Thursday, 21 June 2012

Spot the differences

I have been engaged quite a bit recently with those who deny conscious eternal punishment, and I have noticed a recurring problem with their view. When they see texts in the New Testament that appear to teach eternal conscious punishment they will often cite similar language from the Old Testament in which it seems quite clear that it is talking about a temporal punishment, and then they will say that this shows the New Testament isn't talking about eternal conscious punishment at all.

The point I want to make in this post is simply this, true wisdom and scriptural understanding doesn't come from seeing the similarities in things that are different but in seeing the differences in things that are similar. The texts may be similar, but there are differences and these differences serve to make the very point, and ought to draw our eye and catch our attention.

For example, when dealing with Revelation 14 v 11, Isaiah 34 v 10 is brought up, in which the judgment on the land of Edom is prophesied. The land shall become a burning pitch which shall not be quenched night nor day. The smoke shall go up forever, and from generation to generation it shall lie waste. None shall pass through it forever and ever. So the point apparently is that because this language is similar to that of Revelation 14 then we are to understand them as speaking of the same thing - a total end being made of whatever is in the fire. However, this just will not do. Revelation 14 is not talking about land, it is talking about people. Isaiah, because he is talking about land, doesn't speak about the smoke of their torment, and he doesn't speak of anyone being tormented day and night.

So what is going on in Isaiah 34? It is telling us about that future earthly reign of Christ which, while displaying His goodness, will also display His severity. God will visit judgment on the land of Edom and it will be desolate for the whole Messianic age, and will never be inhabited ever again. But look at Revelation 14 - it's not that there's smoke ascending forever, but it's the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever (the translation of the strongest way to express eternity in Greek). This then is not telling us about a land being uninhabited eternally, but sinners being tormented eternally.

A similar point is made with regard to Genesis 19 v 28 in which Abraham looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah after God's judgment and he saw the smoke going up. "There!" says the annihilationist, "The cities are no more, but the smoke is still rising, and likewise, the unrepentant will be no more and the smoke will still rise." However, this ignores a couple of major differences: Genesis 19 doesn't talk about the smoke of their torment, and Genesis 19 doesn't say they have no rest day or night. The similarities must not allow us to ignore the differences. (On a side note, Jude 7 teaches that those who suffered the fire of God's judgment in Sodom and Gomorrah are suffering the vengeance of eternal fire now).

Ditto for Revelation 19 v 3 in which the judgment of Babylon is depicted, and the smoke ascends forever and ever. The annihilationist says that Babylon is a system and can't be eternally tormented, yet it uses similar language to Revelation 14. Yes, it's similar, but it's not the same! It doesn't talk about the system being tormented! There will be an eternal memorial of God's judgment upon it, and when talking about individuals it talks about eternal torment.

And one further example of this will suffice. In Revelation 19 v 20 we see the beast and false prophet cast alive into the lake of fire. In the next chapter, 1000 years later, the devil is cast in, where the beast and false prophet are, and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. A look at the references to the beast and false prophet in Revelation, as well as a look at other references such as 2Thessalonians 2 will show that these characters are individuals, and sometimes the beast embodies and stands for the empire he heads up. However, Daniel 7 v11 speaks about the beast being slain and its body destroyed and given to the fire. This has been pointed to by annihilationists in an attempt to show that Revelation 19 v 20 is merely referring to the same thing - the end of the empire. Again, this is a failure to distinguish things which differ. In Daniel 7 the beast that Daniel sees is the empire. When Daniel sees that beast slain and burned he is clearly seeing a picture of the end of the empire, but in Revelation the differences can't be ignored! In Revelation the beast is said not to be slain, but cast alive into the lake of fire, and is clearly not annihilated but tormented forever. Why the difference? Because the beast referred to in Revelation 19 & 20 is a person, not the empire.

 I hope this helps those interested in the subject see that if two things are similar it doesn't mean they are identical. Careful Bible readers notice the differences - they are important.