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How can the smoke of a sinners' torment rise forever?

Caller:  I'd like to ask, Revelation 14:8 refers to people the smoke of whose torment ascends up forever and ever.  This is usually taught to mean that....

Pastor Doug:  Yes pardon me.  That's Revelation 14:11, but anyway go ahead.

Caller:  Oh ok.  That verse, you're familiar with it?

Pastor Doug:  Yes.

Caller: usually taught to mean that there's an eternal punishment for people who do not accept Christ.  Now I know you do not teach that.  Can you tell me what the smoke ascending forever and ever means if there is no eternal punishing?

Pastor Doug:  All right.  Let me give you an example.  First of all, let's take it literally for a second.  If we're thinking that the saved in the City of God are looking out from the walls of the New Jerusalem, and they're watching the black smoke of the consuming wicked ascending - and some of those wicked, you have to remember, would be lost friends and family - uh that's a hideous thought!

When I lived in Texas - and I'm just going to use a personal illustration - about every 10 miles they had a town.  It used to be a farming community.  And every town had a city dump.  And those city dumps, they're constantly putting burnt trash and articles and garbage in there to keep the gases and the problems down, they kept it burning.  And I remember driving across the flat plains of Texas.  I could see the little pillars of smoke rising from those city dumps on a clear day for miles around.  And the smoke seemed to go up out of sight, forever and ever.

And so here, think of forever and ever, not in duration, but he's saying the smoke of the torment of the wicked when they're being consumed in the lake of fire - because you read on here in Revelation it says, 'This is the second death', the same lake of fire - it's saying the smoke is going up out of sight forever and ever.  It doesn't mean forever and ever we're going to watch the combustion of the wicked!  And so, that's my take on that.

And incidentally, I'm in really good company.  More and more Bible scholars like John Scott and, there's a new book out by a charismatic pastor named, Edward Fudge.  It's called The Fire That Consumes.  More and more Bible scholars are agreeing that the idea of hell burning through all eternity and hell burning now came from the Dark Ages and cannot be supported by the Bible.

Caller:  You know there is a lot of people though, if you were to tell them - let's say some criminal - that if you don't come to Christ, you won't be annihilated to death.  Well that's what he believes anyway doesn't he?  He thinks there's going to be no punishment?

Pastor Doug:  Well, let me tell you a quick story.  A Baptist pastor, a lovely man, his car broke down Christmas Eve about 15 years ago.  I towed him to my house.  Everything was closed and I said I could help you fix your car.  He spent the night with me.  We had a Bible study that night on this very subject.

And, a godly man, he said, 'You know Pastor Doug, I can tell when I read the Bible I see these verses that say, 'The wicked will perish', 'they'll be consumed', 'there'll be no more death', 'there'll be no more pain'.  And he said but if I told my members that hell is not burning now and that it doesn't burn forever, they won't come to church.  And I said Brother so and so, are you telling me that your people are coming because they want to stay out of hell?  Is that the motive that drives us?  Do we want a criminal to turn to Jesus because he's going to get burnt if he doesn't?

Now it is true.  There's a lake of fire.  See, I believe the Bible is very clear - the wicked are burnt in a lake of fire - that they are punished according to their deeds.  I don't know how long they'll burn, but it says that there will not be a coal to warm at.  Malachi says that the day that comes will burn them up.

There are so many Scriptures that I can't escape the Testimony of the Word!  So we have to ask, 'What is the motive for turning to God?' Is it fire insurance?  Or is it love?

Caller:  What would you say - what do you teach happens to somebody who does believe in the eternal burning?

Pastor Doug:  Well, and let me say for the record:  A lot of dear, Godly, Spirit-filled people out there I think misunderstand this issue, and I think they'll be saved.

I'm assuming they're serving the Lord because they love Him.  But I know there are a lot of great Godly men and women who have believed in the ever-burning hell but you can also find a lot of the great scholars who don't find it in the Bible.

My counsel to them would be if you go strictly by the Bible, Jesus said the wicked are burned, not now, but at the end of the world and the Judgment.  Very clear, when He tells the parable of the wheat and tares and so many others, Revelation, it all says that the fires of hell will burn the wicked in the end of the world.  John chapter 6 says it three times.

And I would tell them that God is a God of love.  And when we paint Him with the characteristics of a sadist - a sadist gets its word from Satan, one who enjoys the suffering of the wicked - I'd say you know you need to take another look at that.

Caller:  Let me just - to wrap up, you said the smoke ascending up forever and ever, it's not to be meant literally, it's the way it looks to people who are observing it?

Pastor Doug:  No.  I think it is literal.  I think that it's saying it ascends up forever and ever.  It's like if you and I look at stars that are hundreds of light years away, you and I are looking at forever and ever.  It's the distance.  It's not the period of time that it goes up.  See what I'm saying?  It's not saying it will continue to ascend forever and ever.  It says it ascends up forever and ever out of sight.  It's this large column of smoke that billows up.  Ok?

Caller:  Ok.

Pastor Doug:  It says to eternity, not for eternity.  Ok?

Caller:  You know, I don't agree with you but I'm interested in hearing how you teach.

Pastor Doug:  That's ok.  I appreciate your being so agreeable about your disagreeing.

Caller:  Ok thank you.

Co-Host:  You know Pastor Doug...

Pastor Doug:  ...Incidentally Richard, before you go away, we have a lesson - I don't know if this is where Pastor Dick is going - but the lesson has so many more texts than we can share in a few comments, and we'd like to offer that to you and the lesson is called Is The Devil In Charge of Hell?

Co-Host:  Right.

Pastor Doug:  You, or anyone who listened to this exchange, might be curious, and it's 1-800-835-6747.  Just call and we'll give it to you free.

Caller:  Ok thanks a lot.

Amazing Facts' Resource Number:  1-800-835-6747.



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Hell in the Bible

The word “hell” is used 54 times in the Bible. It is translated from several different words with various meanings, as indicated below:
In the Old Testament:
  • 31 times from the Hebrew “Sheol,” which means “the grave”
In the New Testament:
  • 10 times from the Greek “Hades,” which means “the grave”
  • 12 times from the Greek “Gehenna,” which means “a place of burning”
  • 1 time from the Greek “Tartarus,” which means “a place of darkness”

What is Purgatory?

A tradition held by the Catholic Church that teaches people who are not good enough to be worthy of heaven, but not bad enough to deserve hell, suffer in an intermediary state until their sins are purged.

But is it in the Bible? Click here to learn more.

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