The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Ages and Ages?

Just when I’m getting comfortable with the idea that “ages and ages” in Revelation 14:11 is not a euphemism for an eternal length of time, but is perhaps an expression meant to mean an indeterminate amount of time necessary for all within the lake of fire to repent, I discover that this very same expression is used numerous times in Revelation to refer to things that must be eternal, for example: worship to God, God Himself, the believer’s reign with God (see 1:6, 8 ; 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 22:5). Therefore, it seems odd that John would suddenly have a different meaning in mind when using it in 14:11.

Gregory McDonald, in the Evangelical Universalist, suggests:

A.) “John was simply adopting stereotypical descriptions of the post-mortum life of the damned…” However, in my view, this seems to be suggesting that John was taking quite a liberty with language.

B.) Revelation 14:11 only indicates that “the smoke rises for ever (not literally), but this does not mean that their torment last forever.” In a footnote he includes the idea that the smoke of their torment could serve as an eternal memorial to the just punishment they deserved, even though they would not receive the full eternal length of it. In any case, differentiating between the smoke and the actual torment seems a more plausible way to allow for a limited term of punishment.

However, what if the smoke of their torment and their actual torment are the same thing?

1.) Is it possible that the Greek phrase for “ages and ages” is so flexible that it can be used refer to an eternal length of time and an indeterminate length of time, depending upon the object being described, even though used within close proximity in the text?

2.) Or, is it possible that in Revelation the Greek phrase for “ages and ages” always means a finite but indeterminate amount of time? Therefore when being used to describe things that are understood to be eternal, it is only referring to their existence in the time period covered by the book of Revelation. In other words, when using the phrase “ages and ages”, in all cases, even when referring to God, it is not attempting to comment upon time beyond “ages and ages”. In this case, it would NOT mean that God and our time spent with Him is finite, but it would mean that His eternality needs to be inferred from other texts, even other texts within the book of Revelation.

Do either of my two suggestions seem plausible?

  1. It can also be ‘for an age and an age.’ representing two ages and in Revelation we are told it is a day and a night.
  2. Torment does not always represent agony, but extensive testing.


The book of Revelation, being a vision and full of symbolic elements, is not one that I like to use to build doctrine from–that is, I prefer to interpret it through my understanding of more easily understood scripture, rather than the other way around. But I’ll offer a few comments on this passage for consideration.

I do find both your suggestions plausible–aion seems to be a very subjective word, very like our English word “age”…

Another possibility, which I prefer, is that the phrase eis aionas aionon–“into ages of ages”–may be emphasizing continuity in this passage, rather than being a statement as to a duration of time. This would be even further emphasized by the phrase “they have no rest day and night”.

It seems significant to me that the ones being tormented are described as currently–in present tense–worshiping the beast and receiving the mark of its name. So I see here the implication that when a person stops worshipping the beast, he would also cease to be one of those being tormented.

Sulfur, or brimstone, was used as incense for purposes of purification and cleansing. That of itself* proves* nothing of course, but it can shed light on the use of “fire and brimstone” in judgment–both being instruments of refining and cleansing. And the rising “smoke” is from the burning of the incense, which odor is the pleasurable one of things being made clean. I don’t view the judgment as one that will necessarily involve literal fire and literal sulfur, and literal rising smoke.

What if we translated it “the smoke of their purifying”? That would put a different shade of meaning on the passage wouldn’t it? The primary meaning of “torment” (gr.* basanizō*), is to use a “touchstone” (gr.* basanos*) to test the purity of gold or silver which is being refined.

Edited to add: I’m not saying I think it should be translated that way, but that, perhaps, we can understand it to mean this.


Is it not true that the same terminology was used in Isaiah to describe a judgement that came to an end already? Maybe my memory is flawed, but I think that I read that. Did this judgement occur already? Isa. xxxiv: 1-17
Isaiah 34
Judgment Against the Nations
1 Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!

2 The LORD is angry with all nations;
his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy [a] them,
he will give them over to slaughter.

3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will send up a stench;
the mountains will be soaked with their blood.

4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

5 My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
see, it descends in judgment on Edom,
the people I have totally destroyed.

6 The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood,
it is covered with fat—
the blood of lambs and goats,
fat from the kidneys of rams.
For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah
and a great slaughter in Edom.

7 And the wild oxen will fall with them,
the bull calves and the great bulls.
Their land will be drenched with blood,
and the dust will be soaked with fat.

8 For the LORD has a day of vengeance,
a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.

9 Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,
her dust into burning sulfur;
her land will become blazing pitch!

10 It will not be quenched night and day;
its smoke will rise forever.
From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
no one will ever pass through it again.

11 The desert owl ** and screech owl [c] will possess it;
the great owl [d] and the raven will nest there.
God will stretch out over Edom
the measuring line of chaos
and the plumb line of desolation.

12 Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom,
all her princes will vanish away.

13 Thorns will overrun her citadels,
nettles and brambles her strongholds.
She will become a haunt for jackals,
a home for owls.

14 Desert creatures will meet with hyenas,
and wild goats will bleat to each other;
there the night creatures will also repose
and find for themselves places of rest.

