Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lake of Fire is the Second Death


These words occur in the book of Revelation only. I introduce them here, not because I have the vanity to suppose that I can furnish the true key to their meaning, for I pretend not to be able to do this with certainty, but because they are usually urged against the universalist faith with the most vehemence, and positive affirmation. I will speak to the negative point of what they do not mean, with more confidence than to the positive of what they do.

That the lake of fire cannot refer exclusively to a place or mode of suffering in another life, is evident from the nature of some of the things subjected to its operation; these are death, hades, the beast, and the false prophet. The first three of these, it can scarcely be supposed, are suitable subjects for endless suffering! Death is a mere negation -- the absence of life. Hades is a separate state equated to the grave. The beast personifies the corruptors and opposers of Christianity, or a corrupt hierarchy, some say Jewish, some Pagan, some Romish Christian, and some (the Romanists) say, the pseudo- reformed Christian. It may mean any of these, or it could even include the "carnal beast" within each of us, for certainly we read:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.--Revelation 21:8

Whatever it means, however, it is represented, together with the false prophet, as having been "cast alive into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone," from which, if the lake of fire mean hell, we must infer that they were consigned bodily, in flesh and blood, to its sulphurous flames!

It is equally evident that the second death cannot signify an endless death, (as some assume,) because the inspired testimony is full and clear to the point, that death is to be destroyed, swallowed up in victory, be no more, etc., which may imply any thing rather than that it shall endure, and triumph over millions of people through all eternity!

Touching the meaning of Revelation there is a great diversity of judgment among critics. They are also much divided as to the period at which it was written -- some placing it before, some after, the destruction of Jerusalem. To my mind the probabilities seem decidedly to favor the former position, and I also think that the book chiefly relates to that catastrophe, and to the various circumstances attendant on the introduction of the Christian institution. I have, as I think, very substantial reasons in the book for this opinion. In the introduction it professes to disclose things that were "shortly to come to pass," and for which it even says, "the time is at hand" (Rev. 1:1-2). And that the judgments threatened through the book were to have an immediate (and not a remote) fulfilment, seems evidently to be implied in the closing declarations; -- "Surely I come quickly" (Rev. 22:20); "behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12). It seems too that the city and temple of Jerusalem must have been yet standing, not only from their being referred to in several indirect forms, but fromm the additional fact, that John is directed by the angel to measure the temple. "And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months" (Rev. 11:1-2). Moreover, I have reasons for identifying the judgment so sublimely described in chapter 20 with that of which Daniel spoke in a strain of equal grandeur, (Dan. 7:9) which is regarded by both Bishop, and Sir Isaac Newton, and other eminent expositors, as portending the momentous events which should attend the destruction of the Mosaic economy, and the setting up of Messiah's kingdom.

By keeping these things in mind, we need be at no great loss for the understanding of the words at the head of this article. We can at least attain a high degree of probability in regard to it. As to the lake of fire, we often find that very figure employed in the descriptions of the judgment at the end of that world (aion, or age). Malachi calls the period thereof "the day that shall burn as an oven" Malachi 4:1). Christ said, that at the end of that world, (or age,) the tares should be cast into the furnace of fire (Matt. 13:40). God expressly says he will gather the Jews into the midst of Jerusalem, and melt them as silver is melted in a furnace (Ezek. 22:18, 22). And it is said that the Lord's "fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem" (Isa. 31:9). This, indeed, was a figure to which those whom Christ and his apostles addressed were well accustomed. In Revelation, the lake of fire, is represented as an agent of torment, as well as judgement. Death, hades, the beast, etc., are not subjects of punishment. The judgement of the two former, along with all those listed in Rev. 21:8, at the time of being cast into this fire, must imply, I think, that the fundamental and most glorious feature in that gospel, viz., the doctrine of reconciliation, would effectually dispel, in the minds of believers, all fears and anxieties on the subject of death and the state beyond it; and that it would also carry their minds forward in anticipation to the final extinction of these and all other foes to human happiness.

After the stating, that all liars, adulterers, the unbelieving and abominable, etc., were cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, it is added, "this is the second death." Here the phrase must imply a process of punishment, or correction. Brimstone is translated from the Greek word, THEION. Meaning sulphur and used repeatedly throughout ancient cultures as a medicine; sulfa drugs today are still used to heal.

Again, after telling that death and hell were cast into the lake of fire, the revelator adds, "this is the second death." It here, unquestionably, implies an utter destruction, for, as stated before, death and hades cannot be subjects of suffering, and, therefore, in this instance the lake of fire cannot signify a place of misery. It is the height of absurdity to speak of casting insentient things into misery. Their being cast into a lake of fire can only intimate their destruction. This should be expected in what we know about God's great plan, namely that, God will be all in all. (1 Cor.15:28)

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