The concept of the last judgment implies, that people get their ‘wages’ and sinners will be punished, and it is just right, that the unrighteous sinners are thrown into the inferno and eternal suffering.
The verses of the 1. Corinthians refer to building of faith on the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The fire is testing the ‘building’, and if it does not last, man can be saved “as if it were through fire”. However, salvation through fire is possible only if the foundation is correct. A man who has built his life without this foundation, cannot experience God’s saving fire. Fire will be his destruction, although the fire is not in any real burning lake.
The fact that it is a figurative lake, also seems to me obvious as both Death and Hades, which are both figurative expressions, not of meat and bone, are destroyed in the lake. The purifying fire is not a literal, real fire. Also, building materials such as gold, silver and gemstones are not real building materials for the house. Nor wood, straw or hay. They just describe human faith. If one has built his faith (the “house”) of the first mentioned expensive materials, his faith is confident and durable. The person who built his faith on hay and straw will notice his building is burning to ashes. Only if faith (“house”) is built even to some extent on Christ, it is possible that man can be saved “as if through fire”.
Verse 1 Cor 3:15 If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire: The expression ‘as through fire’ refers to the fact, that the fire of these rescued is not a consuming fire, but a figurative, symbolic fire. “Suffer loss” does not really tell you what kind of damage that person would suffer. The Greek word is G 2210 ζημιόω zēmioō: to injure, i.e. (reflexively or passively) to experience detriment:—be cast away, receive damage, lose, suffer loss. – On the other hand, it should also be noted that the term ‘eternal punishment’ is not used here.
On what basis does Christ choose the judgment? I think this way: if a man has built his “house” on Christ and with valuable materials such as “gold, silver, or jewels”, the fire will test his deeds, find them good, and he will survive a little, punishment. He might even get a reward.
If Christ had a very small part in the ‘house building’, what will happen to him? The fire tests also his actions; if his deeds are reproachable, the fire tests him harder and his house may burn to ashes. However, the man himself survives and is saved. What if a man has never used Christ when “building his house”? He may even have lived doing bad deeds. His fate will be in the fiery lake and suffer the long and thorough cleansing in the brimstone. Joh 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture.
In my understanding, the survivors have spiritual bodies, like angels. 1 Cor 15: 44 “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body”. – How does physical fire affect spirits? Or is there a spiritual fire that would work on spiritual bodies? Heb 12:29 ”for our God is a consuming fire”. – The fire of God can be a purifying fire, that purifies the believer from sin and all uncleanness, all the works of the flesh. I also believe that the fire of God, which is a spiritual fire, can also destroy a man without faith. If a man has built his life on the foundation of the faith of Christ, according to the amount of faith God has given him, the fire of God will be a cleansing fire for him.
It is common among the people in the above groups that they have built their lives upon Christ. The fire will test them, but they will be saved. They are the ones whose names are found in the Book of Life. God has all the information about men, after all, the spirits of every human beings have returned to God in heaven. Ecc 12:7 And the dust returns to the earth as it was, And the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Those, whose names are not found in the Book of Life, are thrown into the lake of fire.
So, there are two kinds of consequences. Some are tested by the fire, but they will be saved. The fate of the second group is to be thrown into the lake of fire. If the purifying fire of God burns the deeds of sin, then what about the people, who receive the judgment? Is the fire burning them literal and concrete fire?
Christ presented to John the visions of future in the Book of Revelation as symbols and metaphors, it is clear. And what about the eternal torment in the fiery lake spoken at the end of the Revelation, in chapters 19-21, which refer to the fate of those, who are lost? Many people think, that the description is quite clear and literally true. So, should we now change the interpretation from metaphorical to literal?
Deu 4:24 For Jehovah your God is a consuming fire; he is a jealous God. Isaiah says: 30:27 Behold, the name of Jehovah comes from far; his anger burns; and is heavy as the uplifting of smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue like a devouring fire. – When Isaiah says that God’s word is like a consuming fire, it must be understood figuratively. God is a spirit, and his speech (word) is also spiritual.
