Scripture says that God has put His standards in man's conscience and calls us to reason together with Him (Isaiah 1:18). So does the traditional view of the lost, as eternal conscious torment, fit the bill? Does it pass the two tests of reason and scripture? Assuredly it does not on either account.
CS Lewis wrote, "There is no doctrine I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power…" (C..S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1940), p. 118.) C.S. Lewis recognized the moral repulsion he faced when looking at the traditional view. "We are told that it is a detestable doctrine and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart..." .(ibid. p. 118.) Why don't many more see it? Sadly, it seems like some authors will find heaven less pleasurable if they don't gain pleasure from watching the lost suffer. Case in point:
"…their torment shall ascend up in the sight of the blessed forever and serve as a most clear glass always before their eyes to give them a constant, bright, and most affecting view... THIS DISPLAY OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER AND GLORY WILL BE IN FAVOR OF THE REDEEMED, AND MOST ENTERTAINING, AND GIVE THE HIGHEST PLEASURE TO THOSE WHO LOVE GOD, AND RAISE THEIR HAPPINESS TO INEFFABLE HEIGHTS. SHOULD THIS ETERNAL PUNISHMENT AND THIS FIRE BE EXTINGUISHED, IT WOULD IN A GREAT MEASURE OBSCURE THE LIGHT OF HEAVEN AND PUT AN END TO A GREAT PART OF THE HAPPINESS AND GLORY OF THE BLESSED."
What kind of sick man could get the highest pleasure from seeing a cruel God doing his cruel work on billions and even on many he knows and loves? He makes the saints in Heaven be deprived of qualities God has given to us, sympathy, pity, love for others, caring for others; and made them to be cruel monsters that delight in the pain of others, and loves to hear the groans of those they now love, and the groans of the countless millions of the lost. (Quoting Samuel Hopkins "The works of Samuel Hopkins, p. 458 in The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, p. 313)
Sadly, there is much, much more in traditional theological literature which has ridiculous statements like those of Samuel Hopkins. They say we will get pleasure from seeing the wicked suffer, God says the exact opposite. "For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 18:32) At least current popular Christian author Max Lucado rightfully and publicly states that if he is wrong about this issue (eternal torment for the lost), "I'll celebrate my misreading of his words" on the last day. (3:16 Numbers of Hope, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p.96) His heart is in the right place. But why do some Christians seem so upset if the lost are not tortured forever?
But that is not the only problem with the eternal torment view. Consider the following....
1) How is this justice?
How can we read about a God who says over and over again in scripture that he is "Just" and wants fairness among his people; commands an "eye for an eye and tooth for tooth" and then Himself tortures these same people mercilessly for not tens of years, not hundreds of years, not millions or years, not billions of years, not trillions of years, not eons, but eternity. A sinner on this earth living for a millisecond of time, (in comparison to eternity) being tortured for eons and eons of time is not justice.
God has been made so cruel, and this doctrine is so unthinkable that it has probably created more atheists, and caused more weak believers to fall away than any other false teaching. The dread of Hell has caused misery and metal anguish to countless millions and instead of the horror of hell turning many to God.... many millions have been turned away from such an unjust God. (The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, p. 313 see www.robertwr.com for more information)
Clark H. Pinnock picks up on this theme as well...
Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon His creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself. How can we possibly preach that God has so arranged things that a number of his creatures (perhaps a large number predestined to that fate) will undergo (in a state of complete consciousness) physical and mental agony through unending time? Is this not a most disturbing concept which needs some second thoughts? Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does. Does the one who told us to love our enemies intend to wreak vengeance on his own enemies for all eternity? As H. KŸng appropriately asks, "What would we think of a human being who satisfied his thirst for revenge so implacably and insatiably?" (The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent by Clark H. Pinnock McMaster Divinity College Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)
Television evangelist, Dr. David Regan, of the Lamb & Lion Ministries (a former believer in eternal torment) also picks up on this theme on the pages of his Lamplighter magazine....
