But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Thank you for writing. It is difficult to answer respond to any scripture in Revelation in a quick blog post because the book is so highly rich in symbolism and meaning. Two important keys to understanding any Bible passage are: 1) the context, and 2) the time frame or frames in which the scripture is applicable. Many scriptures have a literal fulfillment but are also a picture of a future, more grander fulfillment. For example, Moses in many ways was a picture and forshadowing of Jesus.
The context and timing of Revelation 21:8 is after the Day of Judgment and specifically after the separation of the Sheep and Goats, as described in the parable described in Matthew 25. (For more on this very specific time frame, we highly recommend listening to the the May 5, 2013 Christian Questions program along with the written Rewind transcript.)
The final destiny of those (we think there will be very few) who are resurrected onto a perfect earth and after a temptation-free period of testing still voluntarily want nothing to do with God’s new arrangement for reconciling with mankind, will be a second death. Their destiny will be an utter destruction or annihilation. These are those people in complete disharmony with God and who want to continue with their evil ways in spite of having every opportunity to come to the full knowledge of the Lord and His ways.
This is in contrast to the “overcomers” described in the preceding verse 7: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be His God and he shall be My son.” These are the “sheep class” of Adam’s race that Jesus redeemed through the ransom. The Christian Questions programs often refer to this class as the “Everybody Else,” to differentiate from the true followers of God that have lived sacrificial lives following after Jesus’ footsteps since his death. Verse 8 reminds us that even though God has such amazing blessings in store for all who are willing, nevertheless they must actually DO something in order to gain these blessings by living righteously.
We believe the “lake which burneth with fire” is a symbolic fire and that “brimstone” or sulphur is a completely destructive agent. This second death described is not life continued somewhere else, but actual death – a cessation of life – a perpetual non-existence, from which there is no additional ransom price that will be paid. This utter destruction was aptly symbolized by the fires that continually burned in the Valley of Hinnom during Jesus’ time – their purpose was to consume and destroy and never to torture. This is a very merciful arrangement for all.
Finally, we would also recommend the program, “What Happens on Judgment Day,” from April 21, 2013 for additional study. Thank you for suggesting this thought-provoking scripture. –Christian Questions
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