Chapter 1 - An Unlikely Conversation

An Unlikely Conversation

It was a February morning in the year 1954, or perhaps it was 1953. The exact date is uncertain, and indeed, no one was paying much attention anyway to a conversation that took place in front of a country church somewhere in the hills on a Sunday morning.

We know almost nothing about the young man and young woman who were there. All we really know is that the young woman wore a pink and white bonnet, and the young man was rather unremarkable. Both of them, however, had the honor of being committed Christians to whom the presence of Christ had been disclosed.1

They had been conversing about the church picnic for several minutes when the conversation turned to theology, where it struck a chord and made an interesting turn

“Well,” said the young lady, “I understand your concerns, but I personally believe that if you don’t trust in Jesus, God will resurrect you, throw you into hell and burn you alive for eternity.”

“Really,” said the young man. “And where did you learn this?”

“It’s in the Bible,” she said, a tad indignantly. “You’ve read the Bible haven’t you? You listen to the pastor, don’t you?”

“I have read the scriptures, thoroughly” said the young man, “And I have heard the pastor speak of eternal torment for the unredeemed. But I do not find it in scripture.”

“It’s all through scripture,” she said. “All you have to do is read it. Jesus talked more about hell than anyone. Everybody knows God will send you to hell and burn you alive forever if you don’t trust in Jesus.”

“Really,” said the man, “I must have missed it. Can you show it to me?”

“I believe that’s in Revelation 14. It it says there that they will be tormented with burning sulfur day and night forever and ever and the smoke of their torment will go up for eternity.’

“Who?” Asked the man.

“Who what?”

“Who will be tormented day and night?”

“Why, all those who didn’t trust in Jesus, of course.” Replied the young woman.

“I cannot find where that verse says that all those who don’t trust in Jesus will be tormented day and night forever.”

“If you want me to, I can read it to you,” she replied. “Hand me your Bible.”

“Please,” he replied, handing her his Bible, “read it to me.”

“I will be happy to read it to you. It is as plain as the nose on your face. And here it is in Revelation 14:10, ‘He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night’ Are you satisfied now?”

“I don’t believe you read the entire verse. What does the rest of the verse say?”

“I will be more than happy to finish it for you,” she replied. “‘There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’”

“So, it doesn’t apply to anybody today?”

“Why, it applies to everyone who doesn’t trust in Jesus.”

“If that is so, then why does it say that it applies to those who worship the beast and his image, when the beast is some time in the distant future. I believe the term beast refers to the antichrist, who is to come in the end times. The verse applies to those who worship him.”

"It can apply to everyone else, too."

"Really? Look just two verses before, in verse 9, where it says again that it applies only to those who worship the beast.2 So, where does the verse say that it applies to all unbelievers?"

“This particular verse does not say that it applies to all unbelievers. You have to read them all together.”

“OK, then I understand from your answer that you agree that this particular verse does not apply to all unbelievers. Is that right?"

"This particular verse does not specifically apply to all unbelievers, no. But there are other verses."

"I am sure there are, but if we want to find a verse that teaches eternal torment of all of the unredeemed, it will have to be a different verse. Is that right?

"Yes, and there plenty of others, I am sure."

“And where does this verse say that this burning will last for eternity?”

“The scripture is clear.” She said. “It says that they will be tormented day and night and that their smoke will ascend forever and forever.3

“I do understand that they will be tormented day and night and that the smoke of that torment will rise forever, but where does it say that their torment will last forever?”

"It does not say so specifically, but where there is smoke there is fire and something must be burning to make all of that smoke and the smoke is rising forever. That is the implication of the verse."

"So you conclude that since the smoke will never stop ascending the people are being consciously tormented forever?"

"Yes. The smoke is the smoke of their torment. The smoke is going up forever, so this particular verse proves that at least the beast worshipers are tormented forever. The smoke implies it."