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March 19, 2011



Paul, you wrote:

"But the beast, the false prophet and the harlot are not individual people, they are symbols of the world in its varied hostility to God. Therefore they cannot experience pain."

You do realize that this gives away your eschatological bent :) Most importantly, Irenaeus (disciple of Polycarp who was discipled by the apostle John) would disagree that the beast and false prophet are not individual people. Most of the earliest Christians were futurists and pre-millennial.

Furthermore, you said a mouthful in your following assertion:

"The idea that a fully conscious creature would undergo physical and mental torture through endless time is plainly sadistic and therefore incompatible with a God who loves humanity."

I'm puzzled why you would assert this given that such a view is clearly the position held by most Christians today.



I'm not sure what John's symbolism has to do with being pre-millennial. John himself identifies the harlot as the great city, clearly indicating Rome (17:18). Granted some of his images refer to specific things (the seven lampstands in 1:12-20 are identified as the seven churches) but often these images are more general. The beast out of the sea, is a standard image for a world empire, not for an individual ruler.

I'm equally puzzled why an eternally-conscious torment for all who have rejected or never had the opportunity to hear of Jesus Christ is the position held by most Christians today (although I highly doubt that this is true of the average Christian, but the majority of evangelical Christian teachings).

I don't agree with all of the conclusions Rob Bell reached in his book, but I'm really thankful for his direct and honest questions. It is certainly time that evangelical Christians reexamine our doctrines on hell and damnation and I am glad he got the conversation going.


No denying that Revelation is highly symbolic. But, a strong case can be made that the beast and false prophet are actual people. The beast is likely the Antichrist (prophesied in Daniel). Here is their fate:

The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. -Rev 20:10

Those who haven't heard of Christ, well, there are plenty who wouldn't dogmatically state they will go to hell. God will judge justly, perhaps based upon how they responded to the light that God gave them. For those who actually reject the gospel, the teaching of Scripture is clear that they will not partake in the first resurrection.

That Bell would even consider the possibility of post-mortem repentance (after rejecting Christ during this life) is enough for me to distance myself from him on this topic (and maybe other topics as well, as his exegesis of Scripture appears very unimpressive).


Mae, as far as I can tell, the overwhelming consensus of contemporary commentators on Revelation is that the two beasts of Revelation 13 (which are later referred to as the beast and false prophet) are symbols for corporate entities (e.g. the Roman empire).

The beast is almost certainly identified with the fourth beast of Daniel 7 (ten horns) or some sort of combination of all the beasts (leopard, bear, lion). Daniel's vision is interpreted in Daniel 7:23 and the beasts are explicitly identified as kingdoms.

Revelation 20:10 is an apocalyptic vision of a symbols being thrown into another symbol. The pronounced fate is presumably symbolic as well. This is normally the way we interpret such visions. For instance, the fate of the ram in Daniel 8 is to be cast down and trampled by the goat. Nobody takes this to mean that the kings (or people) of Media and Persia will be trampled upon by by a goat.

It is utterly inconsistent to take the symbols of a vision as representing something else, but take the events of the same vision as literal descriptions of reality.


This is an Interesting discussion from a theological viewpoint. You seem to be contradicting the words of Jesus on the idea that there is not an eternal torment. Am I missing something?

Mark 9:48 where “‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

It is great to have a brilliant mind and to have a well-rounded theological background. The more I read your words, the more I like you. The next stage in your theological development is to go back to original source material, exegete the text, show the boundaries by which we can understand it, then what others have said.

I applaud you and believe in you. Don't lose your finger on the text. Keep progressing. Proud of you.



I'm pretty familiar with the exegetical process. The problem is that we all come to the "original source material" with presuppositions and pre-understandings that may or may not be biblical themselves. My point in this series of posts was to show how the Greek idea of natural immortality has skewed the Christian teaching about eternity, specifically the nature of hell.

If you come to texts like Mark 9:48 with the preunderstanding that souls are intrinsically immortal and hell exists, it follows that the wicked will have to suffer consciously forever in it. If there are "worms" and "fire", then hell has to be a condition of eternal conscious torment.

But this imagery is taken from Isaiah 66:24:

“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to the whole human race.”

Notice it is the "dead" bodies of God's enemies that are being eaten by maggots and burned up. It is safe to say there is not a hint of everlasting suffering in the verse. The fire and the worm destroy the dead bodies; they do not torment them.


Not to rehash Paul's remarks, but I just always find it fascinating that someone can read something like, "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" and from that infer eternal torment! (And Mark, I do not say that in a condescending way; I'm sure I've done--and continue to do--the same thing with other passages.)

There are so many assumptions that must be smuggled into that passage in order to conclude that it just obviously teaches eternal torment.

Paul covered the major point already (about the meaning of the quoted text in Isaiah), so I'll just throw something else out there that you may not have considered.

"Unquenchable fire" does not mean "fire that burns forever," it means fire that cannot be *quenched*. Unquenchable fire is, again, OT judgment language. It is found, for instance, in Ezekiel 20:47 and clearly expresses the idea of a judgement that cannot be resisted. Just do a quick OT search of "quench" to confirm this.


Ronnie, you wrote:

"Mae, as far as I can tell, the overwhelming consensus of contemporary commentators on Revelation is that the two beasts of Revelation 13 (which are later referred to as the beast and false prophet) are symbols for corporate entities (e.g. the Roman empire)."

The first beast in Revelation 13 is most certainly a man. "And all those dwelling on the land shall worship him, whose name is not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." John is very careful with his pronouns. In Rev 13:8, when describing the beast (who represents both a "king" and his kingdom), he used the third person singular pronoun, "he." Like I said before, the early church fathers believed in a future Antichrist (a "man").


Mae, the pronoun's antecedent is the symbol, not the symbol's referent! The prostitute of Revelation 17 is explicitly interpreted as a "city", but is referred to as "she". Consistently applying your hermeneutic will give us bizarre results to say the least!

Oddly enough, however, you say that the beast represents both a king and a kingdom. You've then conceded that the beast is a symbol for a corporate entity, and Paul's original point stands.

The early church fathers were wrong about many things. I'm not so much interested in what they believed, but rather, why they believed it.

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