by A.E. Knoch

THE doctrine that all unbelievers are to suffer eternal torment is, literally, the most damnable outrage, not only on the unbeliever, but upon God and His holy word. Never once is the term torment associated with the bulk of unbelievers. During the judgment period of the end time, the locusts torment mankind five months ( Rev.9: 5), and the two prophets torment them during their testimony ( Rev.11:10), great Babylon is tormented in her destruction (18:7,10,15), yet all of these are restricted in time as well as scope. The worshipers of the wild beast will also be tormented for an indefinite period, as we shall see, and the Slanderer and the wild beast and the false prophet will be tormented for the eons of the eons.

Compared with the great mass of unbelievers, these are few, indeed, and it is an intolerable outrage on God's revelation to include all who die without Christ in this category. In speaking of their deserts we should keep ourselves strictly to the inspired terms which are found in the second chapter of Romans.

To many it may seem impious to speak of the disciples of our Lord as having been tormented. Yet that is the very term used of their experience on the stormy lake ( Mark 6:48). They were not only toiling in rowing, they were tormented. The boat was not only tossed, it was tormented ( Matt.14:24). And just Lot tormented his righteous soul in Sodom.

In these passages, when the word is applied to an inanimate object and to righteous men, we are able to discern its true import. It is derived from the basanos or touch stone. It is a testing. It is an incessant and intolerable strain that tests the material strength or physical endurance, or moral fibre. Let us get our definitions from the divine usage in the Scriptures! And when we read of torment in another lake, not of water, but of fire, let us remember that the disciples could have been released from it in two ways. The storm, or squall, would eventually cease. He did not wait for this, but came to His own and delivered them from their torment. In either case it would be the hand of God.

With intolerable perversity the great and good of Christendom persist in applying torment to the bulk of unbelievers to whom the Scriptures never apply it. They would shrink in horror from applying it to the just. Yet it is spoken of "just Lot." Nothing could be further from their thoughts than that His disciples should be tormented. Yet these are the very ones to whom the term is applied!

In considering the subject of eternal torment, then all will agree with us in eliminating Lot and the disciples. Their torment certainly is at an end. The torment of the rich man in the unseen ( Luke 16) is also limited, for the parable represents the sufferings of apostate Israel, which come to an end when all Israel will be saved. Even those who insist on taking this parable literally cannot but acknowledge that it is in the unseen, which lasts only until it is cast into the lake of fire.

The torment of the woman of the twelfth chapter of the Unveiling represents Israel likewise, and ends when the male son is brought forth. The locusts confine their torment to a period of five months ( Rev.9:5). Babylon's torment is fulfilled in its destruction (18:7,10,15).

This leaves "eternal" torment to the worshipers of the wild beast ( Rev.14:10,11) or to the wild beast, the false prophet and the Slanderer. We shall now inquire as to the length of their torment, for, even in the accepted English versions, these alone seem to be the only ones to whom "eternal" torment can be applied.

When, however, we consider accurately the doom of the worshipers of the wild beast, and the time of their torment, we find that its length is not revealed. At first glance, two statements seem to indicate that it lasts more than the thousand years, as in the case of their leader and the false prophet. But this statement is avoided, rather than expressed. The smoke of their torment ascends for the eons of the eons. Why not say their torment lasts for the eons of the eons? Why introduce the smoke?

This expression, and, indeed, the whole situation, reminds us of the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah, which, Jude tells us "are lying before us as a specimen, experiencing the justice of eonian fire." God has preserved for us a sample of His judgments in the deep Depression of the Dead Sea. The circle of cities which once flourished there is gone and the desolation is a witness to God's fearful judgment. So it will be in the coming eon. Sodom and Gomorrah will no longer be visible, but there will be a smoke, as from a volcano, arising from the scene which beheld the torment of the worshipers of the wild beast.

