Will the Wicked Be Tormented Forever?
"He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name" (Revelation 14:10-11).
At first glance this may seem to confirm the traditional idea of a seething, sulfurous hellfire, mercilessly and eternally tormenting helpless immortal souls. But, if we don't already hold to a preconceived mental picture of hell, we can quickly grasp that this passage describes a quite different circumstance.
First, notice the setting for this passage. From the context we see that the events it describes aren't in hell or the afterlife at all, but rather on earth amid the earth-shaking events and disasters immediately before Jesus Christ's return. This warning describes the punishment that will befall all of earth's inhabitants "who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
The latter part of chapter 13 describes this "beast"—a dictator who rules over an end-time superpower—and his mark. Those who accept this mark show that their allegiance is to this dictator rather than God, and in chapter 14 God reveals the consequences of that choice—warning of the terrifying punishments that will precede Christ's return (see verses 14-20 and the following two chapters).
Notice also in this passage that the smoke from these terrifying events ascends forever—it does not say that people's actual torment continues forever. The smoke is no doubt associated with the God's wrath poured out on earth as described in chapter 16—which includes widespread destruction, great heat, warfare and a massive earthquake. All these events will generate massive fires and a huge amount of smoke.
The properties of smoke are such that it "ascends forever"—meaning that nothing will prevent or stop it. Being primarily heated gas, it rises, expands and eventually dissipates. The Greek word translated "forever" does not always mean eternity or infinity. It can simply refer to something that will not be stopped, that will continue as long as conditions allow. This passage is simply describing fires associated with this devastation that burn as long as they have fuel to consume, after which they simply burn out.
The reference in Revelation 14:11 to the wicked receiving "no rest day or night" speaks of those who continue to worship the beast and his image during this time. They will be in constant terror and fear for their lives, and thus aren't able to find a moment's rest during this terrifying time of God's anger.
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