The following texts are what I would consider the two strongest arguments for the ongoing torment view. They both come from the book of Revelation. Although this book doesn’t quote the Old Testament as often as the book of Hebrews, it has been named the closest New Testament book to the Old Testament because of its language. The language is identical to the prophets of old like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. It employs hyperbolic language and strong imagery. That being said, let’s check out these last two passages.
The first one come from Revelation chapter 14, where John receives a vision of what will happen to the followers of the beast.
9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,
10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
11″And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
Those who followed the beast are said to be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and Lamb. The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. And they won’t have rest day or night. Let’s take the first part of this.
“They are tormented with fire and brimstone.”
This doesn’t create a problem for my position since I would agree that having fire and brimstone raining down on you would involve a level of torment. I don’t want to be burned alive no matter how long it lasts. I don’t think that when Sodom and Gomorrah experienced the Eternal Fire [here], they disappeared the very instant it touched them. I’m sure they burned alive, some slower than others. A common misunderstanding is that those who hold to conferred immortality don’t believe in any torment at all, and that the wicked are just killed immediately. But this isn’t true. I’m sure some may believe that, but not me or those I know who hold the view. So the generalization isn’t fair.
Next, we see that
“The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever”
Notice, it doesn’t say that they are tormented forever and ever, but only that their smoke ascends forever. The assertion made here by those who hold to ongoing torment is that since the smoke ascends forever, it must mean that the torment is occurring forever. But is this the case? This imagery is reminiscent of when Abraham saw Sodom and Gomorrah the morning after it was destroyed. The book of Genesis tells us:
“and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace.”
But still, Genesis just says “smoke,” and nothing about “forever and ever.”
Notice what Isaiah says about the destruction of Edom:
9 Its streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch.
10 It will not be quenched night or day; Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever.
He uses identical language expressing that this destruction has been completed. It’s a sign that destruction had occured. It signifies a perpetual extinction.
Lastly, we are told they will have
“no rest day and night.”
The assumption here is that they will have no rest day or night for eternity. But this verse doesn’t say that. It only says that they will have no rest day or night. That is, there will be no rest for them in their torment, as there was no rest for Sodom and Gomorrah in their torment – But as we had observed earlier, the fire and brimstone, the ETERNAL FIRE, not able to be resisted, will bring them to an end.
Now, let’s take a look at this final verse (also found in the book of Revelation) that speaks of Satan. It can be found in Revelation 20:10.
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.
This verse seems to clearly teach that Satan will undergo torment for an eternity, along with the beast and false prophet. And I think it does clearly say that. Let’s note some things.
No matter what your eschatology is, chances are you don’t believe the beast and false prophet are literal people. One represents a government, and the other a religion that supports that government. Take the beast for example. It’s heads represent seven hills, and kings for instance. We know from what Revelation tells us that this beast represents Rome. Sometimes there appears to be an individual representing the beast, but not always. A common argument is that governments or cities are made up of people. The fact that the heads also represent Roman emperors does not mean that the beast includes people. It would be akin to John giving us the letter today and saying the beast has 50 heads. The imagery is pointing to government/authority of Rome. We are also told elsewhere that Death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14). What’s my point? Point is that the beast, false prophet, death, and hades represent non personal entities who each share a place in the Lake of Fire.
I don’t suppose anyone would believe that something non personal could be tormented for an eternity? Will hades be tormented forever? Will death be tormented forever? Will the false prophet representative of a religion? Will the beast who represents a government? No. They will be destroyed forever. They will be no more.
But Satan and people aren’t impersonal. So what to make of them? Since they are personal doesn’t that change things? That question misses the point. The Lake of Fire is described to us in the book of Revelation as a place where both personal entities and impersonal corporate or abstract entities share a place in the end. The Lake of Fire is something they are both cast into, and its effects must be shared by both. Conscious eternal torment is not something that both an impersonal and personal entity can share. Destruction certainly is something that both can undergo. You can certainly destroy a corporate entity, but it can’t suffer ongoing pain. And, I just have to keep repeating this, because no matter how many times it is repeated, it seems to get lost: I’m not opposed to the idea that it may involve pain or even anger or sorrow, it just won’t be ongoing.
To further make the point, let’s take one more quick look at what happens to the beast. Revelation isn’t the only book that tells us about this beasts final punishment. Check out what Daniel says in Daniel 7:11:
“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.
This beast is slain, body destroyed, and given to burning fire. Yet the book of Revelation describes it as being tormented day and night forever and ever. Should we assume that this poses a contradiction? Of course not. We know that whatever Daniel or Revelation describe about the beast, it is actually speaking about what will happen to it in history. And what did happen to the beast? Remember in Daniel chapter 2, in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the statue was smashed to bits. The beast here in Revelation represents the feet of this statue. Christ’s kingdom was established at the time of the Romans.
“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.
But Rome wasn’t physically wiped out when Christ’s kingdom came to earth. That’s because the beast doesn’t represent the people, but the authority of Rome. After all, as we observed earlier in Revelation 14, the people who took the mark of the beast are punished. So we see that the people and beast are separate. Yet, the beast is spoken of in Revelation 20:10 as being tormented day and night forever and ever. John’s primary point in the book of Revelation is that all who oppose God will be destroyed, and will come to an end and he is using hyperbolic language to speak of an intense and permanent end. Lastly, going back to Daniel 7, notice the insight given to Daniel about this beast:
‘But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever.