Revelation, the lake of fire and A.D.70
Andrew - I think you’ve missed each of the points I was making. Maybe the points weren’t made clearly enough.
‘What’s so puzzling about Isaiah 66:24? Isn’t it simply an image of judgment on the enemies of YHWH.’
It’s the suggestion of on-going punishment in "their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched" that I was referring to. But maybe the worm refers to maggots (not some idea of an irreducible kind of personal life that goes on living in torment), and the fire a burning which keeps on burning after destruction. But it’s an odd image, isn’t it?
‘It seems to me fairly obvious that if you throw something into a lake of fire, it is destroyed. It’s not going to come back to bother you. It’s not going to be part of a pristine new creation. But how can it be understood as ‘eternal punishment’? Destroyed is destroyed.’
There’s a bit more to the imagery than annihilation pure and simple: along with destruction there is burning! Burning is more than just purification in this context. It’s punishment as well. 19:20 emphasises that the beast and false prophet were ‘thrown alive’ into the lake of fire. Not pleasant!
In any case, I do go with an ‘annihilation’ (not eternal suffering) position in relation to these passages, in their ‘end of time’ significance, but I don’t go with the idea that there will be no terror and no suffering at all. So I think Jeremy Wales does have a point - but I think he underestimates the terror facing those who are judged and condemned on the day of judgement - facing annihilation: the reality of which is caught in the imagery of fire.
What also emerges from the ‘lake of fire’ imagery and passages in Revelation is something beyond A.D.70 - and certainly beyond the imagery of Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom) and events associated purely with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70. The imagery is more associated with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the sulphurous fiery eruptions of the southern Dead Sea area.
My comment wasn’t a commentary on Revelation alone - so sorry if the short-hand misled you. I wasn’t intending to suggest that different types of judgement are distinguished in Revelation, although there is more than one book of judgement there: books for judgement, and the book of life. Judgements for rewards are indicated elsewhere in the N.T., eg parable of the talents, parable of the minas. The argument about whether these parables are to be interpreted pre or post A.D.70 is another issue: I’m arguing that whether they have a pre or post A.D.70 application, they establish the principle of judgement for rewards, and that there is a post-death judgment of this kind for Christians/followers of Jesus.
Incidentally, I have been making a number of points in recent posts which call into question the extent of the A.D.70 principle of interpretation, of which the lake of fire references is one. I’m not against this re-interpretation, and in fact you could take some of it to apply to this section of Revelation. What I am suggesting is that there are limits to the re-interpretation: not least of which is the question of hell, fire, and what happens when we die. I am suggesting that the bible, New Testament in particular, is very concerned with what happens when we die. But even that comes back to a focus on the earth - new earth, in this case.
I’m also suggesting that in making A.D.70 the primary crucial event for first century Christians (and for our story as well: see ‘What was Jesus’ gospel?’ from the Christian Associates conference - 03/06/2003), and making the death of Jesus on the cross narrowly relative to this event, we are missing much else of significance, especially to mission, in the ascension and outpouring of the Spirit as evidence of the on-going reality of God’s kingdom in the world.
I just think the discussion has to move on beyond relativising N.T. passages and history generally to A.D.70. After all, there has been enough on this site on the subject over the last three years, and enough Tom Wright material on the subject. I think we need to look at the wider implications of this kind of reinterpretation - there are so many qualifications required, it almost calls into question the whole principle. Unless one can also add that a great deal of N.T. teaching had an A.D.70 application as well as a wider application. Otherwise you end up with saying, as has been said in the ‘core narrative’ series on this site, that the teaching of Jesus in the gospels is not relevant to us today, and the death of Jesus on the cross was narrowly relevant for 1st century Jews, and only indirectly relevant for the rest of the world. I hope this comment comes across as a helpful disagreement - as I would like to see an interpretative approach which harmonises some of the discrepancies which are, to my mind at least, compromising a very good case.