RH Cheat Sheets: Revelation 20:10-15

1. The words “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” describe what John saw in his vision—it is not straightforward, didactic teaching. Notice that the lake of fire in which the devil is to be tormented forever and ever is something the devil “was thrown into,” not “will be thrown into.” This is a sure indicator that he is describing what he saw in his vision, since the event he describes has not yet happened. The reason he says they will be tormented forever and ever is because he could not speak of something never-ending as having been completed, so don’t let that make you doubt whether it is still part of the vision.

2. All throughout Scripture—from Genesis to Revelation—dreams and visions depict realities by means of symbolic imagery; they are not literal illustrations of said realities. In Revelation 1:12-16, John sees seven golden lampstands and seven stars in his vision. In Revelation 1:20, Christ interprets the vision for him, saying that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” When visions and dreams are interpreted, the interpretation is the thing in reality. As a formula, it looks like: [Symbol] is [thing in reality]. Critically, symbols do not describe reality (e.g., the seven stars do not describe what the seven churches are) but merely symbolically represent it. 

3. In verse 14, we are told that the lake of fire is the second death. Following the formula, the second death is the thing in reality, and the lake of fire merely symbolizes it. Just as the seven stars do not describe what the seven churches are, eternal torment in the lake of fire does not describe what the second death is. The unrighteous will literally die a second time, which fits well with their names not being written in the book of life.

4. Verse 14 also says that Death, which is depicted as a horseman in the vision (Rev. 6:8), will be thrown into the lake of fire. According to Revelation 21:4 just a few verses later, “death will be no more.” So, despite what the vision describes as happening in the lake of fire (eternal torment for the horseman), the reality is that death will be destroyed (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26, 54).

5. According to Revelation 20:10, the beast who was thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20 will be tormented forever and ever. In Revelation 17:8, however, an angel interprets John’s vision and says that “the beast that you saw… is about to… go to destruction.” In the vision of Daniel 7, which foretells the same events as in Revelation, the ten-horned beast (Dan. 7:24; Rev. 17:12) that rises out of the sea (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1) and speaks great words against the Most High (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:5) is “killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire” (Dan. 7:11). So, in the vision given to Daniel, the beast is killed, whereas in the vision given to John, the beast is kept alive in torment forever and ever. Of course, a contradiction in symbolism is only problematic if there is also a contradiction in interpretation, which is not the case. In line with the angel’s interpretation in Revelation 17:8, the beast’s death in Daniel 7:11 is interpreted thus in 7:26: “[the beast’s] dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end.”

In short, although the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation 20:10-15 depicts the lake of fire as a place of eternal torment for what is thrown into it, it actually symbolizes the end of those things in reality. Death was thrown into the lake of fire and will be no more, the unrighteous were thrown into it and will die a second time, and the beast who was thrown into it will go to destruction.

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