Fire & Brimstone―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 8

I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Next he examines:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forevereis aión and everaión [literally “into ages of ages”], and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 14:9-11, ESV


John seems to be drawing directly from the judgment language in Jeremiah 25:15-16 and Isaiah 34:8-10 (see The Evangelical Universalist p124-125). In particular, although Isaiah 34:10 said the smoke of Babylon’s destruction would rise “forever, historically it actually didn’t, making it likely that the language is hyperbolic and symbolic. Therefore, this would suggest that “forever” is also hyperbolic and symbolic here in Revelation―that the smoke won’t literally rise forever. However, Burk doesn’t mention this background, but instead interprets the phrase “forever and ever, and they have no rest day and night” as implying:

John says that the pain and distress do not end but go on everlastingly.

Denny Burk, page 40

In 1Timothy 1:17 the ESV footnotes indicate the Greek behind the phrase “forever and ever” is literally “to the ages of ages”, which means all 3 occurrences of aión in the verse are translated the same:

To the King of the agesaión, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory to the agesaión of agesaión. Amen.

1Timothy 1:17, literal translation in ESV footnotes 

Exactly what into the “ages of ages” means, depends partly on how many ages we think there are… I’ve heard some people argue there are only two, while others argue there are many. I lean towards the latter, although universalism doesn’t hinge on it. In the next section Burk describes the second death as lasting “everlasting ages“, which seems to imply he also thinks there will be more than one future age.

Continuing on, Burk says that in contrast to the “saints who persevere”:

John describes the damned as “tormented with fire and brimstone” (v. 10). Again, the imagery of fire shows up here as an expression of God’s holy and painful judgment on sin.

Denny Burk, page 40

I think God’s spiritual surgery/pruning/purging/purifying of everyone will be both holy and painful, albeit the best thing for everyone. It’s possible the image of theion, translated “brimstone” or “sulfur”, supports this angle too.

… equivalent to divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, theion

Sherman Nobles unpacks this:

Sulfur was burnt as incense by the Greeks and Romans during their “worship” of the gods as a means of spiritual purification. It’s healing benefits are widely known. Hot Sulfur Springs were well known for their healing benefits. They even burnt sulfur as an incense for medicinal purposes.

Sherman Nobles, The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Burk goes on to say:

The verb for “torment” (basanizó) in verse 10 means to subject someone to severe distress.

Denny Burk, page 40

But it’s interesting that the first definition given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1. properly, to test (metals) by the touchstone.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, basanizó

As Nobles explains:

Note that the word “torment”, basanizo, is related to the testing of metal, rubbing metal against a touch-stone to see how much it needs to be purified.

Sherman Nobles, The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Burk continues:

The noun for “torment” (basanismos) in verse 11 likewise refers to “the severe pain experienced through torture.”

Denny Burk, page 40

Again it’s tricky because severe testing, correction, purifying, pruning, etc. can seem like torture to the person receiving it, especially if they aren’t in a relationship with the Surgeon, Gardener, Metallurgist allowing and/or applying it―which seems to be the case with the “worshipers of the beast”. We see this again in the first definition given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1. a testing by the touchstone or by torture.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, basanismos

Stepping back from the definitions of the words, it’s worth looking at the context of the passage. Robin Parry does this thoroughly in his chapter on Revelation in The Evangelical Universalist but one of his points is as follows:

The two visions in 14:6-20 both refer to the climax of God’s judgments and 15:2-4 to the eschatological salvation consequent upon those judgments. So our first hell text is set within one of the “final-judgment-followed-by-salvation” sections that Beale notes:

Judgment Salvation
6:12-17 7:9-17
11:18a 11:18b
14:6-20 15:2-4
16:17-18:24 19:1-10
20:7-15 21:1-22:5

This observation will later be seen to be of considerable hermeneutical significance.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 108-109

So although Revelation 14:9-11 has judgment, it is linked to salvation in 15:2-4. Parry describes this as a “Universalist postscript”.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Revelation 15:2-4, ESV

Parry explains the significance:

To see the universalist implications of this we need to clarify the referent of “all nations” in v. 4. In the book of Revelation, the nations are created by God and ought to worship him (4:11); instead, they rebel against him. The Beast is given authority over them (13:7b). They partake in the sins of the world-city Babylon and thus also in her judgment (14:8; 17:15; 18:3, 23; 16:19). John is called to prophesy against the nations (10:11), and, just prior to Babylon’s final destruction, a final gospel call to repentance goes out to the nations (14:6)—a call they do not heed. Under the deceptive influence of Satan and the Beast, the nations persecute God’s people (11:12). When Satan is bound in the millennium, he can no longer deceive the nations (20:3). But afterwards, he raises them for the final battle against the saints (20:8). Consequently, they are the objects of God’s eschatological wrath (11:8; 12:5; 19:15).

The saints are never identified with the nations. For John, the nations are the apostate ethno-political groupings that make up God’s rebellious world. The saints are distinguished from them as those who have been redeemed from among the nations to form a new kingdom and who are the objects of the nations’ rage. There can be no doubt that the nations referred to in 15:4 are the same apostate nations the smoke of whose torment rises forever and ever. So what does the victory song of the saints tell us about them? That although they are now subject to God’s wrath, they will come and worship before God. Notice that John does not say that people from all nations (a description which would fit the church, 5:9; 7:9) will come and worship, but that all nations will come and worship.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 111-112

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