Something to ponder – Is the lake of fire literally speaking of a place, or is it a symbolic image of a process?
“And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” (Ex. 24:17, KJV)
“For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” (Deu. 4:24, KJV)
“Understand therefore this day, that the Lord thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them,…” (Deu. 9:3, KJV)
“For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29, KJV)
The book of Revelation is a book of prophesy, and it contains huge imagery of symbols and metaphors most of which are found in Old Testament prophesy as well. But, the “lake of fire” is only mentioned in Revelation. I wonder if we are being too literal and assuming that the “lake of fire” is a real place? As there is so much symbolism in Revelation, might the “lake of fire” also be a symbol, or metaphor?
The only reference in the Old Testament that comes close is the word “Tophet” in Isa. 30:33 in the judgment of the king of Ashur / Assyria. The context of God’s judgment is expressed as the metaphor of fire.
Isa. 30:27, 32-33
“27 Lo, the name of Jehovah is coming from far, Burning is His anger, and great the flame, His lips have been full of indignation, And His tongue [is] as a devouring fire. 28 And His breath [is] as an overflowing stream, Unto the neck it divideth, To sift nations with a sieve of vanity, And a bridle causing to err, [Is] on the jaws of the peoples.” ….
32 And every passage of the settled staff, That Jehovah causeth to rest on him, Hath been with tabrets, and with harps, And in battles of shaking he hath fought with it.
33 For, arranged from former time is Tophet, Even it for the king is prepared, He hath made deep, He hath made large, Its pile [is] fire and much wood, The breath of Jehovah, As a stream of brim stone, is burning in it! (YLT)
Tophet was used as a description of a funeral pyre, a place of cremation. It is Strong’s Heb. 8613, and only occurs this once in Isa. 30:33. The Hebrew is “Tohpteh”. (1)
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s commentary on Isa. 30:33 has
“literally, “A place of abomination”; the valley of the sons of Hinnom, southeast of Jerusalem, where Israel offered human sacrifices to Moloch by fire; hence a place of burning (2Ki 23:10; Jer 7:31). Latterly Gehinnom or Gehenna, that is, valley of Hinnom, was the receptacle of the refuse of the city, to consume which fires were constantly burning. Hence it came to express hell, the place of torment. In the former sense it was a fit place to symbolize the funeral pyre of the Assyrian army (not that it actually perished there); the Hebrews did not burn, but buried their dead, but the heathen Assyrians are to be burnt as a mark of ignominy. In the latter sense Tophet is the receptacle “prepared for the devil (antitype to the king, Isa 14:12-15) and his angels,” and unbelieving men (Mt 5:22; 25:41; Mr 9:43, 44).” (2)
Excerpt from Gill’s Exposition on Isa. 30:33,
“For Tophet is ordained of old,…. The place long ago appointed for the ruin of the Assyrian army, which pitched here: this was a valley near Jerusalem, the valley of the son of Hinnom; so called, from the drums and tabrets beat upon here, to prevent parents hearing the cries of their infants offered to Molech: into it was brought the filth and dung of the city; here malefactors were buried, it is said; and such as were condemned to burning were burned here; and such as had no burial were cast here; so that it was an image and picture of hell itself: and the word “Gehenna”, used for hell, comes from “Gehinnom”, or the valley of Hinnom, the name of this place;…” (2)
Excerpt from Barnes’ Notes on Isa. 30:33.
