A gracEmail subscriber asks for an explanation of Revelation 20:10, in which John sees the devil, the Beast and the False Prophet thrown into a lake of fire where they are “tormented day and night forever.” A few verses later, “anyone not found written in the Book of Life” is cast into the same lake of fire (20:15).
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The Book of Revelation is written in a kind of prophetic code drawn from certain Old Testament books and some nonbiblical Jewish writings between the Testaments. Writings that use this code-language are known as “apocalyptic” literature. (The Book of Revelation is known as the Apocalypse in Greek.) Such writings use common symbols to portray earthly and heavenly characters and events, in order to give a big-picture view of history and especially of its final end and the transition from time into eternity.
The “Beast” and the “False Prophet” are characters in John’s vision — that great video splashed across the sky and sea off the Island of Patmos — but both characters stand for larger historic forces, not actual individual human beings. In the code language of apocalyptic literature, nightmarish creatures often represent particular civil governments that persecute God’s people, such as imperial Rome in John’s day (for an Old Testament example, see Daniel 7). In Revelation, the “False Prophet” represents all ungodly religion (beginning with the cult of Emperor worship in John’s day) which lends its influence to civil government to oppose God and his people.
In John’s vision, the devil joins these two creatures and all three are tormented forever and ever in a lake of fire and sulfur. The symbol of fire and sulfur comes from the divine destruction of Sodom and throughout Scripture symbolizes complete and thorough destruction (Gen. 19:24-25). No matter how overpowering the odds now, John’s vision assures believers that a time will come when God will totally annihilate every persecuting government and every false religion accessory to it. Since the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” are finally annihilated, it is most probable that the Devil will also finally meet the same fate. That is most consistent with the ultimate triumph of God, and with the existence of new heavens and a new earth in which evil is gone forever. Revelation 20:10 is the only verse in the Bible which ever mentions everlasting torment, even as a symbol, and it does not involve human beings.