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Revelation 8 - Seven Acts of Judgement (19:11 - 21:8)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

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Introduction Four main views of Revelation
1: Prologue (1:1-8) 2: Letters to seven churches (1:9 - 3:22)
3: Seven Seals (4:1 - 8:1) 4: Seven trumpets (8:2 - 11:18)
5: Seven signs (11:19 - 15:4) 6: Seven Bowls (15:5 - 16:21)
7: Prostitute / Babylon (17:1 - 19:10) 8: Seven judgements (19:11 - 21:8)
9: Bride / Jerusalem (21:9 - 22:9) 10: Epilogue (22:10-21)
Millennium Rapture and tribulation
Jesus the Lamb

Outline: (Seven times: 'And I saw')

Setting (19:11-16): Heaven opened, white horse
Judgement 1 (19:17-18): The great supper of God
Judgement 2 (19:19-21): Two beasts thrown into lake of fire
Judgement 3 (20:1-3): Dragon bound for 1000 years, so deceives nations no more
Judgement 4 (20:4-10): Thrones and souls of martyrs, release of dragon
Judgement 5 (20:11): Great white throne
Judgement 6 (20:12-15): Dead judged by works in books
Judgement 7 (21:1-8): Bride Jerusalem descending to new heaven and new earth

This section of the book has six scenes of judgement followed by the new heaven and new earth. Following the judgement of the great whore Babylon, attention now turns to the other enemies of God and his people: the two beasts and finally the dragon. As noted before, the seven bowls, the seven voices against Babylon, and the seven acts of judgement all describe different aspects of the final judgement. Again each of the seven scenes of judgement are introduced with the phrase, 'And I saw'.

Setting (19:11-16): Heaven opened, white horse

Again the section begins with a setting. This time heaven itself is opened, and a white horse appears. The identity of the rider is without doubt. He is called Faithful and True, and has the name, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16, also 17:14). This is Jesus coming in victory over his enemies, as a conquering general followed by the armies of God. He is coming as the righteous judge, making war on his enemies, but not by using conventional weapons. He is all-seeing, with eyes like a flame of fire, as described in the vision of the son of man amongst the lamp-stands (1:14). He is crowned with many diadems, as the true king. His robe was dipped in blood, a reference either to his own blood shed on the cross, or to the blood of the martyrs. The armies of heaven dressed in white linen are either the angelic forces or the saints, or both. They are dressed in the same clothes as bride (19:8), and come on white horses, being both the bride and the army - a wonderful paradox. No one knows his name, but it is revealed to us as the Word of God (19:13), and the King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). He is the Word of God, a description of Jesus used elsewhere only by John in the prologue of his gospel. Jesus is the Word of God who is the same as God, who created the universe with God, but who became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:1-18).

Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword. This is not a military sword, as Jesus does not fight physical battles. This is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which is far more powerful than any army or any weapon of war. God created the world through speaking his word, and will also destroy his enemies and bring history to an end through the word from his mouth. Paul said that the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Cor 10:4). The word of God in the Gospel is the most powerful message, which Paul described as the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:18). Jesus will use the sword to strike down the nations, rule them, and will tread the winepress of the wrath of God. When Jesus comes a second time, he will come to bring God’s wrath on those who reject him. The saints who have already died will come with him, and those remaining on earth will rise to meet him, so they can be with him forever (1 Thess 4:14-17). He is also the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is the true king and true lord, in contrast to Emperor Domitian, who insisted on being addressed as 'Lord and God'. This name was written on his thigh, the place of the covenant in the OT. (Gen 24:9). Jesus is the King over all the kings, and Lord over all the lords, the absolute sovereign over everything. Because he is both the creator and the redeemer, he is the rightful king of the world. All other kings and lords rule under his authority, and eventually must bow the knee to him (Phil 2:10).

Judgement 1 (19:17-18): The great supper of God

The first scene of judgement is the birds (vultures) being called to the great supper of God. These will eat the flesh of all who are not invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. There is a choice of destinies: either to be a guest at the marriage supper of the Lamb, or to be the food at the great supper of God. In Jewish thought there was no hope of any resurrection if the body was destroyed, especially if it was eaten by birds or animals (Ezek 39:17-20). So this gruesome meal is being used as a symbol of complete and final defeat with no hope for any future.

Judgement 2 (19:19-21): Two beasts thrown into lake of fire

The kings of the earth join with the two beasts and gather to make war against Jesus, the rider on the horse, and his army. This is the second of three times that the forces of evil gather for battle (16:13-14, 19:20, 20:8). However no battle is described. There is evidently no fight or struggle. It is futile for the evil forces to gather for battle when the battle has already been lost. The beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire, which is defined later as the second death (20:14). The place of eternal torment is often described as fire, with sulphur (eg. Is 30:33), just as the Lord rained sulphur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24). Burning sulphur has a horrid acrid and poisonous smell, so is a powerful illustration of judgement and torment. The kings of the earth and their armies are killed by the sword from the mouth of Jesus, the Word of God, and are eaten by birds at the great supper of God (19:18).

Now three of the enemies have been dealt with (Babylon and the two beasts), now only the dragon is left for the complete destruction of evil. The dragon was the first evil being to appear (ch 12), and is the last to be destroyed (ch 20). Even though the defeat and destruction of each of the evil forces is described separately in the book, the defeat of all evil forces will happen simultaneously at the time of the final judgement. When Jesus comes a second time, he will come in triumph, and all Satan’s works to deceive the world and persecute the church will cease forever.

Judgement 3 (20:1-3): Dragon bound for 1000 years, so deceives nations no more

Before we look at this difficult and very controversial passage, you may find it helpful to read the page on the website which describes the main views of the millennium. Once you are familiar with these, you will find it easier to understand the issues being discussed. As with all controversial passages, you as the reader need to develop your own opinion, which should be based on a thorough study of the text. Then you will be in a position to critique other viewpoints, but always maintaining a positive attitude towards people who hold different views from yourself.

Comments and explanations about the text

John now sees an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. The bottomless pit, or abyss, is where the locusts came from (9:1-2), and from where the beast rises to war against the two witnesses (11:7). It is probably to be understood as being the realm of Satan and his demonic powers. The angel seized the dragon, who is again identified as that ancient serpent, the Devil and Satan, as when he was first introduced (12:9). The angel binds him and locks him in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. After the thousand years is over, he is released for a little while. This time is described later in the chapter (20:7-10). This is the only place in the whole Bible that a period of a thousand years is explicitly spoken about. The word 'millennium' does not appear in this passage because it comes from the Latin.

It should be noted that this passage says nothing about the binding of Satan bringing peace on earth. The only consequence of his binding is that the nations (or Gentiles) are no longer deceived (20:3). The idea of a future time of peace on earth is drawn from passages in Isaiah (eg.11:6-9 and 65:17-25), which are often claimed to describe a future millennium. The question is whether this peace on earth described by Isaiah happens during the millennium, or whether he is describing life in the new heaven and new earth.

Some questions of interpretation

As we look at this difficult passage, these are some of the main issues to consider:
1. Is the binding of Satan something that happened in the past, or is it still to come in the future?
2. What is the result of Satan being bound?
3. Is the thousand years to be taken literally or symbolically?
4. Does the NT give any indication that the coming of Jesus will be separated from the final judgment by a thousand years?
5. Should the passage be taken strictly chronologically? - Does the 1000 years begin before or after the second coming of Jesus?
6 In what way should the apocalyptic style of literature affect our interpretation of this passage?

The timing and result of the binding of Satan

Satan is obviously still active in the world at the present time, and this is often used as an argument to support the view that the binding of Satan has not yet happened, so that the thousand years must describe a future period.