15 The owl will nest there and lay eggs,
she will hatch them, and care for her young under the shadow of her wings;
there also the falcons will gather,
each with its mate.

16 Look in the scroll of the LORD and read:
None of these will be missing,
not one will lack her mate.
For it is his mouth that has given the order,
and his Spirit will gather them together.

17 He allots their portions;
his hand distributes them by measure.
They will possess it forever
and dwell there from generation to generation.**

That is an excellent observation about the language used towards Edom. It would be even more encouraging if there was evidence that God had intentions to specifically redeem Edom. (Perhaps He is including Edom when referring to “nations” in general in other scripture.)

In any case, back to the book of Revelation, why do you suppose that God did not use a different phrase to speak of the everlasting duration of things considered eternal (e.g. worship to God, God Himself, the believer’s reign with God) than he did to speak of the indeterminate duration of time the unrepentant spend in the lake of fire (in verse 14:11)? Is there not a Greek phrase that unambiguously denotes “forever” that He could have used for the things considered eternal?

I don’t believe so, because it seems that our definition of “forever” is relatively recent. We picture a line like in geometry with a beginning but no end. Mathematically (Western mathematics) it can be conceived, but organically and concretely it cannot. Trying to even conceive of it is a mindf—. There is nothing in nature that we know of that is like this. Thus why would the ancients have had such a concept?

The other side to this is that the Hebrews and later the Jews were a pretty empirical set of people. They generally only believed what they saw (their belief in miracles, for instance, were based on the fact that they as a people had actually encountered them). They and the ancient world generally only thought of things that pertained to their present day and age. It is mostly moderns who try to encompass the entire realm of existence in a farthest reaching circle possible (Schaeffer traces this thought quite well), except perhaps for the Greeks some of the time.

Thus to say “God is to be praised to the ages of the ages!” would not therefore denote a lessening of glory to God. In fact, it was the maximum possible amount of glory that they could ascribe to Him, because they had no further conceptualization than the age they were in and whatever other ages had been faintly conceptualized and prophesied. It was like saying, “God is to be praised for the total forseeable future and beyond!” They weren’t picturing a geometric line that extended into the unperceivable void of some abstract concept of infinity. They were just saying, “All the glory possible that we know of is due him!” with the further implication that he would be given glory even further than that, for His glory was greater than everything.

But does this carry over to the concept of torment? If they were saying, “Torment for the forseeable future,” were they also saying, “and beyond”? Well, since the answer is not in the literal wording, perhaps we can draw some implications. Surely we don’t necessarily have to commit to both. Our abstract, ultra-logical reasoning would imply such because we over-simplify statements into mathematical-like equations. But the context was that when they were praising God, they were praising Him for being all-powerful (with as much power as could possibly be had, mind you). Thus there is an implication that there would never ever be an end to His glory. But to subscribe to a similar view of an event, an activity? Well God is even greater than such things, in fact, He was the one who created such situations. So mere activities and events weren’t necessarily on the same level. They were for the forseeable future, but not necessarily beyond.

At least, this is my best educated guess, but I think it has good merit.

Perhaps the issue at hand is not specifically the fact of ‘quantity’ of time, but something else? If the primary purpose of the passages had been to communicate “endlessness” there are ways of doing that even without having a specialized word. After wrestling with ‘aion’ and ‘aionios’ for the past 5 years, I still am not satisfied with my understanding of the concepts, but I am certain that it is not a simple statement of infinite duration of time. Currently, it seems to me that when it is used in describing time, it is descriptive of an undefined but conditional duration. It is continuous and unceasing unless and until it becomes no longer relevant.

For example, in terms of the worship of God, it is conditional on the fact of God continuing to remain worthy of worship. In terms of the reign of believers with Christ, it is limited by the time it takes to bring all the enemies into subjection. (I Cor 15) In the case of punishment in the lake of fire, I understand it to be limited by the span necessary for to accomplish it’s purpose. The refiner’s fire continues to burn until all that is burnable has been consumed, and nothing is left but that which cannot be destroyed by it.

I don’t know if there are other Greek words available that would better communicate our modern idea of eternal. Here’s some potentials I came up with:

  1. pantote, Strong’s G3842, usually translated “always.” Here’s one use that seems to be an equivalent to ‘endless’: 1 Thes 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

  2. akatalytos, Strong’s G179, translated “endless” or “indestructable” and used only in one verse: Hbr 7:16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.

  3. aperantos, Strong’s G562, translated “endless”, and also used only once: 1Ti 1:4 …nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies…

  4. adialeiptos, Strong’s G88, translated “unceasing” or “continual” or “constantly” and used in only two verses: Rom 9:2 …that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. …and also… 2Ti 1:3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.


Thanks stellar and Sonia,

You make some thought-provoking points.

I see that God could have “mathematically” expressed in Greek such time durations, if he wanted to. Apparently he had something else in mind.

Perhaps the poetic phraseology used in these passages better conveys the glorious and/or terrible nature of the the things described which is more befitting of the general worshipful and awesome tone of Revelation.

This is a good thread so far (pro and con)! I only have some scattered comments to make (some of which are very minor), since Sonia’s position (in its various nuances and qualifications and cautions) also happens to be close to my own.

