This is an article in the series on Death, Eternal Life, and Eternal Torment.
“And the devil who deceived them
was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone,
where the beast and the false prophet are also;
and they will be TORMENTED day and night
FOREVER AND EVER” (Rev 20:10, NASB).
Revelation 20:10 has all the necessary elements for the traditional doctrine of eternal torment – the lake of fire, conscious suffering, and eternal duration. And, only a few verses later, the lost are also thrown into the lake of fire:
“If anyone’s name was not found
written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).
However, the purpose of this article is to show that Revelation 20:10 is a symbolic description of eternal destruction or annihilation.
According to Revelation 20:10, the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented
in the lake of fire forever and ever. This article shows that Revelation 20:10 is a symbolic description of eternal destruction:
- Revelation is a book of symbols.
- After death is thrown into the lake of fire, nobody else will die (Rev 21:4).
- Revelation defines the lake of fire as the second death; the final and irreversible death.
- The beast and the false prophet are not personal beings that can suffer eternal torment.
- Revelation stated explicitly that the beast will be annihilated.
If impersonal or corporate entities, such as death, the beast and the false prophet, can be thrown into the lake of fire to be annihilated, then Satan will also be consumed when he is thrown into it.
Revelation 20:10 describes an event at the end of the Millennium. One thousand years earlier, at Christ’s return, the beast and the false prophet were seized and “thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (Rev 19:20). At the same time, all sinners are put to death (Rev 19:21). At the end of the Millennium, all sinners that ever lived, “come to life” (Rev 20:5), are once more deceived by Satan (Rev 20:8), surround “the camp of the saints” but “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Rev 20:9). Then the devil, which is another name for Satan (Rev 20:2), “was thrown into the lake of fire,” where the beast and false prophet are (Rev 20:10).
Revelation is a book of symbols.
For example, consider the three beings in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10):
- The beast has seven heads and ten horns and comes up out of the sea (Rev 13:1).
- The false prophet is also a beast but it comes “up out of the earth” and has “two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11).
- Satan is described as a dragon (Rev 12:9) that also has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 12:3) and that hunts a woman (Rev 12:6, 14) who stands on the moon (Rev 12:1).
As another example, the harlot Babylon sits on the beast (Rev 17:3) but she also sits on “many waters” (Rev 17:1) and on “seven mountains” (Rev 17:9).
Given the symbolic nature of Revelation, literal interpretation is probably wrong.
Death is also thrown into the Lake of Fire.
At the end of Revelation 20, after the final judgment (Rev 20:11-12), “death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). Hades is the place where the dead are. The fourth seal personifies death and hades and says that hades follows after death (Rev 7:8).
If something like death can be thrown into the lake of fire, then it cannot be a literal place of conscious suffering. In fact, Revelation itself explains what this means, namely that “there will no longer be any death” (Rev 21:4). If throwing death into the lake of fire symbolizes the annihilation of death, then throwing other things into the lake of fire also means that they are annihilated.
The Lake of Fire is the Second Death.
Sometimes, Revelation explains its own symbols. For example, the “many waters” on which the harlot sits (Rev 17:1) are explained as “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15). The lake of fire is also explicitly explained; not once but twice, namely as “the second death:”
“This is the second death,
the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14).
“The lake that burns with fire and brimstone,
which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
Describing the lake of fire as “the second death” means that the second death is different from the first death. All dead people will be resurrected from the first death (Rev 20:5; John 5:28-29) but the worshipers of the beast will die three times:
When Christ returns, or earlier, they die for the first time (Rev 19:21).
At the end of the Millennium, fire from heaven devours them (Rev 20:9). For that reason, it is “the dead” who stands before the throne (Rev 20:12). Just like the souls “underneath the altar,” symbolically cry out for revenge (Rev 6:10), but symbolizes God’s awareness of the injustice suffered by His people and His intention to revenge their deaths, the dead symbolically stands before the throne of God to be judged.
Then, once the intelligent beings of the universe have confirmed from the records that God’s judgments are perfect (Rev 20:12), “death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:14)
A person may die the first death any number of times. Over history, many people were resurrected from death but died the first death a second time. But a person dies the second death only once. Once a being has been cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death, he is never again seen doing anything. For example:
The beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire” when Christ returns (Rev 19:11). Thereafter, they never again do anything in Revelation.
The devil is cast into the lake of fire one thousand years later (Rev 20:10) and is never heard of again.
The same applies to the people with the mark of the beast, who are cast into the lake of fire after the judgment (Rev 20:15; cf. 20:11).
The second death is when they are thrown into the lake of fire. therefore, is the final and irreversible death. From “the second death,” there will be no resurrection.
The Beast is not a personal being
that can suffer Eternal Torment.
The Beast is not a person.
The beast comes up out of the sea and has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 13:1). Its seven heads are explained as “seven mountains on which the woman sits” (Rev 17:9) and as “seven kings” (Rev 17:10). Its ten horns “are ten kings” (Rev 17:12). “They give their power and authority to the beast” (Rev 17:13). It should be clear that the beast is not a personal being.
Revelation 13:2 is key to the identification of the beast. That verse shows that the beast from the sea, which is the same as the beast that is in the lake of fire (Rev 19:20 and 20:10), receives something from each of the four beasts of Daniel 7:
It “was like a leopard” (Rev 13:2), which is the third beast in Daniel 7 (Dan 7:6).
Its “feet were like those of a bear” (Rev 13:2); the second beast in Daniel (Dan 7:5).
Its mouth was “like the mouth of a lion” (Rev 13:2); the first beast in Daniel (Dan 7:4).
