by George Sidney Hurd
Our Father God is repeatedly presented in Scripture as a “Consuming Fire.” This biblical portrayal of God has been understood by some to mean that God will ultimately incinerate all except for those who confess Jesus as Lord during their brief lifetime. They would say that the Consuming Fire consumes the individual himself - wiping him out of existence altogether.
The traditional view, which has been the most commonly held view since the 5th Century, also sees the Consuming Fire as being directed against the individual person. However, according to this view, the Consuming Fire never actually consumes him. Instead, God preserves those who did not properly respond to the gospel during this lifetime in a state of eternal conscious fiery torment - always burning in the flames but never being consumed.
Both of these propositions are so appalling that most Christians block them out of their minds - avoiding any thoughtful reflection upon their implications. However, more and more thoughtful nonbelievers do consider the moral and logical contradictions such doctrines present. They reject the idea that a wise and benevolent Creator, who inhabits eternity and sees the end from the beginning, would create mankind and set a plan in motion, knowing all along that it would culminate in incomprehensible tragedy for the majority of Adam’s race.
I believe that both views miserably fail to capture the true nature and intent of our Consuming Fire as He is revealed in Scripture. The prophet Malachi reveals to us the true nature and intent of this fire:
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a REFINER'S fire and like launderers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal 3:2-3)
What is the nature and intent of His fire? It is a refiner’s fire. A refiner’s fire does not entirely consume that which is subjected to it: It only consumes the dross in order to purify that which is precious in the eyes of the refiner. Neither does it last forever. It only lasts until it has purified that which is precious. Its end is restoration - not annihilation or perpetual torment. The end of God’s plan in creating us and the ages is the final restoration of all - to the praise of the glory of His grace (Acts 3:21; Rom 11:36; Phil 2:10, etc.).
The imagery of God as a Consuming, Refining Fire is seen throughout the Scriptures beginning with God’s removal of Israel from Egypt – “the iron furnace:”
“But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day.” (Deut 4:20; cf. Jer 11:4)
Here we see the first stage in the Refining Fire’s process for the purification of His chosen people. Much as Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tried of the devil, Abraham’s earliest descendants were sovereignly led into the iron furnace of affliction in Egypt. The iron furnace did not convert them into gold but it served to set them apart from the unrefined (iron ore) nations as His people.
As their history progresses, we see the refining process for Israel described by referring to the refining of more and more precious metals, culminating in the trials of the Jew/Gentile Church which convert us into pure gold (1Peter 1:7; Rev 3:18). God has never forgotten the rest of the nations, but the time of their refinement has not yet fully come. That awaits the times of the restoration of all (Acts 3:21).
God makes it clear that the fire that refines us is not literal fire, as some might think, but rather the fire of affliction intended to purify our hearts:
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isa 48:10)
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.” (Prov 17:3)
“For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined.” (Ps 66:10)
Although many today do not see God’s benevolent, purifying intent in the biblical descriptions of fiery afflictions, the Psalmist clearly understood God’s furnace of fire to be good and beneficial:
“For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid affliction on our backs.12 You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” (Ps 66:10-12)
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good, and do good… It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” (Ps 119:67-68,71)
We see His good purposes in view - even in the most severe judgments against His people after having repeatedly defied His authority over them, worshipping false gods and committing abominable acts:
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 18 ‘Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. 21 Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. 22 As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out My fury on you.” (Ezek 22:17-22)
If we didn’t know that God is good all the time, even in His wrath and His most severe judgments, we might here conclude that Israel was doomed forever – that His wrath and fire were for their total irremediable ruin rather than for their restoration. But the ultimate purpose of God in the furnace of fire was their restoration – not their destruction, as we see in continuation:
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek 36:24-26)
Here we see that, even when God in His wrath casts the obstinately wicked into a furnace of fire, He is nevertheless good all the time. His motives are redemptive and disciplinary, and the final outcome is purification and restoration. Indeed, If He were to withhold correction it would be paternal negligence rather than love. On the other hand, annihilation via incineration, or everlasting fiery torment would be excessive and abusive punishment, and irreconcilable with His love. We see this same redemptive purpose and outcome of the Lord’s furnace of affliction repeatedly throughout the Scriptures:
“I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.” (Zech 13:9)
“For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” (Heb 12:10)
Consistently throughout Scripture, we see that God’s fiery affliction ultimately leads to restoration. Some would accept that God’s fire purifies the elect, but insist that it is only designed to torment or exterminate the rest of mankind. However, God does not show partiality. “The Lord is good to ALL, and His tender mercies are over ALL His works” (Ps 145:9). God is good to all, all the time – even when they are being melted in the furnace of fire.
