Wednesday, August 18, 2021

REVELATION 21-22, PART B

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV).  

Abbreviations:  NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible; KJV = King James Version

In Revelation 21:1-8, John has been focused on the throne of God.  This is because those who have spoken to him have done so from the throne:  a "loud voice from the throne" (21:3) and the voice of the one "who was seated on the throne" (21:5).  Now, in Revelation 21:8ff, there is a new speaker, one of the seven angels who were introduced in 15:1.  Each of these held a bowl containing one of the seven last plagues (15:7-16:1).  Now an angel from that group turns attention to a glorious sight.  Rather than the horrific last plagues, the angel now presents to John "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb."  (21:9)  John is then carried to a high mountain "in the Spirit" to view the next great sight in Revelation.  John had been carried by one from this same group of angels "in the Spirit" to a wilderness to view the great prostitute (17:3).  That woman was a city--called Babylon (17:18).  This woman of chapter 21 also is revealed as a city, "the holy city Jerusalem." (21:10)  The first city, Babylon, contained the blood of martyrs (18:24).  Now, the focus is on the "new Jerusalem" (it is called that in 21:2).  It will be a place for the servants of God to worship God and to reign with him forever (22:3, 5).  

The first description of the new Jerusalem is that it is "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb."  (21:9)  The marriage of the Lamb is never really described in Revelation. It is announced as impending in 19:7 and 9.  The theme of "wedding," "bride," and "bridegroom" are used in the gospels to emphasize certain principles of the Kingdom of God.  There are major emphases in these passages:

*The wedding between two parties 

*The celebration itself

*Those who are invited to the wedding celebration and how they respond

*Being ready to attend the feast

*The identity of the bride (I shall discuss this in another post.)

*The identity of the bridegroom

1.  THE JOINING TOGETHER OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD WITH GOD AND THE LAMB:  Revelation 21:3 and 11-14

In Revelation 21, there is considerable emphasis on the joining together of the people of God with God himself and with the Lamb.  Thus, the emphasis is on the wedding between the two parties, although "marriage" or "wedding" is not used in direct connection with joining God and people.  Verse 21:3 states that the "dwelling place of God is with man..."  In verse 21:9, the angel says he will show John the "Bride, the wife of the Lamb."  He then procedes to show John the New Jerusalem.  

2.  THE FEAST ON THE MOUNTAIN:  Isaiah 25:6

This is called in the NIVSB the "eschatological feast of God, the Messianic banquet."  It is held "on the mountain," which NIVSB identifies as "Mount Zion."  It will be "a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined."  Here the emphasis is on the celebration.  It does not focus on who is invited.  It does lift up Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the location.  This is a reassurance to Israel of God's eternal commitment to Israel.  In Revelation 21, the city is described as a "New Jerusalem."  Just as all things will be renewed in glorious ways, so will the city of Jerusalem.  And it will be the centerpoint for the great celebration.

3.  THE WEDDING CELEBRATION (FEAST) THAT WAS GIVEN BY A KING FOR HIS SON:  MATTHEW 22:1-14

In the passage in Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus is focused on who are invited to the wedding celebration and how they respond. 

Jesus begins by comparing the "Kingdom of Heaven" to a "wedding feast" that a king gave for his son.  (KJV uses simply "wedding," which is a literal translation.  "Feast" is not in the Greek, but is supplied in most other translations, including a 19th century one by Young. [thanks to Bible Gateway.com])  The king had invited people to come, and, when the feast was ready, he sent his servants to inform them that the feast was ready and they should come.  However, none of these invited guests came.  He sent a second group of servants, and the guests either went to their own pursuits (such as farming) or they killed the servants.  The king retaliated by killing the guests and burning their city.  He sent his servants to find whomever they could in the streets to come to the wedding feast and filled the wedding celebration.  

The Kingdom feast is by invitation only.  Some will be invited, but not come.  The refusal of those who are invited to come  seems to be an indictment of the nation of Israel, which has rejected Jesus and refused the eschatological feast of God that the coming of the Messiah (Jesus) represented.  The turning to the people in the streets and inviting them to take the place of the original ones who were invited seems to signal the fact that the Gentiles would be welcomed into the Kingdom.

4.  THE GREAT BANQUET:  Luke 14:15-24

This story is very similar to the one in Matthew, with the following exceptions:  

*It is not called a "wedding feast."  

*The invited guests do not kill the servants.  

*The urgency of finding people to fill the "house" or the feast hall with people is stressed, so that the servants are sent to the "streets and lanes of the city" and then to the "highways and hedges" to find people, especially the "poor and crippled and blind and lame."  

Again, as with the passage in Matthew 22:1-14, the implication is probably that the Gentiles, who were not the "chosen" ones, will be brought into the feast of God.

5.  THE FEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN:  Matthew 8:11-12

Jesus responded to the faith of the Roman centurion, who showed great faith in Jesus for the healing of his servant.  Jesus' response was to predict that there would be many from "east and west" who will "recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."  But the "sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness."  This is an echo of Jesus' story of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 and in Luke 14.  The celebration rather than the wedding is focus, and who actually is allowed to enjoy the celebration is the message.

6.  THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS:  Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus tells a parable or allegory of the kingdom.  It is a somewhat elaborate scenario.  There are 10 "virgins," who probably played a role similar to bridesmaids.  They were hanging out waiting for the groom.  From what I could learn on the internet, they probably were with the bride at her house.  When the groom came, he and the bride would participate in a preliminary ceremony and then proceed to the groom's house for the main event--the wedding and the wedding feast.  When the groom comes, five of the virgins have no oil for the lamps, which they will carry through the streets to the groom's house or his father's house.  They try to borrow from the other five, who refuse to share.  So, they go out to buy oil.  While they are gone, the procession is held and the party enters the house where the wedding and feast will take place.  The door is shut.  The five arrive late and call to the groom, but he refuses, saying, "I do not know you."  The Lord then gives the warning:  "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." 

In this parable, the emphasis is on being prepared so that one is admitted into the wedding celebration.  I shall discuss what it is to be "ready" in item number 8 below.   

7.  THE WARNING TO BE READY TO OPEN THE DOOR FOR THE GROOM WHO IS RETURNING HOME:  Luke 12:35-40

This is really two scenarios or parables mixed together.  In the first scenario, a group of servants are at the groom's house.  The groom is at the wedding, probably being held at his father's house.  The groom returns home late in the night (probably with his bride).  The servants must be ready to let him in.  Then, the story shifts.  A thief comes in the middle of the night.  If the "master of the house" (the chief steward or chief servant) knows at what hour to expect the thief, he would be on guard and not allow the thief in.    

In example 6 and 7, the theme is readiness:  In the story of the 10 virgins, the foolish virgins have not come prepared with extra oil.  This results in their being left out of the wedding feast.  In the two examples in number 7 above, servants need to be ready for a sudden arrival.  They must be ready for the master, who has gotten married, to come home so they can let him in.  They--or at least their leader--must be ready for a thief so that he does not enter unexpectedly.  

8.  WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE "READY"?

What does it mean to be ready?  Jesus describes cases of lack of readiness in Matthew 24:36-51.  The cases are as follows.

*In the days of Noah, people were living out their lives oblivious to the spiritual crisis and the fact that Noah was building an ark in preparation for the flood.  So, the flood "swept them all away." (Matthew 24:37-39)

*The same example that is given in Luke 12:39 is presented in Matthew 24:43.  A thief comes during the night and the master of the house is not alert, so the thief breaks into the house.

*The most important examples are in Matthew 24:45-51.  A master puts one of his servants in charge of the others.  He takes care of them in a responsible way, making sure they get fed, for example.  The master returns and "catches" the head servant doing the right thing and rewards him with more responsibility.  However, the counter example is that the head servant decides the master is delayed and he mistreats his fellow servants and gets drunk.  The master pays a surprise visit and catches the head servant misbehaving and punishes him severely.  

So, "being ready" or not being ready means that a person is either engaged in responsible discipleship or not so engaged--even to the point of being oblivious, as with the contemporaries of Noah.  It is not a matter of keeping an eye on the sky, waiting for Jesus.  It is a matter of filling oneself with obedient love for the One who is coming back with his reward.  (Revelation 22:12)

8.  THE IDENTITY OF THE BRIDEGROOM:  Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35, John 3:29

In the examples in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus is replying to criticism that his disciples do not fast.  He explains that there is a party going on.  The disciples are guests of the groom and are rejoicing with him.  They cannot be expected to fast.  It is obvious that Jesus is the bridegroom.  The bride is not identified, but the people of God who receive Jesus no doubt are the bride.  In John 3, John the Baptist is being questioned by his disciples as to the fact that Jesus is baptizing more people than John is.  But John refuses to be envious and explains that he is the "friend of the bridegroom" and rejoices to see that the one for whom he is the forerunner has come.  