“The dragon gave him (the beast) his power” (Rev 13:2). The fourth beast in Daniel is not compared to any known animal but is described as “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down” (Dan 7:7). However, since this description fits the description of a dragon, and since the dragon is mentioned in Revelation 13:2 together with three beasts that are explicitly mentioned in Daniel 7, the dragon in Revelation 13:2 must refer to the fourth beast of Daniel 7.
The beast in Revelation, therefore, receives something from each of the four beasts of Daniel 7. This means that the beast is a continuation of the beasts of Daniel. Daniel’s beasts are explained as kingdoms that exist on earth (Dan 7:17, 23). Interpreters right across the theological/eschatological spectrum agree that the beast of Revelation does not represent one single individual, but a kingdom, a “system:”
- Reformed preterist Kenneth Gentry (The Beast of Revelation) sees the image as representing Rome, with Nero Caesar in particular as its representative.
- Dispensationalist/futurist John Walvoord (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 199) sees it as the revived Roman Empire in the last days.
- Idealist Sam Hamstra (An Idealist View of Revelation” 118) sees the beast as representing “the spirit and empires of the world.
- The current website interprets the beast as the eleventh horn of Daniel 7, which is the Antichrist in the Book of Daniel, and which is the church of the middle ages.
While all these views of the beast differ from one another, they demonstrate the consensus that the beast is not a personal entity, but rather a symbol for an abstract or corporate entity of some sort.
The False Prophet is not a person.
The false prophet is also a beast, namely the “beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11). To see that they are the same, compare Revelation 13:12 and 19:20. The false prophet, therefore, is also not a personal entity.
“Since the beast and the false prophet are figures for systems rather than individual persons, the permanent destruction of evil is evidently meant” (F.F. Bruce, “Revelation,” in The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, 1708.). Neither of them will exist forever, nor could they suffer conscious, sensible pain. The eternal torment of Revelation 20:10 must be understood as symbolic.
The Beast will be annihilated.
“The beast that you saw was, and is not,
and is about to come up out of the abyss
and go to destruction” (Rev 17:8).
“The beast which was and is not,
is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven,
and he goes to destruction” (Rev 17:11).
A possible counterargument is that Revelation 17 refers to a different beast, namely, to the scarlet beast (Rev 17:3), while it is the sea beast that is thrown in the lake of fire because it is the sea beast that is associated with the false prophet (Rev 19:20; 13:12-13). This website discusses these seven-headed beasts in various articles.
In brief, the three seven-headed beasts in Revelation (Rev 12:3; 13:1; 17:3) have the same seven heads. It is actually a single beast with three bodies and seven heads. The different beasts and heads are different phases or manifestations of the same thing, namely the forces on earth that oppose God. Therefore, if one is destroyed (Rev 17:8, 11), all of these powers are destroyed.
For a further discussion of the beasts and their heads, see:
Annihilated in Daniel 7
As stated, the beast in Revelation is a continuation of the beasts in Daniel 7 and that chapter confirms that the beast will be destroyed:
“I kept looking until the beast was slain
and its body destroyed
and thrown into the blazing fire” (Dan 7:11).
The most important character in Daniel 7 is the eleventh horn that grows out of the fourth beast. Most of the chapter is dedicated to this evil power:
“He will speak out against the Most High
and wear down the saints of the Highest One,
and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law;
and they will be given into his hand
for a time, times, and half a time” (Dan 7:25).
However, a time will come when:
“The court will sit for judgment,
and his dominion will be taken away,
annihilated and destroyed forever” (Dan 7:26).
The eleventh horn that grows out of the fourth beast is a continuation of the power of the fourth beast. That it will be annihilated means that the beast is also annihilated.
In fact, another article shows that the eleventh horn is the beast of Revelation. In other words, since the horn will be annihilated, the beast of Revelation will be annihilated.
Annihilated in Daniel 2
Daniel 2 describes the same four kingdoms as in Daniel 7 and also describes what will happen when Christ returns. It says that these four kingdoms:
“Became like chaff from the summer threshing floors;
and the wind carried them away
so that not a trace of them was found” (Dan 2:35).
Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that God will establish Christ’s eternal kingdom:
“It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms,
but it will itself endure forever” (Dan 2:44).
In other words, the forces of this world that oppose the kingdom of God will be annihilated.
Satan will also be annihilated.
The devil is cast into the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet (Rev 20:10). He is a personal being and may suffer everlasting torment. But if impersonal or corporate entities, such as death, the beast, and the false prophet, can be thrown into the lake of fire to be annihilated, then the lake of fire symbolically consumes everything thrown into it. Therefore, when Satan is thrown into that lake, he is also annihilated.
Ezekiel 28 probably describes Satan for it talks about an “anointed cherub who covers” (Ezek 28:14), “You were blameless in your ways … until unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezek 28:15). “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty” (Ezek 28:17). Therefore God judged him. “He consumed him with fire, turned him to ashes” (Ezek 28:18). “You will cease to be forever” (Ezek 28:19).
Why this horrible symbolism?
I propose that the apocalypse uses the phrase “tormented day and night forever and ever” because the utter annihilation of people, who have been created in God’s image, is a truly horrifying concept; both for God and for people that think like Him (Rev 14:1). Just think of the people around you. Every one of them is a miracle. To lose even one person is an eternal tragedy. Therefore, God paints a truly frightening and spectacular picture of the end of the people who accept the mark of the beast.
Conclusions that are relevant to other articles
- Revelation is a book of symbols.
- The second death is the final and irreversible death. From the second death, there will be no resurrection.
- The beast is a continuation of the beasts of Daniel.
- The three seven-headed beasts in Revelation (Rev 12:3; 13:1; 17:3) are actually a single beast with three bodies and seven heads.
- The beast will be annihilated.
- Satan will also be annihilated.
- The utter annihilation of people, who have been created in God’s image, is a truly horrifying concept; both for God and for people that think like Him.