The Lake Of Fire

Death and Judgment


MANY ARE THE CLAIMS that the second death is actually a second life. Whether conceived as beneficial, or simply as perpetually punitive, the common idea is that the second death is a second life, yet a life of affliction and pain, injury and distress, endured in the presence of abominable sinners engaged in all manner of unclean deeds.

According to most, the second death is an endless, second lifetime from which there is neither respite nor reclamation. Indeed, such ones, if they would maintain their notions concerning everlasting punishment, must interpret the second death as a second lifetime. Thus the interpretation of the second death as a certain gruesome life becomes central to the maintenance of the doctrine of eternal torment.

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It is sometimes claimed that Hebrews 9:27 proves that the second death is figurative: “And, in as much as it is reserved for the men to be dying once, yet after this a judging.” The claim is that men will die only once. It is reasoned since the “to be dying” here is literal, and since this is something that only occurs “once” at the consummation of one’s present life, it must be that the second death which occurs much later is somehow figurative.

This passage, however, does not substantiate such a position. Contrary to popular opinion, it has nothing to do with mankind as a whole, or even with all Israelites, but solely with “the” men of the context, and even then, with only one such man during the time of his office, his priestly office, in which he had served as the high priest until the time of his death. These alone are in view; these alone are contemplated in the phrase “the [these] men.” Furthermore, even if this text somehow revealed that the high priests themselves would indeed actually be dying “one time and one time only,” it would not follow from this that the same was also true of all other men (that is, of all the rest of humanity).

The adverb “once” simply means “one time” (even as “twice” means “two times” and “thrice,” “three times”). While, due to other considerations, it is often used with the idea entailed of “one time and one time only,” this is not its meaning. As the KEYWORD CONCORDANCE explains concerning “once” hapax, it means: “One time, leaving [the question of] future repetitions undetermined” (p.211). That is, the presence of the word “once” itself does not settle the question whether in any certain occurrence, there will or will not be a second time, third time, or even still additional occurrences.

For example, it is evident to all that in Hebrews 9:7 and 1 Peter 3:16 the usage of “once” is (A), “one time and one time only,” while in Philippians 4:16, and 1 Thessalonians 2:18, the usage is (B), “one time, with subsequent times to follow”:

Usage A:

“Yet into the second [tabernacle], the chief priest only, once a year [entered]” (Heb.9:7).
“Christ . . . . for our sakes, once died concerning sin” (1 Peter 3:18; cp Rom.6:10).

Usage B:

“You send once and twice to my need” (Phil.4:16).
Once—even twice— . . . Satan hinders us” (1 Thess.2:18).

In other passages, such as Hebrews 6:4 and 9:27, it may not be immediately evident whether the sense is usage (A) or (B)—that is, on the assumption that it is one or the other.

“For it is impossible for those once enlightened, besides tasting the celestial gratuity . . .”(Heb.6:4).

“And, in as much as it is reserved for the men to be dying once, yet after this a judging” (Heb.9:27).

In any such cases, the mere presence of the word “once,” itself, is incidental to the separate question of whether usage (A), usage (B), or some other usage, is in view.

Yet even within such an initial stage of consideration, before long we could at least say that the sense of “once” in Hebrews 6:4, is surely not that of usage (A), “one time and one time only.” We would realize this must be so in light of the fact that (1) God wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth; (2) He operates all in accord with the counsel of His will; and (3) He will one day become All in all (1 Tim.2:4; Eph.1:11; 1 Cor.15:28). We would then be assured that all will finally and permanently be enlightened, and that to a far greater degree than that which was formerly enjoyed by those Hebrews who once fell aside.

Upon still further consideration, however, it would become evident to us that, in Hebrews 6:4, the sense of “once” is not in itself that of usage (B) either (“one time, with subsequent times to follow”). Instead, in the phrase which speaks of those Hebrews who were “once enlightened,” the sense is: Those who were at one time enlightened, who, after they became enlightened, fell aside. Yet this sense, usage (C), itself, tells us nothing as to whether that which once was so will or will not be so once again.

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In the case of Hebrews 9:27, in consideration of the words “to be dying once,” if we have understood that Revelation 20:14, which speaks of the second death, entails the thought of the actual state of the dead, we will also know that usage (A) (“one time and one time only”) is precluded in this passage (in Hebrews 9:27). If we are already aware that there will be an actual second death, we will not suppose that death will occur only once.

As well, on the basis of this same understanding, in any consideration of the possibility that usage (B) (to be dying “one time, with subsequent times to follow”) might be the sense in Hebrews 9:27, we would first of all be aware that, in any case, any such usage could only be applicable to the high priests, for they alone are in view in this passage. That is, even conceivably, such an idea could only be so in the case of any high priest who, if he should be unworthy of the resurrection of the just (which entails eonian life and precludes the second death), would consequently be among the rest of the dead, and hence be subject to death (albeit the second death) once again, following the day of judging. Actually, however, the word order and full sense of the Greek of Hebrews 9:27 makes it evident that even the idea of usage (B) (“one time, with subsequent times to follow”) is in any case not in view here. In literal, English-equivalent form, the Greek is: “ONCE TO-BE-FROM-DYING [yet after this a judging]” (CONCORDANT GREEK TEXT, p.634).

The sense here, which we will term usage (D), is: Once that which results from their (i.e., the high priests’) dying (namely, their death) occurs, then the specific judging which is in view follows. This is the sense of the verse itself, which in the CONCORDANT LITERAL NEW TESTAMENT appears as, “And, in as much as it is reserved for the men to be dying once, yet after this a judging.” It is to be regretted that it is sometimes difficult to convey the true sense in a version while still retaining good diction. Nevertheless, the sense of the passage itself is: Once the high priests’ “to-be-from-dying” (i.e., their deaths) occurred, then the corresponding, ensuing “judgments” also occurred.

“This is not a general statement concerning all men, but the men who have been in view here continually, that is, the Levitical priests [specifically, the chief priests; cf Heb.9:7,25]. The word ‘judgment’ is not in reference to the judgment of mankind for sin, but to the setting to rights of those cases in Israel which continued until the death of the high priest. The innocent man-slayer lived in the city of refuge until the death of the great priest (Num.35:22-29). Then he might return to his patrimony. This was his ‘judgment.’ The parallel demands that this judgment correspond with the salvation which will come to those who are awaiting Christ. He, the great Chief Priest, has died, and in due time Israel, the man-slayer, shall return to the land of his possession.”[1]

Thus it is evident that it is unwarranted to introduce Hebrews 9:27 as a proof that the second death is a second lifetime. This is so whether that separate question is true or false. This is because “once” does not mean “one time and one time only,” and because there is nothing in the context that entails such a usage, while there is much in the context that precludes such a usage. Any such question as, “How many times will men actually die?” is not even remotely in view and cannot be answered from this passage. Hebrews 9:27 solely concerns the high priests, and entails nothing concerning the second death, especially with regard to the rest of mankind.

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In Revelation 22:14,15, Christ’s own words are: “Happy are those who are rinsing their robes, that it will be their license to the log of life, and they may be entering the portals into the city. Outside are curs, and enchanters, and paramours, and murderers, and idolaters, and everyone fabricating and fondling falsehood.”

Since this passage speaks of various sinners somehow being “outside” the city, it is assumed by some that these sinners will therefore be living, hence, dwelling, outside the city during the time which is in view.

Since it is noted that “the city” here is the city with which the “log of life” (Rev.22:14) “for the cure of the nations” (Rev.22:3) is associated, which is “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (Rev.21:2), it is correctly concluded that the scene in view in Revelation 22:14,15 is not the millennium but the new earth.

Even so, it is simply not true that, in Revelation 22:15, the presence of the words “outside are [all manner of sinners],” is legitimately supportive of the position which affirms that the second death is a second life. It does not follow, since in the period comprised in John’s vision of the new earth these enumerated sinners will somehow be “outside” the city, that they will therefore be very much alive and dwelling either on the new earth or in “Hell.” Hence neither does it follow that since, indeed, the portion of the sinner in that day is in the second death, that therefore the second death is a second lifetime.

Nevertheless, it is claimed by some that this passage, Revelation 22:15, is proof that an abundance of egregious sinners—engaged in all manner of uncleanness, receiving corresponding divine retribution—-will then inhabit either the yonder regions of the new earth or the infernal regions appointed unto the damned for all eternity.

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In the minds of many, the words “outside are,” conjure images of that which, in time, exists (hence, lives; from “are”), and, in dimension, is situated (hence, dwells; from “outside”). Consequently, it is claimed that the words of Revelation 22:15 (specifically, the phrase, “outside are”) are demonstrative of the proposition that the dreadful offenders enumerated here will be living and dwelling somewhere—whether on the new earth or in Hell. Any such affirmations, however, are nothing more than the fruitage of the simplistic notions we are considering with respect to the terms “outside” and “are.”

It is unwise to presume that the usage of “out(side)” here is spatial rather than provisional (i.e., pertaining to what, in this case, is not provided or afforded) merely because, for some, the former usage is the idea that most readily comes to mind, or indeed because it may not have been realized that the latter usage even exists. Yet having committed themselves to a position which demands the spatial usage of “outside” and perhaps not truly being aware that the whole strength of their position is based on the false premise that the term “outside” entails spatially, the proponents of such a teaching proceed on, as if their position had a sound foundation.

Even in English, “outside” does not entail spatial extension; nor does “are” entail present life. Besides, the Greek is simply “out”: “Out [are] . . .”; as if to say, “The following ones are left out: . . . .” The substantive verb (“are”), while understood, is not expressed, and the thought of linear adjacency or connection (as in some usages of the English “outside”) is nowhere to be found.

The question, then, concerning Revelation 22:15, is, In what sense—in what way, in what respect—are those said to be “out[side]” the holy city thus outside of this sphere?

Since, by this time, such ones will have entered into death (“the second death”) once again, and will therefore be dead, the true sense of “out” is necessarily confined to the thought that they are provisionally “outside” of this holy place. They therefore cannot be spatially outside of it as well, living and dwelling elsewhere, whether on the new earth or in Hell.

The sinners with whom Revelation 22:15 is concerned are “the rest of the dead” (Rev.20:5), those who were first roused for judging (Rev.20:12) and then cast into the lake of fire, which “is” the second death (Rev.20:14b). By figure of association, these are contemplated in the words, “And death and the unseen were cast into the lake of fire” (Rev.20:14a).

Thus those cast into the lake of fire are those spoken of in Revelation 22:15 as being “outside” the sphere of blessing, the holy city, the new Jerusalem. That is, thus they are “left out,” or exempted, from its blessed allotment.

It is true that their sins disqualify them for its blessing. Yet the ultimate reason for their exemption is simply because it was in the wise counsels of God to grant this blessing solely to His chosen ones, those who are chosen according to His grace (cp Rom.11:5,6). It is true that it is those who “conquer” who shall be enjoying this allotment (Rev.21:7). Yet (and more significantly) it is true as well that to him who is thirsting, Christ will then be giving of the spring of the water of life “gratuitously” (Rev.21:6). Thus this glorious allotment, which, proximately speaking, is a reward, ultimately speaking, is a gratuity in grace.

It is not that the remainder of mankind are spatially outside the new Jerusalem, alive and dwelling elsewhere, but simply that they are not included in—and so are left out of—this allotment. Besides, it needs to be appreciated that, in any case, this passage only addresses where they are not; it does not reveal or even consider where they are. It does not follow because they are not in the holy city, that they are even alive at all; and certainly it does not follow that they have taken up residence elsewhere, either on the new earth or in Hell.

Besides, since in Revelation 21:8 we are told this very thing, there can be no question as to what, at this juncture, their part in the divine counsels is: “their part is in the lake burning with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”

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“Now brother shall be giving up brother to death, and father, child, and children shall be rising up against parents, and shall be putting them to death” (Matt.10:21). “In accord with my premonition and expectation, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but with all boldness, as always, now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether through life or through death” (Phil.1:20).

In such passages as these, “death” is used both literally and definitively. Any cavil to the contrary notwithstanding, then, such passages show that “death” signifies the state of the dead, a return to the absence of life, the state which follows mortality, preceding resurrection. Since this is what “death” signifies, death does not also signify something else, even though, as a figure of speech, it is sometimes used in reference to something else, whether by association or according to likeness.

When “dead” or “death” are used in a figure of likeness, the idea even as in the case of a dead man is that of, for example, the believer’s exemption from the power of sin, which is the law; man’s intrinsic unresponsiveness to God and to the things of God; man’s inability to obey or please God; or some other evident likeness to literal death.

Here are some examples of such figures of likeness: “So that, my brethren, you also were put to death to the law through the body of Christ” (Rom.7:4).“Thus you also be reckoning yourselves to be dead, indeed, to Sin, yet living to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.6:11). “For the disposition of the flesh is death, yet the disposition of the spirit is life and peace” (Rom.8:6). “She who is a prodigal, though living, is dead” (1 Tim.5:6).

From examples such as these, we learn that figurative usage proves word meaning, just as surely as literal usage determines word meaning. Thus it is proved that “death” signifies the state of the dead, a return to the absence of life, the state which follows mortality, preceding resurrection.

In the case, then, of Romans 5:12 (“thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned”), “death” does not suddenly undergo a change in meaning. It is evident as well that death, here, is neither literal nor is it, at least primarily, a figure of likeness, but a figure of association (i.e., a “metonymy,” the figure in which that which is associated with that which is named or stated is that which is actually in view; in this case, the particular usage is, the “metonymy of the consequence”).

Indeed, if it were death itself which had passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned, it would have been quite impossible for anyone to sin, since all would have been dead!

We not only did not inherit sin, neither did we, literally speaking, inherit death. Instead, what we inherited was an entropic, degenerative life; a life of accelerative decay, debility, and disease; a life of ever-increasing degeneration which will inevitably eventuate in death. Hence, in Romans 5:12, “death” is the metonymy of the consequence; for it refers to the dying process (i.e., to mortality) even though it speaks of its result.

If we should say that “death” is operating in us, while this is true in various respects, figuratively speaking (both in likeness and association), nonetheless, we by no means mean this literally. Death is not a bodily disease; nor is it an atmospheric germ. Even the idea (i.e., the idea of death) inherent in the terms dying and mortality is not in reference to some now-present entity by the name of Death, but is in reference to a now-present degenerative process of life—in which life is fleeting, in which death is not yet present, but, even so, is sure to come, due to the ephemeral and dreadful kind of life in which we are presently confined.

A word or phrase should only be judged figurative when the literal is manifestly precluded, since, if it were not, the passage would be false, absurd, or contradictory. Accordingly, if we should judge the presence of a figure, we must also judge what kind of a figure is present. And, most important of all, we must decide what is the literal idea which the figure represents.

Yet in the case of Revelation 20:14 (“this is the second death—the lake of fire”) there is nothing in the context which gives us reason to suspect the presence of either figurative death or fire. For example, are Revelation 20:11 (“a great white throne”), 20:3 (“a thousand years”), 20:13 (“the sea gives up the dead in it”) or 20:5b (“the former resurrection”) figurative? Then why should it be supposed that in 20:14 “death” is figurative?

It is neither the text nor the context that would lead us to such a conclusion. It is instead only contrary notions, supposed to inhere in certain other passages, that would do so. Yet these are only illogical conclusions, logical conclusions from false premises, or inferential speculations, which, in the nature of the case, can never be substantiated and so should never be believed. Such affirmations are simply contrary to fact.

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The words “this is the second death—the lake of fire,” may be clarified thus: “Let me show you ‘the second death.’ There it is: the lake of fire.” The lake of fire is the second death. That is, the lake of fire is the cause of, or the agency which produces the second death. “This” represents that. The idea is, the lake of fire—by figure of association in which the cause is put for the effect—represents the second death.

This is a compound figure. That is, it incorporates more than one figure of speech. In such a case as this, “is” itself is also a figure of speech. Instead of its literal significance (which denotes existence), “is,” as a symbolic metaphor, means “represents.” The concept is this: Part A represents Part B; thus Part A symbolizes Part B. As a symbol of Part B, Part A itself has become a figure.

Hence, while the phrase, “lake of fire,” itself, is a figure of speech, this is not to suggest that its components are metaphorical (or even figures of any kind), but that the phrase, as a whole, is both a metonymy (or figure of association) and the subject-portion of a metaphor (or figure of likeness).

That which represents, and is associated with, something else may well be literal in itself. For example, let us consider Matthew 26:26b, the words, “This [bread] is my body . . . .” In such a construction, the phrase “this [bread]”—a term which, as used here, is quite literal in itself—becomes a symbolic figure solely because of the presence of the metaphorical usage of “is.” Likewise, in Revelation 20:14, it is the phrase “the lake of fire,” which becomes a figure, not the words of which it consists. The “lake” and the “fire” are literal. The phrase, “the lake of fire,” is figurative. And the figure is both a metaphor and metonymy.

A metonymy may always be made literal by the insertion of an explanatory phrase. (Thus it is also a figure of ellipsis or omission.) For example, “the kingdom of the heavens,” literally, is “the kingdom of [the God of] the heavens” (cp Dan.2:44). Similarly in Revelation 20:14 (and in Revelation 21:8 as well), the sense is, “The lake of fire, which, by virtue of being its cause, thus, represents the second death.” The lake of fire (the cause) is like the second death (the effect) in that both are vital entities in the same causal process.

The lake of fire “is” the second death, even as, in Revelation 1:20, the seven stars “are” messengers. The parallel consists in this: in each case, the representative phrase, which is the subject, serves to convey additional content (whether additional particulars or added emotional involvement) relevant to the predicate phrase. And, reciprocally, the literal predicate, when compared with the symbolic subject, makes it possible to discern the point of likeness which obtains between the two. This is because the significance of that which is figurative is predicated upon the meaning of that which is literal.

In the interpretation of a metaphor, the goal is to take note of the essential way in which the symbolic subject is like the literal predicate. Indeed, if in the presence of a symbolic, subject-expression, the meaning of the predicate-expression were itself unknowable—which would be the case if the predicate expression were a figure of speech—it would be impossible to note the likeness between the two. This is because, in such a case, it would be impossible to know the meaning of either member of the metaphor, whether the subject or predicate. If the meaning of each were unknown, one could hardly take note of the point of likeness between them.

Yet it is the point of likeness between them which constitutes the interpretation (i.e., the literal significance or meaning) of the metaphor. Or, to say the same thing, it is this very point of likeness which reveals the way in which the actual subject itself—when no longer considered symbolically or otherwise figuratively—is like the entity which not only constitutes the predicate, but which, therein, must necessarily be literally expressed as well.

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Within the bounds of metaphorical usage, it is not that one figure cannot be put for another at all (though this is most unusual, cp Rev.17:9a), but that, when these are considered together, in the full resolution of the metaphor, that which they jointly represent must nonetheless be literal (cp Rev.17:9b). When one thing (or things) which represents another thing, is finally said to be that other thing, whether or not the representative thing itself is a literal entity, in any case, that which it finally represents consists in a literal expression and is a literal entity.

Whether the subject itself, otherwise considered, is literal or figurative is beside the point. The point is that in a completed, metaphorical construction (i.e., within a passage in which “is” is used metaphorically, as the consummative, predicate verb), the subject serves as a symbolic (thus figurative) representation of the predicate, which is literal, which makes it possible to discern the point of likeness between the subject and the predicate.

This is so in virtue of the fact that such is the nature of a metaphor. And who will deny that Revelation 20:14 is a metaphor? It certainly is not literally true that the lake of fire is the second death. The lake of fire is one thing and the second death is another. It is evident, then, that “is” is not used literally but metaphorically.

Meaningful, metaphorical usage entails a literal, predicate nominative. That is, when, in the full development of a metaphor, one thing (or things), metaphorically speaking, is another thing, that which represents, represents a literal entity. Hence it follows that “the second death” is literal. And, as has already been proved, literal death entails the absence of life. Therefore, the second death is literal, and, in death, men are dead, not alive. To claim otherwise is to evince, perhaps not stubbornness, but at least a fundamental lack of understanding concerning the matters under consideration, namely, metaphorical usage and the literal meaning of death.

Neither of the remaining passages in which the phrase “the second death” appears (Revelation 2:11 and 20:6) require the extraordinary idea of some sort of very-much-alive-kind of death. Nor could they bear such an import, since, as has been shown, in the primary passage, Revelation 20:14 (even as in Revelation 21: 8), “death” is necessarily literal.

It is simply a fact, then, that in the second death, life is precluded, no matter how much the conclusions of some may indeed require the acceptance of the proposition that the second death is a second lifetime. From a clear grasp of Revelation 20:14 alone, it becomes evident that any such position is a mistaken position.

In conclusion, literal death entails the absence of life; and, in the case of the second death, death is literal. The second death, however, will only continue until the consummation. In that glorious day, death will be abolished and all will be vivified, that God may be All in all (1 Cor.15:26,28).

James Coram


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