So in this case, the identity of the bridegroom is the focus rather than the bride or those who are invited to the party.  In the next post I shall discuss the IDENTITY OF THE BRIDE.

REFERENCES:

Crossway.  The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Thinline Edition).  Wheaton, Illinois:  Good News Publishers, Crossway, 2011.

Zondervan.  The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV.  Colorado Springs, CO:  Biblica, Inc., 2011.

Kenneth L. Barker, Gen. Ed.  The NIV Study Bible.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2011.


 

Friday, July 16, 2021

REVELATION 21-22 PART A

 REVELATION 21-22 

A.  THE GREAT ANNOUNCEMENTS:  21:1-4

1.  New heaven and earth

In 20:11 John sees a "great white throne and him who was seated on it."  This introduces what is often called The Great White Throne Judgment or the Final Judgment.  As an aside, it is mentioned that "From his presence earth and sky [or heaven] fled away, and no place was found for them."  Now, in 21:1 this is followed up by "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."  We should probably connect this with verse 21:5, in which the Lord says "...I am making all things new."  It is of no consequence whether it is understood that God has fashioned a brand new universe or reconditioned the present one.  (Ladd, 276)  It seems significant that, with the notation that the "sea was no more," the old earth loses a huge symbol "of the dark, mysterious, and treacherous"  (Ladd, 276).  And, just as the sea is gone, other treacherous powers are removed so that the earth can keep the old framework that is cleansed and renewed.  

2.  New Jerusalem

John jumps immediately to one feature of this new creation in 21:2--the New Jerusalem.  The centrality of this holy city to the new earth is reflected by the fact that, in the description of the new state of things, 24 of 32 verses are centered on the New Jerusalem.  I shall discuss the New Jerusalem in another post that will focus on those 24 verses. 

3.  God dwells with people

He returns to the more general discussion in verses 21:3-4.  Those verses contain a most solemn declaration:  "the dwelling place of God is with man [as in ESV--"humanity" would also be appropriate]."  In John 1:14 another remarkable declaration is made:  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."  This verse follows up the amazing description of the Word in John 1:1-4:  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God..."  The Logos (Word) of God, who is elsewhere described as the "only Son" [or "only begotten Son"], joined the human race in the person of the son of Mary and grew up to be known as Jesus of Nazareth.  This person was God Himself dwelling among us, fully God and fully human.  By accomplishing his mission in obedience to the Father (see Philippians 2:5-11), Jesus made salvation available to all who believe (see Luke 19:10, John 1:12-13, 3:16).  This salvation begins with living water within (John 4:14) and culminates in a river of life flowing from the throne in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1).  

A key element of this salvation is eternal fellowship with God.  It begins, just as the salvation story began, veiled in flesh:  "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14:23)  So, we can enjoy, in this present order, the presence of God within us.  The salvation culminates with this powerful statement:  "...the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God."  (Revelation 21:3)  The experience of God within our heart now becomes the face-to-face experience of God.  

This new relationship with God is described as:  "He will dwell with them, and they will be his people." (Revelation 21:3b)  Although this does not have a dramatic ring to it, this is an important component of the new order of things.     

4.  End of:  tears, death, mourning, crying, pain; former things gone

One result of this fellowship with God is that God will comfort us and end all the "negative" factors of our lives.  This is summarized in Revelation 21:4:

*The end of tears

*The end of death

*The end of mourning

*The end of crying

*The end of pain

*The end of all the "former things"

Even in the present order of things, God is the "God of all comfort."  (II Corinthians 1:3)  The vision of the new order of things is that God will complete his work of comfort.  Whereas we at present continue to deal with affliction (see II Corinthians 1:3-7), someday God will wipe out all of the afflictions and bring us into a new creation that is free of affliction and filled with comfort.  

The comment at the end of verse 21:4 is that the "former things have passed away."  In I Corinthians 15:24-26, Paul explains:  "Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  What a list the "former things" would make!  We could name a few:  poverty, prejudice, hate, violence, cheating, lying, stealing, drunkenness, abuse, suicide, perversion, disease, drought, famine, mental illness, ignorance, pride, greed--you get the idea.  All those will be gone.  Jesus will destroy all those enemies that weigh people down and bring them tears and pain and fear and that complicate their lives.  They will be absent from the new order and God will fill up our lives with his own presence.

B.  THE ALPHA AND OMEGA:  21:5-8

1.  Makes all things new

Verses 21:3-4 are announcements from an anonymous voice from "the throne."  In 4:2, John has been transported to heaven and there he sees a throne "with one seated on the throne."  From this point on, a major person in the book is the "one seated [or who sits] on the throne":  see 4:9, 4:10, 5:1, 5:7, 5:13,6:16, 7:10, 7:15, 19:4, 21:5.  In 21:5, the one who is seated on the throne begins to make announcements.  The announcements of the voice from the throne are just as significant, but now we have a personal, "hands-on" sense of what God is doing.

Just as "the former things have passed away" (verse 21:4), now God announces that he is "making all things new."  We remember the statement in II Corinthians 5:17:  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  That new creation takes place right in the midst of the present order of existence.  So, in a sense, God's creative acts in the future will allow the whole creation to "catch up" with what he has already done in us through our redemption in Christ.  It is also true that, not only will God make things new in the future, God is, at the present time, "making all things new."  The verb is in the present tense.  The present tense in Greek is "progressive," which means that it, usually, describes action that is ongoing.  God is in the process, even today, of making things new.

We should pause and reflect on that last statement.  In what sense is God making things new?  I should add that the wording could be translated:  "I am doing all-new things."  The word translated "making" is quite commonly translated "doing."  So, right beside the "former things," God is doing new things.  God is sending people who have never been called before into mission fields that have never been traversed before.  God is preaching the gospel to people who have never heard or preaching in ways that have never been heard.  God is confronting evil in ways that have not been used before.  The old gospel hymn "I Love to Tell the Story," by Katherine Hankey, says:  "And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, 'twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long."  So, the old story gets told with fresh joy and in new, imaginative ways again and again.  So, God constantly does new things and creates new things and makes old things become new and fresh.  This aspect of God's work is an important expression of his redemption.  

The one who sits on the throne adds:  "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."  There is a common expression:  "Write it down."  I don't know if that expression came from this verse, but the verse and the old saying express a certain truth:  that which is significant should be recorded.  That God is making all things new should be on record.  For God is not an old-fogey God.  God is not trite or boring or repetitious.  God is constantly out in front of us, making exciting new things.  And when we come to the new heaven and earth, we will be astounded at the freshness of what God is doing.  

Not only is God's statement that he is making all things new "trustworthy and true," but also the statements that follow are "trustworthy and true."  "Trustworthy" translates the word "pistos," which is the adjective form of the word for "faith."  There is also a verb form of the word.  So we have "believe" or "have faith in" (verb), or "faith," "belief" (noun), or "faithful," "trustworthy," "believing" (adjective).  So the statements from God--what has preceded and what follows--are trustworthy--worthy of being believed and relied upon.  And, closely allied with that description is the fact that they are "true."  God always conveys truth to us.  He has confirmed and demonstrated his truthfulness and reliability in the experiences of his followers throughout the centuries.  

