Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 20:13–15

Revelation 20:13–15
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death — the lake of fire. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.
(NET Bible)

Not a nice neighborhood!

Once when I was travelling by car on the east coast, I took a freeway exit and immediately found myself in the wrong neighborhood. All the drug dealers and assorted other professions were looking at me like fresh meat. There is a time in every man’s life to admit you got lost. U-turn!

Moral #1: Know where you are going. Moral #2: Make sure a U-turn is possible. It would be good to think about that in relation to today’s Bible passage.

The first thing to understand about 20:13 is that the word sea is symbolic. How do we know that? The answer is that heaven and earth have already vanished (20:11). Beale explains why we need to forget any romantic ideas we have about the literal sea: “It is possible that the realm of evil (4:6; 13:1; 15:2), within which Satanic forces operate and which imprisons all unbelievers.”[1] Mark that the new heaven and new earth have no sea.

So, the chaotic waves of the literal sea symbolize the dark, swirling, unknowable currents of evil that carry humanity away from God. It is not by accident that one of the beasts — the Antichrist — will rise from the sea (13:1). We are not in a good neighborhood when speaking of the sea in Revelation. The “dead that were in [the sea]” (20:13) are wicked dead, not deceased mariners.

Beale also brings clarity to the phrase Death and Hades (20:13) when he says: “The first death (i.e. physical death) occurs until the present cosmos is destroyed. All unbelievers suffering the first death are held in the sphere of ‘death and Hades,’ which is a temporary . . . holding tank to be finally replaced by the permanent . . . ‘lake of fire.’”[2]

What do we conclude? Just as we saw with all the dead (20:12) appearing before the great white throne (20:11-12), all of the dead given up by the sea, by Death and by Hades are unbelievers headed for the lake of fire. And, again, each one is checked against the book of life (20:15) as a demonstration of strict justice, but none is recorded there. God waited for them patiently and with forbearance (Rom. 2:4), but not one of them ever decided to repent.

Getting shut of Death and Hades

My wife and I like to joke about getting shut of something (e.g. our income tax obligation or a Jehovah’s Witness team). The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase back to the early 1500s. It means “to be rid of, free from (something troublesome).”

Our expectation of getting shut of Death and Hades is no joke! That they will be cast into the lake of fire shows that there will no longer be any need for them. This is another reason to worship Christ forever for what he has done for us!

Paul speaks of these amazing things when he quotes the prophets Isaiah and Hosea:

Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen,
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”
(1 Cor. 15:54–55).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1034.

[2] Beale, Revelation, 1030.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!