Would you please explain Revelation 14:11? Does this Scripture teach that the wicked will be forever tormented in hell fire?
Let us consider Revelation 14:11 in context with the previous two verses. The entire passage reads:
“Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast [an end-time political leader, as well as the political system that he represents] and his image [an end-time religious system, as well as a religious leader representing that system]. and receives his mark on his forehead or on his head [permitting or preventing him to buy and sell, Revelation 13:16-17], he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb [Jesus Christ]. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
Most commentaries teach that this passage describes the never-ending torment of wicked souls in an eternal hell fire. The Nelson Study Bible, in altering the literal wording of the passage, states:
“A third angel announces with a loud voice the tragic eternal destiny of the one who rejects the offer of the gospel (vv. 6,7) and worships the beast (ch. 13)… In the just outworking of God’s wrath, unbelievers who worship the beast will be tormented… forever and ever, with no rest day or night.”
However, reading the passage carefully, it does not say that the wicked will be “tormented… forever and ever.”
The Broadman Bible Commentary discusses the problems with such an interpretation. It states, in volume 12, on page 320:
“The greatest problem of interpretation in this passage is the apparent vindictiveness. Christian interpreters have regarded it as sub-Christian reflecting the stress of the time but impossible to reconcile with the teaching of Jesus. Some reject its obvious implications since such endless and horrible suffering could serve no good purpose and offer no prospect of release… Others see the language as dealing with ultimate realities and prefer a literal interpretation. Their case merely points out that man has brought this judgment on himself. Others believe that if there are those who resist God’s love finally, they, with Hades and Death, will be thrown into the lake of fire (20:14ff), which is ‘extinction and total oblivion.'”
The last interpretation comes closer to the truth than the others. But even it misunderstands, apparently, that the passage in Revelation 14:11 does NOT talk about the final fate of the wicked.
As we pointed out in our last Update 194 and in our booklets, “Do You Have an Immortal Soul,” and “God’s Commanded Holy Days,” there is NO ever-burning hell fire, NOR will the wicked be tormented for all eternity. Rather, they will be BURNT UP in the THIRD resurrection — that is, after the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment period (compare Revelation 20:4-15).
The passage in Revelation 14:11 does not talk about that time period. It refers to the coming of Jesus Christ and the time when people worship the beast and have its mark. All of this will occur BEFORE the Millennium.
What, then, IS the meaning of Revelation 14:11?
One key point is to realize that the torment of their SMOKE will ascend forever and ever. The passage does NOT say that THE WICKED will be tormented forever and ever. Rather, the wicked will be burnt up in fiery plagues, and it is their smoke — evidence that the fire has done its work — which ascends forever and ever. Smoke results from something burned. This indicates that they were consumed, and that all that remains is smoke. We also read in Malachi 4:3 that the ASHES of the wicked will be under the feet of the righteous. Psalm 37:20 tells us that the wicked shall “perish” — “into smoke they shall vanish away.” It is not the punishment of the fire, but the result of that punishment, which is being addressed in Revelation 14:11.
We also need to understand that the Biblical expression “forever” does not have to mean, “for all eternity.” The words are often a translation from the Hebrew “olam” and the Greek “aion” or “aionios,” meaning “age,” or “age-lasting” (compare Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible). In Revelation 14:11, the Greek words translated as “for ever and ever” mean, according to Young’s, “to ages of ages.” The Englishman’s Greek New Testament translates this verse as follows: “And the smoke of their torment goes up to ages of ages…”
We read in Exodus 21:6 that the servant would belong to his master “forever.” Here, the word describes a relationship which would last until the death of either the master or the servant. In 1 Samuel 1:22, Hannah, the mother of Samuel, took him up to the temple to remain there forever. Verse 28 explains that this meant, “as long as he lives.”
In Jonah 2:6, the term “forever” describes the time span of “three days and three nights,” as made clear in Jonah 1:17. Jonah, when in the belly of the sea monster, prayed that the earth with her bars was about him forever. What he was actually saying here is that as long as he was in that particular situation, the earth was about him.
Jude 7 speaks of the vengeance of eternal fire that burned Sodom and Gomorrah. But these cities are not still burning or suffering that vengeance. They only burned for a while. An “aeonian fire” does not refer to a fire that never goes out. After it completely destroyed and obliterated those ancient cities, it burned itself out when there was nothing else left to consume. The smoke from that fire ascended for a while. It is not ascending today. Jesus shows that the people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be resurrected in a period of judgment yet future (Compare Matthew 10:15).
The people worshipping the political and religious leaders of the end-time Babylonian system will be tormented “forever” — that is, until they die. They “have no rest day or night,” as long as they are alive and remain part of that system falling under God’s wrath; that is, before they are destroyed by the fiery plagues of God’s last seven bowls judgment (Revelation 16:1-21).
The smoke of their torment will ascend for a while — as long as the conditions exist allowing smoke from burned bodies to ascend. But this does not mean that burned wicked souls will be tormented for all eternity. We read that the smoke from the Babylonian system — and from the city of modern Babylon, which is built on seven hills (Revelation 17:18, 9) — will rise up “forever and ever” (Revelation 19:3 — based on the Greek, it should say, according to Young’s and the Englishman’s Greek New Testament, “to the ages of the ages”). Babylon “will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her” (Revelation 18:8). The kings of the earth “will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment” (verses 9-10). This is a reference to the smoke from buildings, but the fire won’t burn for all eternity. In fact, we read that the great city of Babylon (verse 10) “shall not be found anymore” (verse 21). Likewise, we read in Isaiah 34:9-10, that the smoke from the land of Edom will “ascend forever” — that is, until the fire has burnt up all consumable material. As in the case of the burned cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, that fire of Edom will not burn for all eternity.
The unrepentant wicked will ultimately be burned up. That will happen after the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment. However, the passage in Revelation 14:11 does not address that time period. It merely serves as a forerunner and a warning. Most people who will worship the false political and religious system of Babylon, as well as its human representatives, won’t fully comprehend what they will be doing — they will not commit the unpardonable sin leading to the second death, from which there will be no resurrection (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8). Rather, God will bring them back to life in a Second Resurrection, when the gravity of their wrong conduct will be revealed to them, and when they will be given an opportunity to repent and accept God’s Way of Life.