Now, we should examine the messages from God that follow this statement of God's truthfulness.  
2.  "It is done!"
First, God says, "It is done!" (21:6a)  The exclamation point, of course, is an editorial addition, since Greek did not have punctuation marks.  The verb is a very common one that has a large range of meanings.  The following meanings are from the very slim Greek dictionary that I consult regularly:  "become, be; happen, take place, arise...come into being, be born or created; be done (of things), become something (of persons); come, go...appear..."  Notice that "come into being" is central to the meaning.  So, the meanings "happen, take place" come out of the idea of becoming.  If an accident "happens," it has "come into being."  The following are translations (thanks to Bible Gateway) of the latter part of Luke 2:15 (the translation of the verb in question):
Young's Literal Translation:  "and see this thing that HATH COME TO PASS..."
King James Version:  "and see this thing which IS COME TO PASS..."
English Standard Version:  "and see this thing that HAS HAPPENED..."
New American Standard Version:  "and see this thing that HAS HAPPENED..."
New International Version:  "and see this thing that HAS HAPPENED..."
New Revised Standard Version:  "and see this thing that HAS TAKEN PLACE..."
The statement in Revelation 21:6 uses the perfect tense.  This Greek tense usually refers to "a present state which has resulted from a past action.  The present state is a continuing state; the past action is a completed action.  Therefore the perfect combines linear and punctiliar action."  (Brooks and Winbery, 104)  To expand the idea, the simple, one-word sentence could be translated:  "It has been completed so that it may always continue to be in the present time."  What is "it"?  To answer would be speculative, but, in the light of what follows, I believe "it" is the entire redemptive program of God.  God has completed that program.  
3.  Beginning and end
The Lord God now announces:  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."  It perhaps is no accident that the next to the last chapter of the last book in the Bible makes this announcement.  If one surveys the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we recognize that God is the beginning--the creator of the universe--and the end--the one who has brought the enterprise of salvation to its conclusion.  But we must also recognize that this statement--that God is the beginning and the end--is not only a statement of what God has done, but also a statement of who God is.  God is the source of all things, the origin of existence itself.  And God is also the goal of all things.  All things find their completion in him.  Finally, keeping in mind that the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are used to express these concepts, we recognize that God is also everything in between the beginning and the end.  Some like to advertize their service as "from A to Z," by which they mean that they expertly cover all aspects of their particular service.  So, they take care of "ALL your plumbing needs--from A to Z."  So, God is involved in every aspect of our lives--from A to Z, and he fills up our lives from beginning to end.
4.  Water of life for the thirsty
Now, the Lord extends an invitation.  It is the same invitation that was given to the woman at the well in John 4:10-14--to drink of the water of life.  This is the first of three mentions of the water of life in these last two chapters (Revelation 21:6, 22:1, 22:17).  Water is essential for life.  Water is a large proportion of most organisms.  When I taught biology, we would look with microscopes at cells of plants that had adequate water and see them expanded like balloons inside their walls.  One could see the difference in a celery plant that drooped when it was deprived of water and stiffened with adequate water.  Water is the medium within cells where essential chemical reactions take place.  The need for water to sustain life is a fundamental principle.  But there is another water that human life thirsts for.  The woman at the well had searched for that water in the relationships she had with men, but she always ended thirsting for life-giving water.  (John 4, see especially 4:7-26)  Jesus promised:  "Everyone who drinks of this water [from an ordinary well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13b-14)  Now, the Lord God returns to that theme in these final words of the Bible and promises:  "To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment."  (Revelation 21:6c)  Note the connection of this promise to the declaration that God--in Jesus--is the "Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."  (21:6b)  Not only for all humankind, not only in the big picture of God's redemption project, but also in the individual life and of the person who needs salvation, God is the Alpha and Omega who gives the life-giving water of salvation.  For the opioid addict, the wealthy banker, the busy mother, the overwhelmed college student, the Middle East terrorist, the communist in North Korea--for every individual on the planet, God offers the water of life.
What is this life he gives?  I briefly summarize as follows.  It is the forgiveness of a sinner from a righteous and holy God.  It is the reconciliation of a rebellious human with a loving Father God.  It is the healing and restoration of a broken soul whose life has been wasted.  It is the adoption of a lonely heart into the family of God.  It is the intimate presence of the Trinity through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It is the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit enabling one to fulfill God's purposes for one's life.  It the life that death cannot end, but that takes one to heaven and will raise the body into resurrection life.  It is absolutely free, but cost the life of Jesus as he died on the cross for our sins.  It is a life filled with blessing, hope, joy, and peace.  It is in the here and now but has the quality of eternity, for "eternal life" describes not just how long it lasts but what the quality of that life is.  Without it, life is as limp as a stalk of celery needing water;  with it, life is fully abundant.  God extends this invitation to all of us.
5.  The conqueror's heritage
Verse 21:7 takes a bit of a turn:  "The one who conquers will have this heritage..."  The Greek uses a verbal phrase rather than a noun:  "will receive these things."  The verb "receive" is related to two nouns:  "property" and "heir."  So, the verb is close to the idea of "inherit."  So, God is promising the "water of life" as a heritage to the "one who conquers."  He also promises a deep "family" relationship:  "I will be his God and he will be my son."  We could interpret it:  He will be a son of God.  See John 1:12-13.  
The verb "conquer" or some variant is used 16 times in Revelation.  I shall mostly focus on those that deal with the Christian as conqueror.  It is used in Revelation 2 and 3 in the letters to the churches.  In each letter, there is a word to "the one who conquers." (2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26-28, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21)  In the cases of some the churches, the churches are in very poor spiritual condition, yet, in every case, there is a promise to "the one who conquers."  I believe that this is saying to the individual:  "even though you may be in a very destructive spiritual environment, if you can conquer the effects of that situation at least for yourself, then I have this promise for you."  The promises are the following:
*To eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God (2:7--church at Ephesus)
*Not to be hurt by the second death (2:11--church at Smyrna)
*hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it (2:17--church at Pergamum)
*authority over the nations...to rule them with a rod of iron...and the morning star (2:26-28--church at Thyatira)
*to be clothed in white garments and never to have his name blotted out of the book of life and Jesus will confess his name before his Father and his angels (3:5--church at Sardis)
*to make him a pillar in the temple of God and to have the name of God written on him and the name of the city of God and Jesus' own new name (3:12--church at Philadelphia
*to sit with Jesus on his throne (3:21--church at Laodicea)
Notice that these promises are given separately to the individuals of different churches, but they are promises that all will share.  Notice also how much of the future is incorporated into these promises.  This is true even though they are also promises for the present life, at least in some cases.  Thus, the tree of life is a future entity, but we receive that life even today, even as we eat the hidden manna and have authority over the nations and have God's name written on us and are seated with Jesus on his throne (see, for example, Ephesians 2:6).  
What does it mean to conquer?  If we look at the context of these verses, we see, as I mentioned, churches that are struggling to be obedient and worthy churches.  They are being reprimanded, exhorted, and warned.  For example, the church at Ephesus is described as having "abandoned the love you had at first."  Since love is the defining Christian quality, this is a very serious charge.  Christ exhorts them to "remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first."  He warns that, if they do not respond in this way, he will "remove your lampstand from its place..."  The lampstands of the churches are mentioned in 1:12 and explained as representing the seven churches (1:20).  So, for Christ to remove the lampstand would be tantamount to removing the church as a legitimate body of Christ.  It may continue a physical presence, but it no longer would be a true church in the eyes of Jesus.  
In the midst of this situation of Ephesus, Jesus gives a promise to the one who conquers.  And so he does with the six churches.  We may classify some of these churches as "better" than Ephesus, but none of the churches can be thought of as great churches that we want as models for our own local church.  In the midst of all of these struggling churches, Jesus believes there will be those who conquer.  King James Version uses the word "overcome."  Although it is old-fashioned, it may be a more vivid word for us.  Jesus is encouraging whoever can hear him (see 2:7, 2:11, etc.) to get "on top of the situation," not to allow it to drag one down but to seek to live above one's environment.  This is not, I believe, saying to ignore the situation, but rather to be a leader and to be influential in turning things around.  And, even if the church does not turn around, Jesus is calling on the individual to live well--to love, to help people, to keep praying, to remind people of the gospel and the messages found in the Scriptures.  In short, to be "a good Christian" in the midst of a bad environment.  Obviously, in some cases--for example in urban areas--there may be an option to "move on"--to leave a toxic environment and find another church that is healthy.  Whatever to "conquer" may mean in a particular situation, Jesus is giving two messages:  he is saying he is aware of the spiritual condition of a church and he is also aware of the spiritual condition of the individuals within that church.  He is watching to see the response of the whole church and the responses of the individuals.
Christians not only have the spiritual environment of their churches to contend with.  They also have "the world"--the non-Christian environment--that has a powerful impact on their lives.  Some of the letters to the churches depict what churches and individual Christians were faced with at the time of the writing of Revelation.  For example Christians in Smyrna were facing imprisonment (2:10).  In Pergamum a man named Antipas was killed for his Christian witness (2:13).  
In Revelation there is also a prediction of persecution in the last days.  At least physically, the "world," especially the empire of the Beast, will be the conqueror (see 11:7 and 13:7).  However, Christians also are depicted as the conquerors.  In 12:11 the "brothers" are said to have "conquered him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."  Note the three primary weapons that conquer the devil:  the redemption that comes through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the testimony of Christians about Jesus, and the determination of Christians that they will prefer death to compromise with the devil.  Notice also that it is really Jesus who is the conqueror.  As we put our trust in him, we participate in his victory.  Another approach to the concept of conquering is in Paul's discussion of the "whole armor of God" that is described in Ephesians 6:13-18:  truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and Spirit-led prayer.  
Christians have a calling:  to be conquerors.  The first step toward conquering is the momentous decision to be a Christian.  As we make that decision, we step into the victory that Christ has already won.  As we continue to follow Jesus, we experience the ongoing need to be conquerors.  Sometimes that means conquering our own sinful desires, our own fears, our own bad attitudes.  Sometimes it means conquering a toxic environment within a church.  Sometimes it means conquering the anti-Christ environment of the culture we find ourselves in.  Whatever our situation, we are designated to be conquerors, and Christ promises rich blessings to the one who is victorious.        
6.  The destiny of the evil ones:  Lake of Fire
"BUT":  There is also a warning.  (Revelation 21:8)  To those who do not heed the word of God, to those who refuse to repent and to trust Jesus, God has no choice.  This warning is issued to a list of people that God puts together--we would not necessarily put this group together as God as done. However, we would be wise to notice the list as it is drawn up.  Note the SECOND type on the list are the "faithless."  This is often translated "unbelieving" or "unbeliever."  These are people that have not believed the gospel of Christ and been saved.
The FIRST on the list are the "cowardly."  This seems strange, but it really makes good sense.  The only other use of this word elsewhere is the incident in which Jesus calmed the storm.  Jesus said to the disciples:  "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?"  (Matthew 8:26, parallel in Mark 4:40)  So, "afraid" or "cowardly" really is a condition brought on by lack of faith!  In the context of describing the promises to those who conquer, it makes sense that this condition--the cowardice that comes from unbelief--would be listed first.  
There follows the conditions of unbelievers.  There are the "detestable."  These are those who have fallen so deeply into sin (no matter how respectable they seem) that they are repugnant to God.  There follow "murderers, sexually immoral" and so forth.  Now the lesson of chapter 20:11-15 is repeated:  all of these wind up in the "lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."  
20th and 21st century evangelicals have emphasized the need to believe the gospel and to have one's name written in the Book of Life.  In Revelation 20:15, this is the all-encompassing category of those who end up in the Lake of Fire.  However, there is a tendency to ignore the earlier examination in the judgment:  "And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done."  (Revelation 20:12c)  Yes, of course, faith in Christ is the deciding factor in determining salvation.  Of course, having one's name written in the Book of Life is the deciding factor in determing salvation.  But it is also important to recognize that people who do not have faith are "cowardly..detestable...murderers...sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolators...liars..."  Some have kept their noses relatively clean.  Some have a veneer of respectability.  Some even may not have any overt sins to speak of.  Yet, they have some stuff written in those books that Jesus is going to open.  And they will be reminded of attitudes, secret desires, and small sins in the world's eyes but dark and ugly and monstrous in their own eyes--and in the eyes of God.  Those sins will be recorded and they will be judged for those sins as well as the fact that they have rejected Jesus as their Savior.  And their name will not be in the Book of Life and they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and not receive that inheritance that God has in store for the Christian--for the one who has conquered through faith in Jesus.
REFEERENCES
Brooks, James A. and Carlton L. Winbery.  Syntax of New Testament Greek.  Lanham, MD:  University Press of America, 1979.
Crossway.  The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Wheaton, Il:  Crossway, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001.
Ladd, George Eldon.  A Commentary on the Revelation of John.  Grand Rapids, Mi:  William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

