Will some humans be tormented with fire and brimstone, for ages and ages?
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Many people may have wondered what verse 10 in the 14th chapter of the book of Revelation means. For, the way many bible-translations render that verse, can cause a casual reader to think that God is going to subject some humans to an everlasting torment. But, really what does Revelation 14:10 mean and refer to? Will God actually have some humans tormented, “for ages and ages”, with “fire and brimstone”? This article takes a closer look at that verse and its context and meaning, and related passages.
Before going to Revelation 14:10 and 11 and their context, let us first consider, would it be possible to torture humans, “for ever and ever”?
The Catholic Church claims that humans have an “immortal soul”, so that they live for ever. – At the same time, they talk about death and resurrection; that is a bit confusing. – That church has even a dogma regarding a “purgatory” which supposedly is an extremely long torture in fire, administered by God. That comes into expression in the Inferno (“hell” or “underworld”) which was created by the medieval poet and writer Dante Alighieri as a part of his Divina commedia.
Many other churches have copied those Catholic dogmas and concepts, or parts of them. And so, some writers have caused people to think that God supposedly uses torture, for “making sinners repent”, or for “removing their sinfulness”. Apparently, some think that God tortures humans, “in love, so that they will repent, so that they do not have to die for their sins”. (Repent, after an eon in a fiery torment? And, “so that they do not have to die” – how does that add up, seeing that the dogma of torture in fire requires that humans cannot die but are immortal?)
But, the true God and his son Jesus are not torturers. And, the dogma about an “immortal soul” does not have any support in the Bible. A closer study of the Scriptures shows that when a man dies, he perishes and has no further existence – unless God intervenes and resurrects him and gives him a new life.
A note: This study contains some translation-related comments. If you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that some particular bible-version is “without error”, make sure to read the article hs03.htm.
(The wording in that heading refers to the middle part of verse 10 where the Greek text has basanisthêsetai en puri kai theiô, “tried in fire and sulphur”.)
Here is a “traditional” translation of Revelation 14:9-11.
Revelation 14:9 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worshipeth the beast and his image, and receiveth his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, 10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented a with fire and brimstone b in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: 11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receiveth the mark of his name. (WBS, note signs added)
A casual bible-reader might come to think that that passage refers to “everlasting torment”, for some humans. But, does it?
That translation has in verse 10 the word “tormented”. And then, in verse 11 it has the phrase “for ever and ever”. – Let us consider verse 11 in two parts. First, the part regarding the smoke, and where it might come from. After this, the words “they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image”.
Those who consider that passage with more care, will notice that in verse 11, the phrase “for ever and ever”, in the Greek text literally “in ages of ages”, refers to the duration of the smoke that will be rising for a long time.
Now, smoke is connected to burning. Really what it is that will burn? A closer study of the book of Revelation as a whole, including chapter 18, shows that it is a city that will be destroyed, with “fire and brimstone” (just as Sodom and Gomorrah were). So, the smoke which Revelation 14:11 mentions, comes from the burning of that city and its ruins. There is more on this under the next heading, but in short: It appears that the inhabitants of that city will first be warned and told to leave it. But, if they do not, they will end up in being “tried in fire and sulphur” – that is, they will die, as the city is destroyed by fire.
(As we all know, if a human is enclosed in fire, not to mention burning sulphur, he very quickly dies. Humans are mortal, and they cannot and will not be kept alive in fire for some everlasting burning torment or torture. – It is true that there is a “lasting” punishment for sinners who will not repent, but that punishment is death, full end of existence, and not an everlasting life in torture.)
Then, what about the words “they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image”? Do they refer to an everlasting punishment where humans are being tormented (tortured) “in fire and sulphur”, without ever dying and without ever burning up? Again: Let us face the facts: We humans are mortal. That is why we need salvation! Salvation is actually the same as being saved from death – that one is granted lasting life. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, in regard to salvation, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” Now, regarding Revelation 14 – again, if a human is enclosed in fire, he dies. And, we can safely assume that God is not in the business of making mortals into immortals, for the purpose of torturing them in “fire and sulphur”.
So again, what should we make of those words, “they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image”, Revelation 14:11? It could be that that is a hyperbolic figure of speech, similar to the “immortal worm” of Isaiah 66 and Mark 9 (“their worm shall not die”). But, we do not and cannot know the exact meaning of those ancient figures of speech. What we do know, is that humans are mortal.
A note: Matthew 25:41 mentions a special, age-during fire (Greek to pur to aiônion) which is prepared for the Devil and his angels. In their case, the duration of the torment might eventually be longer than the few moments it takes for a human to die in fire. That passage and matter is considered in an appendix at the end of this article.
a Revelation 14:10, “tormented” – the Greek text has basanisthêsetai, a form of the verb basanizô which had to do with “trying”, “examining”. It came from the noun basanos which referred to a touch-stone that was used for checking whether an object was genuine gold or not. By extension, the verb basanizô could even refer to examination by torture. But, regarding Revelation 14:10-11 – we all know that if a human is “tried” in puri kai theiô, “fire and sulphur”, the end result of that is a quick death, and not an “everlasting torture”. But yes, the ruins of the city in question will be smoking, apparently for a long time.
b Revelation 14:10, “brimstone” – that is an old word for sulphur. It comes from the Middle English brinston, “burning stone”. The wording in the Greek text of Revelation 14:10 is en puri kai theiô, “in fire and sulphur”. But, this does not mean that the fire-causing theion or “brimstone” which is mentioned in a number of NT passages, would have to be exactly sulphur.
