Q. What does Revelation 20:10 mean when it says that Satan will be tormented forever in the lake of fire? Is there an ever-burning hell?
A. The modern idea of endless, torturing hell fire was popularized by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in his 13th century work, The Divine Comedy, as well as by John Milton in Paradise Lost. Scripture, however, does not support this concept of endless punishing.
The Hebrew word translated hell in the Old Testament is sheol, which means the “unseen” or “the grave.” In addition to hell, translators also rendered sheol “grave” and “pit.” The idea of a place of eternal, fiery torture for wicked humans, known as hell, does not exist in the Bible.
When they brought the text into English, translators were preconditioned to use hell as a place of torture. When the idea of torment would have been too absurd, they used grave or pit in translating sheol (e.g. Job 14:13: “O that you would hide me in the grave [sheol]…”). Then again, sheol was translated hell when the text seemed to fit their preconceived notion of torture (e.g. Ps. 86:13: “You have delivered my soul from the lowest hell [sheol]”).
The New Testament parallel to the Hebrew sheol is the Greek word hades. For example, Acts 2:27 employs the Greek hades as it quotes Psalm 16:10, which uses the Hebrew sheol: “You will not leave my soul in hell [hades].” Hades is found 11 times in the Greek manuscripts, 10 times translated hell and once “grave” (in 1Cor. 15:55, KJV). It should have been translated “grave” all 11 times.
Hades does not refer to a single grave (Gr. Taphos) nor to a single tomb (Gr. Mnema), but to the common grave in general. It is a place, not a condition.
A second Greek word translated hell in the New Testament is gehenna, occurring 12 times. Gehenna refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, originally used as a place for idolatrous worship of the fire deity Moloch. Infants were sacrificed to him in the flames. King Josiah desecrated the site by making it a refuse dump. Fires were kept constantly burning at this valley to insure combustion of the garbage put there (Jer. 7:31-32; 19:4-5). Maggots (worms) consumed what was left.
Yahshua compared the end-time destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire with this burning dump (“gehenna” is used in Matt. 23:33, Mark 9:48 – “Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched”). The maggot does not die but changes into a fly. The fires were not put out but were left to burn until everything was consumed. (Fire that “shall not be quenched” was a term used of the destruction of Jerusalem in Jer. 17:27, which later came to pass by the hand of the Babylonians, 52:13. Yet Jerusalem was not still burning today. This “unquenchable” fire was also used against Sodom and Gomorrah, Jude 7, with the same result today – no continuous fire still burning today.)
Death in gehenna means total destruction following the judgement. A righteous Heavenly Father would not relegate a human to endless agony in a torturous hell fire.
The third New Testament Greek word translated hell is tartaroo. It appears only once, 2Peter 2:4. The word means a dark abyss or prison reserved for the fallen angels awaiting judgment.
What about the lake of fire of Revelation 20:10? Does it burn forever, torturing Satan and the fallen angels? Some argue that it does, contending that because Satan is spirit, he cannot be destroyed and therefore suffers for eternity in a place of extreme punishment.
This cannot be, however, in light of various Scriptures showing that Satan will suffer annihilation. In Romans 16:20, “bruise” means to crush in pieces completely – Greek suntribo. In Hebrews 2:14, Yahshua destroys Satan. Another verse indicating Satan’s complete destruction is Ezekiel 28, which in verse 18 says,
“You have defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of you, it shall devour you, and I will bring you to ashes upon the earth IN THE SIGHT OF ALL THEM THAT BEHOLD YOU.”
This verse is key to Revelation 20:10, where the word “tormented” is the Greek basanizo, which originally meant a means of testing and examination. It was used of a touch-stone for metals, and later to scourge in a general sense. It is this latter usage from which the translators derived the English “torment.” However, the implication of the passage signifies that Satan’s shame and dishonor will give him a mark of infamy forever, and his destruction is rewarded for his failure to test out at the proving stone. It will be a witness against him forever by all who behold him.
The same kind of terminology is found in Isaiah 34:10, which describes Edom’s destruction,
“It shall not be quenched night or day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”
The fire is unquenchable because it burns until it has completely consumed what is there to burn and it doesn’t go out nor is it put out until it has finished its work, verse 11. Regarding the smoke that will go up forever, this is a metaphor meaning the lesson of His judgment will never go out of date, reminding onlookers that Yahweh has the last word. Edom will not literally smoke forever, as the earth will one day be remade and renewed, and the first earth will pass away, Revelation 21:1.
In various places in Revelation, John explains the first word he uses by a second one in the same verse. For instance, what are the bowls of incense in Revelation 5:8? Prayers of the saints (same verse). What is the fine linen of 19:8? Righteous acts of the saints (same verse). And what is the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14? It is the second death: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
Notice that the beast and false prophet were also cast into the lake of fire. Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire as well. All of these are annihilated. After being thrown into the lake of fire (second death), even death will cease to exist, Revelation 21:4. Paul tells us that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, 1Corinthians 15:26. Satan is obviously an enemy, and being Yahweh’s chief enemy he is destroyed as well.
Twice John tells us that the wicked end up in the lake of fire. Both times he identifies the lake of fire as the “second death” (Rev. 20:14, 21:8). Everything thrown into it is annihilated, symbolic of the second death.
Can Yahweh kill a spirit being? Certainly. Just as He has the ability to create Lucifer, He can destroy him as well. This He will ultimately do in the lake of fire.