My first difficulty with the traditional view is that it seems to impugn the character of God. I kept asking myself, "How could a God of grace, mercy and love torment the vast majority of humanity eternally?" It did not seem to me to be either loving or just. I realize He is a God of righteousness, holiness and justice, but is eternal suffering justice? The concept of eternal torment seems to convert the true God of justice into a cosmic sadist. (The Reality of Hell, Dr. David R. Reagan, Lamplighter magazine March 2006 Lamb & Lion Ministries - McKinney, TX)
2) If eternal torment is true, it really means abortion is ultimately a good thing.
There ultimately is no getting around this point. Sadly, untold millions have been aborted in recent history. Surely many babies underwent conscious pain as they were forcibly extracted and suctioned out of the womb. Those who are familiar with the pro-life movement are rightfully horrified by the pictures of aborted little children (yes, they are children.) Most conservative theologians would rightfully place these little ones in heaven for eternity.
However consider the alternative. If millions of these aborted precious little ones were left to go to full term and then birth, ALL would grow up to be sinners and the majority would probably never accept Jesus as adults. Jesus Himself said most people would never find the way, "broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in there at: (Matthew 7:13).
Therefore, the majority of these people (if left to full term) would be tormented forever. That means if there is a choice of momentary pain for them (abortion) or eternal torture facing them, then abortion would be best. This point needs to be repeated over and over again. Those who consider themselves "pro-life" really need to reconsider the logic of their positions if they believe in eternal torture.
Look what a curious person wrote to a web site on this issue...
What happens to aborted babies? I heard a preacher on the radio say that they go to heaven and grow to adulthood and become the person they should have been. If that is so, abortionists apparently have been responsible for the salvation of more people than most evangelists combined. Though they meant it for harm, it turned out for good. If most people go to hell, how can we complain if aborted babies bypass this life of carnal sinful flesh and go directly to heaven...? - Stan
If eternal torment is true, then he is correct - abortion is best. But if it's not true (and it's not) – then PRO-LIFE is best! (AND PRO-LIFE IS BEST!) God is pro-life!
3) Why would God choose the words like "destroy, destruction, perish, death" to signify something other than their plain meaning?
* Psalm 92:7 ...................shall be destroyed forever....
* Psalm 1: 6 ....................be the way of the ungodly shall perish
* Matthew 10:28 ..............rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell
* John 3:16 .....................whosoever believeth in him should not perish (Greek: destroyed)
* Romans 6:23 ................For the wages of sin is death…
* James 4:12 ....................There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy
* Philippians 3:19 .............Whose end is destruction
* 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ........Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction
* Hebrews 10:39 ...............But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (Greek: destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul
* Revelation 20:14 ..............This is the second death.
Is God trying to intentionally deceive us by using words that have a different meaning than what their plain meaning is? Isn't this a basic rule of hermeneutics? The literal meaning is the first meaning used unless context declares otherwise. Don't you have to redefine every single one of these words in order to get eternal torment as the final fate of the unsaved?
Again, William West summarizes this point beautifully when he states....
The present definitions of words must be destroyed and new definitions given. The new definitions end up being the opposite of the old definition, death is no longer death; it is eternal life in Hell. No other book in the world uses these words this way. Did God use words in a way that would be a deliberate misleading of mankind? They are not used with these meaning in our everyday language. When we say anything, a plaint, animal or person is dead, we do not mean that plaint, animal or person is alive and being tormented.
Death (and destruction) must be made to mean one thing when it is a plant or animal that is dead and another when it is a person that is dead. I somehow missed the revelation by which they know this. Where is the book, chapter and verse for it? Is there any word God could have used that they would not say "it does not mean what it says"? No, not a one if it would conflict with their theology.
"My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language then when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying 'destroy,' or 'destruction,' are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this" (R. F. Weymouth, Life In Christ, page 365, translator of "The New Testament in Modern Speech.")