This smoke will ascend for the eons of the eons, a continual reminder and memorial of the doom of those who defied God and worshiped His most malignant enemy. The judgments in this book are presented, not simply as they affect those who endure them, but as they become factors in the great purpose of recovering the kingdom and finally reconciling the universe to God. The smoke, as an indication of past fiery judgment, affects, not the worshipers of the wild beast, but those living for the eon of the eons in the kingdom of the Son of God.

But this conclusion seems to be denied by the following statement that they are having no rest day and night. When does this apply? If it concerns the future period during which the smoke of their torment ascends, it must be a conscious experience for a like period, just as in the case of the wild beast. But we are struck with the fact that, when the Slanderer joins the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire, nothing is said of their worshipers being there. Indeed, the inference cannot be denied that they are not there, for it certainly would have been stated in the formal declaration as to their two leaders who were there.

When is it that the worshipers of the beast have no rest day or night? If we contrast this statement with that concerning the three who will be tormented for the eons of the eons, the period will be apparent. It is not in the future, but in the present. It refers to the time before they enter the lake, while they are still worshiping the wild beast. The Greek is, literally, "they are having." We hope the time will come when there will be such an intense desire for God's word in all its purity and accuracy, that the saints will not only bear with such a phrase, but protest against the substitution of "have," the indefinite form, to accommodate those whose ears are more sensitive than their hearts, and love smooth language better than rugged truth.

Those who refuse to worship the wild beast will be harassed beyond endurance, and will be tempted to seek rest from persecution at any cost. To these the divine proclamation comes: Those who worship the beast are having no rest night or day. There is no relief to be found in apostasy from Jehovah. Probably the torment of the locusts, which is for all who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads, is one cause of their unrest. It will be so intense men will be yearning to die, but death is fleeing from them.

Besides this, the two prophets torment men during the thousand two hundred sixty days of their testimony. No worshiper of Jehovah will be harmed by them. Thus it is that the worshipers of the beast are tormented and given no rest night or day before they are killed by the mouth of the Rider on the white horse, Who hurls their leaders alive into the lake of fire ( Rev.19:21). Their torment in fire and sulphur, is probably endured in the lake of fire, after their resurrection and judgment at the great white throne. Unlike the conqueror of Smyrna, they will be injured by the second death.

The fact that they and their leaders are specifically designated as those who are tormented in fire and sulphur, restrains us from inferring that the judgment of the mass of mankind, at the great white throne, consists in such torment. They are, indeed, cast into the lake of fire, but it is immediately added that this is the second death. For them it is not a place of torment, but a tomb.

As the duration of the torment of the worshipers of the wild beast is left undefined in the Scriptures, we shall do well to avoid making it "eternal" or even eonian. It will probably vary with the just deserts and requirements of each case.

"Eternal torment" is thus narrowed down to three individuals, the Slanderer, the wild beast and the false prophet. We have protested against the execution of judgment before the sinner's case has been heard at the great white throne. In God's just proceedings no sinner will suffer before his sentence has been passed. What then of the wild beast and the false prophet? They are cast alive into the lake of fire. They do not come before the great white throne. Why does God deal differently with them? The exception tests (not proves) the rule. Wherein does their case differ from all others?

All will admit that these two are the most heinous and high handed of God's enemies. With them it is not a question of worshiping a false god, but of usurping the place of God Himself. A usurper is not subject to trial, but execution. His guilt cannot be questioned. His doom cannot be delayed. The kingdom cannot be established until they have their deserts.

But why not kill them like the rest? Why cast them living into the lake of fire at least a thousand years before their dupes? The answer lies in the great delusion of the end time. It has always been God's prerogative to produce life from inanimate substance. All life lives upon life and is produced from previous life, with a single exception. In Hebrew the term "sand-life" is applied to tiny animalculae which we may, for convenience, term microbes. These can live on and assimilate non-living substance. These are the "lice" which Jannes and Jambres could not imitate. This, they declared, indicated the finger of God ( Ex.8:16-19).

