Francis Chan Erasing Hell Book - Debunked!
Francis Chan Erasing Hell - Debunked, Part 2 of 3 in a series of articles by John Lilley
to this three-part article where I debunk the central claims of Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell, I explained that his book should actually be called “Affirming Hell”, and that it does what any attempt to affirm the “traditional” (a.k.a. Catholic/pagan-inherited) view of hell does: it relies on blatant mistranslations of a few Greek and Hebrew words and blatant butchering of the common sense rules of language, communication, and Bible interpretation.
of this series of articles I debunked the core of Chan’s argument – the claim that Jesus was referring to hell when He talked about “Gehenna” (a physical location in Jerusalem). I also explained that the word “hell” is not found anywhere in the Greek or Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, but is artificially inserted into English Bibles by Bible translators who sometimes translate certain key words according to their pagan/Catholic inherited belief in conscious death and eternal punishment rather than according to the plain meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words.
Here in PART 2 I will debunk Chan’s claim that Revelation 14:9-11 talks about eternal punishment. In so doing I will simultaneously debunk the common mistranslation-based misinterpretation of similar statements in Scripture by those who claim that the Bible teaches eternal punishment.
I will debunk Chan’s attempt to explain away one of the plain statements in Scripture that declares God’s plan for universal reconciliation (and in so doing I will debunk his attempts to do the same with other similar statements about universal reconciliation in Scripture).
Is Revelation 14:9-11 a Warning About Eternal Punishment? Or Is It a Warning About the 7 Bowls of God’s Wrath Poured Out On This Physical Earth At the Very End of This Age? You Decide…
Francis Chan claims that Revelation 14:9-11 is a warning about eternal punishment. I believe it is a warning about the 7 Bowls of Wrath (certain painful and uncomfortable events and plagues) that will be poured out on earth at the very end of this age according to Revelation chapter 16. You will have to decide whether you agree with Chan or with me.
It is fun for me to tackle the claim that Revelation 14:9-11 talks about eternal punishment because these two verses are similar to many other statements in Scripture that seem (in your English Bible) to talk about eternal punishment. When I debunk the idea that Revelation 14:9-11 is about eternal punishment, I will simultaneously debunk every other Scripture that seems (in your English Bible) to refer to eternal punishment with similar language as Revelation 14:9-11.
I am going to take you on a little bit of a journey to prove my position – a journey of step-by-step logic. The first step we are going to take is the most vital because it will teach you something extremely important about any time you see a word that refers to eternity in your English Bible. Step #1 is this:
There is no word that refers to eternity in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible.
Every time you see the words “eternal/everlasting/forever/forever-and-ever” in your English Bible, it is always – I repeat, always – a blatant mistranslation of the Greek word “eon” or the Hebrew word “olam”.
Hasting's Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. I, p. 542, art. Christ and the Gospels) puts it well when it states that there is no word either in the Hebrew Old Testament or in the Greek New Testament that expresses the abstract idea of eternity.
The Hebrew word “olam” or “to olam” or “from olam” means “for a relatively long time, but it is not known exactly how long”. There is no English equivalent for this word or concept, so the translators simply use “eternal” or “forever” sometimes instead of interrupting the flow of the text to explain what this word actually means.
They should probably simply translate it as “a long time” or “for a long time”, but that does not sound as nice as “forever”. The only problem is, this tricks modern Christians into thinking that the concept of eternity is all over the Old Testament when really it is not.
I need to emphasize, the use of "olam" or "from olam" or "to olam" in the Hebrew Old Testament does not refer to the idea of eternity or endlessness. I prove this in detail in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation.
The Greek word “eon” does not refer to eternity or endlessness either. It simply means “age”, as in 2 Corinthians 4:4 which states that Satan is the “god of this eon”. If “eon” referred to eternity or endlessness, then Satan would be god forever. Obviously this word does not mean “forever”.
The word “forever” is actually the opposite of the word “age”; “forever” is time with no beginning or end, while an “age” is a period of time with a specific beginning and a specific end.
But Bible translators, due to their traditional belief in the pagan concept of eternal punishment (which they inherited from the Catholic Church, which combined paganism with Christianity in the Middle Ages), sometimes translate this word “eon” as “forever”, “eonian” (adjective form of “eon” which means “pertaining to an age or ages”) as “eternal”, “the ages of the ages” as “forever and ever”, etc. These are inaccurate and highly deceptive mistranslations of various forms of the word “eon”.
In my book Hell Is A Mistranslation I prove this logically from Scripture and I also give several Scriptural examples of instances where these words are used in contexts where they cannot possibly refer to eternity or endlessness.
Some people say, “Well, these words could sometimes refer to eternity.” People who use this line of reasoning do not understand the nature of languages. Words do not change from one meaning to the opposite meaning! “Black” does not change its meaning to “white”; “age” (a period of time with a specific beginning and end) does not change its meaning to “forever” (time with no beginning and no end). This type of thing simply does not happen in any language.
The bottom line is, there is no word that carries the meaning of eternity or endlessness in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible.
Of course, 1 Corinthians 15 refers to the “incorruptible” resurrected bodies we will receive at the rapture. The word “incorruptible” implies that those bodies will not die, thus telling us that for all practical purposes there is such a thing as an eternal or endless future for us. However, that does not change the fact that every time you see the words “forever”, “forever-and-ever”, “eternal”, or “everlasting” (or even the word “never”) in an English Bible, it is always a blatant mistranslation of either “olam” or “eon”, words that do not carry the meaning of eternity or endlessness.
So when we see the phrase “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever”, we must realize that “forever and ever” is a ridiculous translation of two instances of the plural word “eons” or “ages”. The Greek phrase is “for the eons of the eons”.
If “eon” really meant “forever”, then “eons” would have to mean “forevers” or “eternities”, and this phrase would have to be translated, “for the forevers of the forevers” or “for the eternities of the eternities”. This is obviously ridiculous…there can be no such thing as plural forevers or eternities. The translators of this passage have to get really creative in order to arbitrarily insert their belief in eternal punishment into this passage! Amazingly, they just decide to ignore the fact that there are two instances of the plural word “eons” in this phrase, and creatively invent a brand new term that has absolutely nothing to do with the specific Greek phrase “the eons of the eons”: “forever and ever”.
People of the earth, be terrified of being tormented “forever and ever”!!!!! For no good reason!!!!! Just because our English Bible translators like to get super-creative in order to make the Bible fit their preconceived ideas of what it should say!!!!!
The Greek phrase “the eons of the eons” is very specific, just as the phrase “the King of kings” is very specific, and the phrase “the Lord of lords” is very specific. All these phrases use the same language convention to talk about the greatest of a group. “The eons of the eons” or “the ages of the ages” is referring to the greatest two ages of the ages of human history. These two ages are the millennium (1,000-year) reign of Christ on earth (Rev. 20:5-6), and what I call the New Jerusalem age (Rev. 21-22). They are the greatest because Christ will be reigning righteously over the earth during those ages rather than allowing Satan to reign over the earth as in this age (2 Cor. 4:4).
Of course, most Christians are completely unaware that the Bible talks about various ages of human history, because the Greek word “eon” is mistranslated in our English Bibles so often as a word referring to eternity. The words “age” and “ages” are all over the New Testament – not that you’d know it from reading most English Bibles!
For this same reason, most Christians are also completely unaware that “the kingdom of God” in the Bible and the phrase “eonian life” (not “eternal” life, that is a blatant mistranslation of the adjective form of “eon”) refer to the next two ages of life on earth (“the ages of the ages”), not to hanging out in heaven. See Acts 1:6-7 for proof that Jesus and His disciples did not think of the kingdom of God as going to heaven, but as Jesus’ future reign over the earth! The next two ages of life on earth, the millennium and the New Jerusalem age, are “the ages of the ages” – they are the greatest two ages out of all the ages of human history.
Careful study shows us that Scripture uses the phrases “the kingdom of God”, “the ages of the ages”, and “eonian life” (life pertaining to an age or ages) interchangeably to refer to the best two ages of life on earth in God’s plan of the ages for humanity – the millennium and the New Jerusalem age. For example, in John 3:16 Jesus said that those who believe in Him will receive “eonian life”, and in Galatians 5:21 Paul talked about “inheriting the kingdom of God”. They are both talking about the same thing: taking part in (being alive instead of dead during) the next two ages, the millennium and the New Jerusalem age.
Most people who have ever lived will be dead during those two ages; it will be a special privilege to be alive during these two ages due to having taken part in the rapture at the end of this current age. (Of course, there will be some mortal-bodied people who live through the end times into the millennium, have children and die, etc. just like we do today, but that will not be nearly as much fun as taking part in the rapture at the end of this age and then returning to earth in an immortal body to reign with Christ during the millennium and the New Jerusalem age. See Rev. 20:4-6 and Rev. 21-22.) And again, if you doubt that Jesus and His disciples were talking about His future reign on earth when they used phrases like “the kingdom of God”, "the kingdom of heaven", and "the kingdom", just read Acts 1:6-7. (And remember the Lord's prayer? "Your kingdom come on earth...")
If have just explained to you something from Scripture that is based on translating all instances of the word “eon” in the New Testament consistently as “age”. Again, if you want to argue that any form of the word “eon” ever refers to eternity instead of an age or ages, you are going to have to explain why 2 Corinthians 4:4 says Satan is the god of this “eon”. In essence, you are going to have to argue that the word “eon” changes its meaning from “age” in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (and other Scriptures where the context makes it exceedingly obvious that it must be translated “age” or “ages”) to its exact opposite meaning, “eternity”, in other verses, just because you want it to change meanings. Again, words never do that.
If you stick to the common sense rules of language and translate the Greek word “eon” consistently according to its plain meaning, “age” (and never arbitrarily change its meaning to the exact opposite, “eternity”), you don’t run into any trouble. You don’t have any problems when you see a phrase like “the ages of the ages”. That phrase makes perfect sense. But if you throw out the common sense rules of language and try to arbitrarily change “eon” to mean “eternity” whenever you can, you’ve got a big problem when you get to “the eons of the eons” because “the forever of the forevers” makes no sense whatsoever. Apparently, this doesn’t faze our English Bible translators. They just get creative.
I don’t know about you, but I want to accurately understand exactly what God said. I’m not interested in getting creative with God’s Word. If you want to side with the super-creative translating of our English Bible translators that totally disregards the common sense rules of language in favor of bull-headed loyalty to a “hell mindset” inherited from the half-pagan Catholic Church, go ahead. Good luck trying to figure out the dozens of artificial Scriptural self-contradictions it’s going to cause.
