Two of the passages of Scripture that express the unending nature of hell most clearly point to seemingly opposite reasons it will be terrible. One speaks of being “away from the presence of the Lord.” The other speaks of suffering “in the presence of the Lamb.”
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
“If anyone worships the beast . . . he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:9–11).
These are not contradictory descriptions.
The first text describes the presence and power of the Lord as glorious in the sense of being thrilling to the souls of the saints. As the next verse says, “He comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Unbelievers will be excluded from this experience. Christ will not be beautiful or marvelous to them.
The second text simply says the angels and the Lamb will be attending this punishment. They will be present. They “will be tormented in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10). Their presence is not for enjoyment but for vindication.
God considers it right and suitable that those who rejected Christ see him triumphant, pure, and justified over all who considered him unworthy of their trust. The focus in Revelation 14:10 is not that those in hell have the privilege of seeing what they enjoy, but that they have the remorse of seeing what they rejected.
And — perhaps the deepest sting — they know he sees them.
Christians who suffered for their faith did so in the presence of crowds of onlookers. Ultimately their tormentors will be punished in the presence of more august spectators ‘in keeping with many other scenes of this book where the deepest sting that bitter conscience is dealt is that it must suffer while utter purity is looking on.’” (R. V. G. Tasker, Revelation, 181)
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