This verse seems to describe the Lake of Fire as a place where God torments people forever. This raises a few questions: 1) If the Beast and False Prophet are mortal men, why are they still alive after the Millennium when Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire? 2) If they are mortals, how can they "be tormented day and night forever and ever" in an inferno that would soon consume them? 3) What kind of God would devise such a "cruel and unusual" punishment?
Before we answer these questions, we must briefly consider whether man has an immortal soul. Our understanding of the Scriptures compels us to maintain that he does not for several reasons:
» Job recognized that man has a spirit (Job 32:8), which Paul shows in I Corinthians 2:11 endows humanity with intellect. This spirit in man comes from God (Zechariah 12:1) and returns to Him when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59). It records our experiences, character, and personality, which God stores until the resurrection of the dead. However, the Bible never describes this spirit as immortal or eternal; in fact, I Corinthians 2:6-16 explains that man needs yet another Spirit, God's, to be complete and discern godly things.
» The Bible flatly asserts that all people die: "It is appointed for men to die once" (Hebrews 9:27). Ezekiel says clearly that souls die: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; see Romans 6:23). Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28 that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
» In death, life and consciousness are gone. "The dead know nothing," says Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:5, and he later adds, "There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (verse 10). In Psalm 146:4, the psalmist writes about a man's death, "His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish" (see Genesis 3:19).
» Scripture also confutes the idea that people go to heaven or hell after death. Peter says to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:29, 34). Our Savior confirms this in John 3:13: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." The biblical usage of Sheol and Hades simply means "the grave."
» Men cannot have immortality unless God gives it to them. Paul writes, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In I Corinthians 15:53 he tells the saints, "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." At the first resurrection God will give "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality" (Romans 2:7). If we already had immortality, why should we put it on or seek it?
» Only God has immortality. He is, Paul writes to Timothy, ". . . the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality" (I Timothy 6:15-16). John says of the Word, "In Him was life" (John 1:4), meaning as Creator of all things (verse 3), He had life inherent. Jesus affirms this in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Men must go through Him to receive eternal life.
With such overwhelming proof, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul proves false. Man is not immortal, nor does he possess any "spark of God" unless God has given it to him through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). A Christian's hope of life after death rests in the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians 15:12-23). Conversely, the wicked only await eternal death as recompense for their evil lives, not eternal life in torment.
To understand Revelation 20:10 correctly, we must put it into its proper chronological context. Once we know when it occurs, much of the confusion about this verse clears up.
Though only twelve verses separate Revelation 19:20 from 20:10, one thousand years pass between their respective events. The Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire when Christ returns (Revelation 19:11-21). Soon thereafter, an angel imprisons Satan in the bottomless pit for the thousand years of the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-3). When the thousand years pass, Satan is released, and he gathers Gog and Magog to fight against the saints (verses 7-9). After God defeats this futile attempt, He casts Satan, a spirit being, into the Lake of Fire to be tormented forever and ever (verse 10).
Obviously, the flames of the Lake of Fire totally consume mortal men like the Beast and False Prophet. In no way could they survive a thousand years of burning! The laws of nature simply will not allow it.
The translators of the King James and New King James versions render the final clause of the first sentence as "where the beast and the false prophet are." The present-tense verb "are" is not in the Greek; it is an understood verb. In English grammar, such silent verbs take the same tense as the verb in the main clause of the sentence. The translators ignored this rule, however. The primary verb of the sentence, "was cast" (an aorist verb usually translated as simple past tense), demands that the silent verb should be "were cast" (past tense) to agree with the plural subject, "the beast and the false prophet."
Deceived by the false doctrine of the immortal soul, the translators had to deny nature and break the rules to make this verse fit their understanding! On the other hand, we can confidently assert that our teaching agrees with Scripture, nature, and grammar!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Before the explosion of modern translations, the final sentence of Revelation 20:10 roused no one's skepticism. But the newer versions bring out the fact that the verb here (basanisthesontai) is plural and is correctly rendered "they will be tormented." Who are "they"? Does this indeed include the Beast and False Prophet? Does God torment the wicked eternally? There are two ways to explain these questions:
1) The Bible denies any idea of men having an innate immortality. These wicked leaders of men in the last days will die and burn to ashes soon after being thrust into the Lake of Fire, their souls and bodies destroyed by Him who is able to do this in Gehenna fire (Matthew 10:28). This fact would exclude any human from being described as "tormented day and night forever and ever."
The only group left is the fallen angels—Satan and his demons. Jesus says in Luke 20:36, "Nor can [a resurrected saint] die anymore, for they are equal to the angels." Created spirit beings, angels, cannot die! Earlier, Satan was bound in the bottomless pit, but after his subsequent rebellion, God decides that eternal torment in the Lake of Fire is a just punishment for one so evil. If men choose not to repent, God can mercifully snuff out their existence. Fallen angels, however, must live eternally with the consequences of their sins.
But, one may counter, "the devil" in Revelation 20:10 is singular, and "they will be tormented" is plural. How is this reconciled? In this case, "the devil" is used in a figure of speech called metonymy. Technically, it is "the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated." More simply, one part of a thing represents the whole. Thus, "the devil" represents in himself all of the group we call demons, devils, fallen angels, angels that sinned, etc.
A parallel verse in Matthew 25:41 says that sinners will be cast into "the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." This shows that the Lake of Fire's primary purpose is for the eternal torment of demons, but it will also be used as the means of execution for the wicked among humans. While men will be completely annihilated, the unkillable demons will simply suffer.
