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Revelation's "Lake of Fire"
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A blizzard of Revelation bible-commentaries confronts the student of Scripture; each might offer a different perspective.
Editor's note: I well recall a defining moment in my intellectual development as a young man: I discovered, from the writings of various biblical scholars, other viewpoints concerning the message of Revelation, ones that did not conform to the dogmatic teachings of my particular church at the time, but which, however, offered credible explanation of Revelation, grounded in fair and careful assessment of the text, history’s lessons, but also sacred humanism and natural law.
Today, it seems too puerile, too obvious, to state that there will always be other possible explanations to any question or phenomenon. But, in my youth, still oppressed by cultish unclear thinking, such expansiveness of thought and liberality of mind had not yet come to me. It would take a long time, most of my life, for me to become free, not just of bad ideas, but bad ways of reasoning and arriving at those ideas.
Allow me to summarize an important principle from my studies of many years ago - seemingly, a small point, but one that invited new vistas of thought for me and would become dispositive, an opening wedge, in terms of arriving at some semblance of Revelation's message.
the number 7 is used more than 50 times in Revelation - clearly, we are dealing with a symbolical number
Probability tells us that the employment of a number 50+ times within short compass could not happen by accident. Revelation's author is trying to tell us something by this surfeit of usage.
coded language so as to not alarm Dear Leader
In Revelation we find layer upon layer of symbolical meaning. The author, it becomes evident, is cloaking his intended message lest the totalitarian powers-that-be of his day should look askance upon his writing.
Despite the extensive content of Revelation's symbology, I would like to keep this discussion on an abbreviated level. Therefore, my purpose will avoid expatiation and offer condensed comments.
so many sevens
In Revelation we find 7 churches, 7 angels, 7 thunders, 7 trumpets, 7 woes, 7 Beast-resurrections, 7 vials... I could go on. The number seven, especially when used in this ostensible way, has a hidden meaning in the Bible, indicating fullness, completeness, perfection.
"7 churches" means, "This applies to all congregations everywhere."
"7 angels" means, "The entire heavenly host, all of God's agents, are working on this."
"7 woes" means, "You have no idea how bad it could get. It will get as bad as the forces of Evil can make."
I think you get the idea. But, for our purposes at hand, I will be centering on the 7 Beast-resurrections.
the Beast and the False Prophet
These two, an unholy alliance, do not refer to any particular duo in history. They are universal symbols applying to fundamental essence of Evil found everywhere.
"The Beast" or "The Animal" represents raw, brute, oppressive force.
"The False Prophet" or "The Lying Teacher" signifies the power of deception and propaganda in the world; as we say today, "fake news."
These forces of Evil in the world, as we might know, often come to us costumed as harmless "lamb," that is, they masquerade and role-play as savior, good person, and benefactor-politician, while cloaking a monster-heart.
- Shakespeare: "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain"
the Lake of Fire is absolutely not a reference to eternal hellfire
The myth of eternal hellfire is dealt with elsewhere; however, for our purposes here:
You will notice that Death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:20).
But, can Death die?
Hades is a place - can a place die?
Death and Hades are abstractions, mere ideas, symbolical forms. Death and Hades have no bodies to be burned. We are dealing here with symbolical language; and, despite Revelation's abstruseness, in this case, the meaning is not very hard to discern.
All thinking people throughout history have pondered the significance of suffering and evil in the world: how will it end? will 'the good' eventually triumph? The author of Revelation is addressing these universal questions - as did the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and also the apostle Paul:
"He will swallow up death forever" (Isa. 25:7, 8).
"The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15: 26).
the Beast and False Prophet are abstractions, symbols, of universal oppression of humankind. The author of Revelation ponders a universal question: When will these twin scourges of Evil will be removed from the world?
The Beast or "The Wild Animal," along with the False Prophet or "The Lying Teacher," rises and falls 7 times. But 7 is a symbolical number indicating a complete or perfect number of times.
I suggest that the meaning is clear enough. Brute Force and its concomitant, The Lying Teacher, at times in history, have been beaten back, and, for short periods, a measure of peace might reign. But then the forces of oppression rise again.
How many times will Evil rise and fall? Seven times?
This begins to sound like a discussion Jesus had with his students: "Seven times? - no, I tell you, seventy times seven!" His rejoinder, too, is not meant to be taken literally. He's not saying, "Let's see now, 7 times 70 is 490 times, that's the literal magic number!"
But Jesus had no intention of suggesting a concrete number. He meant to say, "an infinite number of times"!
And so it is for us in our example from Revelation. How many times will the Beast and False Prophet come after us? - an infinite number of times! And they will keep coming, and keep coming, and keep coming, as many times as they seemingly are beaten back! Isn't this what we see from the Fake News industry today? Do they give up, even when they're discredited? No, they double down on their lies, and keep pouring it on.
Brute Force does the same. Can you think of even one example in the last 10,000 years when Brutality has said, "Well, we've been pretty hard on these people. Why don't we just let them go now so they can have a nice life?" This has never happened. Murderous Oppression has never voluntarily laid down its weapons.
To restate: this is the lesson of history, for thousands of years. Brute Force and Propaganda might suffer a setback, but it isn't long before they're back in business, ready to bedevil us again.
Editor's note: There is a scene in Nixon which speaks to this. A nineteen year-old female war-protestor, in debate with the President, suddenly perceives the dire issue: "If they don't want the war, and we don't want the war, and you don't want the war, why does it go on? [suddenly understanding] You're not able to stop it! It's the system, isn't it? It's like an uncontrolled Wild Animal!"
why and how do they keep coming back
Let's take a moment to rethink this entire issue. Possible confusion here stems from wanting to make the Beast and False Prophet specific individuals or collective-powers, such as particular nations or churches - which assertions, in themselves, are forms of propaganda, an effort to demonize certain groups to the advantage of others.
This is wrong.
The Beast and False Prophet are universal abstractions, ideas, concepts in the head. We must escape the cloaked terminology of two thousand years ago and translate these symbols into modern thought-forms.
Brute Force and Deception-Propaganda do not represent the exclusive domain of history's most famous villains. The dysfunctional ego loves this kind of talk, as it proclaims, "let's get rid of the bad guys so life can be good for us good guys." It doesn't work that way -- this is just more propaganda.
it's always tempting to externalize the problem: we want to 'become saints by rehearsing the sins of others'; we want to 'throw the Beast and False Prophet into the Lake of Fire' and be done with Evil forever - but, it's more complicated than that
These universal abstractions, the two major forms of oppression in history, are common tools of the Small Ego, as it attempts to accommodate the inner neediness of "I am not enough."
The Beast and False Prophet denote the grasping-tactics of the unenlightened Everyman and Everywoman.
Granted, some are much more hard-core than others, some are more insane than others -- see the utterly shameless "clawing at doors" -- and some do, in fact, operate on a world-stage, but all, major and minor role-players, serve in the grip of the Small Ego, and all live on the same continuum of unconsciousness, or lack thereof.
And therefore the curse of oppression will not leave our planet until each man and woman comes to know the True Self, the life and fullness within.
Many months after writing the above, I had occasion to discuss this topic with Adrian Smith. He had recently written a piece for the “ultimate reality” page featuring the apostle John’s view of final events in Revelation, “the bride adorned for her husband.” Adrian said that this view of highest reality, in essence, is an advanced level of consciousness, an ecstasy. As we discussed these things, I thought of John’s metaphor of the city of God, that “bride,” that ecstasy, displacing the former domain of the Beast and False Prophet.
And I said to Adrian, this is the answer to universal evil. Some people think that we, here on the Earth, with better teaching, more education, societal growth, will eventually, gradually, turn this planet into an oasis of spirituality. But there can be no “gradually.” This is a planet where the system itself is rigged against us. Here, the Beast and False Prophet reign with iron fist, suffuse, to various degrees, all unenlightened thought, and no matter how many times – seven times! – they're beaten back, they will rise again, and keep coming at us, and keep coming at us, because the dysfunctional neediness of the “false self” requires grasping evil to exist.
I said that if “The Animal” and “The Lying Teacher” were to be expunged from the world, there’d be no reason to come to this planet of dualism and its polar opposites – we might as well stay in Summerland with its perfect climes. However, we come here to learn valuable lessons of “waking up” via the harsh terra-environment, and the Guides intend for us to get our money's worth.
The Beast and False Prophet do not give up, I said to Adrian, because human dysfunctional-ego neediness does not give up. This is why this Evil Duo is “thrown alive into the lake of fire.” They’re “thrown alive” because they never give up, and will go down fighting -- not by a gradual, incremental program of the world becoming better and better; no, they’ll be gone in one blinding flash, one incendiary moment of blazing cosmic insight of enhanced consciousness! As the great mystics teach, the world doesn't need "more time," a gradualism, to become perfect, but only an accessing of the timeless, one eternal moment of clarity.
Education, more information, alone cannot remove the fears and insanity of people. In the history of the world, no educational program or religious training or weekend "sensitivity training seminar" has ever been able to eradicate one particle or atom of the "heart of darkness."
But, the question will be asked, is not the world a safer place than a thousand or two thousand years ago? Have we not abolished slavery and the burning of witches? Are not our courts empowered by the rule of law and not monarchial whim?
