Fiery Words

Also posted on my Facebook Page

BRISBANE, Australia. Wednesday 22 April 2020.

We interrupted our regular series of posts to talk about the Resurrection and the assassination of President Lincoln but now it’s time to return to an issue that has kept countless millions terrorised for centuries through fear that they or their loved ones will suffer and burn in literal flames forever. It’s already been demonstrated that the teachings about an immortal soul destination called “Hell” are not based on the Bible so now it’s time to talk about the “Lake of Fire”. But first, a few words about the “Word”. (This is a long ride so buckle up your seat belts.)

For ancient Israelites, there was no greater power than the “Word of God” which spoke into existence the “heavens and the earth” and all they contain. Without the “Word” continuing to sustain all things, they would simply cease to exist. For these people, the “Word” was an all-encompassing power able to overcome and destroy every hostile force. 

The Hebrew Scriptures were the “Word” through which God spoke to humans and was claimed as the source of all teaching authority in the New Testament (see Mark 7:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Colossians 1:25; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Peter 1:23; Hebrews 6:5, and similar). 

What does all this have to do with the “Lake of Fire”? 

Well, just as in every other culture including our own, the ancient Israelites used “fire” as a symbol for many different concepts. For example, the symbolic judgement of God (Sodom and Gomorrah); the symbolic revelation from God (the burning bush that was not consumed), the symbolic glory of God (the consuming fire on Mount Sinai); and the symbolic protection and guidance of God (Exodus and the pillar of fire by night), to name but a few. 

So what did the ancient Israelites use as a symbol for the “Word of God”? Of course they chose “fire”, the greatest of natural transformative forces.

The New Testament claims that the “Word” was manifested in the flesh of Jesus (e.g. John 1:14) so when John the Baptist is reported to have said that Jesus would baptise them with “fire” and would burn up the chaff “with unquenchable fire”, he was echoing the prophet Jeremiah who likened the “Word” to a consuming fire: 

Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them” (Jeremiah 5:14 ESV).

On to the Book of Revelation. It’s crucial to keep in mind that the very first verses claim that the visions are all about the “Word of God”. In verses 1:13-16, 2:16, and in 19:13-15, 21, comes confirmation that it is the “Word of God” which overcomes and destroys all the hostile forces arrayed against it.

Now for the “Lake of Fire”. It should be glaringly obvious, even to the most indoctrinated, that the 𝘚𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘢𝘯 (Satan), the beast, the false prophet, death, death’s grim companion Hades (𝘚𝘩𝘦𝘰𝘭) and the devil’s “angels” (Matthew 25:41) are non-human entities not made of flesh and blood and therefore can’t be literally burned with flames. It therefore follows that the humans said to be cast into the same “Lake of Fire” also can’t be literally burned with flames.

So what does the “Lake of Fire” represent? For the non-human entities, it represents exactly what it does in the rest of Revelation where the “Word of God” overcomes and destroys all hostile forces, this time including death, man’s greatest enemy. If death has been destroyed, what does it represent for humans whose names are not written in the “Book of Life”? The definitive answer to the question is not found in Revelation but in Paul: 

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-14 ESV). 

The “Lake of Fire” for humans is essentially a test: a test of their worth as measured against the benchmarks set by Jesus, the “Word of God” manifested in the flesh, benchmarks which are like a “fire” burning up the chaff of their false standards, false values, and false fronts, leaving them nothing but the ashes of their former lives. Yet, says Paul, they will be saved - only their work will be “burned up” (for death has been destroyed).

According to the Bible, the bottom line is that no human is being literally burned in the “fires” of Hell or in the “Lake of Fire” and no human ever will be. All those centuries of fear reduced to nothing but ashes and, if I may coin a phrase, it’s all gone up in smoke. You would think this would be good news for everyone who believes that the Bible is the “Word of God”, wouldn’t you? Well, we will see.

Notes

The Word of God was made manifest in the flesh of Jesus in exactly the same symbolic way that the Wisdom of God was made manifest in the flesh of Solomon. Word and Wisdom were aspects of God’s activity which existed from the “beginning”. Jesus and Solomon were temporal manifestations of Word and Wisdom - they did not exist from the “beginning”, but more of that in future posts.

Throughout the Bible, we find the enduring theme of humans being tested, refined and purified like metal when subjected to fire. For example: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2 ESV). See also Isaiah 1:25; 48:10; Psalm 66:10; Zechariah 13:9 and similar. In addition to the verses in Revelation mentioned above, see also passages such as Isaiah 11:4 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8 which all describe the ultimate power of words - the pen has always been mightier than the sword.