It can be argued that the wrath of God is the Lake of Fire (Revelation 14:10; Revelation 21:8). However, is the Lake of Fire an ever-burning place of punishment that has been reserved by God to punish the wicked, or does it represent a time of temporary punishment whereby the wicked will be separated from their sins and embrace God, whom they have rejected all their lives? Remembering that Revelation is apocalyptic (symbolic) literature, let’s look at it now to see how God plans to use the Lake of Fire. There isn’t much of a description of it in Revelation. We know that the beast and false prophet were cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20); the devil will be cast into it (Revelation 20:10); death and hell (the grave) are cast into it, and it is called the second death in Revelation 20:14. Finally, after the resurrection of the just and unjust (Matthew 25) or the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-13) all who are not written in the Lamb’s book of life will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). That’s it! If we wish to know more about this mysterious Lake of Fire in which God can cast death and the grave, which are not things one could actually look upon and take up in one’s hands, one must look elsewhere in God’s word, comparing Scripture with Scripture to find additional truth.
Mark 9 may have some interesting thoughts to consider. Here we find Jesus speaking of Gehenna where the wicked shall be punished by God. The Lord begins by calling for repentance and warns what will happen, if we do not sacrifice those things that hinder us in yielding to God.
Mark 9:43-50 KJV And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: (44) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (45) And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: (46) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (47) And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: (48) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (49) For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. (50) Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
I believe it may be assumed that this Scripture is not speaking of eternal worms or literally cutting off our limbs or gouging out our eyes. It seems apparent that this Scripture is using apocalyptic (picturesque, symbolic) language in order to reveal the truth of God. Whatever it is that must be sacrificed (viz. arms, legs, eyes etc.) would be a matter between God and the believer or a group of believers to the end that God would be glorified in our submission to his will. Nevertheless, does Mark 9:43-50 indicate that God intends to utterly destroy those who are unrepentant? Do these verses in Mark, in effect, deny other Scriptures that seem to say God will yet have mercy and show himself to be the Savior of all men? May we not go beyond what is written (1Corintians 4:6), but carefully interpret God’s holy word in a manner that would not cause it to contradict itself (John 10:35).
Elsewhere in Scripture we understand that fire is a purifier (1Corinthians 3:13-15), and here in Mark 9:49 everyone is salted with fire, not just those who are destroyed. Salt is supposed to be a preservative, but we find here that some have lost what would preserve them (the Holy Spirit). Hence, it seems that decay has set in (the worms). As the Scripture says in Galatians 6:8 “For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting”
In Mark 9:45 the word translated “hell” is geenna (G1067) in the Greek. It is actually of Hebrew origin and comes from two words: gay (H1516) meaning “valley” and Hinnom (H2011). It referred to the valley of Hinnom on the south and west of the city of Jerusalem. It was here that Solomon raised up high places to Molech, thus beginning Israel’s trend away from God (1Kings 11:7). These rites were revived by kings like Ahaz and Manasseh, who caused their children to “pass through the fire” (2Kings 16:3; 2Chronicles 28:3, 33:6). King Josiah later rendered the valley ceremonially unclean by spreading bones and garbage over the entire area (2Kings 23:10-14; 2Chronicles 34:4-5). After this it came to be the place where the waste of the whole city was cast and burned. Gehenna (hell) fire that Jesus spoke of in Mark 9 is most likely the Lake of Fire of Revelation.
Another interesting point that may offer us a broader picture of the Lake of Fire to show us what exactly it signifies would be to look at the Sea of Galilee. John says the Sea of Galilee is also called the Sea of Tiberius (John 6:1). Luke never calls it the Sea (thalassa, G2281) of Galilee, but does refer to it as the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1). My point in bringing this up is to show that the word for “lake” is lemne (G3041) in Luke 5:1 and wherever the Lake of Fire is mentioned in the book of Revelation. If the Gospel writers use “lake” (G3041) and “sea” (thalassa, G2281) to mean the same body of water in Galilee, then perhaps the “Lake of Fire” in Revelation 19 and 20 is the same as the “Sea of Glass” which is mingled with fire in Revelation 15:2. Here the victorious saints are able to walk upon this sea, just as the Lord walked on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:47-49). The saints are not hurt by the second death (Revelation. 2:11, 20:6). This Sea of Glass is before the throne of God (Revelation 4:6), and has been seen by other writers of Scripture (Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22-28). They also agree that it is a Sea of Fire.
