Saturday, December 15, 2007

After Life (20) - Fire

Fire is anothe image used to describe the future of those who reject Jesus. This takes various forms.

  1. Fire
    But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire ((Matt 5:22).
    Fire can symbolise several different things. Fire causes pain to human flesh. Fire purifies gold and silver. Fire also causes destruction. We cannot just assume that Jesus chose the image of fire to symbolise painful punishment. Jesus might have chosen fire as a symbol of destruction. The link with Gehenna suggests that he was thinking about the fires in the Valley of Himmon that were used to destroy rubbish.

  2. Fiery Furnace
    As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 13:40-42).
    The weeds are thrown in the furnace because they are not wanted. They are destroyed, so that their seeds cannot spread and grow.

    When I was young we often burnt the stubble and straw once the crop of wheat had been harvested. Dry straw burns really fast. When it is burnt there is almost nothing left. There is almost no ash, because the straw is totally destroyed. The image of the fiery furnace implies that those who cause evil will be totally destroyed.

  3. Eternal fire
    If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. (Matt 18:8).
    The fire is eternal, but the person who is figuratively thrown into the fire is not. They will be destroyed by the fire. The word eternal is used to emphasis the fact that this destruction is permanent.

  4. Lake of fire
    Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).
    A lake of fire does not make sense, if taken literally, because lakes do not burn. The water of the lake would eventually evaporate or put out the fire. If fire symbolises destruction, then the lake intensifies the image. The lake of fire symbolises signifies total destruction.
    Death is not a physical thing, so fire cannot harm it. The idea of Hades being thrown into a fire does not make sense. However the idea that death and Hades will be destroyed makes real sense. Death has no place in eternity so it must be destroyed.

    The ideal that the lake of fire is a symbol of destruction is confirmed by the expression “second death”. Death means the end of something. When a body dies it decays and rots until it has disappeared. Death is a symbol of destruction. When something dies life comes to end. Those whose names are not written on the book of life will experience a “second death”. This death will be fatal.

    I find it odd that some people want to take the lake of fire literally see people burning in the lake for ever. That can only happen if these people stay alive, which implies that the second death does not kill them. A literal lake of fire requires a symbolic second death.

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