Believers in immortality from birth must reinterpret the Bible to say:
1. Those who are destroyed are not destroyed. [James 4:12; 2 Peter 2:12; 2 Peter 3:7].
2. Those who perish do not perish. [1 Corinthians 1:8: John 3:16].
3. Those who die do not die. [Romans 6:23] [Death is not death].
4. The end of the wicked is not their end. [Philippians 3:19; Hebrews 6:8].
5. Those who are consumed are not consumed [Hebrews 10:27].
6. Mortals are born immortal; [1 Timothy 6:16] therefore, how can there be any such thing as being mortal? There are no mortals and could never be a mortal if all men are created immortal.
7. The second death is not a death; it is eternal life with torment [Revelation 21:8].
Are they really teaching the Bible when they corrupt it into saying the opposite of what it really says, or teaching what they want the Bible to say? (The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, various excerpts from chapter two. See www.robertwr.com for more information. )
4) We gain "immortality" only from the gospel.
There is a gift we get from believing the gospel; it is called "everlasting life." (John 3:16) Paul calls this gift (immortality) an integral part of the gospel message. ...who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2 Timothy 1:10).
If all souls are born immortal, then why are we encouraged to seek it? "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:" (Romans 2:7)
Why would Jesus offer us an opportunity to "live forever, it we all live forever? …"if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever:" (John 6:51)
The truth is, the abundant life Jesus (Yeshua) promises us is in eternity, it is immortal life, everlasting life. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) We (believers) will live forever. How much more abundant can you get?
In 1 Timothy 6:15-16 Paul says that God alone possesses immortality. And 1 Corinthians 15:53 teaches that the Redeemed will not become immortal until the time of their resurrection.
5) If eternal torment is true, then where is this plain teaching in the Tenach (Old Testament)?
Isn't it hard to believe that such an important teaching as eternal torment has no clear verses stating this fate in the Old Testament? Virtually every important doctrine has its roots in the Old Testament and is taught in typology (or symbols) there. Where is this taught in symbols? Was the lamb of Exodus tortured forever? Were any of the sacrifices tortured forever? No, the sacrifices were eventually turned to ashes. "And they shall take away the ashes from the altar" (Numbers 4:13) If this was the fate of all the offerings (including the sin offerings), then why should the fate of the sinner be any different?
It would be unreasonable that God would give them such detail of what would happen to Israel (Deut 28:15) in this lifetime and then say nothing of the eternal torment facing them. And if it be as important as it is supposed to be now, it was equally important then. Yet no single indication of it is discoverable in the writings of Moses. How could God have warned Israel in detail about punishments in this life, droughts, plagues, and other punishments and not say one word about most important issue, eternal torment?
The New Testament writers used the Old Testament types to show how the destruction of sinners in the hands of an angry God happens. It was turning them into ashes, not tormenting them for long periods of time. Sodom and Gomorrah are a supreme type given by Peter and he says "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample...." (2 Peter 2:6) Notice, Peter says two things about the fate of the ungodly... 1) They are an example for us to see what awaits the ungodly 2) They eventually became ashes – cremated! (see also Malachi 4:3)
William West states these thoughts most forcefully....
ADAM: God told Adam in the day he ate he would die. He was not told that after his death he would be subjected to endless torment…,
CAIN: His sin was the first murder, which, by most, is believed to be the greatest of all sins.
What was his punishment? ..... his punishment was that he was to be a fugitive and a vagabond in his lifetime on the earth. Not one word about any punishment after his death.
The punishment for anyone who killed Cain would be SEVEN TIMES GREATER than the punishment of Cain. How could anything be seven times greater than [eternal torture]?
THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH: Genesis 13 and 14: These cities were literally burnt up [Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 34:9], not still burning with the people walking around in torment.. Peter states that they are an example (2 Peter 2:6) of what will happen to the unsaved.
ALL THE CURSES of the Law, if they did not keep it, were in this lifetime [Deuteronomy 28:18-19]. NOT ONE WORD WAS SAID ABOUT A CURSE AFTER THIS LIFETIME.
It would be past comprehension that God would give them such detail of what would happen to them in this lifetime and say nothing of the unending pain He was going to forever heap on them….(The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, various excerpts from chapter seven – A strange and unexplainable silence. See www.robertwr.com for more information.)
