There are two main alternatives:
- Literal interpretation: Lake of fire and the second death are both literally true.
- Figurative (symbolic) interpretation: There is no real fiery lake or second death. The second death is God’s judgment, which corrects the human being’s sins and shortcomings.
Alternative 1. has been the most commonly accepted scriptural interpretation right after the time of the Apostles. The church has maintained this interpretation and thereby dominated the lives of people.
2 Pet 1:20 First of all, you must understand this: No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. – In fact, I have translated this rather difficult verse as follows: The interpretation of a Bible prophecy is not in itself.
1 Cor 2:13 We don’t speak about these things in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, as we explain spiritual things to spiritual people [or in spiritual words].
The Revelation, which is called the Revelation of John, is actually the revelation given by Jesus Christ. Jesus said that His words are spirit and life. The words of Jesus in Revelation are spiritual, and the fiery lake spoken in Revelation is also a spiritual expression. Things we speak taught by the Spirit, we combine spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. Understanding is hampered by the fact that ordinary people are not able to think spiritually, people do not understand this, they want everything to be concrete for them: According to the next verse of 1 Cor: “A person who is natural (common) doesn’t accept the things of God’s Spirit, for they are nonsense to him. He cannot understand them because they are spiritually evaluated”. – ‘Natural people’ mean quite ordinary people, you might say, men and women in the street.
Fire and brimstone: Gen 19:24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. – Sodom and Gomorrah felt the wrath of God in a very concrete way. Fire and Brimstone were raining over cities, and really destroyed them and their inhabitants. The expression fire and brimstone can also be figurative, such as Rev 14:10 he will drink the wine of God’s wrath, which has been poured unmixed into the cup of his anger. He will be tortured with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the lamb.
The verse in the Revelation is a figurative expression in which fire and brimstone describes how they will be tormented in the fiery lake. So human beings are suffering, but they are not destroyed in the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
It has been said that all that is written in the Bible is true, but for the most cases, it is not literally true. Symbols, parables and figures of speech are not literally true. But what they describe instead is true. When Jesus said when breaking bread … “Take, eat this is my body.” (Mat 26:26) Surely the bread was not His body, and it does not change to the body of Christ in the communion, even though the Catholics so believe: He who receives Christ, receives a “bread of life” (Jhn 6:35). Forever burning fiery lake does not exist; the fiery lake is a symbolic expression of the punishment God applies to sinners who do not repent.
In this article, I ponder about the most important question; whether the fiery lake is literally true when it is said to be the fate of unrepentant sinners or is it a figurative expression of God’s punishment. Quite ordinary words can actually be symbols and describe something else in the Bible. Examples of these are the ‘candlestick’ (meaning parishes), seven golden candlesticks), star, locust, beast, dragon, horn, gold, seal, crown, rod of iron, sickle, waters, sea, manna, harlot, pillar, fire and brimstone, etc.
Jesus spoke to the people as well as to the disciples in parables. Neither of the listeners understood the parables of Jesus. Jesus did, however, explain the parables to his disciples. Even Daniel wrote concerning the end time: “Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand” (Dan 12:10). Those that are purified and refined are those who are cleansed in the purifying fire of God, clarified and tested.
Luk 8:10 So he [Jesus] said, you [disciples] have been given knowledge about the secrets of the kingdom of God, but to others they are given in parables, so that ‘they might look but not see, and they might listen but not understand.
Especially in the Revelation, there are many, many and even more symbols. John received his visions of the future in spirit. (G4152, spiritual, pneumatikos, the word is always associated with the idea of invisibility and power). Thus, the fiery lake, which is the second death, contains an invisible power whose effect is spiritual. Figures of speech must be interpreted correctly, not literally but figuratively and spiritually. It has been difficult and still many verses are interpreted literally because “they are so clearly said”.
For example: Jesus told his disciples that the bread He gave them was His body. The bread given by Jesus was literally real bread, and it was not his body, but only symbolizes his body. For such phrases, it is easy to distinguish whether the sentence is literally true or whether it is a figurative expression. Still, more than a billion people believe that the wine that is given in the Eucharist really changes into Christ’s blood and communion bread in His flesh.