SURVEY OF REVELATION 20 PART 5

THE LAST JUDGMENT:  REVELATION 20:11-15

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.


VERSES 20:11-15  INTRODUCTION

This is the most sobering passage in all of Scripture.  The Apostles' Creed states:  "From thence [the right hand of the Father] he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."  This passage in Revelation is the Scriptural substantiation for that belief.  

VERSE 20:11

As is so often found in Revelation, there is a bit of mystery about the wording.  The "one who was seated on it [the great white throne]" (Revelation 20:11) is not named, but the following Scriptures testify that this is Jesus himself:  In Genesis 18:25, Abraham describes the Lord as "Judge of all the earth."  However, Jesus states that "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son."  (John 5:22)  He also states that the Father "has given him [the Son] authority to execute judgment..."  (John 5:27)  He further explains his submission to the Father in the act of judgment:  "I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me."  (John 5:30)  Paul describes the role of Jesus as judge:  "Because he [God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)  Paul also describes Jesus as follows:  "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom..." (II Timothy 4:1)  So, the one who sits on the throne of judgment is Jesus Christ.

The wording in verse 11 that "earth and heaven fled" could be taken literally to mean that the throne stands suspended in space and the people brought before it also stand suspended.  It also could be a description of the fear of the inhabitants of earth and heaven who seek to flee from the judge but can find no place to hide.  We are told in Revelation 21:1 that John saw a "new heaven and a new earth, "for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away."  So, this statement in Revelation 20:11 that "earth and heaven fled from his face..." should be taken to mean that these entities indeed had left the scene to be replaced by a new heaven and earth.  Thus, Jesus is preparing all creation for a complete renewal.  It begins by removing heaven and earth from their place.  (Incidentally, the English Standard Version uses "sky" in Revelation 20:11 instead of "heaven," but translates the same word as "heaven" in 21:1.  I am not sure how accurate these interpretations are.)  The dramatic effect of this clause is to create a sense of fear and awe.  The huge white throne stands suspended in space and all creation flees from the one who is seated there.  Can you imagine what it will be like to stand before that throne?

VERSE 20:12:  THE DEAD STAND BEFORE THE THRONE

"And I saw the dead, great and small..."  (20:12) (ESV)  These are standing before the throne.  Now we have perhaps a place of contention.  First, who are the "dead"?  We have had mention of the dead in verse 20:5:  "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended."  I have already discussed verses 20:4-6 in a previous post.  At that time, I established that there is a set of four interrelated terms that are referred to in a sort of shorthand in this chapter.  These terms are the first death and the second death as well as the first resurrection and the second resurrection.  I also established the following definitions:

The FIRST DEATH is the physical death that all persons experience except those who are raptured.

The FIRST RESURRECTION is the resurrection of the righteous unto life.  See John 5:29.  

The SECOND RESURRECTION is the resurrection that is implied by verse 20:12 of Revelation.  It is the "resurrection unto judgment" that Jesus speaks of in John 5:29.   

The SECOND DEATH will be defined in the passage before us. It is to be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).    

With these definitions in mind, we ask the question:  will the righteous go through this judgment?  It is possible, but it seems that this context would not support that idea.  I must say that I have changed my mind on this issue.  I have believed in the past that the "judgment seat of Christ" could be equivalent to this last judgment, which is often called "The Great White Throne Judgment."  I based my thinking on verse 12, which depicts a detailed examination of each person's life.  This verse, and even verse 15, does not rule out the presence of the righteous.  However, the fact is that "the dead" are the people who are facing this judgment.  Returning to John 5, to verse 24, Jesus says:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life."  We must recognize that this judgment, The Great White Throne Judgment, or what could also be called The Last Judgment, is for the purpose of examining "the dead," those who do not have eternal life within them.  They died a physical death and now have been raised so that body and soul may face the consequences of their lives--of their thoughts, their beliefs, and their actions.  

VERSE 20:12:  THE "BOOKS" ARE OPENED

The next movement in this drama is that "books were opened..." (verse 20:12b)  I have heard people criticize the notion that God keeps books on us.  But we cannot avoid the Biblical information that God does indeed keep a record regarding us.  "And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done."  There is more than simply this notion, as I shall discuss, but we need to pause and recognize that the human race will be subject to examination according to their deeds.  The traditional Christian terminology is their "works."  What does this notion tell us?  First, it tells us that God is paying attention.  A person who was sort of a Christian comedian made a video that I saw in seminary.  It depicted various ideas that people have about God.  One of those ideas he depicted was an old man in a rocking chair, nodding off to sleep.  That is a God who has no idea what we are up to.  There is another version of that idea.  It is a God who really does not care.  Are we promiscuous, thieving, profane, drunken, violent, bullying, selfish, arrogant, materialistic, lazy, willfully ignorant, or resentful?  One could add numerous other sinful actions and attitudes.  Many believe that it just does not matter.  God will wink at all of it or pat us on the back and ignore what we have done.  This is not the Biblical record.  God keeps track.  It is sobering thought.  

