Smoke That Ascends and Fire not Quenched; Do These Describe Hell?
Revelation 14:11, first part

14:11, note a
Everlasting smoke

   Anyone who worships beast and image ". . . shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God . . . and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . . And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:10, 11)

Is this hell?
   Many Christians believe that this passage describes a hell that will continue through the ceaseless ages of eternity. I see the picture a little differently. Let me explain why. The Bible is very clear that the wicked will be destroyed. For example, "The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy." (Ps. 145:20). Could "destroy" mean something different, a condition where the wicked will remain burning? No. This is in conflict with the context because "destroyed" means "not preserved." Following is another verse, one which shows that "destroy" means "destroy."
   "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." (Mal. 4:1). But maybe the soul lives on to suffer after the body is destroyed, root and branch. Something Jesus said closes that possibility, too. "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28).
   The Bible also says that the wages for sin is "death" not eternal life in heaven or anywhere else including hell. (Rom. 6:23). And we know that, because God loved the world, He gave His only son so that we need not "perish," but have everlasting life. (John 3:16). The choice is life or no life. Only because of centuries of misunderstanding rooted in Pagan mythology do we tend to believe Satan's original lie, "Ye shall not surely die." (Gen. 3:4).
    And Where is hell? Or where will it be? See 2pe0307.
    And When? It is not happening now. See mt1340 and context. Also re2101 and re2013.

Strange smoke
   Of course, these clear statements leave us with a problem understanding our present verse: "And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. . . ." (Rev. 14:11). This sounds like sinners will not be destroyed! I'll tell you the solution to the puzzle. Then I'll explain, and you can see if I am right according to the Scriptures. The smoke going up, along with the fire and brimstone, is a symbol taken from what Abraham saw after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (You might want to review our discussion of the topic, Rev. 14:10.) The message to the ancient cities and to those who choose the beast in earth's final conflict is the same: This is the end. This is the harvest of what you have planted! Gal. 6:7; Jer. 8:20. No more repentance! (Heb. 12:17). No more coming back to rebuild! (Amos 9:14). It is "outer darkness" separated eternally from Christ, the source of life! (2 Peter 2:17; Matt. 8:12; 2 Tim. 1:10).

The fire is not put out
   While we are considering the everlasting smoke, let's look at another verse that, at first, also seems to indicate unending punishment. "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me [the Lord]: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." (Isa. 66:24). This is symbolic language because real worms get burned up, too. The verse is saying that the worms and the fire cannot be stopped. This does not mean that they continue after their job is done. They chew and burn until the carcases are all consumed. If you have watched a house burn down in the presence of fire fighters that could not put it out, you know that the fire went out on its own after the combustible material was destroyed. The fire that cannot be stopped will occur when the holy city comes down and the wicked who try to capture it are burned up instead. We will see this when we come to chapters 20 and 21 re2009b.

   Now, I expect that the catastrophes on the earth before the return of Christ will include real fire and real smoke in many areas, but we must be careful not to confuse them with the symbolic fire, brimstone, and smoke that help explain the fate of all beast worshippers. The ten plagues offer another explanation of how the wrath of God is carried out (15:7), but everlasting smoke is not used as one of the symbols. (See Rev. 15:7 and chapters 15 and 16).

More evidence
   Since I am saying that "forever," in these verses, does not mean without end, you may ask, do we have evidence elsewhere in the Bible of the term being used to clearly indicate a finite length of time? Yes we do.
   "For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea [Edom], and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. . . . For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness." (Isa. 34:5-11).
   Edom is shown on maps as having been south and east of the Dead Sea. Sodom and Gomorra are considered to have also been in the sea area, so they, too, would have been part of Edom. The nation no longer exists and no smoke is rising. If we read carefully, we see that this country, a traditional enemy of God's people, is used as a symbol of the same future time of God's wrath which we have been discussing. Notice verse 8. "For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance. . . ." Seeing this, we might say, "Naturally the fire is not burning. It hasn't yet begun. When it does come, the smoke will rise without end." Is this true? (Never mind that that it doesn't support the popular idea of a currently burning hell.)
   Looking back at the story about Edom we find another problem with the concept of a "forever" hell. To be consistent with the imagery, the fire must go out because the dust which turned into brimstone and the burning pitch would have to cool off to allow the wild birds to dwell in the land. Then, if we continue following the story into chapter 35, we find another transition. "the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose." (Isa 35:1). What I believe we see in the two chapters is the sweep of time representing God's wrath (Isa 34:1-10a), the desolation during the 1,000 years (Isa. 34:10b-15), and the new earth (34:16 - 35:10). I'll let you read the chapters to see that the story is a connected sequence.
   We conclude that this fire, as in the case of actual Sodom and Gomorrah, will go out. In fact, Jude 7 describes the "forever" experience of these cities in the past tense, explaining that they suffered "the vengeance of eternal fire." This means that they are not suffering it now.

Then what is "forever"?
   Before leaving the topic, we need to recognize that some passages in the Bible which include, "forever" or "forever and ever," do indeed describe endless duration. For example, "The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD." (Ps. 146:10). "Forever" literally means "unto ages." We may define the term broadly as "permanently or for a long time." You can see this by a study in your concordance.
   God, in justice, will punish the wicked, but finite wickedness will not be repaid by infinite punishment. And why would Cain burn for 6,000 years longer than modern sinners? (See Gen. 4:13-15). "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." (Matt. 16:27; Compare Luke 12:47, 48; Rev. 22:12). We will be rewarded individually, according to our behavior. Praise God for His fairness. I have chosen the gift of eternal life and I believe you want it, too.
   For clarification, see the article on fire and brimstone.
    We discuss this topic more in connection with the destruction of the wicked at the end of the thousand years. There you may find a little duplication but not much. We look at different Bible passages Rev. 20:10bco.

Is hell burning now?
    You probably realize that my answer is, no. Several Bible passages make this clear. 2 Peter 2:9. And Matt. 13:40 gives the same idea.

14:11 b
No rest the unpardonable sin

   ^ . . . they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. (Rev. 14:11)

   Those who choose the mark of the beast instead of the seal of God will no doubt suffer physically, but it seems to me that the spiritual suffering is greater. Will they be sorry for their choice and long for God to accept their repentance? Remember that this is after human probation has closed. Here is a verse from the description of the time of wrath in chapter 16:
   "And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory." (Rev. 16:9).

The story of Esau explains their situation.
   "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." (Heb. 12:15-17).
   Esau wished he had the wealth to be inherited by the firstborn, and he actually received it. What he did not want was the spiritual blessing. He did not want to repent and the gift of wanting it was withdrawn. This is the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:32). God never gets mad at us and says, "Tough luck." He loved us while were sinners and He never wants to leave us (Hosea 11:3-8). We, however, may choose to reject Him and the Holy Spirit stops pleading with our hearts. To continue after being firmly rejected is to be an annoyance, as we can understand from dealing with our own loved ones who do not know the Lord. We can say only so much, then silence is best. Of course we don't know when they have rejected God totally. Many do come back. We can always pray.
   If we are sorry for our sin, sensing how it has dishonored our Lord, we can be sure that, no matter what impressions the devil sends, we have not committed the unpardonable sin. I believe that, at the end of time, all will be either sealed in perfect commitment or determined to reject God. Only then will probation be closed. God honors the choice of each soul. Those on the outside of the heavenly city will be there because they would not be happy inside!
   Sinners at the end of time will not like the misery that they have brought on themselves but they will still hate the only source of comfort and hope. They "have no rest day nor night." They will have lost their desire to repent and realize their hopelessness. That desire is a gift of grace just as much as is forgiveness and the power to turn from sin.
  Praise God for reaching out in such magnificent love through Christ! Praise God for His complete fairness with even the wicked! We can cling to Him acting on the grace He has provided through the gift of His only Son.
  On the mark of the beast, see on 13:16.

No rest
  What are the wicked really missing? Jesus offered: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28). "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (Gen. 2:1-3). On the Sabbath, we participate in God's rest. He finished His work of creation, and He is finishing His work of redemption in our hearts. "Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you." (Ex. 31:13). There were no Jews when God made rest. The promise of sanctification is for us, too. The only choices at the end of time will be the Sabbath rest or hopelessness:
    ". . . they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:11)

How the unpardonable sin is committed
    This awesome decision is more than a casual act. Jesus explained it in Matt. 12 Matt. 12:31.

14:11 c
Choice of consequences

    " . . . If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark. . . The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God. . . and he shall be tormented. . . . they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:9-11).

   The wicked who are here punished are those who submitted to the demands of the beast power in chapter 13. The description, however, shows a little different viewpoint. Let's compare. ". . . the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all. . . to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." (Rev. 13:15-17).