The NT makes it very clear that Satan suffered a great defeat through the death of Jesus on the cross. According to Paul, “He (Jesus) disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it (the cross)” (Col 2:15). John records Jesus saying this: “Now is the judgement of the world; now the ruler of the world (Satan) will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth (on the cross), will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:31-32). In the context of his ministry of delivering people from demons, Jesus even spoke about him binding the strong man (Satan). “How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man?” (Mt 12:29, Mk 3:27). The word for 'tying up' in these two passages is the same word used to describe the binding of Satan during the millennium (Rev 20:2).

The only result of the binding of Satan described here is that he would deceive the nations no more (20:3). There is no mention of any peace on earth during the thousand years, or any other consequence of his binding. Earlier in the book, Satan was described as “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). The word for 'nations' also means 'Gentiles', or those who are not Jews. Before Jesus came, knowledge of the One True God was largely restricted to Israel. Only Israel had the light, while the nations sat in darkness. Isaiah predicted the time when the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:1-2), which was fulfilled by Jesus (Mt 4:15). One of the great changes between the times of the OT and the NT is that the knowledge of God is no longer exclusive to Israel, but has spread to the nations. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to go and preach the Gospel to all nations (Mt 28:19). Paul was commanded by the risen Jesus to go to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18). The Book of Acts gives the account of how the Gospel broke out of its Jewish roots, and spread from Jerusalem, the centre of the Jewish world, to reach Rome, the capital of the Gentile Roman Empire.

If this interpretation is correct, then the binding of Satan happened as a result of the ministry and death of Jesus, and that the result of the binding was that the Gospel could now go to all nations. That would set the start of the period of a thousand years at the death and resurrection of Jesus. This would indicate that the time we are currently living in is being described here as a period of a thousand years, with the brief release of the dragon still in the future.

The thousand years - literal or symbolic?

Those who attempt to take the Book of Revelation literally normally say that all the numbers should be taken literally, so they expect an exact period of a thousand years yet to come in the future. However, in apocalyptic writing, numbers have meanings, rather than giving an exact mathematical unit.

The round number 'thousand' is used throughout the Bible to describe a large number, without necessarily meaning an exact number. It is used to show how great God is (Ps 50:10), or to compare God with humans (Job 9:3), or uses something on earth to show how much better God is (Ps 84:10, 90:4). In other places it describes the great blessings from God (Deut 1:11, 7:9), or the eternal commitment of God to his people (1 Chr 16:15, Ps 105:8), or merely an extremely long life (Eccl 6:6). The only other place where it used in the NT is the often quoted passage in 2 Peter, when he says, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” (2 Pet 3:8). This verse is often used to claim that since creation about 4000 BC there have been 6000 years, so we should expect the millennium to begin around the year 2000. This verse is Peter’s response to those he called 'scoffers'. Because they thought that Jesus had delayed coming back for so long (about thirty years), they were questioning whether he would ever come back, and instead were claiming that everything will continue as it had from the beginning (2 Pet 3:4). In response, Peter showed them that God’s idea of timing was rather different from ours. The reason Jesus had not come back by the time Peter wrote (in the mid-60's of the first century) was that God was waiting for more people to repent (2 Pet 3:9).

In apocalyptic writing, the number thousand takes the number for human power (ten) and raises it to the third power (the cube), making it perfect. So a thousand years becomes a long period describing the perfect rule by God’s Messiah. To be consistent with the style of literature of the Book of Revelation it is probably best to interpret the thousand year period non-literally as another way of describing the period between the first and second comings of Christ.

The relation between the second coming and the final judgement

If you compare the different views on the millennium, you will see that the pre-millennial view makes a separation of a thousand years between the second coming of Christ and the final judgement. The post-millennial and a-millennial views do not make this separation. One way of assessing the different views is to consider whether there are any other passages of Scripture that would give any suggestion of this separation. So far, I have not found any passages which give a clear indication of this. Instead, consistently through the NT, the second coming and final judgement appear to happen at the same time. These are a few of the many possible examples:
“For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord Jesus and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed” (2 Thess 1:6-10).
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matt 25:31-32).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise ... and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed” (2 Peter 3:10).
There is only one passage which could possibly leave room for a gap of a thousand years, but that is debatable:
“... so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed every ruler ...” (1 Cor 15:22-24). It could be argued that the thousand years come between his coming and the end.