Alright, so I’ve explained the specific meaning of the phrase used in Revelation 19:11, “the ages of the ages”. When you read the words “forever and ever” in this verse (or any other instance of “forever”, “eternal”, or “everlasting”) in your English Bible, you should laugh out loud with a combination of disbelief at the ridiculousness of that translation and ruefulness at the untold misery it has caused countless Christians.
So far I have not only debunked the idea that Revelation 19:11 refers to eternity, I have also debunked the idea that any use of the word “eon” in the Bible refers to eternity. Every single time you see the words “eternal/everlasting/forever/forever-and-ever” (or even sometimes the word “never”), you must realize the underlying word is either the Hebrew “to/from olam” (if you’re reading the Old Testament) or a form of the Greek “eon” (if you’re reading the New Testament), and neither of these words refers to eternity or endlessness.
How Can Smoke Rise For Over 1,000 Years?
Now that I’ve proven that the phrase “for the eons of the eons” means “throughout the greatest two ages of God’s plan for the ages, the millennium and the New Jerusalem age”, let’s look at the rest of the phrase:
“the smoke of their torment goes up for the eons of the eons”.
Many Christians, upon reading this entire phrase in their English Bibles, immediately jump into “hell mindset” mode because of the mistranslation “forever and ever”: “Ahhhhh!!!!! These people who take the mark of the beast will be tormented for eternity!!!!” Well, I’ve debunked the eternity part of it, but what about the torment part of it?
Look carefully at the phrase, “the smoke of their torment goes up for the ages of the ages”. WHAT EXACTLY is it that lasts for the ages of the ages? Is it the torment? Or the SMOKE? It’s the SMOKE. The SMOKE goes up for the ages of the ages.
Now that’s a long time for smoke to rise! A thousand years (the millennium) plus the New Jerusalem age! Ummm…wouldn’t the smoke be, like, dispersed, long before the end of those two ages?
We have two choices in how to interpret this. Our first choice is to say that the smoke rises for the ages of the ages because there is suffering going on that entire time (in other words, there is more smoke continually being created by the continual suffering/burning of these antichrist-worshiping humans throughout the ages of the ages). The second choice is to say that the Bible is speaking symbolically here in the sense that the suffering of these people will be remembered throughout the ages of the ages.
Let’s see which interpretation holds more water.
The first choice (the idea that those who take the mark of the beast will suffer continually throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age) appeals to the “hell mindset” crowd right away. “See!” they cry. “It matches up perfectly with Revelation 20:14-15 which talks about the lake of fire!”
But wait a minute. Hold your horses. Houston, we’ve got a problem. Revelation 20:14-15 clearly states that the lake of fire “is the second death” for the people thrown there! And numerous plain statements of Scripture like Ecclesiastes 9:5 & 10, Psalm 115:17, etc. (not to mention 1 Thess. 5:10 and countless other Scriptures that use the analogy of sleep for death) clearly state that death is unconscious! (See my book Hell Is A Mistranslation or my article on what happens at death in the Hell Articles section of this site for more detail on the clear Scriptural teaching that death is unconscious; believe me, there are simple, logical, Scriptural answers for every question you have about it.)
Hmmm… If “the dead do not know anything” as Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, how do they even know they’re being tormented? Obviously we’re into nonsense land here. There has to be another solution. We can’t throw out the Scriptural definition of death (unconsciousness) clearly stated by many Bible verses. And we can’t throw out the “smoke going up for the ages of the ages” in Revelation 19:11 either. What’s the solution?
The fact that the Bible clearly tells us the lake of fire “is the second death”, while also clearly telling us that death is unconscious, leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the lake of fire causes physical death (or is simply the method of disposal for dead physical bodies), and the people thrown there will become unconscious and their corpses will be burned up (a good way to dispose of dead corpses).
So Revelation 14:11 can’t possibly be talking about humans being continually, consciously tormented in the lake of fire. The lake of fire will burn up their dead bodies; they’ll be dead and unconscious.
We must also take into account that Rev. 14:9 specifically talks about those who take the mark of the beast. It's worth noting that there will be billions of people who die and have their bodies/corpses thrown in the physical lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15), who did not take the mark of the beast (simply because they did not live in the end times). So why does Rev. 14:9-11 specifically apply to people who have taken the mark of the beast? If Rev. 14:9-11 is a parallel passage to the "second death lake of fire" passage, why doesn't it mention all the other people that will be killed and thrown in the physical lake of fire? Why does it only specifically mention those who take the mark of the beast? As you will see, the interpretation I am leading you to will explain exactly why Rev. 14:9-11 only mentions those who take the mark of the beast, and no one else. For now, just keep that thought in your back pocket - I'll have you pull it out again in a moment.
Also notice that these antichrist-worshippers will not live throughout the millennium (they'll die long before 1,000 years is over, because they won't partake in the rapture and thus they won't have immortal bodies). So how can they be tormented throughout the millennium, if they'll be dead most of that time?
Some might say, "They'll be tormented in hell." The problem is, the word "hell" is not in the Bible (it's not found in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, every time you see it in your English Bible it's a blatant mistranslation, as I explained in Part 1).
So now we either have to conclude that Revelation 14:11 is talking about these end time antichrist-worshipers being continually tormented somewhere on earth during the millennium (while also ignoring the fact that the lake of fire is death/unconsciousness for those thrown there), or we must conclude that this verse is speaking about the smoke rising for the ages of the ages in a symbolic/figurative way (the temporary suffering of these people in the end times being remembered powerfully throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age by those alive during those ages).
Those of you who are familiar with my teachings know that I constantly repeat like a broken record: “We are not allowed to take a statement in Scripture symbolically unless there is a clear, logical indication that we must!” One of the clear indications communicators use to say, "Don't take this literally" is when the phrase/sentence doesn't make any sense when taken literally. I have just shown you that the phrase, "their smoke rises for the ages of the ages" makes no sense when taken literally. There is no way for literal smoke to rise throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age unless we get super-creative and invent something that is not in Scripture.
So as you can see, I am not quickly or arbitrarily jumping to a symbolic interpretation of the “smoke rising” throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age. If the “smoke rising” is to be taken symbolically, it must be proven that it makes much more sense and lines up much better with the rest of Scripture when taken symbolically (to refer to the torment being remembered by those alive during the ages of the ages) than when the assumption is made that there is actual torment going on for the ages of the ages that causes the smoke to literally rise during that entire period of time.
One quick additional clarification: Humans thrown in the lake of fire will be dead, unconscious, but see my article The Weirdest Truth In the Bible in the More Questions section of this site to learn the fascinating reason why Satan, the false prophet, and the antichrist will remain conscious in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20), in contrast to humans who will be dead and unconscious when their physical bodies are destroyed there (Rev. 20:14-15). The short answer is that the false prophet and the antichrist will not be fully human, but will be hybrid fallen angels or Nephilim as described in Genesis 6, and thus they will be thrown immediately into the lake of fire (rather than being treated by God as full humans and given a chance to stand before the white throne and be judged first). Although their physical human-like bodies will be destroyed in the physical lake of fire, they themselves, the spirit part of the antichrist and the false prophet (in Scripture it is apparent that Nephilim and spirit beings like demons and fallen angels are conscious with or without physical bodies while humans are only conscious with a physical body) will remain conscious and suffer (like demons who Christ said wander around dry places searching for water) rather than dying and becoming unconscious as humans will when their bodies are thrown in the lake of fire.
My friends, all these things match up and complement each other perfectly in Scripture when you study them carefully and stick faithfully to the common sense rules of language and communication. Every (seeming) Scriptural self-contradiction about what happens at death and God’s plan for unbelievers is solved with perfectly satisfying logic if you just stick with it. But any time you start backtracking into the “conscious death and eternal punishment” mindset you stop solving the (seeming) contradictions, and start creating dozens of (seeming) contradictions again!
For example, as soon as you try to insist that the lake of fire (“the second death” for humans) will be conscious torment for humans just like for satan, the false prophet, and the antichrist, you have a big problem again: How do you reconcile that claim with the many plain Biblical statements (Ecc. 9:5, 10, Ps. 115:17, etc.) that death is unconscious? The only way to fix this dilemma is to realize that death is unconscious for humans, while simultaneously realizing that the false prophet and the antichrist will be Genesis 6 type fallen-angel/human hybrids with human-looking physical bodies who will remain conscious even without a physical body (like demons or fallen angels) and are treated more like fallen angels or demons than like humans for God’s justice and judgment purposes.
OK, so let’s quickly review what we’ve learned and move on to find the logically provable, accurate interpretation of Revelation 14:9-11. We know Revelation 14:11 doesn’t talk about eternity or “forever and ever”, it talks about “the ages of the ages” (the millennium and the New Jerusalem age). And we know it doesn’t talk about humans suffering consciously in the lake of fire, because every human whose body is thrown in the lake of fire will die and become unconscious virtually instantly (or God may mercifully kill the people before throwing their corpses in the lake – or “pond” in the Greek – of fire).
But “the smoke of their torment goes up for the ages of the ages” – so we must figure out whether this smoke rises literally because these people are being tormented somewhere else (not in the lake of fire) throughout the ages of the ages, or whether it might be a symbolic phrase referring to the fact that the torment of those who take the mark of the beast will be remembered throughout the ages of the ages.
To help solve this puzzle, I would like to bring one more phrase in Revelation 14:11 into the mix: “They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image…”.
Smoke Rising During the Millennium and the New Jerusalem Age: Is It Literal Or Symbolic?
The first thing the phrase “they have no rest” tells us beyond any shadow of doubt is that these people are not dead, because according to Ecclesiastes 9:5, “the dead do not know anything” and the Bible repeatedly uses the term “rest” or “sleep” to refer to the state of being dead and unconscious. If you can’t get any sleep, you are obviously alive and awake and conscious.
Also notice, these antichrist-worshippers have no rest "day or night". This tells us that day and night will be going on during the time that they have no rest! Day and night are determined by the earth's rotation in relation to the sun. How can there be "day and night" in hell (wherever hell is)? How can there be day and night in a nebulous spirit place?
And the Bible tells us that in the New Jerusalem age there will be no night (Rev. 22:5)! So how can these antichrist-worshippers suffer "for the ages of the ages" (throughout the millennium and New Jerusalem age) if there is no night during the New Jerusalem age?
(And remember that although in some English Bibles there may be a semicolon between the phrase “the smoke of their torment rises for the ages of the ages” and the phrase “they have no rest day and night”, which might seem to imply that the two phrases and ideas are connected, there is no punctuation in the original Greek, so they could just as easily be separated by a period in our English Bibles, indicating that they are two separate/distinct sentences/statements/ideas. In fact the Concordant Version, which goes out of its way to translate literally and be painstakingly accurate regardless of how clumsy it makes the English sound, places a period and the word “And” between the two phrases, making them two separate sentences and two separate thoughts.)
