What the Bible says about Indefinite Duration
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Before the explosion of modern translations, the final sentence of Revelation 20:10 roused no one's skepticism. However, the newer versions bring out the fact that the verb here (basanisthēsontai) is plural and is correctly rendered “they will be tormented.” Who are “they”? Does this include the Beast and False Prophet? Does God torment wicked human beings eternally? There are two ways to explain these questions:
1) The Bible denies any idea of men having innate immortality (I Corinthians 15:53; Romans 2:7; I Timothy 6:15-16). 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 can do this in Gehenna fire (Matthew 10:28). This fact would preclude 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. But, one may counter, “the devil” in Revelation 20:10 is singular, and “they will be tormented” is plural. How can we reconcile this plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent?
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, or angels who sinned.
A parallel verse, Matthew 25:41, says that sinners will be cast into “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Jesus intimates that the Lake of Fire's primary purpose is for the punishment of demons, but it will also be used as the means of execution for the wicked among humans, those people who unrepentantly live as demons do.
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 aiônas tôn aiônôn). Literally, this means “to the ages of the ages” and would seem to imply perpetuity. However, we must be careful with the word aiôn and its various forms. 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 aiôn 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)
Moreover, aiôn can also be rendered as “unto the ages of ages,” “until the eternal age,” or even “up to the vanishing point”! As should be plain, a precise definition of this Greek word proves extremely difficult. Dogmatism on it is not advisable.
Thus, the Beast and False Prophet will be tormented “day and night”—unceasingly—for an indeterminate period until they die, probably within a few minutes or a few hours, which is about as long as a human being can live in a fire. As long as they remain breathing, they will suffer excruciating pain as their just reward, and in an indefinite time, they will pay for their sins with death.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Can demons die? The evidence of Scripture does not disallow it. Indeed, Ezekiel 28:11-19—a well-known passage describing Satan's origins, character, rebellion, and fate—prophesies in verses 18-19:
Therefore [because of your iniquities] I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever. (Emphasis ours.)
Many people believe this applies to a physical “king of Tyre” referenced in verse 11, but the context describing the one who became Satan—“the anointed cherub who covers” (verse 14), who was “the seal of perfection” (verse 12) and “in Eden, the garden of God” (verse 13)—continues without interruption through verse 19. Taken at face value, this passage tells us that God, who created the angels who chose to sin, can extinguish their lives through an annihilating fire. Trying to explain verses 18-19 as a metaphor for Satan and his demons being imprisoned in darkness forever makes a mockery of their plain sense. In fact, the words of Ezekiel 28 sound amazingly like death in the Lake of Fire.
Thus, if those suffering torment in Revelation 20:10 are Satan and the demons, they, too, will experience the torture and excruciating pain of the fervent heat of the Lake of Fire. Perhaps with them, being composed of spirit, it will last for a longer, though still indeterminate, time before they expire. The Bible's use of aiôn makes the length of their torment vague. Perhaps they will suffer some form of torment while imprisoned in the abyss (see Isaiah 24:21-23). In any case, we can understand their torment “day and night forever and ever” to indicate unstinting thoroughness—that God will not shirk in giving them the most painful and complete punishment, as they rightfully deserve.
Our Savior is the great Judge of all (II Timothy 4:1). His judgments are flawless; He demonstrates perfect justice and mercy at all times. Though the punishments that the wicked and the demons will receive may seem ghastly, they fit their crimes. There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14).
As Christ's disciples, resurrected to eternal life in God's Kingdom, we will be able to look forward to an eternity of peace and security, of never-ending joy and growth, because He will have removed all evil from the universe. Peter tells us that once God purifies all things, only righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and new earth (II Peter 3:13). There will be no taint of sin anywhere in creation, which can be true only if God has completely erased the existence of all sin and all sinners, including the Adversary and his demons.
As Peter writes in the same passage, we must soberly consider God's perfect judgment for sin and His wrath against it. We are living through our time of judgment right now, and falling away and falling under God's wrath are still possibilities if we fail “to make [our] call and election sure” (II Peter 1:10). Knowing God's perfect judgment should spur us to live holy and godly lives, “hastening the coming of the day of God” (II Peter 3:11-12, 14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh