Cast into the Inferno: Revelation 19:20–21

cast into inferno

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g) Rev 19:20–21: The foretold judgment of Rev 19:11–19 shall finally take place. As throughout the book of Revelation, John gave no portrayal of the battle but described only the result.[1]

He wrote, “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs before him, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.”

Nero inflicted horrific persecution upon the Christian community during his reign over the Roman Empire (54–68 AD).

The Greco-Roman historian Tacitus (56–120 AD) noted:

To get rid of the report [that he set Rome on fire in 64 AD], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty, then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths.

Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.[2]

Therefore, many believers in the early church viewed Nero as the beast, with “Babylon” serving as a code word for Rome (Rev 13:1–9; Rev 17:1–9). Even after Nero committed suicide, many people concluded he was not truly dead but would return in the future.[3]



Suetonius (ca. 69–140 AD), a Roman historian, reported:

[Nero] died in the thirty-second year of his age, upon the same day on which he had formerly put [his wife] Octavia to death; and the public joy was so great upon the occasion, that the common people ran about the city…

Some, however…for a long time decked his tomb with spring and summer flowers. Sometimes they placed his image upon the [dais], dressed in robes of state…They published proclamations in his name, as if he were still alive, and would shortly return to Rome, and take vengeance on all his enemies.[4]

The Christian apocryphal book the Ascension of Isaiah (ca. 150–200 AD) also cites Nero as the beast,[5] calling him “the slayer of his mother:”

These are the days of the completion of the world…Beliar [the devil], the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend…in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother who… will persecute the [church]…

This ruler in the form of that king will come and there will come with him all the powers of this world, and they will hearken unto him in all that he desires. And at his word the sun will rise at night and he will make the moon to appear at the sixth hour. And all that he hath desired he will do in the world…and speak like the Beloved and he will say, “I am God and before me there has been none.”

And all the people in the world will believe in him. And they will sacrifice to him and they will serve him…And after (one thousand) three hundred and thirty-two days the Lord will come with his angels and with the armies of the holy ones…and he will drag Beliar into Gehenna and also his armies.[6]

Likewise, John did not depict the armies of God engaging the enemy. Instead, the divine warrior on the white steed will seize the Antichrist.[7]

John previously described the false prophet in terms of his functions. He will perform miracles and force people to receive the mark of the beast (Rev 13:11–17).[8] The beast shall make claims of deity and the false prophet will enforce obligatory worship.[9]



However, this shall be their fate: “While living, these two were cast into the lake of fire which is burning with sulfur.”

That statement evoked images of Gehenna in the minds of John’s original audience. Jesus referred to the burning trash dump outside of Jerusalem as a metaphor for the place of eternal punishment (Matt 5:22, 29–30; Matt 10:28; Matt 23:29–33).[10]

Fire and sulfur also allude to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24–25),[11] as well as the judgment foretold for Gog and Magog (Ezek 38:18–22).[12]

Within Israel, sulfur occurs in volcanic areas near the Dead Sea. A highly flammable substance, it produces an intensely hot and malodorous fire.[13]

Divine judgment by fire occurred several times in the Old Testament (e.g. Lev 10:1–2; Num 16:35–38).[14] However, in the Bible, the notion of a lake of fire appears only in Revelation.[15]

The Jewish apocryphal book of 1 Enoch (second century BC–first century AD) describes “a deep valley with burning fire. And they brought the kings and the mighty and began to cast them into this deep valley.”[16]

Within the Greco-Roman milieu, the underworld of Hades contained a fiery river.[17]

According to Plato (427–347 BC), “There are everlasting rivers of huge size under the earth, flowing with hot and cold water; and there is much fire, and great rivers of fire.”[18]

Jesus will first cast the Antichrist and the false prophet into the inferno.[19]



John then reported, “the rest were killed by the sword of the one sitting on the horse, which came from his mouth, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

In this case, “the rest” refers to the individuals prepared for battle against the Lord.[20]

Jesus will kill them by his spoken word of divine retribution (Heb 4:12–13),[21] not by a literal sword (Zech 14:1–5, 12–15; 2 Thess 2:1–12). In effect, his sword represents a decree of death.

Their final doom shall come when Christ pronounces their fate, saying, “Depart from me, those who have been cursed, into the eternal fire which had been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10–15).[22]

The Essenes (2nd century BC–68 AD) of Qumran separated themselves from other Jewish people to pursue their ascetic practices.[23]

They held this view of the end of the age:

The Master shall bless the Prince of the Congregation…that he may establish the kingdom of his people forever, dispense justice…and that he may establish his holy covenant at the time of the affliction of those who seek God…

[May you smite the peoples] with the might of your hand and ravage the earth with your scepter; may you bring death to the ungodly with the breath of your lips!…May [God] make your horns of iron and your hooves of bronze; may you toss like a young bull [and trample the peoples] like the mire of the streets![24]

At last the promised supper of God’s wrath will be ready (Ezek 39:4; Rev 19:17–18).[25] The enemies of Christ shall not receive a proper burial. Instead, birds of prey and scavengers will feast upon their flesh.[26]

Jesus and his followers will finally experience complete victory over evil (Isa 66:22–24; Ps 110).[27]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Rev 19:20–21. Why did believers in John’s era believe that Nero was the Antichrist? How did the judgment upon the beast and the false prophet fit with Jewish and Greco-Roman expectations? What will be the fate of those allied against Christ and his armies? How do the events of this passage resemble what the people in Noah’s generation experienced? In what ways do they differ? How does knowing this affect you?








Go to Chapter 8: Safely Through (Gen 8:1–19)

[Related posts include Faithful and True (Rev 19:11); Ruler of All Nations (Rev 19:12–13); The Armies in Heaven (Rev 19:14); Striking the Nations (Rev 19:15); King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16); The Great Supper of God (Rev 19:17–19); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); The Waters Prevail (Gen 7:17–20); The Breath of Life Extinguished (Gen 7:21–24); Transcending the Law (Matt 5:21‒22); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: God Opens the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 7:1–24)]


[1]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1065.

[2]Tacitus, Annals, 15.44,;jsessionid=3DDF615647A0DBAE5788C50EBD09314B?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078%3Abook%3D15%3Achapter%3D44.

[3]Miriam T. Griffin, “Nero (Emperor),” ABD 4: 1076–80, 1080.

[4]C. Suetonius Tranquillus, “Nero,” in Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; an English Translation, Augmented with the Biographies of Contemporary Statesmen, Orators, Poets, and Other Associates (ed. J. Eugene Reed; trans. Alexander Thomson; Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co., 1889), 57,

[5]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 968.

[6]Charles, trans., “The Ascension of Isaiah,” in APOT, 4.2–14, 24–33,

[7]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1065.

[8]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 358–9.

[9]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 969.

[10]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359.

[11]Keener, Revelation, 455.

[12]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 969.

[13]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359.

[14]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1066.

[15]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359.

[16]Charles, trans., “Book of Enoch,” in APOT, 54:1–2, 105,

[17]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1066–7.

[18]Plato, “Phaedo,” in Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 (trans. Harold North Fowler; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 111d,

[19]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359.

[20]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1067.

[21]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359.

[22]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 970–1.

[23]John J. Collins, “Essenes,” ABD 2:619–26, 621.

[24]Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 4th ed., 1Q28b Col. 5:20, 270,

[25]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359.

[26]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1068.

[27]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 359–60.