I have just proven to you that Revelation 14:9-11 is not talking about some nebulous type of spirit-torture in some nebulous spirit-place (as paganism claims hell and/or the lake of fire are) – indeed such a thing is impossible since the Bible repeatedly and plainly tells us that dead people are unconscious. I have also just proven to you that these antichrist-worshippers will not suffer throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age ("for the ages of the ages").
On the contrary, we have now proven conclusively that Revelation 14:9-11 is talking about living humans in physical bodies suffering some type of torment on earth, but not throughout the millennium and New Jerusalem. Their physical suffering must be for a shorter period of time, and the "smoke that rises for the ages of the ages" must be a figurative phrase letting us know that the suffering of these people will be remembered (as a powerful lesson) throughout the millennium and New Jerusalem age by those alive during those two ages.
But we still don’t have quite enough to figure this out yet. Let’s keep digging. Pretend you’re a detective on an episode of CSI. Have the same confidence that God will help you figure it out logically, as you have in the fact that the CSI detectives will solve the crime by the time the TV show is over in an hour!
Next let’s notice that it is “those who worship the beast” that “have no rest day and night”. The verbs “worship” and “have no rest” are both in present tense. This indicates that these people are unable to rest during the time (or part of the time) when/while they are worshipping the antichrist. This is how the Bible says it: “They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast.” If I said to you, “They have no rest day and night, those who are in Army boot camp”, you would instantly assume I meant “they can’t rest while they’re in boot camp. See what I mean?
The Concordant Version translates this verse as, “And they are having no rest day and night, those worshiping the wild beast and its image.” In other words, it certainly seems from the way the apostle John (the author of Revelation) phrases the sentence and the verbs he uses to describe what he saw in his vision, that in his vision the activity of worshipping the beast was happening at the same time as the worshipers getting no rest. I mean, how else would you interpret the sentence, “And they are having no rest day and night, those attending Army boot camp”? Obviously the attending of boot camp and the getting no rest is going on at the same time.
Let’s keep pushing. We’re almost to a clear interpretation of this passage, so stick with me. If you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and do some careful logical thinking about passages like Revelation 19:9-11 you have no hope of ever understanding how the Bible’s various statements about what happens at death and what happens to unbelievers all match up with each other and explain/clarify each other perfectly. It just takes a little persistence and common sense.
Also keep in mind that the only reason understanding Bible statements like these seems like way more work than it should be is because these Bible statements were written by and to people who assumed unconscious death and universal reconciliation were true and did not have to deal with any pagan/Catholic-leftover traditions or resulting mistranslations into English, whereas you and I are modern English speakers who come from a background of assuming conscious death and eternal punishment are true, and we have to sort out all sorts of mistranslations with accompanying misunderstandings in order to figure out what the first Christians 2,000 years ago simply took for granted. (See a book called Universalism, The Prevailing Doctrine of the Church During Its First 500 Years by John Wesley Hanson for more info on this.)
In other words, when the first few generations of Christians were reading what we now call the books of the Bible, they could tell what these books/letters said accurately without having to read a sometimes-butchered/colored translation into English. Not only that, they had been taught universal reconciliation their entire lives, and therefore they could instantly and almost effortlessly tell what passages about death and God’s plan for mankind meant without any trouble, because their preconceived mindset was the same as the true, accurate meaning of these passages. Their first, instinctive, assumed thoughts about the meaning of these passages were correct because they had been taught correctly their whole lives and did not have to deal with mistranslations or false traditions in this area. They had no seeming Scriptural or philosophical self-contradictions to sort out in this area of doctrine because the doctrine of universal reconciliation, which they took for granted as being the truth, has no Scriptural or philosophical self-contradictions!
On the other hand, modern Christians like us are starting from a point of massive confusion. Even once we realize how many blatant, artificially created Scriptural self-contradictions the doctrines of conscious death and eternal punishment cause (try reconciling Ecc. 9:5 with conscious death and eternal punishment, for example), it still takes a lot of careful study for us to sort out the mistranslations, confusion, etc. and rediscover the truth that the first Christians simply took for granted.
So when I try to teach you about the accurate meaning of a passage like Revelation 14:9-11, I have to unravel many misconceptions in your modern pagan/Catholic/hell-mindset-infested mind. Whereas a Christian taught by the apostle Paul 1,900-some years ago (before the Catholic Church, before paganism was mixed with Christianity, etc.) would realize exactly what the passage meant accurately as soon as he read it, without even thinking about it.
Hopefully I’ve relieved a bit of your frustration by explaining this to you. I realize sorting this stuff out can be frustrating at times. I remember when I was struggling through it, I just kept thinking, “But what about this…and what about that? Why does it have to be so hard to understand? Why can’t somebody just know the answer and explain it to me in a way that’s easy to understand?” That’s why I wrote my book Hell Is A Mistranslation once I figured it out! Now that it no longer seems hard to understand and it all makes perfect logical sense to me, I wrote the book I wish I could have read three years ago!
My book clears up each misunderstanding in the modern hell-infested mind, step-by-step, but here’s the master key: Understanding what the Bible says about death and God’s ultimate plan for mankind is not nearly so hard when you simply get an accurate translation like the Concordant Version in front of you and toss the pagan/Catholic-inherited false doctrines of conscious death and eternal punishment out the window. It’s just that in order to get you to do these two simple things, I have to try to give you two years’ worth of my own discovery in a few small bites of logic. Thanks for bearing with me as I go step-by-step, taking time to prove each point as best I can.
