Part 3 The Eternal Issues


Chapter 35.

The Apocalyptic Visions. — 3

The examination of our next passage will not detain us so long, as the argument with regard to it is necessarily of a very similar nature to what has been already advanced on either side. It is, however, a separate and independent testimony of the destiny of the wicked, and as such we must not pass it by. It reads thus: —

"And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever (for ages of ages); and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Rev. 14:9-11).

One would think that was as plain as it is solemn. Even Mr. Morris' "putting to the proof" instead of "torment" could scarcely much darken it. He has noticed the passage, however, and objects to its teaching the commonly received doctrine on these grounds: —

1. It is the penalty of a specific crime, and therefore cannot be the doom of those who have not committed that crime. Therefore, if it teach endless woe for some, that cannot be the "common penalty due to sinners."

But Mr. Morris is again at fault; for hell-fire may be the common penalty of sinners, and yet men be solemnly warned, as here, that once let them commit the sin in question and that hell would be their portion. What is intended very evidently is that for such persons there would be no escape The objection is therefore vain.

2. Mr. Morris says, that, whatever may be the "dramatic force" of what is said, "it is evident that it transpires on earth, and before the coming of the Lord."

But he gives no evidence for this at all, unless "it is evident" be considered such. I should think myself that "the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb," would rather make the opposite evident.

3. He appeals to the "smoke of Babylon rising up forever" (Rev. 19:3), as showing that such words do not imply the necessary existence of the sufferers, as Babylon had been "utterly burned with fire." But this we have looked at in our reply to Mr. Minton on the previous text.

The comments of the rest of annihilationist writers are no better than this. Mr. Dobney's main argument is that "the advocates of any tenet — no matter what — must be hard driven, if they are glad to take their stand among the hieroglyphs that attract us to the isle of Patmos." If he had been one of those "foolish Galatians" whom the apostle rebukes with the statement that "Abraham had two sons," etc., he would, of course, have brought a similar argument against the apostle. Yet he will condescend to notice the "hieroglyphs;" and the second argument he produces is, that "their torment is in ver. 11 represented as synchronous with their worship: they who worship the beast have no rest.'" The scholarship of which is not profound: as I suppose hoi proskunountes simply to mean "the worshippers," without any distinction of whether the worship were in the present or the past, and moreover if "have no rest" proves the worship and the unrest to be synchronous, then "shall be tormented" must show the reverse as to the torment.

But Mr. Dobney concludes farther from the omission of the saints as spectators along with the "angels and the Lamb" "that the vengeance denounced is inflicted here on earth, and in the time state," which must last, therefore, as the torment lasts, for the ages of ages! And again, "that in subsequent chapters we have the fulfilment of these very threatenings exhibited; which fulfilment indisputably takes place here and now." Certainly the fulfilment is found in Rev. 20, and we have been looking at it already, but he who can believe that the torment of individuals here and now can be "for ages of ages" must be very anxious to believe it. We need scarcely follow him there.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hudson also agrees that the passage "refers properly to the scenes of time, and not to the final judgment;" his first argument being that there is "no allusion to the resurrection or to the opening of the books"! … "And the very expression who worship the beast and his image, seems (!) to refer to the earthly conduct and condition of idolatrous people. The passage proves an earthly immortality, if it proves any." I need not waste time upon these arguments.

Mr. Constable's remarks do not call for much attention either. "Elliot," he tells us, "has no hesitation in referring Rev. 14:10-11, together with the kindred passage in Rev. 19:3, to a temporal judgment, viz., the swallowing up by volcanic fire of the territory of Rome in Italy." As to which our readers are, we think, in a position to judge for themselves. But Mr. Constable does not himself insist upon this; he will take the passages in their usual application, but only insist on their being images of "death and destruction," for which we have had his arguments under the previous texts.

Mr. Minton too unites this with the passages in Rev. 20, there being only one argument exclusively relating to it, and that is its inconsistency (understood in the orthodox way) with 2 Thess. 1:9. "The torment is said to take place 'in the presence of the Lamb.' But in 2 Thess. 1:9, those who are found in opposition to Christ at His coming, are 'punished with everlasting destruction from (away from) the presence of the Lord.' They are 'gathered out of His kingdom' and cast into outer darkness, away from the manifested presence of Christ during the millennial age."