Again, the same thing is said in another evangelical commentary:
There is no doctrine of hell [i.e. eternal torment] in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 66:24, at one time a much quoted verse, the reference is not to the continuing personality (nephesh) of the rebels, but to their corpses. (The International Bible Commentary, second edition, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1986, p.64 column 1)
If eternal torment is the fate of most of mankind, then why is it that there is not a single indication of it discoverable in the writings of Moses? If there was such a thing as eternal torment taught in the Tenach (Old Testament), then how could the Apostle Paul proclaim to the unsaved idol worshippers in Athens, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance…" (Acts 17:30). How could this statement be true if God was planning to torture them eternally? Did God really overlook this then? Paul said the wicked would be destroyed, "Whose end is destruction" (Philippians 3:19) not eternally tormented. Moses said nothing of eternal torture. Jesus said the human soul would be destroyed—not preserved (Matthew 10:28).
6) Jesus (Yeshua) paid our debt, but the debt was death, not being eternally tormented.
Edward Fudge beings up this excellent point.
For the New Testament is quite clear that Jesus not only died but that He died because of sin and in the place of sinners. More than that, the death He died was in some true and real sense the sinner's death – the death required by sin – the death we should have died... The Old Testament prophets spoke of "the sufferings of Christ" and the "glories that would follow" (1 Peter 1:11),... Yet what is this suffering and glory if not the eschatological judgment of God....the cross of Christ was no mere example of divine judgment; it was God's judgment par excellence – the judgment withheld already for centuries from many to whom it was due (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9:15,26-28)....
Jesus not only died "for sin"; He died in the very place of sinners. That is what Peter meant in saying that Jesus "bare our sins in His own body." This is what is meant that Christ's death was vicarious… To use familiar language, Jesus suffered hell for His people – the very hell they would have suffered had He not taken their place. From the very first the wages of sin was death, and Jesus underwent the very same sentence pronounced in the primal Garden. (Edward W. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes. A Biblical and Historical Study of the Final Punishment (Houston, 1982), chapter 12, various pages excerpted)
Since Jesus was fully God, He was resurrected from the dead. Had He not been divine, He would have remained dead eternally. But certainly this is unthinkable for a sinless One. Therefore Paul states triumphantly, "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:" (Philippians 2:8-9).
The point being, Jesus was sinless and therefore God raised Him from the dead. His death was not eternal. The sinners at the end of time will undergo their personal "crosses" and they will suffer in proportion to their sins and then die eternally. It is called the "second death" in scripture. (Revelation 2:11)
Again, Dr. David Regan (who changed to conditional immortality after studying it) correctly notes....
Finally, to me personally, the most convincing of all arguments against the traditionalist viewpoint relates to what Jesus Himself suffered on the Cross. Our sins were placed upon Him. He took the punishment we deserve.
And what was that punishment? It was extreme suffering followed by death. If Jesus did not suffer the full penalty for our sins, then our debt has not been paid. But the Scriptures say that He paid the full debt, and it was not eternal torment, but death. (Dr. David R. Reagan, Lamplighter magazine March 2006 Lamb & Lion Ministries - McKinney, TX)
7) How can the word 'perish' mean eternal torment? It doesn't, period.
John 3:16—"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
This is the most quoted verse in the Bible and also one of the clearest accounts on the destruction of the wicked. "...Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John didn't write that "...whoever believes in Him shall not have everlasting life in torment...." Remember, the wicked will not have immortality at all. Immortality is reserved only through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). The way most churches interpret John 3:16, they mentally replace the very clear word "perish" with something that means nearly the opposite - "never perish." There is a clear word for "torment" in the Greek - so why did John not use it? Because he was NOT teaching it at all. In John 3:16, the word 'perish' in the Greek is "apollumi". It is correctly translated many other times as 'destroy' throughout the New Testament. When something is "destroyed" it means something that no longer functions at all. That is the common usage of "apollumi" as 'destroy' in the New Covenant writings. When Yeshua (Jesus) states in Matthew 10:28 that the soul will be destroyed (not preserved), He is telling us that the lost soul will no longer function. It will not be conscious. It will be destroyed. John 3:16 and Matthew 10:28 are in perfect harmony when you understand the truth of conditional immortality.