You may have noticed that some of the logical steps I try to take you through as I’m teaching a certain aspect of God’s plan for mankind are interlocked with other Scriptural points/steps of logic that I don’t have time to prove in an article this size. This is frustrating for me because I have the whole picture in my mind – a picture where dozens of different Scriptural pieces fit together perfectly, complementing and explaining each other exactly without the slightest contradiction; and I just have to hope that you don’t give up on my logic halfway through an article just because you don’t quite see the whole picture yet.
Again, that’s why I wrote my book Hell Is A Mistranslation - because it goes through the vast majority of the puzzle pieces thoroughly. There is simply not enough space to do this in an online article. I just have to hope that you see each step of logic I present in order, and that you’re hungry enough for the truth that you’ll keep reading, keep studying, and keep testing (and maybe take a helpful shortcut and buy my book) until you see the whole picture – the picture the early Christians took for granted – in Scripture.
I don’t mean this to be a cheap sales pitch for my book. It is an honest opinion, from one truth-seeker to another: If you want to save yourself the two years of research it took me to figure out the perfectly cohesive teaching of Scripture on death and God’s ultimate plan for mankind, I know of no better “shortcut” than reading my book. It addresses all the “but what about this?” questions on the subject. It puts the whole logical picture together and explains it in a way that is easy to understand. After you see the whole picture and have had each step explained to you, it will be much easier for you to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21) than when you are trying to stumble in the dark through each logical step without seeing how they all fit together.
It’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without seeing what the final picture is supposed to look like, versus putting it together while being able to see what the final picture is supposed to look like (and still checking to make sure each individual piece fits together perfectly). The latter is much easier. I did it the hard way, and then wrote a book so you can do it the easy way.
Our Clues Lead To a Simple Solution
Alright, now back to figuring out the true meaning of Revelation 14:9-11. At this point we have three clues to help us figure out its exact meaning:
1. The people who take the mark of the beast at the end of this age will be tormented physically when they are alive and conscious on earth, but not throughout the ages of the ages.
2. The smoke of their torment will rise for the ages of the ages. (We have proven that this must be a symbolic statement about the memory of their torment lasting throughout the millennium and New Jerusalem age, rather than an indication that their torment literally carries on throughout these two ages.)
3. Those who worship the antichrist will have no rest day and night during a period of time when they are worshiping the mark of the beast. (This is made clear by the way it is phrased with two side-by-side present tense verbs: “they are having no rest day and night, those worshipping the beast”.)
Now I will introduce what I believe is the solution that clearly explains the exact meaning of Revelation 14:9-11. We find the solution by asking a simple question: Is there any other passage in Scripture (and even better, a Scripture passage very close to Revelation 14:9-11 and in its context) that matches up perfectly with this passage so as to explain it further for us?
We already tried to match it up with the lake of fire verses in Revelation 20:14-15 but had to rule that out because death is unconscious, and our antichrist-worshippers must be conscious when they are tormented. Let’s keep looking for a Scriptural match…
In fact there is a passage that matches up perfectly with Revelation 14:9-11 and explains it perfectly. It is Revelation 16:1-11, which describes the “seven bowls of God’s wrath” being poured out on the antichrist’s worshipers on earth at the very end of this age.
In Revelation 16:1-11 the apostle John describes what he saw in the vision: the first bowl caused "a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” (vs. 2). Later he sees the fourth bowl poured out: “The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with great heat” (vs. 8-9). At the fifth trumpet, John sees in his vision of the future that the people in the antichrist’s kingdom “gnawed their tongues because of pain, and blasphemed God because of their pains and their sores” (vs. 10-11).
Obviously this matches up perfectly with Revelation 14:9-11’s description of the torment of those who worship the antichrist and take his mark. They can’t rest day or night because of their pains and sores. They are “tormented with fire and brimstone” in Revelation 14:9 and “scorched with fire” and “scorched with great heat” in Revelation 16:9-10.
The meaning of the Greek word “brimstone” or “sulfur” used in Revelation 14:10 is a bit unclear; “brimstone” and “sulfur” are our modern-day English-language best guesses. It could easily refer to the burning sensation of a sore or of the burning of the sun on skin. In any case, the presence of this word in Revelation 14:10 is not a reason to say it doesn’t match up with Revelation 16:2, 8-11. Everything else matches up perfectly:
In both passages the worshippers of the antichrist are tormented.
In both passages they are tormented with fire.
In one passage they are tormented with “brimstone/sulfur” (whatever that Greek word means), in the other passage they are tormented with pains/sores/great heat.
In one passage they have no rest day and night during the time of their torment, in the other passage they gnaw their tongues because of pain (obviously such pain would make it very hard to sleep).
In one passage the people have no rest while they continue to worship the antichrist, and in the other passage the people do not repent despite their pain and restlessness, but continue to blaspheme the God of heaven.
The passages match up perfectly. Revelation 16 explains Revelation 14:9-11 with absolute clarity. Both passages are talking about the wrath of God poured out on the worshipers of the antichrist on earth for a certain period of time at the very end of this age. Neither passage refers to “eternal punishment” or any such thing.
If we discard this interpretation and instead try to argue that the “smoke rises” for “the ages of the ages” because the torment of those who worship the antichrist literally continues throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age rather than just for the period of time encompassed by the seven bowls of wrath described in Revelation 16, we run into an insurmountable logical problem: Revelation 16 is the only other description in Scripture of the torment of those who worship the antichrist, and it clearly ends with the destruction of Babylon and the return of Christ. The bowls of God’s wrath will only be poured out on earth for a relatively short period of time; I don’t think a single Bible scholar or serious Bible student would argue that the bowls of God’s wrath will last throughout the entire millennium and New Jerusalem age.