But I think we can miss a positive side to this concept.  The fact that God keeps track means that there will be justice.  Lately, there have been a number of incidents in which persons have been killed and the big question is:  will there be justice?  The whole matter of justice encompasses more than punishing the perpetrator for his or her crime.  It also acknowleges the victim or victims and the worth of that individual or those individuals.  God will hold accountable the person who unjustly or cruely forecloses on a loan, evicts a poor family, never gives a deserving person a raise or a promotion, charges excessive amounts for prescription drugs or medical care, overtaxes persons or certain classes of persons, takes advantage of political position to cause misery to political opponents, makes it excessively hard to vote, racially profiles, uses military force for unjust ends, enslaves individuals, bullies classmates, abuses a spouse verbally or physically, sexually assaults another individual, commits perverted acts--on and on we could go.  These things may be done in secret or they may be done by individuals who are in positions of power that prevent their being called to account at this time.  But God will know and God will judge.  I think especially of children and the sins that are perpetrated upon them.  God sees and God will judge.

We should also note that some sins are committed against oneself and violates one's own dignity.  Fornication may seem "victimless" in some cases, but at least one sin is listed as against one's own body, and that is fornication.  See I Corinthians 6:12-20.  Certainly other sins could be understood to violate God's intention for us.  Whatever the case, God is aware and will not simply allow sin to pass by unnoticed.  

But we also notice that "another book was opened."  This other book is the "book of life."  The "books" are the list of deeds of the human race.  But this other book, which is not explained in any great detail, is a book that is not about sin, but about life.  

  A survey of passages in which are mentioned a book or list of recorded names gives us some concepts that deepen our understanding of this Book of Life or of a list of names that are recorded in heaven.  In a conversation between Moses and God, the Lord reveals that sin results in having one's name blotted from such a list.  (Exodus 32:32-33, same concept is in Psalm 69:27-28)  In Revelation this concept seems to reflect a determinism, for those who worship the Beast are described as those whose names are not written in the Book of Life.  However, this could be understood to mean that those people who are sinners and therefore have been blotted from the list are the ones who will naturally follow the Beast.  (Revelation 13:7-8, 17:8)  For the positive view that God records the names of those destined for life, see Isaiah 4:3.  Jesus told his disciples that they could (and should) rejoice because their names are written in heaven.  This possibly indicates that their following him has resulted in having their names recorded in heaven.  (Luke 10:20)  Paul listed some of his fellow ministers in his gospel mission and described them as being listed in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:3)  Hebrews contrasts the New Testament experience to that of the followers of Moses at Mount Sinai.  Rather than a terrifying experience on the mountain, the New Covenant believers have come to Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem and they have joined an assembly "who are enrolled in heaven."  (Hebrews 12:22-24)  Finally, we are assured that entry into the great city, the New Jerusalem, is reserved for those "who are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Revelation 21:27)

So, the Lamb's Book of Life is the final decisive evidence that leads to life in the New Heaven and New Earth.  The Bible does not use this concept in detail in those passages that describe entry into salvation, but one can fill in the details.  John 3:16 says "whoever believes in him (the son of God) should not perish but have eternal life."  Thus, believing in the son results in being recorded in the Book of Life.  John 1:12 says that "all who did receive him [the Word of God], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."  Those who received Jesus had their names written in the Book of Life.  Romans 10:9 says that "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  Those who confess and believe Jesus is the Lord and that God raised him from the dead (having been crucified) are saved so that their names are recorded in the Book of Life.  Ephesians 2:8 says "For by grace you have been saved through faith."  As we have had faith, God has extended grace to us so that we are saved, not by our works but by grace through faith.  That salvation includes enrollment in the Lamb's Book of Life.  

However, those who have not been saved are not recorded in the Book of Life.  On the day of judgment, their deeds will be examined.  Many will have terrible deeds recorded there--blasphemy, murder, hate, and perversion.  Obviously, we would not expect to find their names written in the Book of Life.  However, some will indeed have their names written there, for their salvation came through faith in Jesus and the grace of God.  Some may boast of great deeds of nobility and others of quiet deeds of devotion and care.  However, these deeds will not be sufficient to save them, to result in their becoming the children of God.  Therefore, when that other book is opened, the Book of Life, their names will not be found there.  The deciding factor in every case, no matter how heinous or noble the deeds, will be salvation by grace through faith that results in having one's name written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

Verse 20:12 expands a bit on the examination of the books:  "And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done."  This appears to indicate that each person will be judged according to their deeds and that punishment, which includes the Lake of Fire, will be commensurate with those deeds.  This appears to be a decision that is separate from the "binary" decision of whether a person is saved or lost.  That decision and its outcome is not described until verse 20:15.

VERSES 20:13-14:  THE SEA, DEATH, AND HADES

Verses 20:13-14 are a little mysterious.  Three entities are said to give up their dead:  the sea, Death, and Hades.  I am grateful to the comments of H. B. Swete (269-270).  The ancients especially feared burial at sea.  This verse is a reassurance that the body and soul of a person who was lost at sea would be resurrected:  it poses no problem for God.  Death and Hades represent "two aspects of death, the physical fact and its spiritual consequences....  Here they appear as two voracious and insatiable monsters who have swallowed up all past generations, but are now forced to disgorge their prey."  The purpose of this disgorgement is judgment.  Swete notes that the word "each" is featured in this verse.  ESV renders the latter part of the verse this way:  "and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done."  This little word, "each" is also found (thanks to Swete) in Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6, 14:12, I Corinthians 3:13, II Corinthians 5:10, I Peter 1:17, Revelation 2:23.  All of these throw the heavy weight of personal responsibility upon every person.  At the same time these references all put the focus on the humanity of every individual.  

"Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire."  These entities have already given up their contents as they deposit every person within them before the Judge.  Now their role in human affairs is done and they are heaved into the Lake of Fire to be destroyed.  

"This is the second death, the lake of fire."  Keep in mind that verses divisions were not present in the original manuscripts.  So, we need to ask the question:  Does this statement apply to Death and Hades or to those who were not found in the Book of Life--the material of verse 15?  I think it possibly could apply to both.  

VERSE 20:13  DEATH

We first need to ask the question:  what does it mean that Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire?  What are they, and how can we imagine their being thrown into the Lake of Fire.  I think it is helpful to begin with Swete's definition:  these are "two aspects of death, the physical fact and its spiritual consequences."  How is the physical fact of death manifested?  First, would be the conclusion of the autopsy examination:  "cause of death."  How many ways can we die?  I remember one of my elders in the faith saying:  "We all die of something."  We die of cyanide poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, high blood pressure leading to stroke or heart attack, cancer in all of its many forms, gunshot wound, knife wound, blunt-force trauma, being beat to death with fists, tromped on by soldiers or horses, starvation, drowning, tuberculosis, small pox, polio, syphilis, AIDS, dementia to the point of loss of respiratory nerve impulses, tetanus, peritonitis, and on and on and on.  In one way or another, to one degree or another, all of these have a human dimension.  That is, someone was exposed to small pox, someone was hit over the head, someone was not rescued in their starvation, someone was lax in their own body care, someone was neglectful in caring for another.  So, Death, the physical fact of death, includes humans who cause death, sometimes their own.  All those humans carry a degree of guilt that will be judged at the day of Judgment.  

In addition to the guilt of those who have contributed to the death of humans, there is also the bare-faced fact of death.  This reality--that we all will die someday--haunts us.  We go to funerals and gather around one another to comfort one another, not only for the loss of the person who has just died, but also we need comfort as we face the Fact of Death square in the face.  That hole in the ground, that casket perched above it--these remind us that we too will die someday.  It makes us shudder--the Physical Fact of Death.  But someday that Physical Fact of Death will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  It will be done for.  It no longer can hover out in front of us.  It will be judged unworthy of an eternal existence.  

VERSE 20:13  HADES AND HEAVEN--THE INTERMEDIATE STATE

There are also the Spiritual Consequences of death.  It means we go to Hades if we are not found worthy of heaven.  The New Testament gives ample evidence of both destinies of the soul of the one who dies--Hades and heaven. 

JESUS DESCRIBES HADES

Jesus described an Old Testament version of the afterlife in Luke 16:19-31.  We call this story "The Rich Man and Lazarus."  Jesus described two people whose lives were totally different.  There was a rich man who was well clothed and well fed.  And there was a poor man, Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha).  Lazarus was said to be "laid at his gate," that is, the gate of the rich man.  This seems to indicate that he was lame or paralyzed.  He was covered with sores and did not have sufficient food.  When he died he was "carried by the angels to Abraham's side."  The rich man died and found himself in Hades, where he was in torment.  He learned that he was separated by a chasm from Abraham and those who were receiving comfort with him.  Jesus completes the story by saying that, even if someone rises from the dead, those who have rejected the Law and the Prophets will not believe. 