But the "from" in Thessalonians does not mean "away from." We have already examined the passage, which Mr. Hudson rightly compares with Acts 3:19 to prove this. If it did, it by no means follows that the torment is always in the presence of the Lamb or of the holy angels, but that the judgment will be executed under their eye. They will be witnesses, but it does not say eternal witnesses.

Gen. Goodwyn is also one of those who believe that the ages of ages expire before even the millennium, that they are in fact commensurate with the pouring out of the vials in the 16th chapter! "The wrath of God," he says, "the cause of their torment, is never spoken of in connection with the final judgment of the wicked, nor has it any reference to hell and its fire." It seems he has never read the apostle Paul's words about "indignation and WRATH upon every soul of man that doeth evil … in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Rom. 2:8, 16). "It is, on the contrary," he adds, "identified here with the seven vials that will be poured out 'upon the earth,' previous to the advent of the Lord in glory (2 Thess. 1:9) which are called the vials of the wrath of God.'" How identified he does not further say, and it is hard to understand; for "previous to the advent of the Lord" seems as much opposed to "in the presence of the Lamb," as do "the ages of ages" to the very short period comparatively of the pouring out of the vials. The series of mistakes founded upon these fundamental ones we scarcely need examine.

Finally Mr. Roberts, in his "Man Mortal," objects to the orthodox view, in a very similar way: —

"1. [The orthodox] 'wrath of God' is a wrath always operating in hell from generation to generation, whereas the wrath of the Apocalypse is a wrath that 'comes' at a particular juncture of affairs on earth, when the dead are raised."

On the contrary, the "judgment of hell," in the true sense, — of Gehenna, has not yet come for any one; and its coming at a particular juncture is not in opposition to its abiding when it does come.

"2. [The orthodox] sufferers of hell-fire are immortal souls, while the apocalyptic drinkers of the wine of the wrath of God are 'men,' with 'foreheads' and 'hands.'"

This is utterly false, as Mr. Roberts must know, for we all believe that God will "destroy both body and soul in hell," and in point of fact it is only those in the body that go into it.

"3. [The orthodox] hell-fire is endured in hell, in banishment from the presence of Christ and the angels, while the apocalyptic torment in fire and brimstone is inflicted in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb."

This is the old confusion between their being witnesses and eternal witnesses, which we have before remarked upon.

"4. [The orthodox] hell is away from earth, in some distant transpatial region without solid standing ground, whereas the scene of Rev. 14 is enacted in the presence of the Lamb, after the Lamb has come to Mount Zion," etc.

The passage in Rev. 14 says not one word about the locality of hell at all, but merely threatens the worshippers of the beast that they shall endure it. It is never said to be on earth.

This closes the arguments as to these passages, the strength of which is only the more brought out by all such efforts to evade their force. The simplest interpretation still approves itself the only consistent one, after repeated examinations and criticism by those who lack neither will nor mental capacity, but who fail here utterly and hopelessly, because in conflict with the word of One who cannot lie nor change, nor mock with needless mystery the souls of the simplest among those who "read or hear the words of the book of this prophecy," and whom He pronounces "blessed," if they "keep the things which are written therein." It is learned men who have unwittingly devised entanglements for the feet of these simple ones, until they have learned to stand in doubt of that which they own to be God's word, because of the interpretations which have been put upon it. If the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven and all His holy angels with Him may mean the taking of a Jewish city, no wonder that they need a learned man to tell them so. And if this is the Scripture mode of speech, no wonder if it should be thought "highly wrought and mysterious" — inflated and exaggerated rather: and if this be its common mode, who would seek out (as expecting to make aught of them) the "hieroglyphs of Patmos"?

It will be a matter of the greatest thankfulness to me, if (apart from the subject of special interest to us now) any shall learn by the long discussion which we have gone through, how true and trustworthy is the word of God; how little it "reflects the ignorance of a dark age"; how ignorant rather is the learning which would belittle it. "Heaven and earth shall pass away" — and the voice is that of the Lord and Maker of heaven and earth — "but my words shall not pass away."

We must now return to look at a text designedly left to the present, although its fitter place might seem to be long before, inasmuch as it is the judgment of the nations at the coming of the Lord.