So in order to argue that the torment of those who worship the antichrist will go on throughout “the ages of the ages”, you would have to argue that this torment will take place in a location and in a way that is not described anywhere in Scripture. In other words, you would have to make something up that is not found in the Bible at all. If I try to fight for this argument in my mind, I realize that I might as well start writing my own book of the Bible: “First John Lilley Chapter One”. We are not allowed to do that. Especially when there is another passage in Scripture that perfectly matches up with and perfectly explains the passage we are trying to figure out.
Our only logical option is to realize that Revelation 16:1-11, the bowls of God’s wrath poured out on antichrist-worshipers on earth at the end of this age, perfectly explains Revelation 14:9-11. Both passages describe the exact same event in virtually identical language. Not to mention that both passages are right next to each other in the Word of God. The rest of Revelation 14 and chapter 15 are one of the classic “detailed descriptions of things happening in heaven outside the perception of people on earth while sometimes jumping out of chronology too” interludes found in the book of Revelation, so for all practical purposes, from the perspective of a narrative of what happens on earth, Revelation 14:9-11 is followed virtually immediately by Revelation 16:1-11.
It all makes perfect sense when we realize Revelation 16:1-11 and Revelation 14:9-11 are parallel passages (that in fact, when it comes to the narrative of events on earth, are right next to each other in Scripture).
This leaves us with only one possible interpretation for the phrase, “And the smoke of their torment goes up for the ages of the ages.” It has to be a symbolic phrase indicating that throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age humanity will remember the seven bowls of God’s wrath being poured out on stubborn satan/antichrist-worshipers.
The smoke can’t literally rise continually throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age due to continual torment, because the Bible gives us no indication that the torment of the antichrist worshippers will continue throughout those two ages, and we’re not allowed to just “make it up and put it in at our whim”. Not to mention that the kingdom of the antichrist will end when the seven bowls of wrath are done being poured out, and many of his worshipers will die in the final destruction of Babylon (Rev. 16:18-19).
You see, these dead people will then be resurrected temporarily into mortal bodies to be judged at the white throne, will die again after their judgment, and will remain dead until the end of the New Jerusalem age and the consummation of God’s plan (Rev. 20:12-15, 1 Cor. 15:22-28). It wouldn’t be fair for some of these “lucky” antichrist-worshipers to escape continual torment throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age just because they were fortunate enough to die in the great earthquake that destroys Babylon (Rev. 16:18-19)! And how would the rest of the antichrist worshipers ever stand before the white throne to be judged if they are continually being tormented and have never died?
And as I mentioned earlier: How could these antichrist worshipers be tormented for well over a thousand years when they are in mortal bodies (remember, their torment starts at the end of this current age) that only live for 100 or so years maximum?
And what about the fact that Rev. 14:9-11 tells these people are tormented while they are worshiping the antichrist? How could they possibly continue to worship the antichrist and be tormented because of it throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age when the antichrist will be removed from power at the beginning of the millennium and replaced by Christ? The second phrase of Rev. 14:11 tells us beyond any shadow of doubt that this passage is not talking about antichrist-worship and resulting torment that literally occur throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age.
You see that there are all sorts of unsolvable logical problems when we try to argue that the smoke of the antichrist-worshipers’ torment literally rises throughout the millennium and the New Jerusalem age due to continual torment. The only choice we are left with is that the phrase “and the smoke of their torment goes up for the ages of the ages” refers symbolically to the fact that the bowls of wrath poured out on antichrist-worshipers at the end of this current age will be remembered by those who live in the next two ages (the millennium and the New Jerusalem age). What happens to the antichrist-worshippers at the very end of this age (the 7 bowls of God's wrath poured out on them on earth) will be a powerful reminder to those living in the millennium that God is not to be trifled with and blasphemed, and it will be a powerful reminder throughout both the millennium and the New Jerusalem age that God is just and He exacted a just punishment upon the antichrist-worshippers (for a short time at the very end of this current age).
This interpretation, of course, makes perfect sense. It is a logical conclusion, and indeed the only logical conclusion. You see that I have only resorted to a symbolic interpretation of this "the smoke rises for the ages of the ages" phrase because I am left with no other logical choice. I did not freely jump to a symbolic interpretation just because I wanted to. I did it because the literal interpretation of it is impossible Scripturally, while the symbolic interpretation matches perfectly with the rest of Scripture.
I also want to point out that the pain, sores, excessive heat from the sun, and other severe annoyances that God causes to the antichrist worshippers (most of humanity left alive on earth after the other end time disasters and wars and after the rapture) with the 7 bowls of wrath for a period of time at the end of this age, are actually very just and fair punishments for their total rejection of God, willingness to curse God and worship satan, and total disregard for what is true and right.
If you study Scripture carefully, you will see that the bowls of wrath will only last for a few days at the very end of this current age. You can see my book End Times Explained for more information on this. Basically, we know this because certain end time events and Jesus’ return to rule the earth, etc. must occur exactly on certain Old Testament feast days on the Hebrew calendar, just as Jesus’ first coming fulfilled certain prophetic feasts on the exact days of the Hebrew calendar these prophetic feasts were held. For example, Jesus died on the cross just as the Israelites were killing and preparing their Passover feast lambs for the feast of Passover, the Holy Spirit came on the very day of Pentecost to fulfill the feast of Pentecost, etc. When you match up the yet-unfulfilled prophetic Old Testament law feasts with end time events, it is clear that the wrath of God, the seven bowls, will only last for a few days. Again, see my end times book for more info on this.
