The fate of the devil
Aug 26, 2016
In Revelation 20:10 says,
10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented [basanizo, “imprisoned”] day and night forever and ever [for the ages of the ages].
Here “the devil” is the equivalent of “Satan” in verse 7 who deceived the nations into declaring war against the Kingdom of God. The only difference is that “devil” means an accuser, while “Satan” means an adversary. Both are legal terms for one who stands in opposition to the counselor defending the accused.
In the divine court, Jesus is the Judge, and the Holy Spirit is the parakletos, which is translated “Comforter” (John 15:26 KJV) and “Helper” (John 15:26 NASB) and “Consoler” (John 15:26 CV). In a legal sense, a parakletos is a counselor and advocate in a court of law, who is called “the Spirit of truth” in the sense that he is called to discern truth from lies, especially when a false accuser (or adversary) arises against a client.
In the case of the devil in Revelation 20:10, he was released to deceive the nations and to induce them to attack the Kingdom, because God sought legal cause against Gog and Magog and any of their allies. Such a tactic is not unusual, for we read in 1 Kings 22:19-23 how the prophet Micaiah saw how God commissioned a lying spirit to entice King Ahab to go into battle against Syria so that he would be killed. To the world, Ahab was merely killed in battle, but to those who could see the proceedings in the divine court, Ahab was sentenced to death by the great Judge, and Naaman (as Josephus tells us) was called to be his unwitting executioner (Antiquities of the Jews, VII, xv, 5).
The point is that the “lying spirit” was not outside of God’s authority and control. He had a purpose and function in the judicial process—in this case, to induce Ahab’s prophets to tell him what he wanted to hear, so that he would go willingly and submit to his executioner.
The devil functions as an accuser in order that all sinners might be accused and found guilty in the divine court. Yet the law has also provided a way for sinners to escape judgment, if they follow the advice of their Counselor in presenting their case to the Judge. Jesus has paid the penalty for their sin already, and if the penalty has been paid, then there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1).
The Devil Imprisoned
The NASB translates Revelation 20:10 to imply that the devil will be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” However, as we have already shown, the word translated “tormented” is basanizo, which is the verb form of the noun basanistes, the common word for a jailor or prison warden. He was euphemistically called a “tormentor,” because under the laws of men, he was often called upon to elicit information by the use of torture. However, our omniscient God already knows the truth, and when He adjures men to tell all that they know (Leviticus 5:1), they cannot help but speak the whole truth. God needs no torture to elicit truth. The New Testament word is used only because it was the common term in those days for a jailor, one who imprisons others. And the verb form basanizo, though it literally means “torment,” in practical terms it means “to imprison.”
The Ages of the Ages
The devil, beast, and false prophet are imprisoned “day and night.” This too is a Hebraism that means continuously. The Hebrews made a distinction between night and day. When a man is said to work for six days, we understand that his nights are excluded. When Muslims fast for a whole month at Ramadan, it is understood that they may feast at night. Hence, they fast for a month, but they do not fast “day and night.”
So in the case of the devil’s imprisonment, we understand that he gets no time off, but remains imprisoned continuously. How long? Both the NASB and the KJV say “forever and ever,” but this is not correct. The Greek text reads tous aionas ton aionon, which The Emphatic Diaglott renders, “for the ages of the ages.”
Young’s Literal Translation reads, “to the ages of the ages.” Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible reads, “unto the ages of the ages.” The Concordant Version reads “for the eons of the eons.”
There is no kai (“and”) in this Greek phrase, so it is inconceivable how some translators could render it “forever AND ever.” It is a reference to ages, which are indefinite in length, not infinite. The “ages of the ages” refers to the greatest of all ages, even as the “Song of Songs” claims to be the greatest Song and the Holy of Holies is the Most Holy Place.
Therefore, Revelation 20:10 tells us that the devil is to be imprisoned continuously for the rest of earth-time, that is, the climactic ages of earth’s history which come after the Millennium. In my understanding, these “ages of the ages” refer to the “weeks” of 7,000 years each, leading to the Creation Jubilee after a total of 49,000 years.
