Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
The nature of God’s judgment upon mankind has been a subject of great interest and even concern to people throughout history. They want to know: what will happen to me, my family, friends, and acquaintances; and even what might happen to my enemies and the enemies of God when He judges the world with fire? The article this month by Dr. Ernest L. Martin discusses one important aspect of God’s judgment at the time of the end. The article is a clarification and significant expansion of Dr. Martin’s original 1981 article “The Lake of Fire — Where Is it Located?” 1
Most all scholars and theologians consider the idea of the Lake of Fire to be figurative, used by the apostle John in the Book of Revelation as a metaphor to tell about the terrible intensity of God’s judgment. A few might acknowledge that the Lake of Fire was a historical reality, but fewer still would ever think that the Lake of Fire will exist again in the future. After all, John only intended his references to be symbolic.
If John’s mention of the Lake of Fire was not simply figurative, then what was the reality of that Lake? If the Lake of Fire had a reality in the past, what about the prophecies of a future Lake of Fire? Dr. Martin, differing from other scholars, considers the prophetic to be just as true as the historic and symbolic. All are rooted in biblical reality.
As you will read in this article, there are numerous and detailed historical accounts that show that the Lake of Fire did exist in the past, and John’s audience knew perfectly well the location and phenomena associated with that Lake referred to in John’s prophecies. Dr. Martin shows that the Lake of Fire is literal and it will catch fire again just before Christ returns to this earth.
Understand that fire is often associated with God’s presence. Recall the burning bush that appeared to be on fire and was not consumed (Exodus 3:2-4). Fire came “out from before YHWH” (Leviticus 9:24). God Himself is described as “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). In vision, Daniel saw fire emanate from God’s throne:
“I beheld … and the Ancient of days did sit, … his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.”
• Daniel 7:9–10
Fire is used as a purifying agent (Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2–3). God’s Holy Spirit also purifies and is likened to literal fire of judgment (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16), and at Pentecost God’s Spirit had an appearance like tongues of fire when it came upon the apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4).
In the past God used fire to show His approval of sacrifices made by patriarchs and leaders of Israel (Genesis 8:20, 15:17–18; Leviticus 6:9, 13, 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:24, 38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1, 3). Fire was used as a demonstration of God’s power at Sinai (Exodus 19:18) and as a guide for Israel (Exodus 13:21). When necessary, God punished directly by fire (Genesis 19:24; Exodus 9:23; Numbers 11:1–3; 16:35; Leviticus 10:1–2).
Certain sacrifices were to be performed by fire (Leviticus chapter 1, 7:5). The smell of sacrifices burnt by fire (roasted meat) was pleasing to God (Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9, 2:3, 3:5, 9). At least one time an entire city was burned as a burnt offering to YHWH (Deuteronomy 13:16). Because fire purifies, God’s word is compared to fire: “Is not my word like as a fire? Says YHWH” (Jeremiah 23:29), and:
“Wherefore thus says YHWH God of hosts, ‘Because you [Jeremiah] speak this word, behold, I will make my words in your mouth [like] fire, and this people [like] wood, and it [the fire] shall devour them.’”
• Jeremiah 5:14
Some of God’s judgments against mankind will come by fire (Psalm 50:3, 97:2–3) and:
“For, behold, YHWH will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will YHWH plead with all flesh: and the slain of YHWH shall be many.”
• Isaiah 66:15–16
This passage is referenced by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7–8.
God will destroy the world by fire in the future:
“Now the day of the Lord will be arriving as a thief, in which the heavens shall be passing by with a booming noise, yet the elements shall be dissolved by combustion [pur in Greek], and the earth and the works in it shall be found.
At these all, then, dissolving, to what manner of men must you belong in holy behavior and devoutness, hoping for and hurrying the presence of God’s day, because of which the heavens, being on fire, will be dissolved, and the elements decompose by combustion! Yet we, according to His promises, are hoping for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness is dwelling.”
• 2 Peter 3:10–12 Concordant Version
Fire is referred to as an insignia and badge of severe trials or misfortunes. Indeed, our works of faith will be tried by fire as Christ tells us in Luke 12:49–53, and as Paul and Peter tell us:
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
• 1 Corinthians 3:13–15
“The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
• 1 Peter 1:7
The world will undergo fiery trial at the end of this present age. Many of you today are enduring personal trials, perhaps not fiery or a judgment from God, but personally devastating nonetheless. With this in mind, we are humbled and honored when we receive your contributions, and are committed to carry on the teaching that we do. Your free-will contributions and prayers help others learn what you have learned, (and continue to learn) as we produce still more valuable biblical teaching. Thank you — all of you — for your continued support.
David W. Sielaff
1 Dr. Martin later inserted this material from the 1981 article, largely unchanged, in “Appendix 5, Where Is the Lake of Fire” in his book 101 Bible Secrets that Christians Do Not Know.
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