The Consequences of Sin--Part 2
Oct 28, 2009
In the early centuries of the Church, the vast majority of the believers spoke Greek, most of them as their native tongue. Geisler says that most of them believed that the judgments of God, beingaionian, were temporary, not infinite in duration. It is obvious that they did not see the word aionianas meaning "everlasting" as it is so often translated today.
On the other hand, the early Christians did understand that there was judgment to come, and that it was far better to avoid the penalty for one's sins by believing and relying upon the provision made through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. The early Church never gave the impression that all judgment had been averted by Jesus' death on the cross, nor did they ever say that people will really enjoy this time of judgment.
The "fire," they believed, was remedial and would compel stubborn sinners to repent, so that they could all be saved in the end. But no unbeliever could avoid divine judgment, which was seen as the path to universal salvation. They "shall be saved, yet so as by fire," Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:15. Though Paul was actually talking about non-overcoming believers, who had already laid the "foundation" of Jesus Christ in their lives but whose works needed some corrective "fire," the early Christians knew that this extended to all unbelievers as well.
All judgment in court is a function of law, and the divine law is the basis of judging every man's works. Men's laws reflect the character and values of men; God's law reflects the character and moral principles of God. Thus, the divine law is an expression of God's character and His moral principles. God can never go against who He is, and neither did He institute laws for mankind which are any less reflective of His character and goals.
The "fiery law" (Deut. 33:2) that He gave on Mount Horeb reflected His character. No man saw God Himself, but only fire, which was the visible expression of Himself (Deut. 4:12, 15). The verbal expression of God is also fire, for Jer. 23:29 says, "Is not My Word like as a fire?" And so the judgments of God, proceeding out from the throne (symbol of law), is expressed as a fire in Daniel 7:9-11 as it flows upon the people who are seen rising from the dead for judgment. The Concordant Literal Translation of Daniel 7:11 reads,
". . . thousand thousands are irradiating Him, and ten thousand ten thousands are rising before Him. Adjudication sits, and the scrolls are opened."
In other words, the smaller group, already transfigured with the glory of God in the first resurrection, are seen standing with Him. The larger group is seen rising from the dead for judgment. It is an Old Testament picture of the general resurrection at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15). The main difference is that Daniel pictures the fire as a river flowing upon the people from the throne, whereas John sees the after-effects of the river, when it has formed a lake.
The main point to understand is that a throne is a symbol of law, by which a monarch rules and judges, and in this case the throne is a fire and flame. It is the "fiery law" of Deut. 33:2. It is not a literal fire, because nowhere does God's law prescribe burning anyone alive for any sin. The worst that the law prescribes is for someone to be stoned and then their body burned (cremated) as a sign of dishonor. This is what happened to Achan and his family and cattle in Joshua 7:25,
"And Joshua said, 'Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.' And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones."
This "case law" actually gives us a biblical example to show us how some people were to be "burnt with fire" in the law (as in Lev. 21:9). Such treatment was unusual and reserved only for a few types of sin. For the vast majority of sin, the law required restitution to the victims, and if the sinner was unable to do so, he was to be "sold for his theft" (Ex. 22:3) in order to work to pay off the debt.
In some cases where restitution was not applicable, the judge could prescribe a beating of anywhere from a single stroke to a maximum of 40 stripes (Deut. 25:1-3). The sentence would depend upon the seriousness of the offence. Jesus showed in Luke 12:47-49 that an offence carried more liability if the person knew the law and violated it willfully. Such a person would receive "many stripes." Verse 49 then defines such judgment of the law as "fire," saying,
"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled."
Jesus was NOT saying, "Oh, how I wish that the eternal torture were now here! I can't wait for it to begin!" No, the "fire" in this case is the "few stripes" or "many stripes" as prescribed in Deut. 25. Jesus was looking forward to the day when all the dead would be held accountable for their offences against their victims of injustice, because this will begin the final process of the Restoration of All Things.
What about "Torment"?
We are so used to the idea of torture in hell that we automatically picture "torment" to be physical torture while being burned eternally. But Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words tells us something different.
The verb basanizo is translated "to torment" in Matt. 8:6, where it is used of sickness causing some pain. Vine's, under "Torment," says the noun form is basanismos and "is used of Divine judgments in Rev. 9:5; 14:11; 18:7, 10, 15."
A "tormentor," says Vines, is from the word basanistes, "one who elicits information by torture, is used of jailers, Matt. 18:34." Dr. Bullinger enlarges on this in his notes on Matt. 18:34, saying, "tormentors: or jailers. Gr. basanistes. Occurs only here. Imprisonment was called in Roman law-books cruciatus corporis."
In other words, a tormentor was a euphemism for a jailer, not because they always tortured people, but because they were often required to do so to elicit information. When a Roman judge ordered beatings, as when Paul and Silas were beaten in Acts 16:22, these were carried out in the prison overseen by the warden--that is, the "tormentor."
Thus also, Vine's tells us that tumpanizo is the Greek word for "torture." It says that the word "primarily denotes to beat a drum, a kettle-drum. . . hence, to torture by beating, to beat to death, Heb. 11:35." Our English word tympanum is the ear drum. So this shows that the biblical word for "torture" is actually a reference to a beating--precisely what Jesus was talking about in Luke 12. The only difference is that man's law had no restrictions on the number of stripes that could be meted out on the offender. Biblical law limited it to 40 stripes.
So when men are cast into the "lake of fire" (judged by the divine law) to be "tormented" (imprisoned) and "tortured" (beaten like a drum), we cannot assume that God is judging according to Roman law, but rather He judges by His own "fiery law." The "fire" of that law is defined throughout the law of Moses as restitution, few or many stripes, and other ways of meting out justice. It is certainly not limited to inflicting pain. And most important, it is designed to give restitution to the victims while correcting and restoring the sinners.
Next, we will enlarge upon the specific applications of the law in the "lake of fire" to see how it could work out in actual practice in that final age.
This is the second part of a series titled "The Consequences of Sin." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones