We saw in the previous series what Hell is not. This left us with very little in Scripture to base the doctrine of a ‘fiery hell’ upon. However, the Lake of Fire (found in the book of Revelation) is a straight forward declaration concerning an existence of punishment (torment even) for those who are disobedient to God in this life. Hell, it appears, is founded upon truth, unfortunately that truth has been distorted.
So let’s take a closer look at the Lake of Fire.
To begin with, the Lake of Fire is found in the Book of Revelation; in chapters 19:17-21 and 20:10-15 (with a very similar description found in 14:9-13). The Lake of Fire is most clearly described in the section of Revelation that talks about the Great White Throne Judgment. This Great White Throne comes immediately after the Millennial Kingdom, which is the 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth (along with His overcomers – those that are worthy to attain to the first resurrection). During this Great White Throne Judgment all the dead are resurrected, whether good or bad (see also John 5:28,29 and Acts 24:15). Following this certain books are opened and anyone not found in the book of life is cast into the Lake of Fire. Revelation describes this as “the Second Death,” which we will look at more closely later (the connection will become very clear).
I am sure that we have all read this scene in Revelation before, probably many times. But what most do not realize, is that this is a continuation of a scene Daniel saw in his Apocalypse (apocalypse means ‘vision of the end times’). You can find the whole scene in Daniel chapter 7, but for our purposes we need only look at verses 9-14. In it (as in Revelation) we see the Great White Throne, where the Ancient of Days sits to judge the earth, and certain “books are opened!” Interestingly enough, the Throne is described as being ablaze with fire and there is a River of Fire flowing from this flaming throne! John apparently saw this same scene and described it with almost identical language. However, where Daniel saw a River of Fire flowing from the Throne, John saw this River culminating in a giant Lake – a Lake of Fire.
The first thing that we need to notice is that this Fire comes from the Throne. A throne is where a King sits to pass judgment; the throne room is where the King settles disputes and criminals are sentenced. The throne room is also where the court meets to determine legal issues, with the King presiding over the hearing. And every court determines its judgments based upon the Laws of the Kingdom (or at least it ought to).
This is the picture God is giving us to help us understand what is happening in the spirit (heaven). You see, these are earthly descriptions of the heavenly court where God sits on His throne to rule His Kingdom and pass judgment (see also Ephesians 1:20). All His judgments are based upon His Law. This Law is the fire coming from the Throne.
This is further confirmed by the fact that Scripture refers to the Law as, “the fiery Law.” (Deuteronomy 33:2,3) God Himself also declares, “Is not My Word like fire?” (Jeremiah 23:29) So we see that the fire engulfing the Heavenly Throne is His Law, and the River of Fire flowing from the Throne, culminating in the Lake of Fire – is the outworking (or judgment) of that Law!
One of the prophecies concerning the Millennial Kingdom declares that all nations will come to the mountain of the LORD to learn His ways; and at that time,
“The Law will go forth from Zion, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)
Zion was the headquarters for David’s Kingdom; it was the ruling name for Jerusalem where his throne was. Of course this is all poetic language concerning the Heavenly Kingdom, New Jerusalem, where Christ sits to rule His Kingdom (see Galatians 4:25,26; Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 3:12, 21:2,10).
But we see from this and many other pictures in Scripture that God’s Law is what He will judge all people with and this judgment is pictured as a fire.
The Nature and Purpose of Fire
In order to better understand the Lake of Fire as an outworking of God’s Law we need to see what Scripture has to say concerning fire. If fire is the picture of the judgment of the Law then what exactly does this fire do? What principles can we find in Scripture concerning fire? The answer to that will clue us in on the purpose of the Lake of Fire.
First off, God likens Himself to a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29) and His love is likened unto a violent flame that nothing can quench (Song 8:6,7). God is love and the nature of love is that it must possess its beloved – ENTIRELY! Therefore God is described as, “a consuming fire, a jealous God.” He is jealous b/c He is not satisfied with possessing only part of us, He wants all of us for Himself. So He consumes every part of us that is selfish and self-centered and un-Christ-like in order to have us all to Himself.
His love burns up all that is not of Him and it is painful to be sure but it is for our good. Thus Jesus encourages us that,
“Those whom [He] loves [He] reproves and disciplines.” (Revelation 3:19)
The Apostle Paul declares the same saying,
“For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. … For [our earthly parents] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:6, 10)
God uses discipline to put our rebellious and fallen nature to death in order to make us more holy. His discipline makes us partakers of His holiness! That is our calling, to be holy even as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15; Leviticus 11:45). So God uses the fire of discipline to change us and make us like Himself. Because God is just all of His discipline is based upon His Law; discipline is God applying His Law to our life.
Therefore the Psalmist declares that,
“You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined…We went through fire, but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” (66:10-12)
And Job states that,
“When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (23:10)
Isaiah also says,
“the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion…by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning.” (Isaiah 4:4)
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Thus Peter encourages us saying,
“do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you…for it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God.” (1 Pt. 4:12,17)
For God says,
“[I] will be a refiner’s fire. [I] will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and [I] will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:3)
“I refined you, but not as silver, I tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)
When silver is refined and purified, it is heated to a very high temperature whereby any impurities within the silver separate and float to the surface. The refiner then scoops the impurities away leaving only the silver. As the temperature is raised higher and higher more and more impurities begin to come to the surface. Eventually all the impurities are exposed and subsequently removed. What is interesting is that impurities cloud the reflectivity of silver, and in the old days the purifier knew the silver was pure when he could clearly see his face reflected in the silver!
All this is an earthly witness of God’s ways. For God will turn up the heat in our lives in order to bring all of our faults and shortcomings to the surface. But He does this in order to remove them, and when He has fully removed them…His image will be perfectly reflected in us!
And so it is for this reason that we are,
“…distressed by various trials, so that the proof of [our] faith…even though tested by fire, may result in praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6,7)
This is the nature of fire; it purifies us and removes our old nature, conforming us into His image. This is the purpose of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire” that Christ baptizes us with (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). And that is the exact picture that the Lake of Fire presents, a baptism of fire. The imagery is identical, they are both a fire in the form of water (a lake and baptism are both pictures of water). It is also interesting to note that in the Law all things were cleansed (washed pure) by either water or fire (Numbers 31:23). This is the spiritual picture being presented to us in earthly imagery – a purifying, cleansing fire that washes away our filth. It is this picture the Psalmist references when he describes his own afflictions,
“We went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into abundance.” (66:12)
God is this consuming fire, therefore it is no wonder that He brings us through the fire, for He desires to make us like Himself. That is why Scripture declares that He, “makes His ministers a flame of fire.” (Hebrews 1:7; see also 2 Thessalonians 1:7) The end goal of His refining fire is to make us like Himself. We stand through the fire till it no longer hurts and everything that could be consumed is burned away and we conform to the very nature of God Himself and become a Divine and pure and holy fire ourselves.
This is why we are encouraged to,
“…exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Fire, therefore, is Scripture’s emblem of the Law, which comes upon us in the form of trials and tribulations; which are ordained by God to refine us and purify us and make us more like Him. Fire is discipline, a judgment designed to expose and eliminate the sinful nature within us, and it is always administered out of a heart of love. Everything He does is out of His nature of love, even judgment. Therefore it is for our good – to conform us unto His image!
We will continue to look in detail at fire as a future judgment in the next blog and see that it is this process by which God “makes all things new.”