Throughout Scripture the greatest of all tests for the true God is the power to replace death with life. The resurrection of the dead was the crowning proof of the divinity of the ministry of Christ and His own resurrection the supreme expression of God's power. At the time of the end God will send them an operation of deception, that they should believe the falsehood ( 2 Thes.2:11). This will consist partly, at least, in the power to produce life. The power of the wild beast will be based on the fact that he is a resurrection man. His death stroke was cured ( Rev.13:3). He has passed through the first death.

The second wild beast, the false prophet, gives a spirit to the image of the wild beast, so that it has an artificial life ( Rev.13:11-15). The principal characteristic of the beasts is the fact that they possess a substitute for the tree of life. They have a life unknown to ordinary mortals. Hence their judgment is in accord with this condition. Living, they are cast into the lake of fire, and, such is the nature of the life they have, that it remains with them even in that deadly place. It is not the natural life restored to the unbeliever in resurrection. It is an unnatural, satanic counterfeit, which is akin to the condition of those who cannot die under the torment of the locusts.

Both of the beasts are found in the lake of fire more than a thousand years later ( Rev.20:10). Well meaning efforts have been made to show that this is not so, but depends on a defect in translation. Some contend that it should be rendered "where the beast and false prophets were." The verb is absent in the Greek and must be supplied by the English translator. Now it seems to be a law that the Greek verb is omitted only in the present tense. When the past or future is intended the verb is always expressed. The translator is always at liberty to insert is, or are, but he becomes a commentator just as soon as he supplies a different tense. Few, indeed, have dared to do so in this case, and then only to support their view.

After the thousand years the Slanderer is cast into the lake of fire with them. These three alone will be tormented for the eons of the eons. Even those who rebel at the thought of the common sinner enduring such deserts will confess that, for these three such a doom is merited. These three alone do not need the formality of a judgment session. No one can have any doubt as to the justice of their case. The lake was prepared for the Slanderer and his messengers. It is the most severe and awful infliction meted out to the most flagrant offenders against Christ and God.

The question now remains, Is their torment "eternal?" If it is, certain passages of Scripture are not true. The period, "for the eons of the eons," is coextensive with the reign of the saints ( Rev.2:5). But when the Son hands over the kingdom to the Father ( 1 Cor.15:24) there will be no further reign. The torment cannot linger beyond the consummation, after the eonian times. Besides, all mankind are dying in Adam, and all will be made alive in Christ. The lake of fire is the second death. Both the beast and the false prophet are men, and cannot escape the divine decree, however long they may be able to ward it off. When death is abolished, the lake of fire must also be abolished, for it is the only death at the time of its abolition. Hence the "eternal" torment of these three, the greatest of God's enemies, reaches its limit in the lake of fire some time preceding the consummation at the close of the times of the eons. It is not eternal.

The conclusion to which we have come makes a powerful appeal to our sense of justice and the glory of God. He does not hurl all mankind to a doom fit for the most heinous offenders. He adjusts His judgments to suit each case. The great mass of mankind appear before the great white throne under circumstances adapted to impress them with God's power and justice and wisdom and love. Their judgment is not only measured to meet each case but accords with it in the sense that it corrects it.

Actual torment in the lake of fire is confined to a small class concerned in the false worship of the end time. This is because this transgression is specially prohibited by a divine proclamation. It is the sin to death. It deserves a severe sentence. The nearest approach to "eternal" torment is endured only by the trio who are guilty of the supreme sin. Yet even their doom, viewed in the light of a philosophical "eternity" is infinitely less than "eternal" torment, for it, also, eventuates in reconciliation when God becomes All in all.

The way is now open to discuss the salvation of the unbeliever. This will be the subject of our next article. God is the Saviour of all mankind especially of those who believe. The process of the believer's salvation is more difficult to understand than that of the unbeliever. The simple, plain statements of the Scriptures clearly indicate the process by which God will save the mass of mankind.

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