PAUL DESCRIBES HEAVEN

In Paul's writings, we find brief hints that those who are saved will experience a blessed afterlife.  In II Corinthians 5:1-10, Paul contrasts our "earthly tent," by which he means our body, to our "heavenly dwelling."  (II Corinthians 5:2)  He also describes two alternative modes of living:  to be "at home in the body" or to be "away from the body and at home with the Lord."  (II Corinthians 5:6 and 5:8)  It is not clear to me whether the two paragraphs, II Corinthians 5:1-5 and 5:6-10 are describing precisely the same subjects.  Verses 5:1-5 seem to be pointing to the resurrection, when we will be clothed by a "heavenly dwelling."  The second paragraph seems to focus on our presence in heaven "at home with the Lord." (II Corinthians 5:8)  This is sometimes called the "intermediate state," during which we have an afterlife in which we are present with the Lord and are conscious (not in "soul sleep").  However, our blessing is incomplete until we experience the resurrection.  Nevertheless, our time "in heaven" is a blessed condition.

In another passage, Philippians 1:18b-26, Paul points again to his expectation to be in heaven with Jesus:  "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account."  (Philippians 1:22-24)  This great hero of the faith was torn between going to heaven and being with Jesus on the one hand or, on the other hand, staying in the midst of all his trials that he might bless his converts by his presence on earth!  Again, he points to a conscious afterlife in heaven with the Lord.  

HEAVEN IN REVELATION

In Revelation 6:9-11, John describes the "souls of those who had been slain" because of their testimony.  In a peculiar expression, these souls are said to be "under the altar."  Ladd, in his commentary on these verses, asserts that the "altar" refers to the altar of sacrifice that stood before the Hebrew tabernacle and, later, temple.  Animal sacrifices were laid on that altar to be burned as an offering to God.  So, the souls of Christian martyrs (and Old Testament martyrs were probably also included) are "under" the altar, for their souls had been poured out as an offering to God, just as the blood of sacrificial animals was poured out at the base of the altar.  These souls cry out to God to avenge their blood that has been spilled, and they ask "how long" will it be before that vengeance takes place.  (Ladd, 102-104)  "Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer..." (Revelation 6:11a)  Thus, these "souls" are conscious and in communication with the Lord.  I believe this is a brief picture of the intermediate state as it applies to these martyrs.

TWO INTERMEDIATE STATES

  So, we see two different "intermediate states."  The unrighteous dead go to Hades and are in torment (Luke 16:22-23)  The righteous dead are in a place we commonly call heaven.  (II Corinthians 5:1-10, Philippians 1:18b-26, Revelation 6:9-11)  It includes a conscious afterlife of comfort in the presence of the Lord.   With little elaboration, these scriptures indicate that these intermediate conditions are experienced by our immaterial selves--our souls.  This "intermediate state" is a condition experienced between physical death and resurrection.  The resurrection reunites the soul and body. Just as there are two intermediate states--that which is experienced by the unrighteous dead in Hades and the experience of the righteous dead in heaven--so there are two resurrections, one for the righteous and the other for the unrighteous.

At a future time there will be a resurrection of the body of the righteous dead.  This is taught especially in two passages.  In I Corinthians 15, Paul dwells on the fact of the  resurrection of the body (I Corinthians 15:1-34), the glory of the new body we receive in the resurrection I Corinthians 15:35-49), and the two-fold victory of the resurrection of the dead along with the rapture of the living Christians (I Corinthians 15:50-57), and a brief application (I Corinthians 15:58)  In another passage, I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul briefly describes the dynamic connection between the coming of Christ and the resurrection/rapture.  This passage comforts those who have lost loved ones by assuring them that those who have died will be resurrected and meet Christ in the air as he descends to earth.  The living Christians will be raptured and join the resurrected ones as all come to the earth so that they may always be with the Lord.

VERSES 20:15 THE RESURRECTION OF JUDGMENT

The resurrection of the unrighteous dead is not elaborated upon.  In fact it is only implied in Revelation 20, which is one of the few places where it receives any attention.  The other place of note is in John 5:28-29:  [the words of Jesus] "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."  Revelation 20:11-15 describes "a great white throne" and the dead, great and small, standing before the throne..."  This brief description seems to imply that these "dead" have experienced what Jesus called "the resurrection of judgment."  These verses are in the same context as Revelation 20:5-6:  "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!  Over such the second death has no power..."  If the reader is confused, it may be worthwhile to review my definitions of first death, second death and first resurrection, second resurrection.  These are found earlier in this post.  

VERSE 20:15  THE SECOND DEATH

Finally, we come to the end of the matter:  the second death.  The trial is over and the Judge reveals the sentence.  The trial has consisted of examining the "books"--the list of deeds of the person and referring to another book, the Book of Life.  If a person has been saved by grace through faith, he is listed in the Book of Life.  If his or her name is not listed there, then the sentence is announced and is immediately carried out:  the person is thrown into the Lake of Fire.  This is the second death.  This person was resurrected long enough for him or her to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  This is the completion of the Last Judgment.  At this point Christ has completed his assignment.  He has done all that the Father has asked him to do.  Death is in the Lake of Fire and all who have not put their trust in him but have chosen to be against him have been destroyed.  "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  (I Corinthians 15:24-26)

REFERENCES:

Crossway.  The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Wheaton, Il:  Crossway, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001.

Ladd, George Eldon.  A Commentary on the Revelation of John.  Grand Rapids, Mi:  William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.

Swete, Henry Barclay. The Apocalypse of St. John.  London:  MacMillan and Co. Ltd., 1906.





 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

SURVEY OF REVELATION 20 PART 4

  There is only one passage in the New Testament that discusses the Millennium--the thousand year reign of Christ.  ("Millennium" is drawn from the Latin words for "thousand" and "year.")  That passage is Revelation 20:4-6.  There are additional mentions of the "thousand years" in verses 20:2-3 and 20:7 as that period is pertinent to the narrative.  Although there is such scanty Scriptural evidence concerning this period, the Millennium is one of the most discussed topics in eschatology.  Three schools of interpretation are named for their views of when Christ will come in relation to the Millennium.  These schools are as follows.

Amillennialism is the belief that there will not be a literal Millennium during which Christ reigns on earth but that the Millennium is a term for the rule of Christ from heaven during the church age.

Premillennialism is the belief that Christ will return (an event often called the Parousia) before the Millennium and then set up a kingdom over which he will reign for 1000 years.

Postmillennialism is the belief that the church will ultimately triumph in its mission of evangelism and will have powerful influence over the affairs of the world so that a perfect society that aligns with Scripture will be established; at some point during this process the Millennium will be instituted; at the end of the Millennium, Christ will return to earth.

There are variations in each of these scenarios that are advocated by different individuals.

HISTORIC PREMILLENNIALISM

My discussion below of the Millennium relies a great deal on a chapter in "The Meaning of the Millennium.  Four Views" by Robert G. Clouse.  The chapter, which is titled "Historic Premillennialism," is by George Eldon Ladd.  Ladd does not justify the name "Historic Premillennialism" in his chapter, but I gather from an internet entry that "Historic" reflects the belief that it is the view of the early church fathers.  (I shall not enter into that discussion.)  Ladd's understanding of the Millennium agrees with Dispensationalism that Christ's Parousia will take place before the Millennium.  However, he does differ from the Dispensationalists in some other issues.  I shall indicate some of those differences.  I have chosen to focus mostly on his chapter in Clouse's book because he provides some insight into the nature of the Millennium and the role it plays in God's program.  I have added some of my own interpretative comments in some sections.

THE HEAVENLY SESSION OF CHRIST

Ladd refers to the "Heavenly Session" of Christ and connects it to the idea of "revelation" or "apokalypsis."  Psalm 110 is often referred to in the New Testament and especially applied to Jesus.  Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, quoted Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35) and then applied David's prophecy to Jesus:  "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36)  In making this application, Peter is stating that Jesus now reigns on the throne with the Father from heaven.  Ladd points out that Jesus is NOW the Messianic King of all.  In Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus' timeline reaches a climax by acclaiming Jesus as Lord.  Note the timeline is as follows:

--He was in the form of God

--Did not grasp at equality with God

--Emptied himself by taking the form of a servant

--Born in the likeness of men

--Humbled himself in obedience to death on a cross

--God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every name

--This has the purpose and/or result that every knee bows and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ is Lord

Note that the final outcome of this timeline is that every knee bows and confesses Jesus Christ is Lord.  Ladd believes this is a confession of Jesus as King.  In Romans 10:9, confession that "Jesus is Lord" is necessary for one to be saved.  Ladd also considers this is a confession that Jesus is King.  Many (including myself) have understood the Philippians 2 passage to culminate in the exaltation of Christ in the last days.  However, the grammar of the passage puts Christ's exaltation in the past, that is, at Jesus' ascension.  In Philippians 2:9 God put Christ in the highest position ("highly exalted him").  "Exalted" is an indicative aorist verb, implying the past.  This passage in Philippians coordinates with the passage in Acts 2:34-36, which applies Psalm 110:1 to Jesus.  Ladd states that this "heavenly session" of Christ--his being seated at the right hand of the Father--constitutes the movement of the Davidic throne from Zion (Jerusalem) to heaven.  As the Messiah, son of David, and as the Messiah, almighty son of God, Jesus is Lord--the King over the universe and over every human RIGHT NOW.  This position of Christ is known to Christians through the Biblical witness and is a matter of faith.  However, the will come a time when it will be known by sight.

THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

In the New Testament the Second Coming of Jesus is usually referred to by the term Parousia (coming or visitation or presence).  However, sometimes it is referred to by the term Apokalypsis (revelation).  Obvious examples of this usage include (some translations may render it as a verb):  I Corinthians 1:7, II Thessalonians 1:7, I Peter 1:7, 1:13, 4:13.  In these verses, Jesus' Second Coming is the "Revelation" of Jesus.  Ladd states that this Revelation will be a "disclosure to the world of what is already Christ's: [his] sovereignty and lordship; what is now by faith will become sight."  Ladd says:  "We do not find in Scripture the idea that Jesus begins his Messianic reign at his parousia and that his kingship belongs primarily to the millennium.  We find on the contrary that the millennial reign of Christ will be the manifestation in history of the lordship and sovereignty which is his already."  

I should expand a bit on the ideas presented in the preceding paragraphs.  First, Ladd is arguing for a present reign of Christ over the earth from heaven.  Second, he is arguing that the Millennium will be a period when that reign will be visible on earth.  This latter idea is what he means when he says that it will take place "in history."  Ladd is countering the Dispensationalists who place a great emphasis on Christ's kingship in the Millennial period without emphasis on his present rulership.

Ladd's emphasis on the Heavenly Session is similar to the ideas of the Amillennialists who consider the present church age to be the Millennial reign of Christ.  That is, they equate the Heavenly Session with the Millennium.  Although Ladd acknowledges the Heavenly Session of Christ, as I have just discussed, he does not equate that heavenly reign with the Millennium.  Instead, he maintains that the Heavenly Session will be transferred, so to speak, to an earthly reign of 1000 years.  His argument comes from a careful exegesis of Revelation 20:4-6.  He maintains that  this brief passage reveals a 1000 year reign of Christ on earth--a literal Millennium.  The crucial argument is that the verb that is translated "came to life" in verses 20:4 and 20:5 must be taken literally in both verses.  He contrasts this passage with John 5:19-29.  In that latter passage, one can "spiritualize" or take metaphorically Jesus' use of "has eternal life" or "pass from death to life" or "will live" in verses 5:24 and 25.  On the other hand, in verse 5:29 "resurrection of life"and "resurrection of judgment" should be taken literally as they refer to the last judgment.  Notice that the "dead" in verse 5:25 hear the voice of the Son NOW whereas Jesus is careful to say "all who are in the tombs" will hear his voice in the FUTURE in the last days.  So, there is CONTEXTUAL EVIDENCE to guide us as to whether literal or metaphorical language is being used.  On the other hand, in Revelation 20:4-6, the context does not give any evidence for metaphorical use  of the verb "come to life."  In the absence of contextual evidence, we are constrained to take both uses literally.  "They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:4c)  "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended."  (Revelation 20:5a) The outcome of this exegesis is that there is a LITERAL MILLENNIUM in the future.  There is a Heavenly Session now and there will be a earthly "session" of Christ as King in the future.  This earthly reign of Jesus will be a revelation of him in his glory, power, royalty, and sonship.

THE REIGN OF CHRIST UNTIL ALL ENEMIES ARE SUBDUED

The doctrine of a literal Millennium rests on the brief passage of Revelation 20:4-6.  However, there is one passage that alludes to the Millennium and that is consistent with the context of Revelation 19-20.  The passage I refer to (taking this from Ladd) is I Corinthians 15:24-26.  Most people are aware that I Corinthians 15 is an extended teaching by Paul on the resurrection of the body.  It is instructive to follow the passage starting at 15:20.  I shall summarize, quote, or paraphrase the verses starting at 15:20 through 15:26, as follows:

15:20:  Christ rose as the "firstfruits" of the resurrection. (The term "firstfruits" refers to the earliest grain or fruit, such as grapes,  of a harvest--promising the full harvest to come.)

15:21:  Death came by a man (Adam), and the resurrection came by a man (Jesus).

15:22:  In Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive.

15:23:  The order is:  Christ is the firstfruits, then at the Second Coming those who belong to him will be resurrected.

15:24:  After Christ destroys his enemies, he will deliver the Kingdom to God [the Father].

15:25:  Christ must reign until he has subdued all enemies.

15:26:  The last enemy to be subdued is death.

Ladd points out that the events described in Revelation 19-20 reflect the concepts that are stated in I Corinthians 15:20-26.  Note the events narrated in Revelation 19:11-20:15, as follows:

Christ's Second Coming is portrayed as his coming on a white horse (19:11-16).

Christ defeats two major enemies:  the Beast/Antichrist and the False Prophet along with their followers (19:17-21).

The devil is bound during the Millennium (20:1-3).

The devil is released after the Millennium; he deceives the nations into attacking the saints.  He is thrown into the Lake of Fire and his followers are destroyed by fire (20:7-10).

The sinners of all history are thrown into the Lake of Fire along with Death and Hades (20:11-15).

Thus, Christ reigns until he has subdued all his enemies. (Compare I Corinthians 15:25.) At the turn of the chapter, from Revelation 20 to Revelation 21, an entire new order is announced:  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."  (Revelation 21:1)  Then we read:  "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.'"  Thus, in this new order, the Kingdom has been delivered to the Father.  Christ has done his magnificent work.  The completion of that work is described in Revelation 19-20.  Revelation, chapters 21-22, then, describe the blissfulness of the future life of the ages.  

WHO WILL REIGN WITH CHRIST?

A.  THE EVIDENCE FROM REVELATION 4:4-6 

If we now turn again to the Millennium, we notice that it occurs during a hiatus in the activity of Satan.  See Revelation 20:3.  There are few details that are given as to the nature of this period.  The material on the Millennium is contained in Revelation 20:4-6.  The focus in those verses is not on Christ, but on those who reign with Christ.  Notice who these people are.  The list is as follows.  References are to Revelation.

1.  The "souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God" (20:4b).

2.  Those "who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands."  (20:4c) "They [this very likely refers to both the groups in 1 and 2 of this list] came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." (20:4d)

3.  The ones who share "in the first resurrection."  (20:6a)  "Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years." (20:6b)

The first two groups are persons who will live during the reign of the Beast.  However, it is a matter of Christian doctrine that those who will be resurrected "unto life" includes all who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  I need to pause and make the case that the "first resurrection" includes not only the martyrs of the Tribulation period but also all who are saved by faith.  

B.  THE EVIDENCE FROM JOHN 5:24-29

If we return to Jesus' remarks on coming into life and experiencing the resurrection in John 5, we have the following statements:

John 5:24:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."  This verse was briefly referred to earlier.  It seems clear that this "life" is the eternal life that a believer receives through faith.  Jesus reinforces this idea in the following verse.

John 5:25:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and now is here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."  The spiritually dead will hear the voice of Jesus calling them.

John 5:28-29:  "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."  Jesus describes two resurrections--one "of life" and the other "of judgment."  Whereas, in John 5:24 and 25, hearing the Jesus' word and believing  brings spiritual life,  in John 5:28-29, hearing Jesus' word brings about physical life that is either "of life" or "of judgment."  The former, "of life," is a resurrection that allows one to participate fully in the Kingdom of God with Jesus.   It is the "first resurrection" that is referred to in Revelation 20:5.  The "second resurrection" is described in Revelation 20:12ff.

C.  THE EVIDENCE FROM PAULINE LITERATURE

In I Corinthians 15:12-49, Paul makes an extended argument in support of the resurrection from the dead as the future destiny of believers.  In 15:50-57, he briefly goes back over the resurrection to life in the context of the coming of the Kingdom of God, of the victory over death, of the rapture of living believers.  Our present physical existence, which Paul calls "flesh and blood" cannot experience the Kingdom of God.  But, the resurrection, as well as the rapture of those alive at that moment, will bring about a change into a new order of existence.  Paul calls it an imperishable and immortal body, now equipped to experience the Kingdom of God.  

