs by blinding the eyes of men, by extinguishing light and knowledge, and promoting ignorance and error. He first deceives men, and then destroys them; wretched souls follow him in the dark, or they durst not follow him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. Rev. 9:1–12).
Others who take this passage figuratively describe the smoke as heresy, or the obscuring of human civility and common decency. While Satan and his demons are behind these dark deeds, they do their work through human agents, who disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (see 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Satan works tirelessly to blind the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4). His kingdom is darkness and his citizens follow him blindly. Like the smoke that ascends from the shaft of the abyss, false teachings obscure the light that reveals our sin and leads us to the truth of God’s Word. There is no doubt that the thick smoke rising up from the pit may accurately depict spiritual darkness.
There are some interpreters, however, who see the smoke as a literal judgment, rising up from the earth due to a volcano or an earthquake. Just as the plagues of Egypt impacted earthly elements – water, earth, vegetation and sky – the judgments of Revelation are God’s ways of using His fallen creation to illustrate the depths of human depravity, the heights of His holiness, and the severity of His wrath.
Warren Wiersbe comments: “Jesus compared hell to a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50), an image that ought to make people stop and think before they jest about it. The smoke polluted the air and darkened the sun, which had already been darkened when the fourth trumpet sounded” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 9:1).
One final thought: The imagery of thick, dark smoke is used in several ways in the Old Testament to illustrate God’s dealings with sinful people. Smoke accompanies the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28). It attends God’s judgment of the nations (Isa. 34:10). And it envelopes the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:18). In each case, smoke is a visible manifestation of God’s power and divine purpose. He destroys wicked cities with fire and sulfur so the wicked can experience it and the righteous can witness it. He judges the nations in such a way that there can be no mistaking He is angry with sinners who rebel against Him and reject His gracious offer of forgiveness. And He delivers the law to His chosen people in such a way that they respond in terror to His holiness.
To the eye of the unbeliever, there may be no distinguishable difference between the smoke of the abyss and the smoke of Mt. Sinai. Smoke is smoke. But to the one who trusts in God’s Word, there is a distinct difference between the two. Satan uses darkness to hide his evil ways. The Lord uses it to reveal His wrath and keep sinful people from seeing Him directly, which would lead to their instant death (Ex. 33:20).
Next: Locusts came to the earth — Revelation 9:1-12