Deu 9:3 And know today that Jehovah your God is he who passes over before you as a consuming fire; he will destroy them, and he will bring them down before you; so you shall drive them out and make them to perish quickly, as Jehovah has spoken to you. – Although God’s consuming fire is spiritual, its effect is to a great extent real. Fire can be directed at spirit beings, such as Satan or angels, or to the living people (as in verse 9:3) or to the resurrected in spiritual bodies.
Revelation tells about John’s vision. Rev 1:16 “He [Christ] had seven stars in his right hand. Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining at its brightest” – The power and strength of the Son of God is also symbolized; a double-edged sword coming from his mouth. Both the Father and the Son are spirits, and their power derives from their spirit. The power can be directed to humans, who are flesh and blood or to the resurrected in the spiritual bodies.
The purifying fire of God burns the fleshly acts and sins of men. The fiery lake where the sins are burning is not a real lake, but a figurative expression. The burning of sins in itself can well cause pain to a human when he sees what he has done in his life.
The Bible scholar Ray Smith (as well as Origenes), has suggested that all people will be exposed to the fiery purification of the Holy Spirit of God. For the really evil and sinful people, the cleansing is long and painful, but the end result is a new clean human worthy of God. This is primarily justified by the fact that it is God’s will; God wants to save everyone. And the will of God is always fulfilled. In addition, the scholar says, that people do not have their own free will and free choice. After all, it is about God’s will and choice. Hence, Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, and others, would take part in salvation.
Let’s see if there are Bible phrases to resolve the matter.
Mat 25:46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – There are clearly two different kinds of sanctions here: the sinners go to punishment, and on the other hand, the righteous will have eternal life. So, if sinners do not receive eternal life, the question remains; what is their eternal punishment?
Mat 24:51 and he will cut him in pieces and appoint his portion with the hypocrites; there is where the weeping and gnashing of the teeth will be. – In this parable, Jesus speaks of what happens to good servant and evil servant when their lord arrives.
24:45 “Who, then, is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has put in charge of his household to give the others their food at the right time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. 47 Most assuredly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has.
A good servant gives food to his lord’s other servants on time in accordance with his instructions. ‘Food’ means spiritual food. The salary of a good servant upon the coming of his lord, is the promotion to become his master’s servant of all his property. The evil servant works against his master’s instructions:
48 But if that evil servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord is delaying his coming,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow-servants, and eat and drink with the drunken, 50 the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn’t expect it, and in an hour when he doesn’t know it, 51 and will cut him in pieces, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites; there is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.
When Jesus says in his parable that the wicked servant is chopped to pieces, it might mean the death penalty i.e. the second death.
When the Bible states that the lake of fire is the second death, is this penalty the same as eternal destruction away from the presence of God? (2 The 1:9) So, total loss of consciousness. This would mean that some people would be destroyed and nothing left of them.
Or, could God’s Love for man be so comprehensive that even the worst wicked, who do not even regret their deeds, will be cleansed and have part among the righteous?
The Bible talks about blaspheming the Holy Spirit as a sin that cannot be forgiven. I would regard a conscious act of wickedness and complete impenitence to be comparable with the mocking of the Holy Spirit. If one cannot have sins forgiven, he cannot be saved. So, this is my conclusion, but I’m not entirely sure. I wish I was wrong, and by the influence of God’s love, everyone would indeed be saved, even against their will, just like Paul. Why did Jesus choose Paul for conversion? I believe that Jesus gave a message that this will happen later to a wider part of humanity. Maybe God and Christ will call the rest of mankind, just as Christ called Paul, in a bright flash of fire that cleansed him and gave him a new faith.
When the Bible speaks of the last judgment, it is thought to be God’s judgment. God has given judgment to the Son, Jesus Christ. Eph 1:22 He put all things in subjection under his feet and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The Church of Christ is his body (Col 1:24), which co-governs with him and also condemns the world. 1 Cor 6:2 Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? – I have interpreted the ‘judging’ to mean teaching and purification from sin and all the filth there is in man. This purification takes place in the (figurative) lake of fire. The Church of Christ will play an important role in the last days. The saints who rule and judge with Christ are only a small number in relation to the whole mankind. They have already been ordained by God for salvation. … we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him [Jesus]; for we will see him just as he is (1 Joh 3:2).