Where are the Dead –
According to the Bible?
Finally we come to the Beloved John and what he had to teach regarding the after-life, resurrection and judgment. John does not use Hades or Gehenna in his Gospel of personal epistles. However, some point to the Book of Revelation as proof of eternal torment in a hell fire.
What of the “lake of fire” which burns with sulfur? With smoke rising forever? With everlasting “torment”? Revelation 14:10, 11 reads: “He shall be tormented [basanisthesetai] with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest.” (NWT) At first reading many Christians will parallel this idea with a hell fire of eternal torment. However, what is really being said here?
We have discussed earlier the facts about Gehenna and how it was a symbol of eternal annihilation in non-existence. The imagery of the Lake of Fire is so similar to those verses in Isaiah (Isaiah 34:9, 10; 66:24) to make it clear this lake is a symbol of Second Death, which is exactly what the Revelation says. (Revelation 20:14)
But, what about the “torment”? Words can change in meaning over time and so it is necessary to understand how the Greek word basanisthesetai (Revelation 14:10) was understood more than two thousand years ago. One commentary states: (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia): "Probably the imprisonment itself was regarded as 'torment' (as it doubtless was), and the 'tormentors' need mean nothing more than jailers."
We can understand this by considering uses of this word in the Jewish Greek Septuagint version of the Third Century BC. IN two places in the Prophet Ezekiel the word is used: “And when the righteous turns away from his righteousness and commits a trespass, and I shall bring punishment [Greek basanon = torment Bagster footnote] before him, and he shall die.” (Ezekiel 3:20 LXX Bagster’s) This use of the word hundreds of years before Christ shows “torment” means merely “punishment” and not the same connotation it has over two thousand years later.
Again in Ezekiel 32:24, 30 the word is used: “There is Elam and all his host round about his tomb: all slain that fell by the sword, and the uncircumcised that go down to the deep of the earth, who caused their fear to be upon the land of the living, and they have received their punishment. [basanon = torment] … They have received their punishment [basanon = torment] with them that go down to the pit.” It should be remembered that the “pit” is the same as Sheol [Ezekiel 32:27] or Hades out which the dead arise at the end of the Thousand Years to then get their judgment. Would a God of Love, the Great Judge of All the Earth, torment someone before their judgment? In the above verses the Gentile soldiers are buried with their weapons showing this “torment” is death and burial in a tomb.
John is the only Nazarene writer who supplies material regarding the Thousand Years or the Millennium. These verses boil down to just a few which outline the chronology of events regarding resurrection and judgment. Consider the following in Revelation. [For details see NAZARENE APOCALYPSE.]
Revelation 20:3 – “And he hurled him into the abyss and shut [it] and sealed [it] over him, that he might not mislead the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After these things he must be let loose for a little while.” It is fair to conclude that a) Satan is abyssed before the Thousand Years begins; and, b) the nations on earth during the Thousand Years are free from Satanic influence? This makes for a world or inhabited earth under the subjection of, not angels, but the Messiah. (Hebrews 2:5; Acts 17:31) A world under the reign of Messiah and ruled by the “words” he taught millennia before. (John 12:48) But, what happens next?
Revelation 20:4 – “And I saw thrones [Re 3.21], and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging [1 Corinthians 6:2] was given them. Yes, I saw the souls [Revelation 6:9-11] of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those [Revelation 13:9, 10; 15:2] who had worshipped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” [NWT]
This scenario agrees with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:23, 50-53: Christian believers are raised first at the Return of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2) and the rest of mankind later at “the end.” (1 Corinthians 15:24) This “end” (ho telos) is mentioned several times by John as after the Thousand Years. (Revelation 20:3, 5, 7 – telesthe)
John sees two groups of Christians in this vision: the ancient martyrs of history, and those contemporary with the wild Sea Beast and its Image. Both of these groups have appeared earlier in Revelation. (Revelation 6:9-11; 15:2) These “come to life” and comparing that phrase with the parallel “first resurrection” it seems clear enough that “come to life” means resurrected. This phrase occurs in a negative sense with “the rest of the dead” who are not resurrected until after the end of the Thousand Years. Thus, the only conclusion left is that the generations of those “nations” which Satan can no longer mislead will people the earth throughout the Thousand Years of Messiah’s reign.
The imagination can speculate on the lovely conditions that will develop under the reign of Christians already judged by God to be “patterned after the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29) This celestial body will be characterized by those attributes in 1 Corinthians 13:5-8 and Romans chapter 12. The possibilities before a world without Satan and under the loving influence of Messiah and his associated Bride are beyond conceiving. Bu, what happens at “the end” of the Thousand Years.
Revelation 20:7 – “Now as soon as the thousand years have been ended [telesthe], Satan will be let loose out of his prison, 8 and he will go out to mislead those nations [compare Zechariah 14:1, 16] in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Ma'gog, to gather them together for the war. The number of these is as the sand of the sea. 9 And they advanced over the breadth of the earth and encircled the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down out of heaven and devoured them. 10 And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the lake of fire and sulfur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet [already were]; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
When the Thousand Years end Satan is released and he seems effective to a degree to mislead some among those “nations” whose generations have been coming and going during the Thousand Years. Satan and his body of misled surround the Holy City, New Jerusalem, which seems to indicate this Holy City is down here on earth where it can be surrounded by Satan forces on earth. However, these are destroyed by divine fire and cast into the Lake of Fire, Second Death. What follows?
Revelation 20:12 – “And I saw the dead [of verse 5], the great and the small, standing before the throne [of Messiah – John 5:22], and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. [Matthew 12:36, 37; Romans 2:5, 6, 16] 13 And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Ha'des [KJV: hell] gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. 14 And death and Ha'des [KJV: hell] were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.” (NWT)
It is after the Thousand Years the rest of mankind is resurrected to face their own individual judgment before the Messianic throne. All are judged on the basis of “their deeds” in the previous life on earth through all the generations of mankind. Those who are judged unworthy of having their names in the Book of Life find the same fate as Satan, Second Death.
We note “hell” ends here. We also note that people are judged after they come out of “hell” or Hades. The emptying of “hell” renders it no longer effective and so it is cast into a “lake of fire” like Gehenna, the Second (eternal) Death. Death traceable to Adam is destroyed! (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) Those remaining on earth may entertain the possibility of everlasting life as human souls on an earth already cultivated into an Edenic paradise by those “nations” without Satanic influence under the reign of Messiah. (Isaiah 65:17-24) The future of the Earth and mankind on it is beyond imagination! What will mankind accomplish as a unified body of Christians judged to be true followers of the Lamb? What will happen to the environment? What grand prospects may God permit with regard to an entire universe before mankind?
Now we marvel in awesome respect at the resounding praise directed to God Almighty and the Lamb. Our hearts thrill to the prospect of hearing this universal anthem: “And every creature that is in heaven and on earth and underneath the earth and on the sea [Revelation 20:13], and all the things in them, I heard saying: "To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever." (Revelation 5:13 NWT) Truly, then, “God is everything to everyone”! (1 Corinthians 15:28 MOF)
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved