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Revelation 20:10 (YLT)

10 and the Devil, who is leading them astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night -- to the ages of the ages.

And verses 14 & 15 add:

14 and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire -- this [is] the second death; 15 and if any one was not found written in the scroll of the life, he was cast to the lake of the fire.

  • What does "to the ages of the ages" mean? Does it mean that the torment is everlasting?
  • Is the torment that is promised for the Devil, the beast and the false prophet (v10) also to be experienced by any one who was not found written in the scroll of the life (v15)?
  • As a whole, do these verses teach eternal conscious torment (ECT) of the wicked?

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There is a few fundamental problems with reading Rev 20:9-15 literally. So let us observe the following features of the text:

  • the righteous are living in tents in battle array according to the noun παρεμβολή in V9
  • The wicked are consumed by fire descending from heaven in V9, yet in V15 the wicked are cast into the lake of fire.
  • the beast and false prophet (V10) are not literal animals - they are highly symbolic of SYSTEMS of some sort which are cast into the lake of fire. This is discussing the eternal destruction of false systems and institutions of worship

However, note the distinction between the wicked (the hordes of Gog and Magog) who are consumed by fore from heaven and the three beasts of the devil/dragon, sea beast and false prophet who are thrown into the lake of fire in V10, 11. Significantly death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire - are death and Hades also to life forever in torture??

Clearly not!!

For those who believe in eternal punishment for the wicked, Rev 20:10 is the ONLY verse that talks about eternal torture!! (This should raise our suspicions.) And this verse does not mention the wicked - only abstract entities like death, Hades, the beats and the false prophet!

Thus, ECT (eternal conscious torment) of the wicked in not mentioned in either

  • Rev 20:10 - only the beast and false prophet are included - the wicked are consumed in the previous verse 9 (compare 2 Kings 1:10, 12 which this verse quotes)
  • in V14 and 15 - if the wicked are tormented in the lake of fire, so are death and Hades which is absurd. The lake of fire is simply meant as a metaphor of complete destruction.

βασανίζω (basinizo)

There is one more matter we should recall - the verb used in Rev 20:10 is βασανίζω which is correctly translated "torture" but the meaning is more subtle here.

Thayer correctly notes that this verb βασανίζω was originally "to test (metals) by the touchstone" but later came to mean (BDAG) "to subject to punitive judicial procedure, torture". That is, it was used to describe the method used by the Romans of examining a prisoner to elicit the truth using torture.

The significant point about this, is that it is NOT a punishment but an ancient method of examination to get at the truth (no completely illegal in western countries). Next observe the entities to whom this is applied - the sea beast, the false prophet, etc. According to V15, death and Hades suffer the same fate!

Forever and ever

This leaves us the case of the devil who is thrown into the lake of fire and "tormented ... forever and ever" (Rev 20:10). Let us place this in context.

The translation of the Greek word aionios as “eternal” (implying everlasting) is most unfortunate. The word has come directly into English as “aeon” meaning (correctly) a period of time. In Greek usage, the period of time was understood to last as long as the time with which it was associated (hence the “ios” ending of the noun). Since the Messiah was the source of life, the period of life was truly everlasting; by contrast, the period of destruction was to last as long that required to completely destroy as shown in 2 Thess 1:9 and Jude 7.

Thus, the destruction of the devil (et al) in Rev 20:10 will last as long as it takes to destroy him (whatever) that is. The devil will certainly be destroyed else God cannot eliminate evil from the universe. However, the effects of the destruction of wicked people and the devil will also be eternal.

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