God even says through Ezekiel that Sodom, along with Samaria and apostate Jerusalem, will ultimately be restored (Ezek 16:53-55). This is consistent with the “apokatastasis” or the doctrine of the final restoration of all, but is irreconcilable with the doctrines of annihilation and eternal punishment.
The exact same imagery of the refiner’s fire that was used in reference to Israel and the nations of the Old Testament are carried over into the passages speaking of the eschatological furnace of fire in the Gospels and Revelation. Jesus describes the separation which will take place when He returns in the following manner:
“The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13:41-42)
Actually, God’s words back in Ezekiel 22, when referring to what we know were Israel’s temporal judgments, sound even more ominous than Jesus’ mention here of the furnace of fire. In addition to saying that He would cast them into the furnace of fire, God said: “I will leave you there and melt you.” However, severe as it may sound, the “furnace of fire” is not referring to God’s incinerator as annihilationists believe, nor to His eternal torture chamber according to the traditional doctrine of eternal torment, but rather to the divine Refiner’s purifying fire which consumes all impurities in the hearts of those who are precious to Him.
The fiery furnace has an end in view, and its end is not annihilation but purification and restoration, as we see presented throughout the Scriptures (Rev 21:5; Acts 3:21, cf. Matt 19:28; Isa 45:21-24; 25:6-8; Ps 66:3-4, etc.). Jesus is the Savior of the whole world and He has redeemed all mankind. However, we are all damaged and contaminated and in need of restoration and refinement. In the present age, few willingly submit to the Refiner’s consuming fire of affliction, which is necessary for our restoration to the image and likeness of God. However, in the times of the restoration of all, none will escape our Refiner’s consuming fire. Jesus came to seek and save the lost and He will not desist until He has drawn all unto Himself (Jn 12:32; Eph 1:10).
At the Great White Throne Judgment the wicked will be judged according to their works and will receive their part in the furnace of fire (also called Gehenna fire or the Lake of Fire and Sulfur). (Rev 20:12; 21:8). The phrases “According to their works” and “their part,” as also Jesus’ reference to “many stripes” or “few stripes,” are not consistent with eternal torment (Lu 12:47-48). Also, in two occasions, when speaking of Gehenna fire, Jesus said that they would not get out of there “until” they had paid their debt (Matt 5:26; 18:34). By saying “until,” He rules out any concept of unending fiery torment or extermination. What all these terms are perfectly consistent with is the imagery of the refiner’s fire which continues only until it has purified that which is precious in the eyes of the refiner.
Having seen the consistent use of refiner’s terminology throughout the Scriptures, we can now focus upon the main objective of this blog, which is to examine the references to sulfur and salt in relation to the fire man is said to be subjected to by God.
The Lake of Fire and Brimstone
“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (sulfur) where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev 20:10)
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8)
Before going into an explanation of the lake of fire and sulfur, there is an apparent contradiction between these two texts as commonly translated which needs clarification. The latter says that they will receive “their part,” which speaks of a measured judgment, whereas the former says “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” “Their part” cannot be without end, as “forever and ever” would express.
I deal with this subject in much more detail in my book: “The Triumph of Mercy,” but for the moment, I would like to point out that the rendering “forever and ever” is erroneous. The Greek phrase translated “forever and ever” simply means “into the ages of the ages:”
Ages are measurements of time and have nothing to do with eternity. Additionally, the preposition eís expresses “entrance into” without specifying the duration within the period of time called “the ages of the ages.” The preposition “for,” as in “forever,” is misleading because it expresses the idea of “throughout” which would be expressed by the Greek preposition dia rather than eís. Since “into the ages of the ages” sounds awkward in English we could better understand it as “in the ages of the ages” without significantly changing the meaning.
The phrase “In the ages of the ages” expresses something which will take place within the ages of the ages without specifying how much of that timespan it will occupy. When we say something like: “in the 21st Century man will be on Mars,” we are simply stating that something will take place within that century without specifying the time necessary to accomplish that objective. This is consistent with a measured judgment where one is judged according to his works – receiving “his part” in the lake of fire and sulfur. Also, once we understand God’s objective in the lake of fire and sulfur, it becomes clear that it could not last “forever and ever.”
I had difficulty understanding exactly what was being expressed by the lake of fire and sulfur until I came across an article written by Michael Webber entitled “What is the Lake of Fire?” [i] In his article, he explains that the lake of fire and sulfur is referring to the refiner’s crucible, and that sulfur was added in order to separate impurities and baser metals from the gold during the refining process. Upon further investigation in Google, I found numerous sources which confirm and elaborate upon what he said in his blog. [ii]
From antiquity, sulfur was added to the impure gold after reaching the molten state. In the fire, the impurities and most other baser metals unite with the sulfur, being converted into sulfides which float to the surface as dross and are then removed. To the refiner of gold and precious metals of biblical times, the connection between fire and sulfur would have been very obvious. Even to this day, sulfur is commonly used in the same manner, although other more sophisticated methods have also been developed.
