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destruction

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Revelation 14:6-11:

6  And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;  7  and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”  8  And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”

9  Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice,

A    “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand

B    10  he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God,  which is mixed in full strength in the cup  of His anger;

C    and he will be tormented

D   with fire and brimstone

E    in the presence of the holy angels

E’    and in the presence of the Lamb.

D’    11  And the smoke    [Comment by me: the smoke comes from the fire and brimstone]

C’    of their torment goes up forever and ever;  

B’    they have no rest day and night   [Comment by me: the punishment/torment is full strength: i.e., there are no breaks; it continues both day and night],

A’    those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 

__________

Some think this passage is speaking of hell, and that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment:  “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night.”  In fact, this passage is often taken as one of the strongest proof texts for eternal conscious torment in hell.

But, in my opinion, these verses shouldn’t be understood that way.  The image of smoke going up ‘forever and ever’ is simply an idiom for total destruction.  Ironically, it speaks of ‘finality’ rather than ‘eternity’.  You can see this by looking at Isaiah 34:8-10 where it refers to the total destruction of the land of Edom:

8  For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.  9  Its streams will be turned into pitch, and its loose earth into brimstone, and its land will become burning pitch.  10  It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will go up forever.  From generation to generation it will be desolate; none will pass through it forever and ever.

Edom was completely destroyed.  There may have been fire and smoke involved in its destruction, but the actual smoke of that destruction did not go up ‘forever and ever’.  It would have only lasted a short time – maybe days, weeks, or months.  What the phrase does point to is finality.  The language is hyperbolic, pointing to a destruction that will be eternal – a destruction that will last forever.  …  Edom was completely destroyed and, for all of eternity, it would never rise again.  It is gone.  

The image of smoke rising forever is also used in Revelation 19:3.  In the chiasmus above, we have a stylized, chiastic description of the destruction of Babylon.  In Revelation 18:1-19:6 we have a more detailed, straight forward description of the destruction of Babylon.  Note that both of the Revelation passages we’re looking at begin with the phrase, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” (14:8, 18:2).  Both passages are speaking of the same event, the destruction of Babylon.

Here’s a few excerpts from the less stylized and more descriptive passage, Revelation 18:1-19:3:

2  And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great …’.  …  To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.’  8  For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.  9  “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning,  10  standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’  …  15  The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning,  16  saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls;  17  for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every ship-master and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance,  18  and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’  19  And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city …’.  …  21  Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.  22  And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer;  23  and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer  …  19:1  After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God;  2  BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.”  3  And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.”  …  6  Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.

Note the presence of fire, smoke, and torment in the above description of the destruction of Babylon.  Towards the end, the writer once again uses the phrase “Her smoke rises up forever and ever.”  In this passage, Babylon is completely destroyed, just as Edom was completely destroyed in Isaiah.  The language of ‘smoke rising forever’, or even ‘smoke of their torment rising forever’ is simply hyperbolic language referring to the completeness, or finality, of Babylon’s destruction (note the use of ‘torment’ in both Revelation passages).  Babylon is finished.  It will be no more.  It will not be found.  It will be like a great millstone thrown into the sea.

Rather than eternity, the idiom of ‘smoke rising forever’ actually speaks of complete destruction.  Finality.

 

 

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