Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Righteous Shall Dwell in Eternal Fire

By John Sanidopoulos

In the Hebrew version* of the Book of Isaiah (33:14), the question is asked: "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" In verses 15 and 16, we get the answer to this question: "Those who walk righteously and speak what is right, who reject gain from extortion and keep their hands from accepting bribes, who stop their ears against plots of murder and shut their eyes against contemplating evil — they are the ones who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress."

What does the Prophet Isaiah mean here by "consuming fire"? Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29 inform us that "our God is a consuming fire." Both Deuteronomy and Hebrews says this in the context of explaining that our God is a jealous God, who alone demands worship, and will not tolerate anyone who worships false gods. For those who give other gods worship instead of the true God, He will be a consuming fire. This consuming and eternal fire in the New Testament is called "Hell."

However, this "fiery" and "consuming" God is experienced as "light" for others. As the Prophet Isaiah (60:18-19) says elsewhere: "Violence shall no more be heard in your land, wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. The sun shall no more be your light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light to you, but the Lord shall be to you an everlasting light, and your God shall be your glory [brightness]."

Therefore, what the Prophet Isaiah reveals to us is that God is both an everlasting consuming fire and an everlasting light. According to the Church Fathers, this "fire" and "light" are the uncreated grace of God. The fire of God is experienced as light by the righteous, while the light of God is experienced as fire by the damned. In the New Testament, the fire of God is also called Gehenna or Hell, while the Light of God is called Paradise or Heaven.

Now in Isaiah 60:17 we read about lesser materials being replaced by more valuable materials: "Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones." What does this mean? The Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:

"Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved; albeit as by fire."

In other words, each material represents the actions or works of individuals. Good actions are like valuable materials that can’t be harmed by fire. On the other hand, evil actions are mentioned as materials that can be burned. Then, the fire of God’s grace will burn the unworthy deeds and the one who committed them shall be damaged because they won’t have anything valuable to show. Both good and evil actions, both righteous and unrighteous people will go through this fire.

The Prophet Zechariah says that fire purifies valuable metals. Fire doesn’t burn them, but it purifies them and it illuminates them. When a metal stays in the fire, it too becomes bright as fire. But the fire also makes wood black and burns it:

"And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My Name, and I will hear them: I will say, 'It is My people,' and they shall say, 'The Lord is my God'" (Zechariah 13:9).

The next passage also shows us that the righteous and the unrighteous will go through the same flame. Although the sinners will feel burned by the fire, the righteous shall rest in the fire of the presence and the glory (brightness) of the Lord:

"This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in flaming fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory [brightness] of His might" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

In the Book of Revelation (22:1-2), we read about the river of the Grace of God that springs from the throne of God. This river is the river of life for the righteous:

"Then the angel showed me the pure river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."

But this same river is also described as “fiery”: "A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him" (Daniel 7:10).

We can see the difference between how the righteous and how the unrighteous perceive the Grace of God. This is because, according to the author of Psalm 29, the fire of the Lord is divided by Him into illuminating and burning energy: “The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7).

This image can be seen in traditional icons of the Last Judgment, but it is also foreshadowed in the image of the Three Children in the fiery furnace as described in the Book of Daniel, who although surrounded by flames, it felt as dew to them because the Lord was in the flames with them, and there they sang praises to the Lord.


* The Septuagint is different, which says: "Τις μεταξύ ημών θέλει κατοικήσει μετά του κατατρώγοντος πυρός; τις μεταξύ ημών θέλει κατοικήσει μετά των αιωνίων καύσεων;" ("Who will tell you that a fire is burning? Who will tell you of the eternal place?").