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Biblical slavery and the lake of fire

Sep 01, 2016

Even as the “river of fire” in Daniel 7:10 is the lawful decree or verdict upon sinners being judged by the fiery law (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV), so also the lake of fire is the administration of these verdicts. Such “fire” was never meant to be taken literally. The law itself is the fire, because it is the expression of the divine nature, seen in the days of Moses when God came down as fire upon the mount to give Israel the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law.

True justice is defined by the law of God. He does not judge mankind by the laws of others, but by His own law. There is no such thing as eternal torment in the divine law, for all sin is judged righteously, and all verdicts are in strict proportion to the seriousness of each crime (sin).

Stealing a sheep or a car requires the thief to restore two sheep or two cars to his victim (Exodus 22:4). If the stolen item cannot be returned for any reason, the thief must pay fourfold restitution (Exodus 22:1). Stealing the tools of a man’s trade (an ox or tractor) requires five-fold restitution (Exodus 22:1).

Those sins that are beyond restitution, such as premeditated murder or kidnapping must be appealed to the divine court, and the death penalty is imposed until the case can be heard at the Great White Throne at the end of the age.

The Biblical Concept of Debt

All sin is reckoned as a debt. If a man steals or damages property, he owes his victim restitution. Debt puts men “under the law,” that is, the law has a claim upon the sinner until the debt is paid or until the expiration of the date when the Jubilee trumpet sounds. The reason believers are no longer “under the law” (Romans 6:15) is not because the law was abolished, but because our debt was paid by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Adam’s sin created a debt that he could not pay, pictured as 10,000 talents in Matthew 18:24, 25.

25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

If a sinner does not have enough property to pay the debt, his entire estate must be sold (to a redeemer) and he and his family are to be sold into slavery. This is biblical justice as Jesus set forth in His parable. It is what happened to Adam at the beginning, and it is also what has happened to all sinners thereafter. So Paul tells us in Romans 7:14, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.”

Two Death Penalties

The first death (mortality) is the bondage under which the entire creation suffers on account of Adam’s sin, for Romans 8:20-23 says,

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Such is the result of Adam’s sin, which, by divine decree, resulted in the sale of his entire estate. Paul says in Romans 5:12 (properly translated), “thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned” (Concordant Version). In other words, because we are mortal, we sin. Mortality is our disease (biblical leprosy), our inherent weakness in our flesh, and the reason we fall short of the glory of God. We are then judged secondarily for our own sins, and hence, Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of [our own] sin is death.”

The death penalty for our own sin is not the first death, but the second. The first death is the penalty imposed upon all of creation on account of Adam’s sin. The second death is the penalty for our individual sin, which we incur on account of the weakness of mortal flesh.

The Law of Redemption

God’s solution to both kinds of death is the law of redemption and the law of Jubilee, both of which are grace laws. When a man is sold into bondage for a debt he cannot pay, the one who purchases him is a slave master. When Paul says that he was “sold into bondage to sin,” he was personifying Sin, telling us that Sin had enslaved his flesh—that is, his “old man”—and that Sin commands his slaves to be disobedient to the law of God.

But as a believer, Paul was no longer the old man, but the New Creation. Romans 7 pictures Paul as an unwilling slave, forced by his fleshly master to sin, but desiring inwardly to serve the law of God (Romans 7:22, 25). Thus, he identifies with the inner man as his true self, refusing to identify his true self as being descended from Adam (the old man), but instead claiming a heavenly Father who has begotten him by the Spirit (Romans 7:17).

This is part of the law of redemption by which we may change masters. Leviticus 25:47-49 tells us that if a stranger or foreigner buys a slave that is being sold at the command of the court, the slave’s kinsman has the right of redemption. The stated purpose of such redemptions is to put the slave under a master who loves him. So important is this to our God of Love that He even strips the foreign slave master of his right to retain the slave if a near kinsman has the means to purchase him.

By this law, Jesus came as our Kinsman Redeemer to redeem those enslaved to sin. He did not come as a stranger, nor did He take upon Himself the nature of angels, but took upon Himself flesh and blood, so that He might be our Kinsman. Hebrews 2:11 says “He is not ashamed to call them brethren,” and Hebrews 2:17 says, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things.” As a near kinsman, Jesus obtained the lawful right of redemption, so that His desire to purchase slaves could not be rebuffed by the original slave master (sin).

Those who place their faith in Christ are the redeemed ones. These become slaves of Jesus Christ who has purchased them, as the law says in Leviticus 25:53,

53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.

In other words, the law commands the near kinsman to treat his redeemed slaves as hired employees, not as slaves. Biblical slavery is not the same as man's slave systems. Love rules, even though the slave is still a slave and does not have the right to follow the law of sin that his former master had required of him in the past.

The Law of Jubilee

Redemption is not the entire answer to sin’s slavery. Leviticus 25:54, 55 concludes, saying,

54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of Jubilee, he and his sons with him. 55 For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Even if a man has been enslaved to sin for his entire life, and no redeemer has purchased him during that time, he must still be set free in the year of Jubilee when all debts are cancelled and every man returns to his lost inheritance. The stated reason is that “the sons of Israel are My servants.” Deuteronomy 7:8 says to Israel, “the Lord loved you and … redeemed you from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” He acted as the Kinsman-Redeemer who loved Israel and purchased her as His own slave (or servant).

Therefore, all slavery on earth is subordinate to the greater slavery by God Himself. Men may have authority to enslave others on earth, but their authority is subject to the heavenly Slave Master who exercises sovereignty over all human slave masters. Hence, when Paul personifies Sin as an earthly slave master, it is clear that Sin has authority, but not sovereignty. For this reason, Sin must sell his slaves when the Kinsman-Redeemer demands it. Likewise, when the year of Jubilee arrives, Sin has no authority to retain his slaves but must set them all free.

The Lake of Fire Application

The Great White Throne is the place where God’s law is used to judge all of humanity. The law does not demand torture in a literal fire. It demands payment of debt. Believers will be “saved, yet so as through fire,” because in the end, even though their works are judged, they have been purchased by their Kinsman-Redeemer.

The unbelievers, however, are those who failed to claim Jesus Christ as their Redeemer, and so the decree from the throne is that they owe more than they are able to pay. Therefore, they must be sold in payment of their debt. The problem, of course, is that even if they are perfect from that moment on, their good works cannot pay down their previous debt. Good works only ensure that the debt does not increase. Good works are expected as part of normal life.

Sinners, then, are sentenced to biblical slavery to the overcomers, who redeem them as a function of the body of Christ. This is how the overcomers “reign with Christ.” Their authority is derived from the original authority over the earth that was first given to Adam in Genesis 1:26. Because the overcomers share in Christ’s inheritance, they have the means by which to purchase those slaves. And because they have the loving nature of Christ, they will not rule with severity over their slaves (Leviticus 25:53), but treat them as nephews and cousins employed in the family business.

In fact, they are employees in training, learning righteousness during their time of judgment, as Isaiah 26:9 tells us, “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” The overcomers will be given authority over their slaves, but they will also be given the responsibility to train their slaves in the ways of God until the Creation Jubilee sets all of creation “free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

The law of Jubilee invokes this freedom by grace alone. Even though the debt is unpayable, there is a limit on liability for debt. Though God does not immediately release debtors, neither does He require perpetual slavery on account of debt (sin). Divine judgment is designed to train sinners in the ways of God and to bring them to spiritual maturity before releasing them in the greatest Jubilee of creation history.

Is not this consistent with the nature of our God of Love? Is not this consistent also with His justice? Is not this the awesome God that we can truly worship from the bottom of our hearts?


This is part 171 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Revelation


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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