Hell in the Book of Revelation

Category: The End Times 132 1

I have previously written about the teachings of Jesus and Paul on the topic of hell. Both of them clearly teach that hell will be eternal and an utter place of misery. But what about Hell in the Book of Revelation? It is in the book of Revelation that we read about the fall of the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and Satan. The final judgment of humanity is also taught in Revelation, so it is only natural that the book has something to teach us about hell. There are two important aspects of hell taught in Revelation: its duration and its nature (the lake of fire). In this article, I will discuss what the book of Revelation has to say concerning the duration of hell. (I will discuss the lake of fire in the next article on hell.)

Revelation 14:9-12

Revelation 14:9-12 gives us some very good information concerning the exact length of the punishment of the wicked in hell.

9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

This passage teaches us that anyone who worships the beast, and receives his mark will be given no rest for day or night and the smoke of their torment will rise up forever. Some people try to interpret this passage as referring to the complete annihilation of the wicked, thus contradicting the teachings of Jesus on the issue of hell. A good place for us to start is with the word “torment.”

Torment

The Greek word for “torment” (basanismos) in 14:10-11 is used absolutely nowhere in Revelation or anywhere else in Scripture in the sense of meaning the annihilation of someone’s existence. “Without exception, in Revelation it refers to conscious suffering on the part of people (9:5; 11:10; 12:2; 18:7, 10, 15; 20:10).”[1]

Also, the various forms of the Greek word for “torment” in other parts of the New Testament and the LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that most Jews and Christians used) refers to conscious suffering, and not annihilation, when applied to people. This word group appears in the LXX more than a hundred times and always refers to conscious suffering.[2]

The phrase “the smoke of their torment” seems to have a background in Isaiah 34:9-11 where the smoke of the destruction of Edom (an ancient nation that hated Israel) rises up forever. Scholar Gregory K. Beale believes that the “’smoke’ is figurative of an enduring memorial of God’s punishment involving a real, ongoing, eternal conscious torment.”[3] This metaphorical meaning of the smoke is not only supported by Isaiah 34, but by Revelation 8:4 where “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God.” This smoke ascends before God to remind him of the prayers of the saints.

The nature of the torment of the wicked is described, not of annihilation, but of having no rest (verse 11). This is a problem for those who believe that God will annihilate the wicked. Wouldn’t annihilation give rest to the wicked? To have no rest implies that it will never end. In fact, 14:13 says that believers will enter into eternal rest, the opposite of the wicked just a few verses earlier. If the rest of Christians is eternal, then the restlessness of the wicked will last forever as well.[4]

Day and night and unto the ages of ages

Besides the word “torment” there are two other important phrases that appear in Revelation 14:9-11. The first is the phrase “day and night” (Greek hemeras kai nyktos) that clarifies that the punishment of the wicked will be ceaseless. “There will be no rest as long as the duration of the suffering continues.”[5] This phrase clearly means eternal. It appears in the LXX translation of Isaiah 60:11 and 62:6 and refers to the eternal blessing of the New Jerusalem. In Isaiah 60:11, the phrase is parallel with “eternal gladness, a joy of many generations” (60:15). “Day and night” in Revelation 14:11 is parallel with the second Greek phrase in this passage: “unto ages of ages” (Greek eis aionas aionon). The idea of these phrases is that the punishment of the wicked in hell will exist for a very long time.[6]

These two phrases are also present in Revelation 20:10 when the fate of Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet are being described. The phrase “unto the ages of the ages” occurs twelve other times in the book of Revelation and always refers to eternity (1:6, 18; 4:9, 10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5). In fact, “the punishment in 20:10 appears to be balanced antithetically by the identical phrase describing the eternal duration of the saints’ reign in 22:5.”[7]

The phrase “unto the ages of the ages” also refers to the eternal reign of God (11:15), the power and glory of God which is eternal (1:6; 5:13; 7:12), the eternal life of God and Christ (1:18; 4:9-10; 10:6; 15:7), and the eternal reign of Christians (22:5).[8] In addition, the phrase “they have no rest day and night,” in reference to the wicked in 14:11, is a repetition of the same phrase in 14:8 which speaks of the ceaseless and eternal worship of the angels in heaven. As long as God lives, he will be worshipped forever (Revelation 4:9-10). Clearly, these phrases mean eternity in these passages so why wouldn’t they mean eternity when referring to hell?

What does all this mean?

It is clear that the book of Revelation teaches that the punishment of the wicked will last forever. The words and phrases used for the wicked are also used for God and the believers. If the punishment of the wicked will not last forever then neither will heaven last forever. This is similar to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25:46. Along with Jesus and Paul, Revelation teaches us that hell will last forever. It is clear that not everyone will go to heaven or that the wicked will be completely annihilated. Hell is real, and will last forever.

John Walvoord sums up the words and phrases that Revelation uses as: “Their [the wicked] torment is not a momentary one, for it is described in verse 11 as continuing forever, literally ‘into the ages of ages,’ the strongest expression of eternity of which Greek is capable.”[9] He also says:

“Thus the Word of God plainly declares that death is not annihilation and that the wicked exist forever, though in torment. There would be no way possible in the Greek language to state more emphatically the everlasting punishment of the lost than that used here in mentioning both day and night and the expression ‘for ever and ever’ … literally ‘to the ages of ages.’”[10]


[1] Gregory K. Beale, “The Revelation on Hell.” In Hell Under Fire, Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson eds. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Pg. 116.

[2] Beale, 116.

[3] Ibid. 117.

[4] Ibid. 118-119.

[5] Ibid. 118.

[6] Ibid. 118.

[7] Ibid. 118.

[8] Ibid. 129.

[9] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody, 1966. Pg. 219.

[10] Walvoord, 304-305.

Related Articles

One thought on “Hell in the Book of Revelation

Leave a Reply