8) Even Joshua – who declared the burning of the sinner, slew them first – then burnt their bodies.
Joshua 7:15—" And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath:"
Joshua 7:25—" And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones."
It is clear here. Joshua takes Achan, who had sinned and had been warned of burning, and first he has them stoned – then, after they are dead, he burns their carcasses. This is exactly what is said in the article above entitled "Why rarely cited Isaiah 66:24 is a key." Isaiah tells us that the lost are slain and their dead bodies are burned as well. Jesus, when speaking of Gehennah (hell) quotes this verse in Isaiah. Peter tells us the lost will become ashes (2 Peter 2:6). Malachi tells us the same (Malachi 4:3)
9) Why did Paul never proclaim this doctrine of eternal torture? Or did Paul correctly understand Yeshua (Jesus) in Matthew 10:28... that the souls of the unsaved will be destroyed.
Paul fully proclaimed the whole counsel of God by plainly declaring:
That those who live a lifestyle of unrepentant sin "deserve death" – Romans 1:32
That "all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law" – Romans 2:12
That sin "leads to death" – Romans 6:16
That sin "results in death" – Romans 6:21
That "the wages of sin is death" – Romans 6:23
That those who live according to the sinful nature "will die" – Romans 8:13
That the gospel is foolishness "to those who are perishing" – 1 Corinthians 1:18
That those who preach the gospel are "the smell of death" "to those who are perishing" – 2 Corinthians 2:15-16
That the Old Testament law "kills" and ultimately brings "death" – 2 Corinthians 3:6-7
That the gospel is "veiled to those who are perishing" – 2 Corinthians 4:3
That those who please the sinful nature "from that nature will reap destruction" – Galatians 6:8
That "they will be destroyed" – Philippians 1:28
That "their destiny is destruction" – Philippians 3:19
That "they will be punished with everlasting destruction" – 2 Thessalonians 1:9
That they "are perishing" – 2 Thessalonians 2:10
That "they perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" – 2 Thessalonians 2:10
That "Christ Jesus… has destroyed death" – 2 Timothy 1:10
That they are like worthless land that will "in the end… be burned" – Hebrews 6:8
That sins are "acts that lead to death" – Hebrews 9:14
That raging fire "will consume the enemies of God" – Hebrews 10:27
That those who "shrink back" in unbelief will be "destroyed" – Hebrews 10:39
In various ways with various words Rabbi Paul was sure to repeatedly declare precisely what would happen to those who foolishly reject the gospel. He was sure to do this because God appointed him to fully proclaim the whole counsel of God. Paul didn't hide any aspect of the truth—including the awful truth that those who reject the Messiah will be utterly "destroyed" by the raging, consuming fire of the Lord. If words have any meaning at all then this is what we must conclude.
Allow me to add that if Jesus supposedly preached eternal torture, as many contend, then Paul would have certainly backed it up. Yet Paul taught no such thing because Jesus taught no such thing, not to mention the bible they taught from—the Old Testament—teaches no such thing.
10) Paul said he was innocent of "the blood of all men" (Acts 20:26)
This phrase is always used in scripture when people are in danger of facing death, not eternal torture. Paul declared he was "innocent of the blood of all men." Paul didn't hesitate to share the whole counsel of God, including the unfortunate news of what would ultimately happen to those who reject the gospel. The very fact that Paul says he's innocent of the blood of all people is a sure indication that people will actually die (not live – suffering in immortality) when they suffer the second death.
11) John says in Revelation that there will be "no more death".
If "death" really means "living eternally separated" from God (and it does not), then death really will exist forever. However, in Revelation 21:4 – John specifically states that there will be "no more death". Think about that for a moment or two.