Yes, these are fine improvements, and we welcome them. But the essential "heart of darkness" remains untouched, poised for its next resurrection. The dysfunctional ego might be put in a strait-jacket, and hedged about by a system of carrot-and-stick constraint, but it has not surrendered. It will come back to attack society under new guise, new cleverness, to get what it wants, as it attempts to circumvent the newly-minted socially-unacceptable norm. Today we have new forms of slavery, new arguments to convince us that "white is black," we burn witches in new ways, and new power-structures inflict their whim upon us -- as "the truth" is vilified and trampled in the streets, as it's always been sullied and spat upon.
Real change, as historian Will Durant came to see, comes only by way of the philosophers and saints in society. It is only when we're led to a higher level of consciousness that fears and insanity begin to lose their grip on the human psyche -- only then might the illusion of "I have not enough because I am not enough" be snapped. This manumission, alone, and no other factor, becomes the end of evil.
And this seems to be the apostle John’s vision with “the bride,” an ecstasy, a new civilization, displacing the reign of the symbolical Evil Duo. This ecstasy, the joy, of living in the flow of life, of partaking of the mind of God, of the happiness of simply being alive, is what finally defeats the Evil Duo and cleanses the world by fire. They’re burned up, in a single moment, by the flames of piercing insight; one charring instant of cosmic clarity -- and they're gone, forever.
The end of the symbolical Beast and False Prophet is not a single universal event. Their demise, the end of their influence, comes to each one of us, each heart and mind, on an individualized basis. Each one of us must represent “the end of evil in the world” – for we are the world! and until we cleanse ourselves by the immolation of better awareness, the Evil Duo retains foothold in the cosmos, and stands ready to come back one more time.
the jungle always wins
In their massive “Story Of Civilization,” Will and Ariel Durant, observing the tiresome rise-and-fall of history’s human governments, societies, and cultures, comment, to the effect, that the jungle always wins.
A people might amass great scientific knowledge in astronomy and mathematics, might create grand and imposing architectural edifices, produce a veritable wonderland of philosophy, the fine arts, and jurisprudence, but, eventually, the jungle will have the last say and wins.
In fact, as the Durants’ assess, any apparent progress that humankind makes in this world is but "a temporary interruption of the jungle." This is a lesson of history, a view of life on planet Earth, from a high vantage point.
The Durants' "jungle" metaphor says that things of this world are impermanent, all structures therein are unstable.
John Adams, with a disturbing insight into the nature of things, spoke plainly that all democracies eventually commit suicide. But it’s not just democracies, it’s all forms of human government that self-destruct, which would include all churches with its Nice Young Man, corporations, all John-and-Mary marriages, all social contracts of every sort.
But why should it be this way? Why are we so unstable?
Many saints and philosophers have explained it to us. For example, in the New Testament, the apostle John speaks of this world as “passing away.” And why so ephemeral? – because it is founded upon “the lust of the eyes,” the covetousness of the heart, the Little Me, the dysfunctional ego within, that can’t stop chattering, “I don’t have enough” because “I am not enough.”
The domain of the Ego creates civilization as it makes its fearful and needy way through history, but a time comes when that which it creates all falls apart. Why does it fall apart? Call it “imperial overreach.” It tries to get too much, it oppresses others too much, it attempts to fortify itself at the expense of the common good. And then it all “passes away.” And when it does, the jungle stands ready to take it over.
We might think we’ve won against the jungle with our machetes, herbicides, and mechanical choppers, but, as the Durants instruct, all this is but "a temporary interruption of the jungle." The silent verdant marching-troops of slow-accretive floral advance, eventually, win all wars. But only in this world, which is passing away.
The lessons for us?
(1) Whatever you are doing, be it this moment or in terms of long-range projects, if these are not based upon the energies of “the true self,” then – stop. There’s no point in continuing, as it will all “pass away,” come to nothing, but for sorrowful and tearful insights gained.
(2) If your cause is just, if your purpose reflects authentic desire based upon “the true self” and the hidden pledges of the soul, then, be like the jungle. Keep moving forward. In the short term, you may be turned back, with battles apparently lost, but, a day will come when you'll win the war. If you never give up, if your heart is set like flint, then will yet achieve that which your heart authentically desires. Because the jungle always wins.
This is the mountain-moving message of Jesus in Mark 11. The long-viewed fortitudinous intention, built upon the dictates of the soul and Universal Intelligence, cannot fail in its endeavor. It will win. The jungle always wins.
Editor's last word:
In Revelation, Satan, an epi-center of human fear, is also thrown into the Lake of Fire; but he, too, is an abstraction. I will deal with the Satan-myth in a separate article.