A point to consider is: those cast into the Lake of Fire were dead, and they had to have been resurrected. The wages of sin is death (Romans 3:9), so under what ruling could these, who had already been under righteous judgment for their sin, be resurrected, unless they are resurrected by the authority of the cross? Jesus’ death was for all (2Corintians 5:14); therefore, just payment was made, and for this reason the just (moral) and unjust dead could be raised. Therefore, their resurrection is not to pay for their sins (that has been paid), but to be judged and chastised (Numbers 14:18-23; 18:23). Revelation 20:14 shows us “death and Hades” are cast into the Lake of Fire and are presumably destroyed (cease to exist). In other Scriptures we are told God is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), and he destroys death (Hosea 13:14; compare 1Corinthians 15:26, 53-57). While it would be ridiculous to assert that God is the Lake of Fire, we should remember that this “sea” (or lake) is before his throne, and a stream of fire comes out from him (Luke 19:27; Leviticus 9:24; Isaiah 30:33; Daniel 7:10), to consume all that is of this world, which is not from him (2Peter 3:10-12).
If Heaven is the throne of God and Earth is his footstool (Matthew 5:34-35; Acts 7:49; cp. Ezekiel 1:15-28), how could evil exist before him (Habakkuk 1:12-13) forever? Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8). It would seem to me that these who fall into the hand of Almighty God (Habakkuk 10:31) do have their works destroyed. Nevertheless, David would rather be punished by falling into the hand of God than falling into the hand of man (2Samuel 24:14), because ultimately there is mercy with the Lord (Micah 7:18-19). Notice in Micah it says that God subdues our iniquities and casts them into the depths of the sea. What sea is this but the sea that is before him (Revelation 4:6, 15:2)? If this is so, shouldn’t this sea and the Lake of Fire be the same place (Luke 19:27; Leviticus 9:24; Daniel 7:10; cp. Revelation 8:1-5, 14:10)? I believe this is a terrible and fearful place to be, but ultimately iniquity is separated from the wicked and God is merciful even to them, for as Micah says God is not angry forever.
I believe if we conclude the wicked are unredeemable we are saying God’s power is limited. In my opinion, to say that the wicked will have their way in rebelling against God is to say that God can fail. If it is so that God does not save everyone, then the existence of the wicked, even in the Lake of Fire before the throne of God, will stand from everlasting to everlasting as a testimony of God’s failure to save all (cp. Numbers 14:13-20). It is his desire to save all (2Peter 3:9), and he works out all things according to his will (Ephesians 1:11). Has he failed? Is God’s will to save all men ultimately more powerful than man’s will to reject God and choose darkness (John 3:19), or do some men desire darkness so much that God must in the end admit that his will to show mercy is defeated by their willful rebellion and wickedness?
God’s word says that the Lake of Fire or the “second death” is the fate of all evil doers (Revelation 21:8). Yet, this “second death” is not for annihilation, because the first death is destroyed there (Revelation 20:14). If death (the grave, unconsciousness) is cast into the Lake of Fire, then it is only logical that this second death (Lake of Fire) may cause some things to cease to exist, but those things are not man. Clearly, if man “died” in the second death “death and the grave” would still exist and reign over the men who “died” in the Lake of Fire. So, while this lake does cause some things to cease to exist, man continues to live on in this “second death.” What does this mean? To what death does this Scripture refer? The first death took away our lives in Adam, while the second death will destroy all the evil within our hearts that would cause us to do evil. In other words the works of the flesh are destroyed in the second death (Lake of Fire). If the evil works of the devil (viz. the works of the flesh) are destroyed in the Lake of Fire (1John 3:8; Revelation 21:8), wouldn’t the people in this ‘lake’ who are now separated from their evil works, be saved? If there is no evil in their hearts, wouldn’t this mean they have been given a new heart ((Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:26) as a result of their experience and are now willing to receive Christ? Doesn’t this mean, since Christ died for all and all are dead (2Corinthians 5:14), they are now alive—a new creature—ready to live for God (2Corintians 5:15, 17), in whose hearts Christ dwells (Ephesians Ephesians 3:17)? This can only mean that God’s mercy knows no bounds and extends even to all. Notice:
Micah 7:18-19 KJV Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy. (19) He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (emphasis mine)
We already know from Scripture that God places no difference between Gentile and Jew as far as salvation is concerned. So what God does for the Jews, he must also do for all for his own Name’s sake. Who is a God like ours who pardons iniquity and passes over our sins? He will not retain his anger/wrath forever, BUT he delights in mercy—he will have compassion on man—he will subdue our iniquities—he will cast our sins in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19)!! Of what “sea” does he speak? This can only refer to the Lake of Fire where all such things are destroyed.
In the end one has to come to terms with God’s word as revealed in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” When God speaks, is he truly able to make what he says come to pass? If he says, he is the Savior of all men (1Timothy 4:10) does he not do (save) what he says he will do? Praise God! His boundless love has persuaded me that absolutely nothing will stand in his way to secure his goal to save the world through his glorious Son (John 3:16; 1Timothy 2:6).