The doctrine of hell is disturbing. The very idea of suffering and separation beyond the grave elicits a wide range of responses, from anguish to anger.
The possibility of departed loved ones languishing in outer darkness only adds to the grief of those laying flowers on their graves.
Some atheists cite hell as a reason to deny the existence of a loving God.
What’s more, Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering in hell so repugnant that he rejected it in favor of annihilationism.
According to a 2014 survey by LifeWay Research, fewer Mainline Protestants believe in hell than do Americans in general (55 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
And for many evangelicals, hell remains an inconvenient truth.
Previously: Making everything new – Revelation 21:5-6
Rev. 21:7 – The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. 8 But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (HCSB)
The victor will inherit these things
The words of God complete this section as He speaks in verses 7-8: “The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
This expresses the intimate relationship that exists between the saints and God in the eternal state. We are joint-heirs with Jesus. We are God’s adopted sons and daughters. And the full expression of God’s work for us and in us will be realized when we are resurrected and glorified, and when we enjoy everlasting face-to-face intimacy with Him in the new heavens and earth.
The words “the victor” are translated “he who overcomes” or “the one who conquers” in other versions. This refers to the perseverance of the saints during a time of terrible persecution, and it links the promises of Jesus in the opening chapters of Revelation to their fulfillment in the return of the King.
Remember that in each of the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor Jesus offers a word of encouragement to the overcomer:
To Ephesus: “I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise” (Rev. 2:7).
To Smyrna: “The victor will never be harmed by the second death” (Rev. 2:11)
To Pergamum: “I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).
To Thyatira: “The one who is victorious and keeps My words to the end: I will give him authority over the nations – and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery – just as I have received this from My Father. I will also give him the morning star” (Rev. 2:24-26).
To Sardis: “In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:5).
To Philadelphia: “The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God – the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – and My new name” (Rev. 3:12).
And to Laodicea: “The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).
Rev. 20:15 – And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (HCSB)
Anyone not found
John concludes this section with the words, “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15).
As the wicked pass through the gates of hell in Dante’s epic poem Inferno, they are greeted with these words: “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.” These words remind the damned that once inside, there is no escape from the fiery torments they have brought upon themselves.
As Charles Swindoll writes, “Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked features a one-way entrance. All hope vanishes beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire…. The facts of eternal punishment are set forth without a hint of hope … because no hope exists apart from God” (Insights on Revelation, pp. 266-67).
Books are opened at the great white throne, and the wicked find their names there, along with details of their lives – perhaps even a full accounting of their deeds. Some may wish to be excluded from God’s record of their thoughts, words, and actions, for their lives are laden with every sort of evil. They stand before their Creator – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ and Canon – with no excuse (Rom. 1:20). They have turned up their noses at God’s revealed love and turned their backs on His grace. And now they are reminded of every idle word, every selfish deed, every squandered opportunity as the evidence written in the books piles so high and wide it becomes like prison walls that cannot be scaled.
Rev. 20:14 – Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (HCSB)
The second death
Revelation uses the term “lake of fire” or “lake of burning sulfur” to describe the destiny of God’s enemies, who are:
- The beast and the false prophet (Rev. 19:20)
- The Devil (Rev. 20:10)
- Death and Hades (Rev. 20:14)
- Anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15)
- Cowards, unbelievers, the vile, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Rev. 21:8)
Jesus refers to this place as gehenna – a term derived from the Valley of Hinnom, traditionally considered by the Jews the place of the final punishment of the ungodly. Located just south of Jerusalem, this valley is the scene of human sacrifices to the god Molech and is declared “the valley of slaughter” by Jeremiah.“ Whatever its historical and geographic meaning, its usage in the New Testament is clearly a reference to the everlasting state of the wicked, and this seems to be the thought in every instance,” writes John Walvoord in Four Views on Hell (p. 20).
Rev. 20:12b – Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. (HCSB)
The book of life
In Revelation, the “book of life” refers to a divine record of all believers – those who live eternally with God in the new heavens and the new earth. This book is mentioned several times:
- In Rev. 3:5, Jesus promises the faithful in Sardis that He will never erase their names from the book of life – a comfort to those familiar with the common practice of erasing the name of a condemned criminal from the citizenship registry.
- In Rev. 13:8, we are reminded that unbelievers’ names have never been written in the book of life.
- In Rev. 17:8, we are told that those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel when they see the beast whose fatal wound is healed.
- In Rev. 20:12, 15, we see resurrected unbelievers stand before the great white throne as books are opened in judgment, including the book of life; they are cast into the lake of fire because their names are not written in the book of life.
- And in Rev. 21:27, we see that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life enter the New Jerusalem.
Additionally, in Luke 10:20, Jesus’ followers are assured that their names are written in heaven. In Phil. 4:3, Paul writes about his coworkers whose names are in the book of life. And in Heb. 12:23, the author tells of the “assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven.”