Choice of Punishments
Consequences of disobedience
13:15-17 Beast requires
Worship of image (and hence beast)
Reception of beast's mark or name or number
Death from beast or image 
May not buy or sell
14:9-11 God forbids
Worship of beast & image
Reception of mark of beast's name
Drink wine of God's wrath; tormented (judged); no rest

     Since the time of the war in heaven (Rev. 12:7) Satan has set himself as the enemy of Christ and the divine government. Praise God that He offers us the opportunity to choose His way of love and peace.

14:11 d
What is hell?

   We have considered how the popular concept of hell includes serious misunderstandings. Knowing what is wrong is not enough. So we ask, What and where is hell?
   We looked at the common idea that hell fire will never end that the wicked will suffer throughout eternity. The English definition of the word "everlasting" is different from aionios, the Greek word it generally translates. Aionios literally means "lasting for an age." We may understand it as "continuous" or "unchanging" rather than what we think of as "forever."
   The word, "hell," is translated from the Hebrew, sheol, or the Greek, hades, which refer to the unseen world, or the world of the dead. These may simply mean, "grave." Another Greek word, also translated as "hell" has a quite different meaning and tends to confuse understanding. The Greek, ge-enna means a place of burning. The word comes from the old name of a valley south of Jerusalem, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, where children were burned in sacrifice to the god Molec. (See Joshua 15:8; 2 Kings 23:10; Jer 7:31; 2 Chron. 28:3; and the apocryphal passage, 1 Enoch 26:1-5). In punishment for the wickedness of the professed people of God, the valley would become the Valley of Slaughter, leaving Judah and Jerusalem desolate. This was literally fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem and, as according to Jesus' warnings, is a symbol of later punishment.
   Jesus referred to hell (ge-enna) several times, for example (Matt. 5:29; 10:28). These references to the burning hell describe final destruction and hence refer to the fire that comes down to destroy the wicked at the end of the thousand years. Luke 12:5 clarifies that the ge-enna experience is beyond death.
   "But the rest of the dead [those who had not been raised at the beginning of the thousand years to live and reign with Christ, [Rev. 20:4; 1 Thess. 4:16; John 5:28, 29] lived not again until the thousand years were finished. . . . And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,  And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:5-9, 15).
   Let's look again at our current verse, 14:11. It describes the punishment at the time Jesus returns: "And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name." The wicked living at the end of time are killed (Rev. 19:21; 14:14-18). This is the first death for them. They join the wicked who have died their first death earlier, before the coming of Christ. They will all experience the second death after surrounding the city. (Rev. 20:6, 16).
   "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 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." (Rev. 21:7, 8).

   We need to avoid confusion here. Do the fire and brimstone come at the time of wrath warned about by the third angel (14:9-11) or at the end of the millennium for the lake of fire (21:7, 8, as above) or at both times?
    According to the passage we just read, fire and brimstone are the elements of punishment and destruction of the second death which comes at the end of the thousand years (Rev. 20:13-15). The passage, quoted earlier, describing the event before the thousand years also involves fire and brimstone (v.10) and smoke (v.11).
   We may confirm that the destructive elements are seen on both occasions because:
   1.  They are clearly part of the second death at the end of the thousand years as we just noted.
   2.  We also read about fire and brimstone as part of the wrath of God predicted by the third angel (Rev. 14:9-11).
  This time of wrath must come before the thousand years because the beast is then still the focus of worship. He is cast into the lake of fire at the beginning of that period of time (Rev. 19:19 - 20:2; 20:10). At the end of the thousand years, we don't find him being worshipped. Instead Satan himself leads the wicked (Rev. 20:7).
   3. During the sixth plague (Rev. 16:12-16), just before the war is over in the seventh (when the thousand years begins), the beast is involved in gathering the kings to the battle of Armageddon.
   During the thousand years, Satan is bound (Rev. 20:1, 2) and the beast is in the fire with his former friend, the false prophet (Rev. 19:19, 20). The righteous are then in heaven (John 14:1-3; Rev. 3:21), and the earth is desolate (Isa. 34:10b, 12; Jer. 4:23-26).

   This has been a brief sketch. We will have occasion to study the topic more in connection with Rev. 20. An important point here is that hell, as the destruction of the wicked, begins and ends after Satan gathers the wicked who live again after the thousand years (Rev. 20:5, 7-10) and they surround the New Jerusalem which comes down (Rev. 21:2, 8).
   As with all unfulfilled prophecy, we may discover some slight errors in our interpretation, but I'm convinced that the general picture here is accurate.

Click for a page of links to the above and other discussion of the state of the dead.

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