“For Tophet – The same idea is conveyed in this verse as in the preceding, but under another form, and with a new illustration. The sense is, that the army of the Assyrians would be completely destroyed, as if it were a large pile of wood in the valley of Hinnom that should be fired by the breath of God. The word (תפתה tâpeteh) with the ה (h) paragogic), denotes properly what causes loathing or abhorrence; that which produces disgust and vomiting (from the Chaldee תיף tūph to spit out); Job 17:6, ‘I was an “abhorrence'” (תפת tôpheth), improperly rendered in our version, ‘I was among them as a tabret.’ The word occurs only in 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31-32; Jeremiah 19:6, Jeremiah 19:11, Jeremiah 19:13-14, and in this place. It is applied to a deep valley on the southeast of Jerusalem, celebrated as the seat of idolatry, particularly of the worship of Moloch. The name also of ‘the valley of Hinnom’ was given to it; and hence, the name “Gehenna” γέεννα geenna, Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33; Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6), as denoting the place of future torments, of which the valley of Hinnom, or Tophet, was a striking emblem.” (2)
Excerpt from Benson Commentary:
“It is supposed to have been called Tophet, from the drums, timbrels, or tabrets, which sounded there, to drown the cries of the children thus inhumanly murdered: see notes on Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 23:10; and Joshua 15:8. Hence the word “is used for a place of punishment by fire, and by our Saviour in the gospel for hell-fire, as the Jews themselves had applied it.” As the place had been thus polluted by idolatry, Josiah, to render it as despicable and abominable as possible, ordered the filth of the city and dead carcasses to be thrown there, and made it a common burying-place. There also fires were kept continually burning, as the Jews say, to consume dead bodies, bones, and such sordid things. Vitringa justly observes, “that Tophet must be understood here, not in a literal, but in a figurative sense, for the place of punishment to be inflicted upon the Assyrians, by the burning indignation of God; in the same manner as gehenna denotes the place of punishment of the reprobate: that the fire and much wood denote the matter of the punishment destined for the king of Assyria and his army, as well with respect to its nature and effect, as its cause: see Revelation 19:20. The making the valley deep and large, signifies the same as the pile constructed of much wood; namely, the greatness of the destruction to be spread through the extensive army of the Assyrian; and indeed it was necessary this valley and this pile should be large, to contain one hundred and eighty-five thousand men.” (2)
The name of the place of burning was the imagery of cremation. Cremation is a process of burning the dead in a fire so hot that nothing remains but ashes. The fire is everlasting, and continual. The ash, or remains are removed.
“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7, KJV)
God’s fury is repeatedly compared in the scriptures to fire, to the pouring out of fire.
“O house of David, thus saith the Lord; Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” (Jer. 21:12, KJV)
“Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.” (Nahum 1:6, KJV)
The word “lake” in Revelation 20:10 is Strong’s Greek 3041, “λίμνη, ης, ἡ”, or “limné”. It means simply a body of water and is the same word used in Luke 5:1-2, 8:22-23, 33. Its root word is “λείβω” meaning to pour, or pour out. (3)
The words “as” and “like” indicate the comparison of God and of His judgment to a fire that is poured out. God is the source of the fire. The fire is God’s judgment against the wicked. Once His judgment is poured out, once that fire burns, the result of the burning is eternal, everlasting, and will not be undone.
If we separate the component parts of the imagery of the “lake of fire”, we see
a) lake = pouring out, and b) fire = God’s judgment
So, if we replace the metaphors with the actual, “lake of fire” becomes the pouring out of God’s judgment. This picture or image now becomes the process of cremation, or the funeral pyre of the dead.
As the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself, then all scripture must harmonize. This imagery of the burning fire of God’s judgment must harmonize with the outer darkness of Matt. 22:13, and the mist of darkness of 2 Pet. 2:17.
“ Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 22:13, KJV)
“These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.” (2 Pet. 2:17)
The outer darkness and the mist of darkness is the removal of all light. The wicked described in Job 18:18 “shall be driven from light into darkness”. It is the eternal separation from the light of God.
“For thou art my lamp, O Lord: and the Lord will lighten my darkness.” (2 Sam. 22:29, KJV)
“Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.” (Neh. 9:12, KJV)
“For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psa. 18:28, KJV)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?…” (Psa. 27:1, kJV)
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.“ (John 1:4, KJV)
“The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.” (John 1:7, KJV)
Christ is the Light sent by God to shine the way of righteousness, to make possible our reconciliation with the Father (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18). Separation, that is “death” is the removal of all light, being cast into total darkness.
Picture a courtroom. The accused are brought before the judge. After examination of the evidence of the crime, and upon conviction, the judgment occurs. Afterwards the sentence is pronounced. The sentence is eternal. The place of the sentencing is the courtroom…. the place where the judgment occurred, or was poured out…. the lake of fire.
The jail, the final place the convicted are sent is not the courtroom. I submit for your consideration that the outer darkness is the final place of eternal damnation, and that the lake of fire is the process of the sentencing of that second death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8), the final separation from God.
This is reinforced by the imagery of the three valleys south of Jerusalem. From east to west they form the image of a process. A valley, or vale is a deep place, and when filled with water becomes a “lake”.
Current tradition teaches that to the southeast of Jerusalem is the valley of Jehoshaphat (Yehoshaphat), or the valley of judgment.(4) It is also known as the valley of Kidron.
“I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.” (Joel 3:2, KJV)
“Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.“ (Joel 3:12, KJV)
It is the valley of decision in Joel 3:14. This is the imagery Christ used when discussing His return in glory when He sat upon His throne and judged the nations (Matt. 25:31-32).
The actual location of this valley is not certain, as Eusebius thought it to be the same as the valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna which is directly south of Jerusalem. (5) (6) Some of Jewish tradition believe this valley is imagery only, and not a real place.
Directly south of Jerusalem is the valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna. It is known also as the place of slaughter (Jer. 7:32; 19:6), where the Israelite practiced child sacrifice on the burning arms of the pagan god Moloch. 2 Kings 23:10 locates “Topheth” in the valley of Hinnom. Here “Topheth” is Strong’s Heb. 8612, and may be the same place as Tophteh, Strong’s Heb. 8613 above.
Tradition marks it as the location of burning refuse, and continual fires. The Romans began using it as a crematoria during the Roman – Jewish wars of AD 67 – 70. (7) It joins the valley of Kidron (Jehoshaphat) on the east and the valley of the Rephaim on the west. (8)
The Valley of Hinnom then is the image or symbol of the burning valley – lake – of fire where the human and child sacrifices were killed.
On the west side of the valley of Hinnom is the valley of the Rephaim, or the valley of giants. It either ran adjacent on the west side of Hinnom, or at one time Hinnom was part of the valley of the Rephaim. (See Josh 15:8 and 18:16.)
Excerpt from McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia – Rephaim, Valley of:
“South of Mount Zion — the most southern part of the valley of Gihon — is called Wady Rafaath by the Arabs, which corresponds to Rephaim in Hebrew. Hence Schwarz infers that this is the true valley of Rephaim, though usually taken for that of the son of Hinnom (Palest. p. 240)” (9)
Excerpt from Bible Hub Atlas – Rephaim, Vale of:
“It is located by Josephus between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Ant., VII, iv, i; xii, 4). It corresponds to the modern el-Biqa`, which falls away to the Southwest from the lip of the valley of Hinnom. The name in ancient times may perhaps have covered a larger area, including practically all the land between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where the head-waters of Nahr Ruben are collected.” (10)
The valley of the Rephaim was also where many battles with the Philistines were fought. (2 Sam. 5:18, 22; 23:13; 1 Chron. 11:15, 14:9).
References to the Rephaim became known as speaking of the dead (Psa. 2:18; 88:10; Prov. 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9, among others). The giants had been slaughtered, and the use of that name became known for those who had died and been wiped out, desolated, destroyed (Deu. 3:11; Josh. 11:21-22; 14:13-15).
The name “Rephaim” became symbolic of the state of dead and destroyed souls. The valley of the Rephaim, or the valley of giants then is the imagery of the valley of the dead.
So, we see a picture on a north directional map of an east to west (right to left) pattern of these valleys. The valley of decision (Jehoshaphat) on the east, the valley of funeral pyres (Hinnom) in the center, and on the west the valley of the dead (Rephaim). This location of these valleys presents the imagery of a process of judgment, then the burning altar, and finally the outer place – outer darkness of the dead.
The lake or valley of fire is the second step of the process, the second death which occurs after the judgment sentence is pronounced. It is an everlasting judgment which cannot be undone. The final outcome is the jail of the valley of the dead, or outer darkness.
Just food for thought.
All bold emphasis is mine.
1) Tophteh / Tophet, Strong’s Heb. 8613 – https://biblehub.com/hebrew/8613.htm
2) Commentary Isa. 30:33 – https://biblehub.com/commentaries/isaiah/30-33.htm
3) Lake, Strong’s Gr. 3041 – https://biblehub.com/greek/3041.htm
4) Valley of Jehoshaphat – https://bibleatlas.org/valley_of_jehoshaphat.htm
5) Location of Valley of Jehoshaphat – https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/related-topics/valley-of-jehoshaphat.html
6) Valley of Jehoshaphat – https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Valley-Jehoshaphat
7) Gabriel Barkay, “The Riches of Ketef Hinnom.” Biblical Archaeological Review 35:4-5 (2005): 22–35, 122–26.
8) Valley of Hinnom – https://bibleatlas.org/valley_of_hinnom.htm
9) Rephaim, Valley of – https://www.biblicalcyclopedia.com/R/rephaim-valley-of.html
10) Valley of Rephaim Bible Atlas – https://bibleatlas.org/valley_of_rephaim.htm