“And the wild beast was caught, and along with it the false prophet that performed in front of it the signs with which he misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who worship its image. While still alive, they both were hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur.” ~Revelation 19:20
How do we know the lake of fire alluded to in Revelation is symbolic?
The wild beast and the false prophet are not literal.
The wild beast represents governments in opposition to God’s heavenly kingdom, and the false prophet represents the Anglo-American world power that encourages people to place their hope in democracy. (Rev. 13:11-13; 16:13)
After this, the Devil, Death, and the Grave are also hurled into the lake of fire.
Death and the Grave are not people or literal things, and the Devil is a spirit creature immune to the physical effects of fire. (Rev. 20:10,14)
This means that the lake of fire must be entirely symbolic, used to illustrate complete destruction.
“Happy are the dead who die in union with the Lord from this time onward. Yes, says the spirit, let them rest from their labors, for the things they did go right with them.”
Amidst so many judgments relative to the imminent destruction of the wicked, there is this passage of hope reminding us that Jehovah never forgets what we do for him. (Heb. 6:10) While here it is speaking specifically of the “holy ones” who will reign with Christ in heaven, we can be sure that anyone making sincere sacrifices in God’s name does not go unappreciated. (Mal. 3:16; Rev. 13:10; 14:12)
“…When [the angel] cried out, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. Now when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice out of heaven say: ‘Seal up the things the seven thunders spoke, and do not write them down.'”
Who is represented by “the seven thunders”?
In other Bible passages, the sound of a thunderous voice is often times attributed to Jehovah. (Job 37:4,5; 40:9; Ps. 29:3; John 12:28,29
The number seven is used figuratively to convey completeness. (Insight, “Numbers”
So in this case, the “seven thunders” seem to allude to Jehovah speaking about the completion of his purpose.
This theory is encouraged by what the angel then declares to John: “There will be no delay any longer. But in the days when the seventh angel is about to blow his trumpet, the sacred secret that God declared as good news to his own slaves the prophets is indeed brought to a finish.” (Rev. 10:6,7
But because John was not allowed to write down the announcement from “the seven thunders,” and then he was instructed to seal the blank
scroll, one can only guess what Jehovah’s message was about.
In any case, it was not meant to be understood in our times.
“[…] ‘The righteous one will live by reason of faith.'”
In his letter to the congregation in Rome, Paul explains that even those who suppress God’s Word ought to have a sense of right and wrong based on observing nature. (Rom. 1:18-20)
Does this mean that God judges us based on our own individual criteria, and we do not need to be held to absolute universal standards?
How do we know what it means to have good enough faith or to be righteous?
Paul says God’s righteousness is revealed in the good news. (Rom. 1:16,17)
When he speaks of faith, he is not speaking of an impersonal higher power who saves everyone regardless of their actions. (Rom. 1:21,29-32)
Yet, it takes more than knowledge of God to have faith. (Rom. 2:17,18,21)
If we listen to our own conscience, we can be at peace if we “work what is good.”
However, we cannot save ourselves.
We rely on God’s mercy. (Rom. 3:24; 4:5,25)
But if we are also to “live by reason of faith,” we do well to strengthen that faith by deepening our understanding of God’s good news and of his creation. (Rom. 2:10,13,15,16)
God’s Word tells us he judges us based on the sincere motives behind our actions and not merely on what we think or do. (Rom. 2:29)
The higher standard we’re being judged against is whether or not we do things out of love. (Matt. 22:37-40)
“[…] The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.”
Was Jesus referring to a future judgment in heaven or on earth?
The Hebrew Scriptures describe the resurrection hope as taking place on earth:
“He will swallow up death forever, And the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will wipe away the tears from all faces. The reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth […].” (Is. 25:8)
Who are those “in the memorial tombs?”
The term used here is derived from the Greek verb meaning to remember (mimneskomai), implying that the person who has died is remembered by God, regardless of where their body winds up physically.
Jesus used the verb when he offered hope of living in paradise to the felon being executed alongside him on a stake. (Luke 23:40-43)
Jesus made a covenant for a heavenly resurrection with those who stuck out his trials with him. (Luke 22:28-30)
But for most of us, faith in being in Jehovah’s memory and the promise of an earthly resurrection is our most viable longterm hope.
In the restored paradise, we will have a clean slate to chose eternal life or destruction by the choices we make then. (Ro. 6:7; Rev. 20:12,15)
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.”
Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally?
The Bible teaches God made the earth to last forever. (Ps. 37:29; Is. 45:18)
In a previous similar statement, Jesus said: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to go unfulfilled.” (Luke 16:17)
Jesus was not alluding to a future destruction of the physical universe.
Rather, he was making reference to the opposite.
He was using the permanent nature of the physical world to illustrate how certain the fulfillment of his prophecies is.
In other passages, the phrase “heaven and earth” actually refers to government and mankind. (2 Pet. 3:13)
Jesus was speaking in the context of a coming judgment day, like the one that came through the deluge in the times of Noah. (Matt. 24:37)
Since his kingdom is going to thereafter rule over humans deemed righteous, the current heaven and earth will have come to pass in a symbolic sense. (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:19-21)
“[…] You will be remembered no more, for I myself, Jehovah, have spoken.”
The Bible says Jehovah God has been writing the names of faithful ones in the “Book of Life” since the beginning of mankind, so to speak. (Rev. 17:8)
Various prophets including Moses, David, Malachi, John (the Apostle), Paul and Jesus himself made reference to this symbolic book. (Ex. 32:32,33; Ps. 69:28; Mal. 3:16; Luke 10:20; Php. 4:3; Rev. 3:5)
If our choices reflect a healthy fear of God, even if we die, he will keep us alive in his memory until the time of the resurrection. (Luke 20:37,38; John 5:28,29)
On the contrary, how sad it would be to die without any hope of returning to life because we have offended God to the point that he has completely wiped us out of his memory.
“This was the error of Sodom your sister: She and her daughters were proud and had an abundance of food and carefree tranquility; yet they did not support the afflicted and the poor.”
Why was Jerusalem, the Holy City, compared to Sodom?
Sodom had been notorious not only for its immoral practices, which Judeans now surpassed, but also for its hardheartedness. (Eze. 16:47,48,50)
Over a hundred years before Ezekiel, the prophet Isaiah had also compared the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah, which led to his execution (Isa. 1:10; Isaiah’s Prophecy I: “Let Us Set Matters Straight; footnote)
Jesus, referring to the inhabitants of his day who ignored the signs that he was the messiah, stated: “It will be more endurable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than for that city.” (Matt. 10:11-15)
What about ourselves?
Do we respond to the Bible’s message with pride and hardheartedness?
As Christians, does our moral lifestyle include giving more of ourselves toward those who are spiritually, emotionally and physically in need? (Jas. 1:27)
“[…] You should know for a certainty that I have warned you today that your error will cost you your lives.”
After the Chaldeans took most of the Jews captive, the army chiefs along with the remaining people in the vicinity of Jerusalem asked the prophet to pray on their behalf and find out what God’s will for them was. (Jer. 42:1-3)
Ten days later, Jehovah gave his reply, asking them to remain there and not fear the king of Babylon. (Jer. 42:7,10,11)
But the people had allowed their fear to overcome them and were headstrong about fleeing to Egypt (Jer. 43:4-7)
Eventually, the Chaldeans extended their battles into Egypt, and that remnant did not survive (Jer. 43:10,11)
They were not necessarily evil people.
They mostly consisted of the poorest sector of the population. (Jer. 40:7)
The fact that they first sought out God’s guidance indicates that at least at one point they had the right intention. (Jer. 42:5,6)
But their subsequent decision to ignore Jehovah’s commandment and head on into Egypt without his blessing ended up having tragic consequences.
Today, God warns us that a time is coming in which he will judge all of humanity. (Mark 13:32,33; Acts 17:30,31)
If we were in the habit of praying for his guidance and then ignoring Biblical counsel, we, too, would be falling in an error that will cost us our lives.
“‘You would not listen to me,’ declares Jehovah. ‘Instead you offended me with the work of your hands, to your own calamity.’”
When someone decides to take it upon him or herself to oppose God’s written will, they are doing so to their own detriment.
The day comes when God ‘makes his voice heard,’ and he will personally pass judgment on everyone of us. (Jer. 25:30,31)
But God does not come like a merciless executioner.
Jehovah is now teaching us and guiding us through his written word for our own benefit. (Isa. 48:17,18)
Like Jeremiah, our resolve to obey God may subject us to temporary persecution and suffering, but we faithfully continue to share God’s message knowing he gives even the evildoer a chance to repent. (Jer. 26:3,13,15)
Nevertheless, the day will come when God will realize his vision of justice. (Hab. 2:3,4)
It is not as one religious leader proclaimed- that God’s mercy “never runs out.”
Jehovah is a judge of justice and action; not an indulging authority figure who is only bluffing.