My point is that the pains and annoyances God causes the satan-worshiping inhabitants of earth for a few days as described in Revelation 16, will be a just and fair punishment for those who continue to worship satan and blaspheme God even after seeing God’s servants caught up into the air at the rapture (Matt. 24:29-31). These few days of strong pain and severe annoyance, lack of sleep, etc. for such stubborn-hearted evil people are just punishment, and this will be a great lesson for humanity to look back on at the white throne judgment and throughout the millennium and New Jerusalem age. It will be a powerful reminder of the consequences of stubborn rebellion against God after total proof of His power and existence has been displayed to you.
The memory of the wrath of God poured out on antichrist worshipers for a few days will even be good for immortal-bodied raptured Christians to have in the back of their minds throughout the millennium and New Jerusalem age – remember, many angels rebelled against God even though they could see Him directly and were not in fleshly, mortal bodies.
In short, the wrath of God poured out on stubborn antichrist-worshipers for a few days at the end of this age as described in Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 16 will not only be a fair and just punishment for those who take the mark of the beast and don’t repent even after witnessing the rapture, but it will also be a powerful lesson about the consequences of rebellion for all of God’s creations (both human and angelic) to remember in the next two ages.
In contrast, the idea that anyone, even the most evil person on earth, deserves to be tortured for trillions upon trillions of years is ridiculous. How can you rack up enough “evil points” in 100 or so years to earn yourself a “trillions of years of torture” sentence by a just and fair God? Even if you spent your entire life torturing others, the most severe fair sentence you could be given would be to be tortured for 100 years or so yourself! In our attempts to distribute justice ourselves here on earth we argue about whether torture is ever morally acceptable, even if the person is supposedly a terrorist who has killed people and supposedly has information that might help us stop other killings.
The very fact that we argue about whether torture is ever morally acceptable, even for the most evil people on earth, tells us that our built-in sense of justice and morality is completely at odds with the idea of a God who for some unknown reason and due to some incomprehensible “justice” system would torture billions of people for trillions upon trillions of years with no end. (Especially when most of those billions of people never even heard the gospel necessary to save them from that fate, and most of them are not even remotely as evil as say, a Hitler.)
And what would eternal punishment accomplish? It is impossible to see the point of such an outrageous, out-of-proportion-with-the-crime punishment. On the other hand, it is easy to see what the fair punishment described in Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 16 would accomplish; it’s justice, it’s not out of proportion with the crime, and it will be a great lesson for humanity and indeed all of God’s creations including angels, to look back on afterwards.
Keep in mind that those who worship the antichrist even after seeing Jesus Christ appear in the sky and gather His people to Him at the rapture (Matt. 24:29-31), will be the only humans in history to reject God after seeing such absolute, spectacular, undeniable proof of His existence with their own two eyes. Thus it is just and fair for God to punish them with physical pain and sores, etc., for a few days.
My point is that an “eternal punishment” interpretation of Revelation 14:9-11 is not only incorrect from a Scriptural and logical point of view, it is also ridiculous from a philosophical point of view. On the other hand, the idea that Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 16 both describe the same event – the physical torment of stubborn satan-worshipers through pains, sores, excessive heat and scattered fires from the sun, etc. for a few days – makes perfect sense Scripturally, logically, and philosophically.
Conclusion (To PART 2 of This Article Series)
I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining my point of view on Revelation 14:9-11 and debunking the idea that it refers to eternal punishment. The main thing you need to remember about this passage and other similar passages is that any time you see the words “eternal/everlasting/forever/forever-and-ever” (and even sometimes the word “never”), it is always, always, always a blatant mistranslation of either the Hebrew word “olam” or the Greek word “eon”.
Translating the words “olam” and “eon” accurately and consistently according to the common sense rules of language rather than according to pagan/Catholic-inherited tradition will go a long way to helping you figure out what God says in the Bible about His plan for humanity. In most instances in Scripture, translating these words accurately will instantly cause you to realize that any fire or punishment for humans that is talked about is referring to physical fire that will kill/destroy human bodies/corpses (like the Gehenna fire at the beginning of the millennium Jesus talked about when He quoted the prophecy in Is. 66:23-24, or the lake of fire which will also destroy the bodies/corpses of temporarily-resurrected, recently-judged-at-the-white throne mortal-bodied humans). In the case of Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 16, of course, the punishment/torment that is talked about is referring not to physical death and destruction of human corpses in a physical fire, but to physical torment such as sores and scorching heat/fire from the sun that will last for a few days.
I have explained my point of view on Revelation 14:9-11 the best I know how. You will have to decide whether you agree with my interpretation of this passage (and other similar passages), or Francis Chan’s interpretation. I encourage you to “test everything” both of us say in obedience to 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Now let’s move on to
- the final installment of this series of articles, where I will debunk Chan’s attempts to explain away some of the plain statements in Scripture that declare God’s plan for universal reconciliation.
Click here to go to PART 3.
You can also watch the video below to get an overview of God's ultimate plan for humanity revealed in the accurately translated Bible:
Francis Chan Erasing Hell - Debunked, Part 2 of 3 Copyright 2011 John Lilley
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