Will some humans be tormented with ‘fire and brimstone’, for ‘ages and ages’?
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The way many bible-versions render Revelation 14:10, might cause casual bible-readers to think that God is going to subject some humans to an everlasting torment. But, really what does that verse with its context mean and refer to? Will God actually keep some humans under torment with “fire and brimstone”, “for ages and ages”? This article takes a closer look at that passage, along with some related scriptures.
Before going to Revelation 14:10 and 11 and their context, let us first consider the question whether it would 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 also a dogma regarding “purgatory” which supposedly is an extremely long torture in fire. That comes into expression even in the poem ‘Inferno’ (“underworld”) which was written by the medieval poet Dante Alighieri as a part of his ‘Divina Commedia’.
Many other churches have copied those Catholic concepts and dogmas, or parts of them. And so, even some non-Catholic writers have caused people to think that God 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 are immortal and cannot die?)
But, the true God and his son Jesus are not torturers. And, the Catholic concept regarding an “immortal soul” does not have any support in the Bible. A closer study of the Scriptures shows that when humans die, they have no further existence – unless God intervenes and resurrects them and gives them a new life.
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 Verse 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 verses 10 and 11 – we all know that if a human is “tried” with “fire and brimstone”, [b] the end result of that is quick death, and not everlasting life in torture.
b Verse 10, “brimstone” – that is an old word for sulphur. In the Greek text of that verse the wording is en puri kai theiô, “in fire and sulphur”.
The wording in the above-quoted WBS could cause casual bible-readers to think that that passage refers to “everlasting torment”, for some humans. But, does it?
The word “tormented” which the above-quoted WBS has in verse 10, was considered above. Below, there are some notes regarding the smoke which verse 11 mentions, and where that smoke might come from. After this, some notes regarding 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” (Greek eis aiônas aiônôn, “to ages of ages”), refers to the duration of the smoke which 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 then from its ruins or the place where it had been. 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 with fire and brimstone” – that is, they will die, as the city is destroyed by fire. (As we all know, if humans are enclosed in fire, they very quickly die.)
Then, regarding the phrase “they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image” – do those words refer to an everlasting punishment where humans are tormented (tortured) “in fire and sulphur”, without ever dying and without ever burning up? Let us face the facts: We humans are mortal. That is why we need resurrection and 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 – once again, if humans are enclosed in fire, they die. And, we can safely assume that God is not in the business of making mortals into immortals, for the purpose of torturing them with “fire and sulphur”.
(It is true that there is a “lasting” punishment for sinners who will not repent, but that obviously refers to the lasting and permanent effect of that punishment – death without any return to life, full end of existence.)
But again, what about of the words “they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image”, Revelation 14:11? Well, that might be a poetic, hyperbolic figure of speech, similar to the “immortal worm” of Isaiah 66 and Mark 9 (“their worm shall not die”). – Neither worms nor humans are immortal.
Some bible-translators have added to Revelation 14 personal pronouns and other words which are not found in the Greek text. This has led to misunderstandings. Please note that that chapter talks about a city which is to be destroyed. Revelation 18:4 shows that before this happens, people in that city will be warned and told to flee, to get out.
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 that happens, God will warn (his) 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”. In the Greek text the verb is piptô in the aorist form epesen which does not give the timing, but the context shows that when the angel speaks those words, the fall of that city has not yet come but is about to come. (The same applies to the phrase “has become” in that verse.)
Other parts of Revelation 18 show that it will be rulers and traders and transporters of goods who will wail, when that city is destroyed. In short: The “Babylon” which verse 2 refers to, is an economic super-power, or its main city. (Some have claimed that that passage refers to a “church”, but it is not so. The article nwa030.htm considers what and where that “Babylon” really might be.)
Revelation 14 and 18 refer 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 for instance chapters 14 and 18 refer to tangible and real things in the physical world. So, when those passages talk about cities being destroyed, that indeed refers to cities being destroyed.
But again, that does not mean that humans will be subjected to “fire and brimstone”, for “ages and ages”. If humans are enclosed in fire, they die. It appears that the mention of smoke which will be rising for “to ages of ages” (Greek eis aiônas aiônôn, Revelation 14:11), refers to smoke that will arise from a burning city and then its ruins or the place where it had been. And again, there are several mentions of warnings being given, so that people can flee, before that destruction.
Will God warn the world in good time, and not only in the very last minute? Probably, he will. The earlier quoted Revelation 14 and 18 talk about angels (messengers) proclaiming a warning. It could also be that the two witnesses (Revelation 11) will have some part in proclaiming that warning. The article nta010.htm has some notes on those witnesses.
See also the “recommended reading”, below.
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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. → nsa090.htm
The Babylon of the book of Revelation, what or where is it? → nwa030.htm
The two witnesses of the book of Revelation. Also: Similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. → nta010.htm
What does the Bible say about the “great tribulation”? On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14. → nta040.htm
What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → nba080.htm
The “great white throne judgment” – when will it take place? → nta060.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 mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → nta050.htm
Are angels immortal, in the meaning that they cannot die? → nda020.htm
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