Would you explain Revelation 20:10? Does this Scripture say that the beast and the false prophet will be tormented in hell fire forever?
A superficial reading, especially in many of the modern translations, might indeed lead us to conclude the existence of a never-ending torture of the beast (a military leader) and the false prophet (a religious leader) in hell. However, analyzing the Scripture carefully, a different conclusion is warranted.
The Authorized Version (AV) translates Revelation 20:10, as follows:
“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.”
Please note that the subject of the sentence is the devil. It is he who will be tormented in the lake of fire. In regard to the beast and the false prophet, please note that the word, “are” is in italics, in the AV. This means, there is no verb in the Greek language, so that the translators had to ADD a verb — they ADDED the English word “are,” based on how they understood the meaning of the sentence. However, the addition of the word “are” is clearly WRONG in this context.
We read, in Revelation 19:20, that the beast and the false prophet were cast, about one thousand years earlier, into the lake of fire, to be burnt up and destroyed. As we explained in our recent updates on “hell” and on the “smoke of their torment” (see Updates #194 and 195), there is no ever-lasting hell fire, tormenting human beings forever. Rather, humans who will be thrown into the lake of fire will be instantaneously burned up and destroyed.
Since there needs to be an addition of a word or phrase in Revelation 20:10 (“where the beast and the false prophet…”), the words to be added should be, “were cast,” so that the sentence reads: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet WERE CAST [namely, one thousand years earlier, as reported in Revelation 19:20]…”
It is not uncommon in the Greek to leave out a verb or phrase in a sentence, when the previous clause dictates what words are to be added. However, the words to be added are to be in harmony with the previous clause. In Revelation 20:10, we read that the devil WAS CAST into the lake of fire. It is that clause (“was cast”) that must be added in the next phrase — that is, “where the beast and the false prophet WERE CAST.”
For instance, we find a similar occurrence in 1 Corinthians 10:24: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well being.” In order to understand this passage correctly, one has to repeat in the second phrase the beginning of the first phrase. The clear and intended meaning is: “Let no one seek his own, but LET each one SEEK the other’s well-being.” For additional examples, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days,” pages 42-45.
Let’s note how the Revised English Bible translates Revelation 20:10:
“Their seducer, the Devil, was flung into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet HAD BEEN FLUNG…”
The New International Version states: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet HAD BEEN THROWN…”
Most translations continue this sentence, however, by saying: “…and THEY shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” From this rendition, commentators argue that not only the devil, but also the beast and the false prophet will be tormented for all eternity, as otherwise, the sentence would have to continue to read: “…and HE (that is, the devil) shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
Not all agree. As we saw, the Authorized Version OMITS the word, “they,” and renders the continuation of the sentence: “… and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever,” indicating that the subject is the devil, and not the beast and the false prophet. The Revised English Bible translates:
“Their seducer, the Devil, was flung into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been flung to be tormented day and night for ever.”
Of course, by omitting to place a comma after “had been flung,” they give the impression that it is the beast and the false prophet who will be tormented forever and ever. But since the clause “where the beast and the false prophet had been flung,” is clearly an inserted thought, a relative sentence, the rendering should obviously include a comma after “had been flung,” making it clear that it is the DEVIL who is to be tormented day and night forever. The translation of the Revised English Bible should read:
“Their seducer, the Devil, was flung into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been flung, to be tormented day and night for ever.”
Some insist, however, that the clause “THEY shall be tormented” is correct, as it is a translation of the Greek verb, “basanisthesontai,” which, they say, is a plural verb. If this conclusion is correct, then we must ask the question to whom the plural verb refers.
When we realize for WHOM the lake of fire was prepared, the answer would be obvious. We read in Matthew 25:41 that the lake of fire was “prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Therefore, it will be the devil and his demons who will be tormented in the lake of fire, as long as that lake exists. Since spirit beings can’t die (compare Luke 20:36), they will be tormented — in a spiritual way — while being confined to the lake of fire, when they experience their inability to deceive man anymore, and when they see all their “works” and evil “accomplishments” replaced by the good and prosperous ways of God.
Following this explanation, we need to realize that the fact that the Scripture in Revelation 20:10 only refers to the devil, but then speaks about the devil and demons (“THEY will be tormented”), is a structure in the Greek language, known as “metonymy.” This is a figure of speech, substituting an associated term for the name itself, as in “the crown decrees” for “the ruler decrees.” The Greek word, “metonymy,” is derived from the Greek “meta,” meaning “altered” and “onyma,” “meaning “name.” (Compare Britannica World Language Dictionary). It means here that it refers first to the main representative, the devil, while subsequently including those whom he represents, the demons.
The Bible uses that way of speaking on occasion. Note one example for this “figure of speech” in the report of the demons possessing the herd of swine. In the record of Matthew, we are clearly told that Christ dealt with TWO demon-possessed men (Matthew 8:28-32). However, in the record of Mark, we are only told about ONE demon-possessed man (Mark 5:1-13). It is obvious, then, that the one man mentioned in Mark was the spokesman or leader of the other man, mentioned in Matthew. In the same way, the devil in Revelation 20:10 is the leader or representative of all the demons, mentioned or referred to in the latter part of the same sentence.
But even if we allow for the possibility that the statement “they shall be tormented for ever and ever” would include the beast and the false prophet, that would still not mean that they will be tormented for all eternity. The Greek clause for “forever and ever” is “eis tous ainonas ton aionon.” It literally means, “to the ages of the ages.” We addressed the meaning of this clause in our last Update #195, when discussing Revelation 14:11 (“And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever,” AV). We showed that this phrase can refer to a brief period of time, as long as a particular condition exists, or as long as the person lives. If applied in this way to Revelation 20:10, the beast and the false prophet would only be tormented for a very brief period of time, before the fire would kill them and burn them up.
In conclusion, Revelation 20:10 does not teach that human beings, or the souls of evil persons, will be tormented forever and ever in a hell fire, without ever dying or being annihilated.