2) If we understand "they will be tormented" to include the Beast and the False Prophet, we must explain the phrase "forever and ever" (eis tous aionas ton aionon). Literally, this means "to the ages of the ages," and would seem to imply perpetuity. However, we must be careful with the word aion. Its range of meaning runs from "a space or period of time" to "a lifetime" to "an age" to "eternity." As in all such cases, the context must give the sense.
Having rejected the immortality of the soul, we have no recourse but to understand aion here in the sense of "as long as conditions exist" or "as long as they live." Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words concurs:
AION . . . signifies a period of indefinite duration, or time viewed in relation to what takes place in the period. . . . The phrases containing this word should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. (p. 43)
Thus, the Beast and False Prophet will be tormented forever until they die, probably within a few minutes or a few hours. The demons, however, not able to die, will suffer torment without end, receiving a cruel fate that is just payment for their deceptions and murders throughout history.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What effect does fire have upon a spirit? It does not say exactly here, but does this mean that God, who created these spirit beings, also knows a way to destroy them utterly? Perhaps.
In the Bible, fire is pictured as the final curse. It is used in the sense of being the symbol of complete purging, so that when something passes through fire, it is then clean. It is interesting to think about the possible ramifications of this verse.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 3)
The book of Revelation foretells that at the time of the end, in the last few years of Satan's dominion over the earth, a religious personality will arise and deceive the whole world by means of miraculous signs. This individual is referred to as "another beast" (Revelation 13:11), as well as "the false prophet" (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The False Prophet is given supernatural power to do things like calling fire down from heaven (Revelation 13:13), and the signs he performs, combined with the demonic words he speaks (Revelation 16:13-14), will cause people to give their allegiance to—and even worship—the Beast (Revelation 13:14). This man will wield tremendous religious influence, and inspired by the Dragon, he will successfully convince most of the world to commit idolatry (Revelation 13:12).
The Bible does not reveal the False Prophet's name or even the number of his name, as it does for the Beast. Instead, we will have to recognize him by his fruits—by what he says and does (Matthew 7:15-20). Yet, even this is a tricky proposition. For instance, the False Prophet will be able to call down fire from heaven, and yet Elijah, a true prophet of God, did the same (I Kings 18:36-38). If we see a man calling fire down from heaven, how do we know whether he is true or false?
The end time is prophesied to be full of deceptions (Matthew 24:11), and the elect will not be totally immune to having the wool pulled over their eyes (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). It will take careful evaluation to see through the façade and to recognize Satan's servants for what they are, rather than what they appear to be (II Corinthians 11:14-15).
The details given about the False Prophet are few. However, if we understand the patterns and motivations that the Bible reveals about the class of people called "false prophets," we will be better equipped to recognize the general mold that the end-time False Prophet will fit.
David C. Grabbe
What Is a False Prophet?
God will release Satan for a short time when the thousand years end. The people, familiar with Christ and His kings and priests, will have lived in unprecedented peace, happiness, and prosperity. They will have learned and lived God's way from birth. Surely, Satan could have no influence on them!
Almost instantly, however, he will raise an army of people "as the sand of the sea" out of "the four corners of the earth"! His arguments will persuade them that they should and can destroy Christ and his throne in Jerusalem. God, however, will annihilate them all in a blinding flash of fire from heaven and cast the Devil into the Lake of Fire, never to be freed again!
Holy Days: Feast of Tabernacles
After the thousand years of imprisonment, Satan will be released for a short while. During his parole, he will again unite some of the nations and take them to war against God's people. But this rebellion will be summarily ended when God sends fire out of heaven to destroy them. Because he is spirit and cannot die, the Devil will then be sentenced to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. Finally, God and man will be rid of their chief enemy, and peace will flourish for all eternity!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Basic Doctrines: Satan's Origin and Destiny
Will the Beast and False Prophet Suffer Eternal Torment (Revelation 20:10)?
Some misunderstand this verse because of a translation error in the King James and other versions of the Bible. In many Bibles, certain words are italicized if they have been added to the text by the translators to facilitate understanding. Notice that in Revelation 20:10 the word "are" in the phrase "where the beast and the false prophet are" is in italics. This present-tense verb is not in the original Greek text of Revelation; its tense is to be understood from the context.
According to the chronology of Revelation itself, both the Beast and the False Prophet will be cast alive into the Lake of Fire at the beginning of God's thousand-year reign on the earth (Revelation 19:20). By merely using God's explanation of what happens to human bodies when they are cast into fire, we find that they will be burned up (Psalm 37:20). Therefore, the phrase in Revelation 20:10 should be translated "where the beast and the false prophet were [or were cast]."
In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says, "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Jesus plainly shows that the everlasting fire was prepared for Satan and his angels. However, He goes on to say that human beings who are ultimately judged unfit for eternal life are also to be cast into this very Lake of Fire. "And these will go away into everlasting punishment" (verse 46). He means that their punishment is eternal, that is, irrevocable.
When these people are cast into the Lake of Fire, then, it is by God's definition "the second death," from which there is no resurrection. "Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15). Notice also Revelation 21:8, "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Thus, human beings like the Beast and False Prophet will totally burn up and die in the Lake of Fire, while Satan and his demons will suffer eternal torment as described in the last part of Revelation 20:10: "And they [Satan and his demons] will be tormented day and night forever and ever."
Basic Doctrines: The Fate of the Wicked
The Third Resurrection: What Is Its Value?
Why Do Many Bibles Show Some Words in Italics?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 20:10:
1 Corinthians :
1 Corinthians 15:22-24
1 Timothy :
1 Peter 4:17
2 Peter 3:9