In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul relates the Resurrection/Rapture of the saints to the Parousia.  Just as in I Corinthians 15:50-57, he mentions the "dead in Christ" and "we who alive, who are left."   Both groups join Jesus in his Parousia.  Notice that Paul is including first century Christians among the "dead in Christ."  They will be resurrected.  Paul did not realize that there will also be second, third, fourth century Christians, and even twenty-first century Christians, who will be resurrected and be joined with Christ in his Parousia.  

D.  THE FUTURE, UNSEEN CENTURIES OF FOLLOWERS OF JESUS

Revelation 20:6 gives a blessing to those who share in the first resurrection.  John has put the spotlight on the martyrs during the reign of the Beast/Antichrist.  But, the testimonies of Jesus and of Paul also include ALL CHRISTIANS in the first resurrection.  There is further evidence that the first resurrection and its attendant victorious reign with Christ includes all Christians throughout the centuries.  Jesus promised his disciples:  "you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:28)  In I Corinthians 6:2-3, we read:  "Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?  If the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  Do you not know that we are to judge angels?  How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!"  Note that Paul is writing to first century Christians.  Thus, when John saw thrones (Revelation 20:4) and those who were seated on them, the Biblical evidence seems to include all who are saved sharing in that victory.  John's perspective, and the persepective of his readers, was of the first century church.  He, like Paul, very likely believed that all the events that he was prophesying would occur in the next few years.  It is very likely that he--from his own human understanding--believed that the Beast/Antichrist would be a Roman emperor.  So, the thrones would be occupied by first century Christians.  But his prophesy does not exclude those who would follow Christ in the centuries to come.  

E.  THE QUESTION OF MARTYRDOM, THE FIRST RESURRECTION, AND THE SECOND DEATH

Another issue should be addressed.  It is almost synonymous with what has already been discussed.  I am referring to the fact that martyrdom seems to be the qualification for occupying one of the thrones of Revelation 20:4.  It is even possible to interpret verses 20:4-6 to exclude all except martyrs from reigning with Christ.  However, this interpretation would lead to a problem.  Verses 20:5-6 divides the dead into only two groups:  those who experience the first resurrection and those who experience the "second death."  In the sort of shorthand communication which runs through Revelation 20:4-15, two terms are mentioned and their coupled terms are left to the reader to supply.  The following explains this:

Term mentioned:  First Resurrection; coupled term:  Second Resurrection

Coupled term:  First Death; Term mentioned:  Second Death   

So, the "first resurrection" is what Jesus, in John 5: 29 calls the "resurrection of life.'  The "second resurrection" is what he calls the "resurrection of judgment" in John 5:29.  The "first death" is simply physical death, which all experience except those who are raptured at the Parousia.  The "second death" is defined in Revelation 20:14.  It is to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  From this discussion, it is evident that all who are saved by faith enter into the first resurrection.  It then follows that they also reign with Christ.  One does not have to be a martyr to reign with Christ.  However, one must have the faith of a martyr.  One must have given one's life over to Jesus.  

F.  THE QUESTION OF OLD TESTAMENT BELIEVERS

I have ignored the issue of "Israel" and the role that Israel will play in the last days as well as the question of the salvation of Israelites and their resurrection.  I believe this is a complex issue that should be dealt with as a separate post.  I shall just briefly say that I believe Old Testament "believers" will be resurrected in the First Resurrection and that Israel will play an important role in the Millennium.  I shall do my best to address that issue in another post.

THE PURPOSE OF THE MILLENNIUM

Ladd humbly admits that he cannot see a clear purpose for the Millennium that is revealed in the New Testament.  He refers to the idea of "progressive revelation."  Progressive revelation usually refers to Biblical evidence that expands as one progresses through the history of the Scripture.  So, for example, very little about the afterlife is revealed in the Old Testament, but more detail is given in the New Testament.  Also, although the coming of the Messiah is progressively revealed in the Old Testament, the full nature of Jesus and how he ministered, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven awaited the actual events that took place from the announcement of Gabriel in Luke 1 to the ascension in Acts 1.  Salvation by grace through faith was present in the Old Testament period, but it was Paul who clearly explained that doctrine.  For Ladd, the revelation of the Millennium and its nature is alluded to in the Old Testament and given a concrete foundation in the New Testament.  However, its full nature awaits the arrival of the actual event in the future.  Ladd offers briefly the following purposes for the Millennium:

A.  The "millennium is part of Christ's Messianic rule by which he puts all his enemies under his feet (I Cor. 15:25)."

B.  It also may "reveal to the world as we know it the glory and power of Christ's reign."

C.  It will bring a measure of peace and righteousness to the world while the devil is imprisoned.  Once he is released, he will find "the hearts of men still responsive to his enticements...This will serve to commend the justice of God in the final judgment."  That is, although the "environment" of the Millennium will bring about peace and righteousness, that "environment" will not cure original sin.  Thus, God will be just in putting sinners into the Lake of Fire.  

THE CONTRAST OF LADD'S NOTIONS TO THE DISPENSATIONALISTS

Ladd is a Premillennialist.  His writings espouse a concept of the Parousia--the Second Coming of Christ--that takes place before the Millennium.  This is in contrast to two other major teachings on the Millennium.  First, there is Amillennialism, which denies a literal Millennium.  Some interpreters equate the church age with the Millennium, and the idea of the Heavenly Session of Christ is also equated with the Millennium.  Second, there is Postmillennialism, which believes that the church will ultimately be triumphant in evangelism and will create a reign of righteousness on earth.  This period may or may not be for a literal thousand years.  At the end of that period, Christ will return.  

The most influential group of interpreters who promote Premillennialism are the Dispensationalists.  I have written more than once in this website concerning the Dispensationalists.  Although Ladd agrees with the Dispensationalists on a number of issues, he also disagrees with them on some issues.  In the essay that I have based much of this article on, Ladd points out his differences with the Dispensationalists on the following points.

A.  church in millennium

B.  sacrifices

C.  literal fulfillment of OT

A.  THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE MILLENNIUM:  Ladd differs from the Dispensationalists with regard to the role of the church during the Millennium.

B.  ANIMAL SACRIFICES DURING THE MILLENNIUM:  The Dispensationalists believe that animal sacrifices will be reinstituted.  They believe that the temple that is described in Ezekiel 40-43 will be the rebuilt temple of the Millennium and that animal sacrifices will be offered there.  Ladd believes that the animal sacrificial system was ended with Christ (see Hebrews 10:5-16 and 8:13) and that this would apply to the Millennium as well as the present time.  The Dispensationalists believe that the Millennial animal sacrifices will serve as a memorial to Christ, pointing back to his death just as the Old Testament sacrifices pointed forward to his death.  This explanation is really an attempt to justify their interpretation of the Old Testament and has no Scriptural warrant.  

C.  LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT:  Ladd believes that "Dispensationalism forms its eschatology [doctrine of last things] by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament into it.  A nondispensational eschatology [such as his own] forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament.  It confesses it cannot be sure how the Old Testament prophecies of the end are to be fulfilled for (a) the first coming of Christ was accomplished in terms not foreseen by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, and (b) there are unavoidable indications that the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled in the Christian church."

Ladd admits that his methodology "sounds like" Amillennialism.  However, he replies that Romans 11:26 states that "all Israel will be saved."  This means that one's eschatology must take Israel as a people into account, which is not done in Amillennialism.  He also points out the New Testament teaching of the Millennium in Revelation 20, as I have already described.  Again, this contradicts Amillennialism even while using an approach to Scripture similar to that of Amillennialism.  

If one follows Ladds methodology, then some of the "headlines" of Dispensationalism fade into the background or, at least, must be approached with caution.  For example, will the Jewish Temple be rebuilt?  Is the existence of Israel as a nation necessarily a precursor to the last days?  I think that "caution" should be the watchword.  Ladd was a brilliant scholar and, I think, was very helpful in clarifying some matters.  But one needs to be humble and cautious about making final judgments about many of these matters.  

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE MILLENNIUM

I think that I have only begun to wade into the waters of the Millennium and have not yet begun to swim.  It is a difficult subject that will take  years to understand.  I do think that Ladd and others have helped me to see the Millennium as an important component of the reign of Christ.  Moreover, Ladd's highlighting of the Heavenly Session of Christ and the Parousia as the Revelation of the majesty and glory of Christ have been helpful.  One final thought is this:  the Millennium is not the final word from the Lord.  There is more to come!

REFERENCES: 

Clouse, Robert G.  The Meaning of the Millennium.  Four Views.  Downer's Grove, Il:  Intervarsity Press, 1977.

Crossway.  The Holy Bible.  English Standard Version. Wheaton, Il:  Crossway by Good News Publishers, 2001.