12) Jeremiah 7:30-33 speaks of this place called the Valley of Hinnom (Gehennah) – not as a place of eternal torment.
In speaking of this place, Jeremiah said (actually God is speaking in this section of scripture) that it will be called the "Valley of Slaughter", not the "Valley of everlasting torment" as modern mainstream Christianity suggests.
13) Jesus (Yeshua) states of His betrayer, "It would have been better had he not been born." (Mark 14:21)
However, if most human beings are facing eternal torment, then how ridiculous of a statement is this? Should not the Messiah rather have said (if eternal torment was true) that it would be better if all unbelievers had never been born! If eternal torment is true, then clearly it would have been better for most everyone not to have been born (since the majority will not be saved) (Matthew 7:14). Yet Yeshua (Jesus) reserves this statement for only the most vile of sinners. This seems to indicate that even for the lost, (whom God would rather to have been saved), it is still better to have been born and then lost than to never have been born. In other words, God is so good, that at least they got a chance to live a short period of time! While He is saddened that the will not live forever. Ruminate this argument in your mind over and over again and it will clearly show the goodness of God.
14) God's fire always consumes His enemies, not preserving them in torment.
According to Hebrews 10:26-27, notice clearly that, on judgment day, raging fire will utterly consume God’s enemies, not sadistically torture them without end. (...and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.) The Greek word translated as “consume” here literally means “to eat” (Strong 33) and is translated as “devour” in the King James Version. We can soundly conclude that raging fire will literally devour God’s enemies when they’re cast into the lake of fire – consuming them wholly.
The following excerpt is taken from the website www.hell-know.net on this topic:
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censors, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Leviticus 10:1-2)
We see here that Nadab and Abihu ignored God’s commands and attempted to approach Him on their own terms. As a result “fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” Their disregard of the LORD’s will and attempt to approach Him on their own terms represents religion as opposed to Christianity. Religion is the human attempt to connect with God, whereas Christianity is God connecting with humanity through Christ. We can either do it our way or God’s way, it’s our choice.
The fiery consumption of Nadab and Abihu is a biblical example of what will happen on judgment day to people who disregard God’s Word and live their lives with little or no concern of their Creator; these proud rebels are only willing to approach God on their own terms. On judgment day such people can expect a fire to come out from the presence of the LORD and consume them. They will die before the LORD, just as assuredly as Nadab and Abihu did.
Here are a few more examples:
And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 210 men (Korah’s followers) who were offering the incense.
Elijah answered the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.
PSALM 97:2, 3
… righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side.
Fire blazed among their followers (Dathan’s rebellious followers); a flame consumed the wicked.
“So I will pour out my wrath on them (the sinful people of Judah) and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her (“Babylon”): death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her.
As you can plainly see, the biblical fact that God is going to destroy his human enemies by a consuming fire at the second death perfectly coincides with how God has dealt with his human enemies throughout history. This is testimony to the unchanging, consistent character of God (see Psalm 102:26-27; James 1:17 and Hebrews 13:8). After all, would it not be strange and totally inconsistent with God’s just, merciful character as revealed throughout history if, on judgment day, he sentenced his human enemies to never-ending conscious torment – a sadistic, unjust, merciless sentence diametrically opposed to his consistent, unchanging character? Of course it would.
Notice clearly in all the above texts that God does not sadistically torture these people perpetually with fire. No, the fire consumes them. No doubt there’s an amount of terror and conscious pain to this type of execution, but it’s not sadistically never-ending – it mercifully results in death.
Is this unjust on God’s part? Not at all. Notice Psalm 97:2-3 above: before stating that God will judge and destroy his enemies with consuming fire, it assuredly states that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” You see, we can always be absolutely confident of the fact that God’s judgments are completely righteous and just; and God is not quick in making a judgment; he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8); “he is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 b). Yet, there’s a limit to God’s patience and mercy if a stubborn person continually chooses to resist and rebel against him; and when his patience and mercy end, his judgment begins. Yet even God’s judgments are balanced by his mercy and justice