Indeed, if one carefully studies all of Revelation 14, and related passages such as chapter 18, one will find that what will happen, is that a certain city is to be destroyed with fire. Before this happens, God will warn the people in that city and tell them to leave it.
Revelation 18:1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is c Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; 3 for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.” 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and played the wanton, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning. Since in her heart she says, ‘A queen I sit, I am no widow, mourning I shall never see,’ 8 so shall her plagues come in a single day, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she shall be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” (RSV, note sign added)
c Verse 2: “Fallen is” – actually, “will fall”. The Greek text has the verb piptô, in the aorist form epesen which does not give the timing (past, present or future). Here, the context makes it clear that when the angel speaks, that city has not fallen yet but is about to fall.
A note: Revelation 18 shows that it will be traders and transporters of trade goods who will wail, when that city is destroyed. In short: That “Babylon” of the “end time” is a powerful (financial) super-power, and/or its main city. Point: That passage does not refer to a “church”, as some have claimed. (The article fv03.htm considers what and where that “Babylon” might really be.)
Revelation 14:6 Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water.” 8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is d Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of her impure passion.” 9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If any one worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also shall drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (RSV, note sign added)
d “Fallen is” – actually, “will fall”. See note c, above.
A note: The phrase “they have no rest day nor night” in verse 11 was discussed earlier in this study.
Another note: In Revelation 14, some bible-translations add personal pronouns and other words which are not found in the Greek text. This can confuse the readers. Please note that the context is clearly a city which is to be destroyed. Revelation 18 shows that before this happens, the people in that city will be warned and told to get out, flee.
Even other NT passages contain the phrase “fire and brimstone”. Here is one of them:
Luke 17:29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. (AKJV, highlighting added)
Please note that also in this case, the “fire and brimstone” was not used for “torturing men” but for destroying towns and the area around them. (Genesis 19:19-29 indicates that several towns in that area were destroyed on that occasion, not just Sodom and Gomorrah.) Please also note that those towns and that area did not burn “for ever”. Nor were the people who lived there “tormented for ages and ages”; they died.
This passage says that that armies will use “fire, smoke and brimstone”:
Revelation 9:16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. 17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. (AKJV, highlighting added)
Here, it is an army that uses “fire and brimstone”. Apparently, the apostle John had in a vision seen future events, and was now describing what he had seen. We do not know exactly what he saw in that vision, but he described armies which could produce “fire, smoke and brimstone” that could kill men and destroy cities. It could be that the symbols which he saw in that vision, referred to such things as air- and artillery attacks or other ways of warfare and destruction.
Let us consider some more details in chapter 14. It shows that people will be warned, apparently around the world.
Revelation 14:6 And I saw another messenger flying in the midst of heaven, having the Good Message of the ages, to proclaim to those who dwell on the Earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 saying with a loud voice, Revere God and give glory to him because the hour of his judgment has come; and do homage to him who made the skies and the ground and the sea and the fountains of waters. 8 And there followed another messenger, saying, Babylon the great falls, because of the wine of the heat of her fornication which she has given all nations to drink of. 9 And another, third messenger followed them, saying with a loud voice, Those who pay homage to the beast and his image, and receive his mark in the forehead or in the hand, 10 will have to drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out undiluted into the cup of his indignation, and shall be tried with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy messengers, and in the presence of the Lamb (BPT)
Verse 6: This warning will be given to “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people”. In John’s vision, verses 9-10, it was said that those [cities of the nations?] that pay homage to the “beast”, will receive similar plagues as the “beast’s” city.
Revelation 16:19 […] and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath. (RSV, highlighting added)
In other words, regarding Revelation 14:8-10: The paying of homage, and the matter regarding a sign on “forehead” or “hand” which that verse mentions, may actually refer to nations who subject themselves to the “beast” superpower and follow its lead. Again, it may be that Revelation 14:6-10 means that every nation that “kisses the beast on its hand” or accepts its “mark” (whatever that exactly means), will have to share the fate of that “beast” and its city. And still, it appears that individual humans will be given a chance to escape, to flee and be saved.
And yes, all of this refers to events which have not taken place yet. – Some have created dogmas where many things in the book of Revelation are given “mystical” interpretations, but it is quite clear that Revelation 14, 16 and 18 refer to tangible and real things, in this physical world. So, when those chapters talk about cities being destroyed, that indeed refers to cities being destroyed.
Will God warn the world in advance, and not only in the very last minute? Probably, he will. It may be that the two witnesses (Revelation 11) will have a part in proclaiming some part of that warning. The article gr01.htm has some notes on those witnesses.
See also the appendix below, and the “recommended reading” section after it.