If there is no gap between the second coming and final judgement, then the end of the thousand years should come with the second coming of Christ, which would be at the same time as the final judgement, and the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth.

Chronology of chapters 19 and 20

The main argument from the pre-millennial viewpoint is that in this section of the Book of Revelation, Jesus appears for a second time in chapter 19 (19:11-16), and that Satan is not bound until the following chapter (20:1-3). This view would take this section strictly chronologically, so the period of a thousand years must follow the second coming of Christ. However, the visions of the Book of Revelation do not always describe events in chronological order. The second coming of Christ is described several times through the book, including in the prologue (1:7). Similarly, the great day of wrath is described early in the book (6:12-17). Expecting a strict chronology could be seen as imposing a logical western mind-set on what is essentially an eastern book, which tends to emphasise themes rather than timing.

We should also note that the context of this passage is the description of God’s judgements on the enemies of the saints. After the judgement of the whore Babylon, and the two beasts in chapter 19, chapter 20 describes the judgement of the dragon, the last of the enemies. John is being shown that Satan was bound at the time of the first coming of Jesus, and will thrown in to the lake of fire at his second coming.

Apocalyptic writing

In this passage the dragon is Satan, who is a spiritual being. He cannot be bound with a literal or physical chain anymore than he can be confined in a physical pit. This passage is therefore describing the spiritual reality of the restriction of Satan’s activity using symbolic language. If the style of literature is taken into account, it is difficult to argue that the thousand years should be taken literally.

General comment about the millennium

This short passage at the end of the Book of Revelation has tragically caused so much argument and division in the church. It is a great shame when people cause divisions through being dogmatic over what is normally recognised as a difficult passage of Scripture. Because of its difficulties it is not advisable or even necessary to include a position of belief about the millennium in the statement of faith of a church or Christian organisation. It is also important that we do not place greater emphasis on our particular view of the millennium than we do on the return of Christ, the defeat of Satan, the final judgement and the eternal glory in the new heaven and the new earth.

Judgement 4 (20:4-10): Thrones and souls of martyrs, release of dragon

Even though the phrase 'And I saw' comes twice in this verse 4 in many English versions, it only appears once in the original Greek, so verses 4 to 10 describe a single scene of judgement. It can be divided into two sections. The first describes the time during the thousand years (20:4-6), and the second describes the brief period at the end when Satan is released (20:7-10).

The saints reign for a thousand years (20:4-6)

John now sees thrones with those given the authority to judge seated on them. These could either be the twenty-four elders seen earlier (4:4), or they could be the saints. He also sees the souls of the martyrs, those who had been killed because of their testimony to Jesus, and their refusal to worship the beast and receive its mark. (This is the last of the six times worshipping the beast and receiving its mark are mentioned in the book.) These are the souls of martyrs, which he previously saw under the altar in the fifth of the seals (6:9-11). They are still disembodied souls, as they are still waiting to receive their resurrection bodies. The martyrs live and reign for thousand years, the same period of time that Satan was bound (20:3). This is defined as the first resurrection (20:5b). During the present age, the souls of the martyrs are reigning with Christ - an encouragement to believers facing persecution to maintain their faithful witness to Jesus.

The first part of 20:5 is a parenthesis about the rest of the dead, probably meaning the unbelievers, who will not be raised until the end of the thousand years. At the end of the age there will be a general resurrection when the righteous will rise to life, and the unbelievers will rise to condemnation (Jn 5:28-29).

There is a blessing to those who share the first resurrection. They will not experience the second death, which is not defined until the end of the chapter (20:14). They will be priests of God and Christ and rule as kings for the thousand years.

