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I don’t believe the lake of fire is where people think it is. Most people, and as I used to think, was that the lake of fire is somewhere next to heaven. This is generally believed, because of the account about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.
Luke 16:19-26 NASB “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’
Notice that there is this dialogue going on between Abraham and Lazarus across the chasm. Hence, if this is literal, it is possible for those in heaven, to have a conversation with those in hell. For those who are in heaven, listening to the screams across the chasm, I don’t imagine this would be a very nice experience for either the screamer or the ones listening to the screams.
However if this is a parable, rather than literal, then the lake of fire is not literally alongside heaven. The question then is where is the lake of fire situated? I will deal with this by comparing Revelation 20 and 2 Peter 3. I will show how these two sections of scripture parallel each other and in doing so will reveal the location of the lake of fire. This should help establish a timeline and make clearer the tenses of certain words and phrases.
So lets look at the Revelations 20 passage first:
Revelation 20:4-15 NASB (4) Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (5) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (7) When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, (8) and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. (9) And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. (10) And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (11) Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. (12) And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (15) And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
We see in the previous passage we see a number of references to the lake of fire. From here we see a number of points.
2 Peter 3:3-12 NASB Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, (4) and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (5) For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, (6) through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (7) But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (8) But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (9) The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (11) Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
Now in the above passage not the following:
In yet another verse we see again that eternal destruction is away from the Lord’s presence. This makes sense as heaven and earth fled away.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 NASB (9) These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
So we can see that the lake of fire will be on earth, at the end of time, and not adjacent to the allotment of heaven at all. Hence the account of the rich man and lazarus must indeed be a parable as the lake of fire is not adjacent to heaven separated only by a chasm whereby the suffering can make their screams heard across the chasm.
I anticipate people will have a problem with this interpretation for the following reasons:
The other objection is from Ecclesiastes 1:4 which states that the earth is to remain forever. The key is to understand what this word “forever” means and how elsewhere this same Hebrew word is used in scripture. The word forever is from the Hebrew word “olam”, strongs number H5769. The Strongs reference has the following to say about it.
From H5956; properly concealed, that is, the vanishing point; generally time out of mind (past or future), that is, (practically) eternity; frequentative adverbially
So you can see it doesn’t need to mean endless. One example of a usage which is translated as “forever” but does not actually mean forever is Leviticus 7:33-34.
Leviticus 7:33-34 NASB ‘The one among the sons of Aaron who offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat, the right thigh shall be his as his portion. (34) ‘For I have taken the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the contribution from the sons of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons as their due forever from the sons of Israel.
You can see that this “forever” is not forever as there will be no animal sacrifices in heaven. It simply meant for the foreseeable future. Animal sacrifices were no longer needed after Jesus sacrifice.