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A lake of fire appears, in both Ancient Egyptian and Christian religion, as a place of after-death punishment of the wicked. The phrase is used in four verses of the Book of Revelation. The image was also used by Hippolytus of Rome in about the year 200 and has continued to be used by Christians.


Lake of fire in Ancient Egyptian religion

Richard H. Wilkinson has written:

According to the Coffin Texts and other works, the underworld contained fiery rivers and lakes as well as fire demons (identified by fire signs on their heads) which threatened the wicked. Representations of the fiery lakes of the fifth "hour" of the Amduat depict them in the form of the standard pool or lake hieroglyph, but with flame-red "water" lines, and surrounded on all four sides by fire signs which not only identify the blazing nature of the lakes, but also feed them through the graphic "dripping" of their flames.[1]

An image in the Papyrus of Ani (ca. 1250 BC), a version of the Book of the Dead, has been described as follows:

The scene shows four cynocephalous baboons sitting at the corners of a rectangular pool. On each side of this pool is a flaming brazier. The pool's red colour indicates that it is filled with a fiery liquid, reminding one of the "Lake of Fire" frequently mentioned in the Book of the Dead.[2]

The 1995 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that the Egyptian lake of fire is too remote to be relevant to use of "lake of fire" in the Book of Revelation.[3]

"Lake of fire" in the Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation, written some time in the last half of the first century, has five verses that mention a "lake of fire":

Revelation 19:20: And the beast[4] was taken, and with him the false prophet[5] that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Revelation 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Revelation 20:14-15 "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.[6]

A commonly accepted and traditional interpretation is that the "lake of fire" and the "second death" are symbolic of eternal pain, pain of loss and perhaps pain of the senses, as punishment for wickedness.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Jehovah's Witnesses interpret the "lake of fire" and "second death" of the Book of Revelation as referring to a complete and definitive annihilation of those cast into it.[14]

Christian Universalists interpret the "lake of fire" as an instrument of purification/refinement that will bring all people into a relationship with God. The word for "torment" in Revelation 14:10 is the greek "basanizo" which has a primary meaning of testing with a touchstone. The lake of fire is not only for torment but for "testing": the analogy is in testing metal with a touchstone to make sure it is pure.

"Lake of unquenchable fire" in the third century

Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) pictured Hades, the abode of the dead, as containing "a lake of unquenchable fire" at the edge of which the unrighteous "shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment", while the righteous "are brought to a locality full of light" (called the Bosom of Abraham), "enjoying always the contemplation of the blessings which are in their view, and delighting themselves with the expectation of others ever new" [15]

The third-century writing explicitly pictures the "lake of unquenchable fire" as the eternal destiny of the unrighteous,[16] who, while awaiting execution of the judgement upon them, are tortured in the abode of the dead (Hades) by the vision of their doom.[15]

Mark 9:43 has Jesus himself use the image of a punishing unquenchable fire: "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire."

"Sea of fire" in the twentieth century

The Portuguese visionary LĂșcia Santos reported that Our Lady of Fatima had given her a vision of Hell as a sea of fire:

"Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear."[17]

The twentieth-century account of the "sea of fire" excludes the notion of annihilation and is considered by its author to be a picture of hell.

See also


  1. ^ p.161. "Brazier." Richard H. Wilkinson. Reading Egyptian Art, A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Painting and Sculpture.1992. Thames & Hudson. London, quoted in Hell's Pre-Christian Origins
  2. ^ p. 168, commentary to plate 32, Raymond Faulkner and Ogden Goelet. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco. Chronicle Books. 1994. ISBN 0-8118-0767-3
  3. ^ Geoffrey W. Bromiley (ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:K-P (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 1995 ISBN 0802837832), p. 61, s.v. "Lake of fire"
  4. ^ Cf. Revelation 11:7; 13:1-4; 13:11-18; 14:9-11; 15:2; 16:2; 16:10-13; 17:3-17; 19:19; 20:4
  5. ^ Cf. Revelation 16:13
  6. ^ Cf. Revelation 2:11; 20:6
  7. ^ "'The lake of fire'" appears as a place of punishment, of perpetual torment, not of annihilation (20:10). The beast (19:20); the pseudo-prophet (19:20; 20:10); the devil (20:10); the wicked of varying description (20:15; 21:8), are cast into it. When the same is affirmed of death and Hades (20:14), it is doubtful whether this is meant as a mere figure for the cessation of these two evils personified, or has a more realistic background in the existence of two demon-powers so named (compare Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:26,54; 2 Esdras 7:31)" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. III:1822)
  8. ^ The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by Gregory K. Beale (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999 ISBN 9780802821744, p. 1035]
  9. ^ A Commentary on the Revelation of John, by George Eldon Ladd (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1972 ISBN 0802816843, p. 258]
  10. ^ The Last Things. A Survey of Biblical Eschatology (Kensington Theological Academy ISBN 1435722248, p. 122
  11. ^ All the Doctrines of the Bible: a study and analysis of major Bible doctrines, by Herbert Lockyer (Zondervan, 1988 ISBN 0310280516, p. 292
  12. ^ Revelation Commentary
  13. ^ Dr Grant C. Richison
  14. ^ What Really Is Hell?
  15. ^ a b Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe, 1
  16. ^ "To the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment. And the fire which is unquenchable and without end awaits these latter" (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe, 3).
  17. ^ Fatima In Lucia's Own Words, Lucia de Jesus (1995), The Ravengate Press, pp. 101, 104

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