This first resurrection describes life with Jesus, whether here on earth, or after death. The saints, particularly the martyrs, rule with Christ as his priests until he returns, then for all eternity. Before he raised Lazarus, Jesus made a similar promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and every one who lives and believes in me will never die.” (Jn 11:25). This statement can be interpreted as follows: Those who believe in me, even though they die (physically), will live (spiritually), and every one who lives (spiritually) and believes in me will never die (spiritually).

So there are two resurrections and two deaths. The first resurrection is spiritual, the entering into spiritual life that happens when a person is born of the Spirit, or born again (Jn 3:3), and becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). Otherwise it could describe entering into life after death. The second resurrection is physical, when believers receive their resurrection bodies, which are suited for life in the new heaven and new earth (1 Cor 15:44,52). The first death is physical, at the end of our lives on earth. The second death is spiritual, and is defined as the lake of fire (20:14), the place of eternal torment. This passage in Revelation only describes the spiritual realities - the first resurrection and the second death (20:5,14). There is no mention of the physical realities of the second resurrection or the first death, as John’s focus is on the spiritual realities. Using the terminology of this passage, the choice set before each person can be summarised as follows: each person is either born once (physically only) and dies twice (physically and spiritually), or is born twice (physically and spiritually) and dies once (physically only).

Dragon released at end of thousand years (20:7-10)

At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released from his prison with the result that he will deceive the nations once again. They will then gather for battle against the camp of the saints and the beloved city. The beloved city is Jerusalem, but not the physical city of Jerusalem. Instead it is the bride, to be contrasted with the whore Babylon. This is the third time the forces of evil gather for battle (also 16:14, 19:19), and once again there is no battle. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes them. The nations are described as Gog and Magog. This is an allusion to the Book of Ezekiel (Ezek 38-39), which describes a great battle between the forces of evil and God’s people. In Ezekiel Gog is the king of the land of Magog (Ezek 38:2), so the imagery here has been changed slightly. Opinions vary over what historical event Ezekiel is describing, whether it is an event in history, like the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 160's BC, or whether it is a future battle, either physical or spiritual.

At the end of the thousand years it appears that there will be a brief period of intense opposition and persecution of the saints. It is sometimes referred to as 'the little season'. This may be the same as predicted by Paul, when he said that the man of lawlessness will be revealed, and then destroyed by the coming of Jesus (2 Thess 2:8). This would also fit the description of the silencing of the two witnesses for three and a half days (11:11). Each of these passages suggest a brief period of severe attack against God’s people in the final days before the coming of Jesus. As with all predictions, whether or not it will be worse than any other time of persecution will only become clear after the event, once Jesus has returned. It is better not to waste time trying to work out details of end-times, but rather to continue our service to Jesus and be ready to meet him when he comes.

At the end of this scene of judgement the dragon is finally thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur to join his two beasts in the place of eternal torment, defined as the second death (20:14). Jesus declared that there is an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41). Now all the enemies of God and his people have been destroyed, and it now time to witness the final judgement of the dead.

Judgement 5 (20:11): Great white throne

In this very brief scene of judgement, John sees a great white throne with the one who sat on it. This is God the Father, on his throne, as king of his creation, where he was seated in the original vision of heaven (4:2). Before him heaven and earth flees away, leaving only God on his throne, and the dead standing before him.

Judgement 6 (20:12-15): Dead judged by works in books

This sixth scene of judgement describes the final day of judgement of all people. This is the time of the general resurrection, when all the living and dead have to stand before their Creator. Jesus described the event as follows: “for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29). The believers will not have to stand before this judgement, because “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24).

Two different books are opened - the books (plural), and the book (singular). The basis for judgement is different for the believers and unbelievers. A believer’s name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, and is judged by what Jesus has done. This book evidently contains a list of all the people who belong to God, the saints. We can be certain that God knows all those who belong to him. They have received the forgiveness as a free gift of grace, so do not face judgement, but have already passed from death to life.

If a person’s name is not in the Lamb’s book of life, then they will be judged according to what is written in the books (plural). These books apparently record everything that a person has done in this life. Salvation is by grace, but judgement is by works. In this way justice is done, and God fulfils his promise to avenge evil (Rom 12:19). Unbelievers will be judged by their actions in this life, but no one is good enough to reach God’s standard of complete perfection. As Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Therefore anyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, the place of eternal torment.

Finally Death and Hades will also be thrown into the lake of fire. Paul said that last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:23). Ultimately there will be no more death. At the beginning, death came in because of sin (Rom 5:12). Death was not part of God’s perfect creation, and will not be part of God’s perfect future for his people. It should be noted that this passage says nothing about where dead unbelievers go until the final judgement. We know is that they are not in the presence of God. Other than that, we need to resist the temptation to speculate. By contrast, we can be certain that dead believers go to be with Jesus immediately following their death, and will come with him at his coming (1 Thess 4:14).

Judgement 7 (21:1-8): Bride Jerusalem descending to new heaven and new earth

This seventh scene follows the pattern seen through the rest of the book where the seventh of each section describes the future glory following the judgement. Here it declares the coming of the new heaven and the new earth where God will live among his people in perfect relationship. This scene also serves as a preview for the more detailed vision of the bride Jerusalem which will follow (21:9 - 22:9), just as the seventh of the bowls previewed the vision of the destruction of Babylon (16:17-21). The scene begins with a preview of the vision of the bride Jerusalem, which is followed by a series of promises and warnings.

The bride Jerusalem previewed (21:1-4)

John now sees a new heaven and new earth, and sees that the first heaven and earth had passed away. There was also no more sea, where the beast came from (13:1). This is the fulfilment of what was predicted by Isaiah, when he said the lion and the lamb will live together in harmony (Is 65:15).

There is a debate over whether this is describing a brand new heaven and earth to replace the current one, or whether this present creation will be restored and renewed. To keep in line with other places in Scripture where the physical creation is spoken of, it is preferable to say that John saw a vision of the present creation which has been rejuvenated, rather than it being completely destroyed and replaced. In Christ, the believer becomes a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). This is very similar language used to describe the new heaven and earth (21:1). Just as a person is renewed by the Holy Spirit when they come to Christ, but still remains the same person, so also the creation itself will be renewed when Jesus returns a second time. Paul described the physical creation as presently groaning in labour pains, and subject to futility, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:19-24). At the fall, creation also came under a curse (Gen 3:17), and was filled with suffering, sickness, decay and death. Following the coming of Christ and the final judgement, the curse will be removed, creation will be set free from decay and will groan no more, and there will be no more suffering, sickness or death. God will transform the earth in the same way as he transformed the resurrected body of Jesus (Lk 24:36-43), and will transform our own bodies (Phil 3:20-21). Our resurrection bodies will be suited for life in glory (1 Cor 15:50-55).

This has important implications today. Unfortunately Christians have usually been silent over the environmental issue, often thinking there is no future for the physical world. The result is that the New Age Movement has become prominent in the environmental movement, which tends towards worship of the creation. Instead, it should be the Christians who lead the calls for the care for the environment. As human beings, we were given the responsibility by God to be stewards of His creation. God will therefore hold us accountable for the way we have cared for the physical world, and whether we pass it on in good shape to the generations that follow us.

In his second letter, Peter appears to say that the present world will be completely destroyed (2 Pet 3:10,12), which would seem to contradict Paul’s teaching that creation itself will also be released from its groaning. The question is whether Peter is describing fire being used for destruction or for purging. Perhaps God will judge the present fallen world with fire to cleanse it from sin and the bondage to decay, just as the flood purged the world of what was unclean, without destroying it completely.

John also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride. As we saw before, the bride Jerusalem is another way of describing God’s people, the saints. The saints are now ready to meet their bridegroom, the Lamb. They are coming down from heaven ready to live in the renewed world in perfect fellowship with God and the Lamb.

John hears a loud voice from the throne (either the Lamb or the Father) declaring that God will now dwell with his people. Through all of the Bible, this has been God’s intention. The relationship between mankind and his Creator that was spoiled in the Garden of Eden will ultimately be restored. In this new world, there will be no more suffering, no more crying, as God will comfort his people, wiping away their tears (as 7:17). Interestingly the word used for the home of God, and him dwelling with his people (21:3), is the same word used for the tabernacle in the wilderness. When God told Moses to construct the tabernacle, he told them to, “make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them” (Ex 25:8). In the layout of the camp of Israel the tabernacle was in the centre, so the glory of God was literally in their midst (Num 2). When Jesus was born, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14), again the word dwelt here is to make a tabernacle. So we see the great plan of God has always been to dwell in the midst of his people, starting from the Garden of Eden, through the time of the Exodus, to when Jesus was born on earth, and coming to its climax when Jesus returns in his glory.

The essence of the glorious vision of the new Jerusalem is that God is there with his people around him. The relationship with him that was broken at the fall will be fully restored. The barrier of sin has been totally removed. God will be with his people, comforting them - a demonstration of the close intimate relationship God wants with us. In this new life, there will be no more suffering and no more death, as the old things have now passed away. The curse has been removed and death is no more. God’s great plan of salvation is complete.

Promises and warnings (21:5-8)

There now follows a series of proclamations, promises and warnings. Many of these are repeated in the epilogue following the vision of the bride Jerusalem (22:10-21).

First God the Father speaks from his throne, declaring that he is making all things new. It will be God’s work to renew his creation and to restore it. God now addresses John himself telling him to write that these words are trustworthy and true (also 19:9, 22:1). Because these visions are part of God’s word, we can rely on them to be true and have confidence that God will bring them about. God then announces, “It is done!” His work is complete. There is no more judgement, and no more work of salvation necessary. It is now time for God and his people to enjoy the glorious future without sin or death. God declares that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. God gave himself this title in the prologue (1:8), and this title is taken by Jesus in the epilogue (22:13). God started his work of salvation in the beginning and will bring it to an end.

Now follows a promise to the thirsty, that they will receive the water of life. The river of life will be seen in the heavenly city Jerusalem (22:1). This promise is also repeated in the epilogue (22:17). During his ministry Jesus called those who thirst to come to him (Jn 7:37), and promised that those who drink of the living water will never thirst (4:13-14). Here is a call to those reading the book to come and enjoy the benefits of spiritual life, while they still have the opportunity to do so. Those who are spiritually thirsty and come to Jesus will receive eternal life, and live forever as part of the bride Jerusalem.

In contrast, there is now a list of those who will be excluded from the new Jerusalem. It is a challenging list, as it begins with the cowardly, and lists them with murderers, fornicators and idolaters. There is a similar warning in the epilogue (22:15). In the context of the persecutions, the cowardly would include believers who were too afraid to face persecution or martyrdom and fell to the pressure to worship the beast. This is a strong warning to the believers, encouraging them to stand firm in their witness to Christ and not to give in to fear. The cowardly will join the wicked in their condemnation in the lake of fire. The warning is that it is better to lose your physical life than to lose your place in glory.

This concludes the section of seven scenes of judgement. We now come to the climax of the Book of Revelation, and even the climax of the whole Bible, as we enjoy the vision of the glorious future awaiting the saints as the bride, the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven with her bridegroom to live in the presence of God in the renewed heavens and earth.

Also available:

Introduction Four main views of Revelation
1: Prologue (1:1-8) 2: Letters to seven churches (1:9 - 3:22)
3: Seven Seals (4:1 - 8:1) 4: Seven trumpets (8:2 - 11:18)
5: Seven signs (11:19 - 15:4) 6: Seven Bowls (15:5 - 16:21)
7: Prostitute / Babylon (17:1 - 19:10) 8: Seven judgements (19:11 - 21:8)
9: Bride / Jerusalem (21:9 - 22:9) 10: Epilogue (22:10-21)
Millennium Rapture and tribulation
Jesus the Lamb