1.) Rev 1:8 doesn’t in fact feature the phrase “into the eons of the eons” or anything like it. (This is one of the very minor comments, since after all 1:6 certainly does!–as well as others in FiredU’s list, such as 4:9-10 to give only one example. :slight_smile: Verse 8 is, however, extremely important in accounting for RevJohn’s Christology and its details.)

2.) Whenever I read Rev 4:9, “to Him Who is living into the eons of the eons”, the back of my mind always tends to echo another standard part of that Jewish doxology: “and all things live unto Him.” Which has more than a little contextual relation to what else is going on in and near those verses. Which themselves have more than a little contextual relation to various important things going on in the final chapters of RevJohn, regarding those kings of the earth (for example) entering into the city. It also has some interesting contexts with the vast totality of Rev 5:11-14, which obviously has to be a narrative flash-forward of some kind, since “every created thing in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and all things in them” are hardly praising God at this point in the main narrative of the prophecy! :wink:

Compare also with my extended comments elsewhere on the fourm in recent months, regarding the evidence that the similarly constructed Rev 15 is also mostly this kind of flashforward to how things will eventually turn out, even though an orgy of destruction from heaven due to impenitent rebels is up next in the main narrative. I especially note that prominence is given to those standing on the sea mixed with fire, having “come out from” the beast, the idolatry of the beast and the numbering of the beast. If anyone is still in the sea of fire in Rev 15’s flashforward, they might not be worshiping God for His might saving acts yet–but Rev 5 indicates they will eventually!

3.) By the way, I note that this is another case of ‘in light of which verse set will the other verse set be interpreted’? With Rev 14 be interpreted in light of the extreme victory of the eonian gospel as related in Rev 15 (and Rev 5, as well as some other places in RevJohn)? Or vice versa?

4.) I notice that in most cases, the use of “into the eons of the eons” in RevJohn, when applied to God (whether the Father or the Son), tends to have some connection to God’s awesome salvation, or at least His identification as being the God of all creation and especially of all created creatures. Even the wrath of Him who is living into the eons of the eons in Rev 15, is preceded by a song explicitly compared to the Song of Moses–which was explicitly about God wrathing on impenitent rebel servants of His, mainly Israel herself, until they are destroyed to the very limits of language, after which they will repent and be vindicated and restored by God, praising God for His righteous judgments.

5.) The believer’s reign with God in Rev 22:5 is not only shared by those “kings of the earth” from back just recently at the end of the previous chapter, but it is still being offered by the Spirit and the Bride to those still outside the city later in chapter 22.

6.) I think the direction of the smoke is of utmost importance in Rev 14:11. It is going up, i.e. to God, into the eons of the eons. And smoke is what is produced after something has been unmade by fire, as far as it can be unmade (while not simply being annihilated out of existence altogether.)

To me, this fits extremely well with the kings of the earth going up and into the New Jerusalem to reign with Christ into the eons of the eons; and those still outside the NJ being exhorted to slake their thirst, wash their robes, and obtain permission to go in, too. It also fits extremely well (to me anyway) with the flash-forward shortly afterward at the start of Rev 15, where the ones standing on the sea mixed with fire have come out from the beast and from its idolatry etc. (and are praising God for His mighty saving acts and His kindness, evoking the Song of Moses along the way.)

7.) While Chris’ suggestion is ingenious, it strongly depends on some grammar that just isn’t there in the Greek. Rev 14:11 simply does not read “for an age and an age”; it clearly reads “into ages of ages” (no direct articles in the phrase this time, but still the same basic phrase). The multiple pluralities indicate more than two ages are in view.

To be fair, the text could be translated (I think) as “they shall have no rest a day and a night”. It could also be translated the way it normally is, though: they shall have no rest day and night (generally and continually).

8.) This text (Rev 14:11) does indicate both that the torment of condemnation does not mean utter separation from the presence of Christ (they shall be tormented in His presence as well as the presence of the holy angels)–which runs against certain popular and somewhat prevalent modes of theology on the topic–and also that they are not being just annihilated out of existence either. (One of my early articles on this forum was a critique of an annihilationist apologist, where I noticed toward the end that he himself had to deny actual annihilation and/or leave remnants over to affront the blessed!–making their heaven a hell by his standards!)

9.) Isaiah 34 could be construed as a judgment that (from the perspective of the prophecy looking into the future) has been finished already; or as a judgment still going on (since the results of it are still going on).

10.) The concept that no one will ever pass through the land of Edom again, doesn’t mean that the people of Edom won’t one day be saved. And indeed, the wildlife won’t be able to find a safe refuge there (which the prophecy promises) if the landscape is so totally vulcanized forever as implied in verses 9-10. I think it’s interesting and suggestive that the animals will be at peace and rest there, even the creepy little dinosaur things (in the Hebrew :wink: )!

I could probably come up with a few more observations (particularly on the Greek word-list Sonia found); but I have a couple of projects I need to focus on this week (I wrote this over the weekend). So, off to go do those instead! :mrgreen:

Stellar said: “it seems that our definition of “forever” is relatively recent.”
Is there any evidence that this is true?