Also, the word translated “lake” in our translations obscures the meaning of the passage. The most common word used in the New Testament for a lake or large body of water like the sea of Galilee is thalassa. However, the word that is used all six times for the Lake of Fire in Revelation is límne. Although limne can also at times refer to a lake, its more literal meaning is, “a pool” or “a pond.” Strong’s Concordance defines it: “a pond (large or small).” Although limne is used a few times in the New Testament referring to something as large as Lake Gennesaret in Galilee, it normally refers to a pool or a puddle. In certain contexts, according the Liddel, Scott, Jones Greek-English Lexicon, límne can actually refer to the receptacle containing the pool.  In the context of the refiner’s fire and sulfur, the “pool” would be the pool of precious molten metal and the “receptacle” would be the refiner’s crucible or melting pot.
Modern Bible translators, either unfamiliar with the process of gold refining, or else unduly influenced by the traditional doctrine of eternal torments, or both, all rendered it as “lake” instead of “pool.” However, the Wycliffe translation in 1382, which was the first Bible translated into English, correctly rendered limne as “pool” each of the 6 times it appears in Revelation. Revelation 20:15 reads in the Wycliffe translation:
“And he that was not foundun writun in the book of lijf, was sent in to the pool of fier.” (Rev 20:15).
Sadly, with the exception of the Douay-Rheims Bible which reads: “the pool of fire and brimstone,” all modern translations, including the KJV, incorrectly render it as “lake.” Nevertheless, once one understands the refiner’s process of purifying gold, the meaning becomes clear. Just as apostate Israel was cast into the furnace to refine them, so it will be in the end of the age. God’s fire is intended to purify the heart, because only the pure in heart can see God. (Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14) The apocalyptic lake of fire and sulfur is the divine crucible which will serve to refine the hearts of even His most obstinate enemies, bringing about the restoration of all in the coming ages, to the praise of the glory of His grace.
The Smoke of their Torment
“He shall be tormented (basanízo) with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment (basanismós) ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Rev 14:10-11
Another detail concerning the lake of fire which makes it even clearer that it is referring to the Refiner’s crucible - intended to purify those cast into it, has to do with the meaning of the word translated “tormented.” The Greek word is basanízo, which literally means “to test with a touchstone.” Touchstones were made of basalt and were used to test the purity of gold. By rubbing the gold on the touchstone, it would leave a mark by which a trained eye could determine the purity by its color. Also, acid was applied to determine the purity with more exactitude and the impurities would be consumed by the acid, producing smoke.  This explains what is meant by the saying: “the smoke of their basanismós ascends.
In a refiner’s context, the touchstone (basanízo) is not speaking of torture, but rather the refiner’s use of a touchstone in order to determine the gold’s purity. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives us a thorough definition of basanízo and its related words:
“NT:931 básanos, basanízo, basanismós, basanistés
The básanos originally belongs to the calling of the inspector of coins. It is linked with the Heb. root (‘to test’) and the Egyptian bhn (‘basalt’)…. the testing of gold and silver as media of exchange by the proving stone, was first developed by the Babylonians, then came to the Aramaeans and Hebrews by way of Lydia….
In the spiritual sphere it has the figurative sense, which is closely related to the original concrete meaning, of a means of testing. The word then undergoes a change in meaning. The original sense fades into the background. Basanos now comes to denote ‘torture’ or ‘the rack,’ espec. used with slaves…. In the testing of metal an essential role was played by the thought of testing and proving genuineness. The rack is a means of showing the true state of affairs. In its proper sense it is a means of testing and proving, though also of punishment.” [i]
As we see, the word basanízo eventually was applied to the process of bringing out the truth in man, and over time the meaning degenerated, becoming nothing more than torture carried out by perverse men. However, contrary to what Kittel insinuates, I believe that, in the context of these passages, so full of references to the purifying fire, it is not speaking of torture but rather retains its original significance to the refiner, which was to test in order to determine the level of purity in those subjected to the Refiner’s consuming fire.
This explains what it means when it says that they will be “tested as with a touchstone” (not tormented) in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Christ and the angels will not be mere spectators, as in the Roman arena, but they will be ever present, overseeing the progress of those being refined as gold. As soon as they are determined to be pure they will be restored, having their names written in the book of life and permitted to enter into the New Jerusalem. (Rev 22:14) As we saw earlier, “day and night” and “forever and ever” are not referring to eternity but rather an indefinite period of time in the ages of the ages. That it is not speaking of eternity is also clear since “day and night” are measures of time which commenced with creation. In eternity, outside of creation, time with its measurements of day and night are nonexistent. Day and night have no existence in eternity.
Salted in Fire
“For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49 NASU)
This verse has been very ambiguous to most. Even the scribes that copied the Greek texts seemed to have had difficulty understanding it since the later Byzantine Texts incorporated what seems to have been an explanatory note which later became part of the text itself, making it say: “For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.” However, most modern scholars consider the earlier, shorter reading to be the correct one. There are some 15 different interpretations given for this text and half of the commentaries I consulted refrained from making comments on this verse altogether.
While I believed that the verse referred to the purification process which all without exception must go through, either now or later, in order to become pure of heart and see the Lord, I didn’t understand why Jesus made this connection between fire and salt until I began to invesigate concerning the use of fire and sulfur for the refining of gold in order to confirm what Michael Webber had shared in his blog. I made an amazing discovery which immediately brought clarity of meaning to Jesus’ words.
Sulfer is effective in removing other base metals and impurities from gold but is not as effective in separating the silver from the gold. Far before the time of Christ, the ancients discovered that salt was more effective in separating the silver from the gold than sulfur. This is called parting. The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “By 2000 BC the process of purifying gold-silver alloys with salt to remove the silver was developed.” [ii] When the gold containing silver is heated with salt, the silver reacts with the salt, forming silver chloride which can be easily removed, producing pure gold. [iii]
This imagery illustrates God’s determination to continue purifying us until we come forth as pure gold. Silver is considered a semiprecious metal, but God will not be conformed to leaving us as a mixture of precious with semiprecious. It is not enough to remove the dross of sinful flesh from our hearts. Even our “good” but independent, dead self-works must be purged from our lives as the silver from the gold until all our works are wrought in God - passing from our life of independence into a perfect oneness with Him.
The Greek noun “fire” is in the dative case and could either be translated as instrumental – “with fire,” or as locative indicating location – “in fire.” I was never able to understand how we could be salted with fire. However now, understanding that the context is referring to parting gold with fire and salt, it becomes obvious that the correct reading is “for all will be salted in fire,” rather than “with fire.”
Many have thought that Mark 9 is referring only to the unjust. However, in the context we see that all must pass through a refining process. Even the disciples were not exempt from it:
“For He taught His disciples and said to them…. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire - 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. 49 For EVERYONE will be seasoned with fire….” (Mark 9:31,47-49)
In verse 31, we see that Jesus was speaking these words primarily to the disciples. After warning them of the reality of postmortem fire in Gehenna, He explains that everyone will have to pass through the processing of fire and salt which separates the gold even from the semiprecious silver. If we do not submit to the Refiner’s fire in this life, becoming purified from all contamination of flesh and spirit now, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2Cor 7:1), then we will be hurt by the second death, receiving our part in Gehenna fire which is the purifying lake of fire and sulfur. (Rev 2:11; 21:8)
God will not annihilate His enemies in an incinerator, nor did He create an eternal torture chamber when He created the heavens and earth and all that in them is in those first six days. No! His fire is like a refiner’s fire and He has declared that His plan for the ages will culminate in the restoration of all, when He shall be all in all in eternity:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ ALL shall be made alive…. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:22,28) 
“For of Him and through Him and TO (eís) Him are ALL things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36) 
“Say to God, ‘how awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power YOUR ENEMIES SHALL SUBMIT THEMSELVES to You. 4 ALL THE EARTH shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.” (Ps 66:3,4)
“Look to Me, and be saved, ALL you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW, EVERY TONGUE SHALL TAKE AN OATH. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.’ TO HIM MEN SHALL COME, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him.” (Isa 45:22-24)
It is not possible for me to fully present to you in this short blog all that the Scriptures have to say about this glorious theme of the final restoration of all of God’s creation. For an in-depth study of this biblical doctrine, I recommend my book entitled: “The Triumph of Mercy.”
3 Two concise and helpful sites were: https://www.911metallurgist.com/blog/sulphur-refining-gold
4 Liddell, Scott, Jones - A Greek-English Lexicon: limne.
6 Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vol.)
7 Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, version: 2012.00.00.000000000: Gold Processing,
9 Our English word “things” does not have an equivalent in Greek. Neither does the neuter form in Greek
always indicate objects as in English. When the translators insert “things” in contexts that are obviously
referring primarily to persons and not inanimate objects I take the liberty to cross it out in order to keep the
focus where it belongs.
The Inerrency of Scripture
The Love of God
The Fear of the Lord
The Question of Evil
Understanding the Atonement
Homosexuality and the Bible
Answers to Objections:
Has God Rejected Israel:
God's Glorious Plan for the Ages
The Manifest Sons of God
The Trinity and the Deity of Christ
Eternal Preexistence of Christ
Preterism vs. Futurism
The Two-Gospel Doctrine Examined