The 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 five verses of the Book of Revelation. In the biblical context, the concept seems analogous to the Jewish Gehenna, or the more common concept of Hell. The image of the lake of fire was taken up by the early Christian Hippolytus of Rome in about the year 230 and has continued to be used by modern Christians.

Ancient Egyptian religion

Main article: Ancient Egyptian religion

Richard H. Wilkinson wrote:

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" or "house" 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. Some temple texts and modern books have said that the Lake of Fire in the Egyptian Religion is the lake that Ra would pass through in his daily journey in the Duat. He goes in the west gate and exit through the east gate and after that, it would say that the boat was renewed.[1]

An image[2] in the Papyrus of Ani (c. 1250 BCE), 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.[3]: 168 


Further information: Christian views on Hell and Christian views on Hades

Mark 9:43 has Jesus himself use the image of a punishing unquenchable fire:

43And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched

— Mark 9:43, KJV[4]

Book of Revelation

The Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (Zürich Bible, 1531)
The Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (Zürich Bible, 1531)
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The Book of Revelation has five verses that mention a "lake of fire" (Ancient Greek: λίμνη τοῦ πυρός, romanizedlimne tou pyros):

And the beast[5] was taken, and with him the false prophet[6] 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 19:20, KJV[7]

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 20:10, KJV[8]

Then Death and Hades[a] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

— Revelation 20:14–15, NKJV[9]

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

— Revelation 21:8, ESV[10]

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.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17] However, the Greek words translated "torment" or "tormented" in English come from the root βάσανος, basanos with the original meaning of "the testing of gold and silver as a medium of exchange by the proving stone" and a later connotation of a person, especially a slave, "severely tested by torture" to reveal truth.[18]

Denominational views

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.[19]

Seventh-day Adventists believe in annihilation as well. They too believe that the lake of fire passage is referring to extinction, not to an eternal place of torment as understood in the mainstream Protestant interpretation.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other churches within the Latter Day Saint Movement read of a concept of the "lake of fire" in the Book of Mormon, in several passages of the record. The most descriptive instance of a "lake of fire" in the Book of Mormon occurs in Jacob 6:10, which reads, "Ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment." The Book of Mormon also refers to the lake of fire as a state of second death or spiritual death, where there is no hope for redemption or salvation until after the resurrection or, for sons of perdition, never.

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". The lake of fire is described by Hippolytus unambiguously as the place of eternal torment for the sinners after the resurrection.[20]

20th-century views

The Catholic Portuguese visionary Lúcia Santos reported that the Virgin Mary (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.[21]

Universalist eschatology

Early Christian Universalists, most notably Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 253), and Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395), understood the lake of fire as a symbolic purifying fire used to eliminate the dross from the gold,[22] or a "refiner's crucible". Origen refers to the "lead of wickedness" that must be refined out of the gold.[23] Origen obtained his Universalist views, known then as apocatastasis,[24] from his mentor Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215),[25] who was a student of Pantaenus. Origen explained the refining metaphor in response to a philosopher named Celsus who accused Christians of representing God as a merciless tormentor armed with fire.[26]

In the view of Origen:

Our God is a 'consuming fire' in the sense in which we have taken the word; and thus he enters in as a 'refiner's fire' to refine the rational nature, which has been filled with the lead of wickedness, and to free it from the other impure materials which adulterate the natural gold or silver, so to speak, of the soul.[27]

19th-century scholar Charles Bigg summarized Origen's view as, "Slowly yet certainly the blessed change must come, the purifying fire must eat up the dross and leave the pure gold. One by one we shall enter into rest, never to stray again. Then when death, the last enemy, is destroyed, when the tale of his children is complete, Christ will 'drink wine in the kingdom of his Father.' This is the end, when 'all shall be one, as Christ and the Father are one,' when 'God shall be all in all.'"[28]

In the view of Gregory of Nyssa, "when death approaches to life, and darkness to light, and the corruptible to the incorruptible, the inferior is done away with and reduced to non-existence, and the thing purged is benefited, just as the dross is purged from gold by fire."[29]

Further evidence corroborating their interpretation of the lake of fire as a "refiner's crucible" is that the Greek word commonly translated as "lake" also refers to something small, like a pond[30] or a "pool", as translated in the Wycliffe and New American Bible (NABRE).[31][32]

See also


  1. ^ The King James Version of Revelation 20:14–15 and the 21st century King James Version have "hell" where some more-modern versions have "Hades" (a transliteration of the Greek word in the text).


  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. ^ Pool or Lake of Fiery Water, painted red, with burning braziers and baboons, from the Book of the Dead. (plate 32, p.168 for accompanying text. Raymond Faulkner, et al., from Hell's Pre-Christian Origins
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Mark 9:43
  5. ^ Cf. Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:1–4; Revelation 13:11–18; Revelation 14:9–11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 16:10–13; Revelation 17:3–17; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 20:4
  6. ^ Cf. Revelation 16:13
  7. ^ Revelation 19:20
  8. ^ Revelation 20:10
  9. ^ Revelation 20:14–15
  10. ^ Revelation 21:8
  11. ^ "'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)
  12. ^ The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by Gregory K. Beale (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999 ISBN 978-0-8028-2174-4, p. 1035]
  13. ^ A Commentary on the Revelation of John, by George Eldon Ladd (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1972 ISBN 0-8028-1684-3, p. 258]
  14. ^ The Last Things. A Survey of Biblical Eschatology (Kensington Theological Academy ISBN 1-4357-2224-8, p. 122
  15. ^ All the Doctrines of the Bible: a study and analysis of major Bible doctrines, by Herbert Lockyer (Zondervan, 1988 ISBN 0-310-28051-6, p. 292
  16. ^ Revelation Commentary
  17. ^ Dr Grant C. Richison
  18. ^ Kittel, Gerhard, ed. (1964). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Translator. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. pp. 561–563.
  19. ^ "What Really is Hell?". The Watchtower: 5–7. July 15, 2002.
  20. ^ Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe, 1
  21. ^ Fatima In Lucia's Own Words, Lucia de Jesus (1995), The Ravengate Press, pp. 101, 104
  22. ^ p. 279. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, by Dr. Charles Bigg. In Summary of Origen's views on fire and punishment.
  23. ^ p. 151. Origen quotation "lead of wickedness". Universalism Prevailing Doctrine by Dr. John Wesley Hanson
  24. ^ Apokatastasis: Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University:
  25. ^ p.15 Universalism Prevailing Doctrine by Dr. John Wesley Hanson
  26. ^ p. 96-97. Ancient history of universalism by Ballou, Hosea D.D. 1872.
  27. ^ John Wesley Hanson. Origen quotation. Universalism Prevailing Doctrine. p. 151.
  28. ^ p. 279. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, by Dr. Charles Bigg. In Summary of Origen's views on fire and punishment.
  29. ^ p.237. Gregory of Nyssa. Universalism Prevailing Doctrine by Dr. John Wesley Hanson
  30. ^ Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: Probably from limen (through the idea of nearness of shore); a pond (large or small) -- lake.
  31. ^ Translation: "pool burning with fire and brimstone"
  32. ^ Translation: "pool of fire and sulfur"