Brimstone, literally “the stone that burns” is another name for the mineral sulfur. It is found at the surface around the Dead Sea, where it was deposited during the breakdown of sedimentary rocks, Sulfur, when burned, produces an acrid and poisonous smoke. It was sometimes used as a disinfectant, as a fumigant, or as an antiparasitic. It was also associated with volcanic activity. Sulfur’s distinctive odor is present in odorized natural gas, skunk spray, grapefruit, and garlic. It was also used to make the most effective black gunpowder. Today it is used in fertilizer and pesticides, and is also an essential mineral for the human body.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Burning sulfur accompanied the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24). The city had become so evil that the angels told Lot, “We’re going to destroy this place. The complaints to the LORD against its people are so loud that the LORD has sent us to destroy it” (v13). Note even ten righteous people could be found in the entire city (18:32). This historical event caused brimstone to become symbolic of divine judgment. This is where we get the phrase” fire and-brimstone preacher” to signify a preacher who speaks exclusively on the judgment to God.
Jesus used Sodom and Gomorrah as the example of harsh judgment: “I can guarantee that judgment day will be easier for Sodom than for that city” (Luke 10:12). Later he used it as a symbol for sudden judgment, coming when least expected. “The situation will also be like the time of Lot. People were eating, drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But on the day that Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from the sky and destroyed all of them. The day when the Son of Man is revealed will be like that” (Luke 17:28-30). The psalmist also uses brimstone as a symbol of ultimate judgment: “He rains down fire and burning sulfur upon wicked people. He makes them drink from a cup filled with scorching wind” (Ps 11:6, Deut 29:23; Ezek 38:22; Luke 17:29). Ignited sulfur was not only a tool of punishment but also a purging of evil. The disinfectant properties of burning sulfur make it a purifying tool for the earth.
At the final judgment, brimstone figures prominently. One of the plagues described in Revelation is burning sulfur (9:17-18). It also will be used in Satan’s final punishment: “The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were also thrown. They will be tortured day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). This Old Testament image for the punishment most appropriate for the greatest evils of man is a fitting symbol for the end-times judgment that awaits Satan, the most evil being that exists. The acid smell of sulfur makes it a vivid and almost tactile image for judgment.