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Many have read this verse:
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.’ (YLT)
But, let us not take that verse out of its context, which shows that the “age-during” or “everlasting” punishment in question is something for the Devil and his angels. We read:
Matthew 25:41 Then shall he say also to those on the left hand, Go ye from me, the cursed, to the fire, the age-during, that hath been prepared for the Devil and his messengers (YLT, highlighting added)
Yes, it may be that even humans who side with the Devil, will end up in that fire. But, as we know, humans who are enclosed in fire, very quickly die.
Point: Matthew 25:41 and 46 do not refer to any “everlasting torture”, for humans.
Regarding verse 46, the phrase “punishment age-during” (YLT, quoted above) or “everlasting punishment” as some translations have it – what does that refer to?
A note: We do not know what word Jesus used on that occasion. The book of Matthew is written in Greek, but it could be that Jesus on that occasion spoke Aramaic. But, let us assume that the Greek text of that verse correctly echoes what Jesus said.
The Greek word which YLT in Matthew 25:46 renders as “age-during”, is aiônios. It was related to aiôn which meant such things as “life”, “lifetime”, “age”, “generation” – that is, a definite space of time, “an era”, “an epoch” or “a period” – see the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott, or their more extensive Greek-English Lexicon.
So, what does Matthew 25:46 mean? In what way is the punishment in question aiônios, “age-during” (or eventually, “everlasting”)?
Well, either that verse refers to a period of time (aiôn) during which a certain group is punished, or then, perhaps more likely, the meaning is “final punishment” – death and end of existence, for all ages, for all time to come, without any return to life.
Let us not forget the context which tells us who it is that are headed for that fire.
Matthew 25:41 Then shall he say also to those on the left hand, Go ye from me, the cursed, to the fire, the age-during, that hath been prepared for the Devil and his messengers (YLT, highlighting added)
And yes, even spirits can die. The Bible indicates that Satan and other spirit rebels are headed for death. The article hd02.htm has more on this.
Let us consider even verse 31 which gives us a timing of a kind:
Matthew 25:31 ‘And whenever the Son of Man may come in his glory, and all the holy messengers with him, then he shall sit upon a throne of his glory (YLT)
“Throne of his glory” – the Greek text has thronou doxês autou which can also be interpreted as “his judgment seat”. But, the exact interpretation of that phrase is not important, because the wider context makes it clear that that passage does refer to a coming time of judgment.
The next verse, Matthew 25:32, talks about “separating sheep from goats”. What is that? Who are the “sheep”, and who are the “goats”? Some might think that to mean that “righteous humans” will be separated from “sinning humans”, but let us note the fact that before God, all humans have sinned and are in need of mercy. Let us also note that Matthew 25, including verse 41, contains many things which make one think of the parable in Matthew 13:24-30 and its explanation in Matthew 13:36-43. That parable talks about a special group which will be burned up.
Matthew 13:24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 “but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 “But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 “So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 “He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 “But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 ‘Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” […] 36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 “and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (NKJV, highlighting added)
Compare these passages in Matthew 13 and Matthew 25:
Matthew 13:39 “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age […] 42 “and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (NKJV)
Matthew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels […] 46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (NKJV)
In short: The fire of Matthew 25:41 probably is the same as the fire of the parable of Matthew 13. It is important to note that in that parable, the darnel or “tares” which is headed for a fire, does not consist of normal humans. Jesus was talking about a wicked seed which emanates from the Enemy (Satan the devil). – The article fv10.htm has some notes on that parable.
Thus, regarding Matthew 25:33-46: It appears that Jesus was not speaking about normal humans, but was instead sending a warning to the Enemy’s offspring. They will face suffering and death in fire, when Jesus comes. It could eventually be that in their case, the process of (fully) dying takes longer than in the case of normal humans. If so, then the word aiônios, “age-lasting”, in the Greek text of that verse might eventually refer to this. But, it is more likely that the mention of an aiônios punishment in Matthew 25:46 indeed refers to a final punishment – the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, a fire that lead to death and end of existence, without any return to life.
And again, yes, even spirits can die. The Bible indicates that Satan and his angels are headed for death. The article hd02.htm has more on this.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → gs09.htm
On the King James translation, the “authorised version”. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → hs03.htm
Are angels immortal, or can they die? → hd02.htm
Matthew 13, the parable of the darnel or “tares”, the wicked seed sown by the Enemy. → fv10.htm
The two witnesses of the book of Revelation. Also: Similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. → gr01.htm
On Elijah of the Old Testament and John the Baptist and the coming Elijah or Elias who is mentioned in the New Testament. → fr02.htm
What does the Bible say about resurrection? How many resurrections do the Scriptures talk about? → gh08.htm
The “Great white throne judgment” – the time-period when both the living and the dead will be judged. When will it take place, and where, and who will do the judging? → fr06.htm
What does the Bible say about the Great Tribulation? On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14. → gr04.htm
Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1-4? → gr03.htm
On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump? → gr05.htm
On Gog and Magog and the armies that will invade the land of Israel (Ezekiel 38 and 39 and Revelation 16 and 20). → fr09.htm
The Babylon of the book of Revelation, what or where is it? What about the Beast, or beasts, which are mentioned in Daniel and Revelation? → fv03.htm
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