There is no direct biblical statement telling us this, but a simple look at the laws of time (based on Sabbaths) makes this plain from my perspective. There are 49 days from the wave-sheaf offering to Pentecost, or 50 days inclusively, and there are 49 year cycles leading to national Jubilees, or 50 years inclusively. When viewed on the level of creation itself, where a “day” is a thousand years, then the Creation Jubilee, when all things are fully reconciled to God, certainly fulfills the law of Jubilee after 49,000 years.
Even Origen, the great theologian of the early third century, confessed ignorance as to how long the time would be between the White Throne judgment and the reconciliation of all creation. In his Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans, VIII, 11, he wrote,
“But how long this purification which is wrought out by penal fire shall endure, or for how many eons it shall torment sinners, He only knows to Whom all judgment is committed by the Father.”
Will the Devil be Reconciled?
As for the ultimate fate of the devil, John says nothing here. Will he be released from his prison at the Creation Jubilee? Many in the early church believed so and taught that he too would be reconciled to God at the end of time. They cited Philippians 2:10, which says,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.
They also cited Colossians 1:20, where Paul spoke of all of creation being reconciled to God, “whether things on earth or things in heaven.” Those “on earth” are men, they said, those “under the earth” (i.e., underground) are the dead, and those “in heaven” are angels and spiritual beings. So Clement of Alexandria (150-213 A.D.) commented on 1 John 2:2,
“and not only for our sins,” that is, for those of the faithful, is the Lord the Propitiator does he say, ‘but also for the whole world.’ He, indeed, saves all; but some He saves converting them by punishments; others, however, who follow voluntarily He saves with dignity of honour; so that ‘ever knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, or things on earth, and things under the earth’—that is, angels and men.”
Didymus the Blind (308-395 A.D.) wrote in his Commentary on 1 Peter, III,
“As mankind by being reclaimed from their sins are to be subjected to Christ in the dispensation appointed for the Salvation of all, so the angels will be reduced to obedience by the correction of their vices.”
Even Jerome (340-419 A.D.), who translated the Scriptures into Latin (The Vulgate), in one of his earlier writings, said,
“In the end of all things the whole body which has been dissipated will be restored… What I mean is, the fallen Angel will begin to be that which he was created, and man, who was expelled from Paradise, will once more be restored to the tilling of Paradise. These things will then take place universally.” (In Eph. 4:16)
In his later years, Jerome was caught up in the great controversy in the year 400, wherein the teaching of Universal Reconciliation began to be suppressed by the bishop of Rome and the exceedingly corrupt bishop of Alexandria. Jerome wrote to the bishop of Rome, asking him what doctrinal position to take, and when the Roman bishop told him to argue against Universal Reconciliation, he complied, though it went directly against his own beliefs. Church historians know him as a great theologian with a very bad temper.
Later church councils (from the fifth century on) condemned as heresy the belief that the devil was to be saved in the end. Strangely enough, however, for centuries they failed to condemn Universal Reconciliation itself, perhaps because the most revered church theologians taught this, including Gregory of Nyassa, called “Father of Fathers,” and Gregory of Nazianzen, called “The Theologian.” Nonetheless, as the power and influence of Rome grew, The Greek theologians’ view of Universal Reconciliation was gradually replaced by the Latin concept of eternal torment, popularized mostly by Augustine in the fifth century.
Setting aside the beliefs and interpretations of the early church, the deeper question is whether God intends to treat spiritual beings in the same manner as He treats humanity. Perhaps the underlying question is whether or not angels are created beings, for if they are part of God’s creation, then they are part of the “all things” that must be reconciled. (Note that in Colossians 1:16 God is said to be the Creator of “all things,” and in verse 20 the same “all things” is to be reconciled to God.)
Even so, reconciliation means that all of creation is in harmony and unity with God. It does not mean that bugs, flies, and rodents will be resurrected to immortal life. Even the theologians of the early church limited reconciliation to all rational creatures. But this leaves open the possibility that the devil is treated differently from mankind. While I recognize that the majority of the early church believed that the reconciliation of “things in heaven” included the devil and all fallen angels, I am of the opinion that they may have misunderstood the manner in which the heavens are to be reconciled.
If the devil was created to be God’s prosecutor (accuser) and executioner of divine judgment, his job will end when there are no more people to be prosecuted. Will his job then shift to something more positive, or will he lose his existence in the eradication of all evil? I leave this for our readers to decide, because either way all of creation will be reconciled, and God will be all in all.
This is part 166 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones