Revelation 21 and 22

Chapters 21 & 22: The perspective of John’s first century readers is shaped by two things:  first, persecution and martyrdom are on the way. Its already bad will soon get worse. Second, they are the people of the promise waiting for the Day of the Lord, the decisive moment of salvation and judgment promised by God. In the closing chapters of Revelation John proclaims the Day of the Lord is coming. It will happen. And he reminds his audience that they must remain faithful in the face of persecution to be rewarded on that day.

After heaven and earth flee from the presence of God (20.11) a new heaven and a new earth appear. The first earth, along with the sea (the source of chaos and evil in the ancient world) no longer exists. In the Revelation itself the sea has been portrayed as the origin of cosmic evil (4.6; 12.18; 13.1; 15.2), the nations rebellious to God and who persecute his people (12.18; 13.1), the place of the dead (20.13), the primary location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (18.10-­‐ 19), as well as literal bodies of water (5.13; 7.1-­‐3; 8.8-­‐9; 10.2, 5-­‐6, 8; 14.7; 16.3).

The new city, the people of God, will exist on this new earth and God will dwell with them on it.  According to G. K. Beale, “This is probably not a portrayal of a literal new creation but a figurative depiction (see on 20.11 and 6.12-­‐15). In light of the qualitative nature of the contrast between ‘new’ creation and ‘first’ creation, it is likely that the meaning of the figurative portrayal is to connote a radically changed cosmos, involving not merely ethical renovation but transformation of the fundamental cosmic structure (including physical elements). Furthermore, ‘there will be no more night’ (22.5; cf. 21.15), which indicates another difference, especially in contrast to Gen. 8.22: ‘While the earth remains… day and night will not cease.’” In other words the creation will be new or transformed in the same way humans are resurrected. The resurrection body is the transformation of the current body (1 Cor. 15.35-­‐44). The new earth will be transformed from the current one.

John, then, stresses the theme of perseverance from chapters 2 & 3. Those who are victorious, in the face of persecution, will inherit the blessing. “I will be their God and they will be my children.” They will enjoy God’s actual presence and his fulfillment of his promises from chapters 2 and 3 which are: they will eat from the tree of life (2.7); not be hurt by the second death (2.11); be given hidden manna and a white stone (2.17); receive authority over the nations (2.26); not have their names blotted out of the Book of Life (3.5); be a pillar in the temple of God (3.12); sit with Christ on his throne  (3.21).

The same cannot be said for the “cowardly” and “unbelieving.” They will not inherit the blessing and God will not be their God. John is here referring to Christians who do not persevere in the face of persecution.

After that John uses two powerful images to describe the Church in the Day of the Lord.  It is the Bride of Christ (21.9) and the New Jerusalem (21.10-14).  Ezekiel promised an eschatological temple for the people of God.  It turns out that God and the Lamb are that temple (21.22) as well as the source of light (21.23-24).  The city itself is Eden restored (22.1-4).

Then John closes the book with an invitation and a warning (22.12-21): “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”  And, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.  And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”  Finally 22.20: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Revelation 20

The centerpiece of Revelation 20 is the millennium.  It’s hard to imagine a doctrine or place in the Bible more disputed than the millennium.  What the heck is it?  There are three basic options, each with variations: 1Premillennialism: a literal reading of the passage in which Jesus returns and established God’s kingdom for a literal 1000 year period. This is the newest viewpoint and the most popular in North America.  According to Craig Blaising premillennialists “believe that when Jesus comes. He will raise the dead in two stages.  First, he will raise some to participate with him in the millennial kingdom.  After the Millennium (the thousand-year period) is over, he will raise the rest of the dead and institute the Final Judgment.  Then will come the final and eternal destinies of the saved and the lost.”

The problems with this view are:

1. You must now read the entire revelation “literally” something no one actually does.

2. The Old Testament says nothing about a thousand-year reign.  Instead it points to the Day of the Lord, a decisive day of judgment and salvation.  This would be the only major image in Revelation not drawn from the Old Testament.

  1. 3. The “thousand” in this passage becomes the only completely literal number in the Revelation.  According to Darrell Johnson, ““The one thousand years is not a statistic.  It is a symbol.  The millennial reign could turn out to be exactly one thousand years.  But that is not what John is saying… in the last book of the Bible… all numbers have turned out to be symbols, not statistics.”

2. Postmillennialism: this view interprets the thousand years symbolically and teaches that Jesus will return after the church dominates the world and establishes a golden period.

Kenneth Gentry writes, “Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind.”  In other words the church will bring about an age of righteousness that will immediately precede Jesus’ return.

Gentry adds, “Postmillennialists emphasize the covenantal crushing of Satan in history at Christ’s first advent, with its results being progressively worked out in history on the plane of Adam’s original rebellion, Satan’s consequent struggle, and Christ’s incarnational intrusion. “

An adaptation of postmillennialism called “theonomic postmillennialism” is currently growing in popularity.  According to this view the church will influence a gradual return to the Mosaic Law though evangelism and discipleship.

The biggest problem with this view is history, which doesn’t bear it out at all.  The church is not gaining control of the world and reforming it “for Jesus.”

3. Amillennialism: The millennium is not a literal 1000-year reign but reflects the                 Bible’s now and not yet tension.

  • Currently all authority belongs to Jesus (Matt. 28.18) but the fullness of that is yet to come.  Amillennialists believe that all things will conclude with Jesus second return.
  • Amillennialists see the promises made in the Old Testament of a righteous kingdom and glorious temple fulfilled in the church.  Robert Strimple writes, “With regard to the New Testament revelation concerning the future, however, we must say even more than that. Not only does the New Testament not teach a future millennial kingdom, in what it teaches us about Christ’s second coming, the New Testament rules out an earthly millennial kingdom following Christ’s return, because the New Testament reveals clearly that the following events are all concurrent; that is, all will occur together in one cluster of end-time events, one grand dramatic finale of redemptive history: the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of believers (and the “change” of living believers, 1 Cor. 15:51), the resurrection of the unjust, judgment for all, the end, the new heaven and new earth, and the inauguration of the final kingdom of God, the blessed eternal state of the redeemed. “
  • Also amillennialists draw on several NT verses that seem to teach one resurrection and one judgment (John 5.28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1.5-10; Rom. 8.17-33; 2 Peter 3.3-14; 1 Cor. 15.20-26)

Then what is the millennium described in Chapter 20?

The millennium is an image describing the role of the saints in the kingdom now before the final judgment.  It is one more angle or perspective on the events of the previous few chapters.  According to Robert Strimple, “…Revelation 20:1-10 is a figurative representation of Christ’s victory over Satan at each of the two climactic points. At the cross Satan is bound—but not absolutely. Revelation 20:2-3 does not say that Satan is bound, period. He is bound in one respect only, namely, “to keep him from deceiving the nations [the Gentiles] anymore.” The age of salvation for the Gentiles has arrived. Prior to Christ’s ministry Israel was the one nation called out from all the nations of the world to know God’s blessings and to serve him. There were exceptions, of  course—those who came to know God’s grace even though they were not of the children of Abraham after the flesh. But essentially all the nations on this earth were in darkness, under Satan’s deception. But then, praise God! Christ came and accomplished his redemptive work. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out “on all people” (Acts 2:17), signifying the fact that the gospel of Christ is a gospel for all the nations, not just the Jewish people. The age of world missions had begun, and Satan’s deceptive work on that grand scale over so many centuries had come to an end.”

  • So the millennium is the age in which the Gospel goes forth to all people.  This is how the saints “rule.”

 

Revelation 19

Two major events occur simultaneously in this chapter: the wedding of the Lamb and His bride and the overthrow of the false trinity.  The images in it draw heavily on Jewish wedding customs and the triumph of the victorious Roman General.  Both images are mixed.  The Bride “has made herself ready” and her bridegroom comes for her.  This is the Second Coming, the marriage feast of the Lamb.  There were three steps to take in getting married in first century Judaism.  Step one was the betrothal or engagement.  The groom would leave his father’s house and go negotiate the bride price with her father.  As soon as he paid that price the marriage went into effect.  The man and the woman are legally married at this point even though the union has not been consummated.  She would be declared “consecrated” or “set apart” for her husband.  They then drank a glass of wine together to establish their new covenant.  The words of blessing, “this cup is the new covenant,” would be spoken over it.  Then the groom would leave and go back to his father’s house for roughly 12 months.  Step two was the preparation for the wedding. During this year of separation the groom would prepare a room for his bride and she would prepare herself for the wedding.  It is important to know that they are legally married even though they don’t see each other, live together, or have even consecrated the marriage.  If the man dies during this period the woman is considered a widow.  Step three was the wedding itself.  The bridegroom would leave his home at an unknown hour dressed for the wedding with best man and friends.   Part of the idea was to surprise the bride and her attendants.  When he got close his groomsmen would shout, “Here is the bridegroom!  Come out.  Come out to meet him.”  Then the bride and her attendants would come out carrying lamps to join the party.  They would go back to the groom’s father’s house where they would find the guests dressed in special robes.  The feast and party could last 14 days.  The time of the church’s engagement has passed.  Babylon has been judged.  Salvation arrives with Jesus.  But he is not only a bridegroom; he is also a warrior in John’s vision.  The armies of heaven ride with him against the beast and his armies.   They are defeated without a battle because the Messiah brings the word of God against them.  John draws on the Roman triumph for his imagery of Jesus.  A Roman general who won a great victory could be awarded a “Triumph” by the Senate.  This was a party that began with a parade.  The general, dressed in white, and his army would enter Rome through a special white arch to cleanse them from their bloodshed.  this is the promised Day of the Lord, salvation is at hand.

Revelation 17 and 18

Now John is directed toward the judgment of God on Rome itself.  He sees a woman riding a beast.  The image is probably drawn from one of the goddess “Roma” popular on coins of the time.  The woman is covered with blasphemous names.  These are titles of self-deification rather than slanders against God.  The woman is drunk from the blood of the saints whom she has persecuted and killed.  The beast she is sitting on has seven heads and ten horns.  The angel tells John the seven heads are seven hills and seven kings.  Who are the kings?  Many commentators believe this is a reference to specific Roman emperors.  The problem with that is there were more than seven emperors by the time Revelation was written.  So people typically find a creative way to count them to come up with Domitian being the sixth emperor, the seventh yet to come.  You can hear the most common of the various options on the audio file.   It is more likely the heads represent anti-Christian despots in general.  It turns out the ten horns are also ten kings.   This image likely corresponds to the Roman governors, very powerful local rulers (think Herod the Great) who served under the emperor and pledged allegiance to him.   John’s larger point is the beast and the prostitute are highly organized but defeated by the Lamb, who was slain.  This would reinforce to John’s first readers that God’s people overcome through weakness and suffering.  After this chapter 18 follows with an elegant piece of poetry lamenting the destruction of the prostitute.

Revelation 15 & 16

These two chapters detail God’s awesome judgment, the “grape harvest” of chapter 14.  Seven angels are prepared with bowls containing the seven final plagues, “with them the wrath of God is completed.”  As they leave the heavenly temple it is filled with smoke just as the earthly tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were at their consecration.   The bowls of judgment are poured our in rapid succession.  There is no more opportunity for salvation.  The offer is revoked.  There is one thing important to keep in mind when reading this chapter.   We read it from a place of power, as individuals, in an age that seeks “fairness.”  In a very real way our lives are positively intertwined with the powers of this age (i.e., political, economic, social, etc).  Consequently the talk of God’s wrath is difficult for us.  The early Christians lived in a very different world.  They were powerless with no expectation that this would change.  The world around them was obviously unfair.  Those with power exploited it to their benefit.  That’s what everyone expected.  The Christians themselves expected to suffer in such a world.  Therefore they read these judgments with joy understanding not just that their suffering was over but that the age itself is closing so that the reign of God can begin.

Revelation 14

God now rewards the loyalty of the saints, which has at times cost them their life.  In Revelation 14 John begins the prophetic cycle of God’s ultimate judgment and victory.  As it opens the opposing forces are prepared for conflict.  The Lamb stands on Mount Zion with the 144,000, the ideal number of the redeemed.  Three angels fly in midair each with a distinctive message.  One proclaims the Gospel, one last chance for the human allies of the false trinity: the beast, dragon, and false prophet to change sides.  The second angel proclaims the destruction of Babylon (or Rome), which will be detailed in chapters 17 and 18.  It makes sense for the earthly representative of the false trinity to be judged and defeated along with it.  The third angel proclaims that those who align with Babylon will be judged with her.  The chapter closes with two great harvests on the earth.  In the first, based on the grain harvest, the redeemed from all nations are collected and offered to God as the first fruits of all nations.  The second harvest is patterned after the grape harvest.  It is the harvest of God’s wrath and judgment upon those who worshipped the beast.

Revelation 13

There are few figures in literature more compelling than the “antichrist” or the beast of Revelation 13.  For dispensationalists he is the world leader who will emerge from the European Union.   The list of people nominated for the job is impressive including Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and more.   In this chapter John is actually bringing a long tradition that goes back to Second Temple Judaism to a fresh and final point.   In that early period there was an expectation that two oppressors would arise against Israel: one from without who would have political power and one from within who would deceive through false teaching.  Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) is the actual model for this.  He is the Greek ruler who tried to outlaw Judaism and sparked the Macabbean revolt instead.  Jesus refers to him in the Olivet Discourse.   Although I argue that the Olivet Discourse is fulfilled, Jesus reference shows the power of the story of Antiochus even in the early church.  Writing in the mid 50s, Paul talks about a “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2.  This person rises from within the church and is destroyed at Jesus second coming.  In 1 and 2 John the concept of the antichrist is widened to include anyone who denies the Father and the Son or denies that Jesus came in the flesh.   The beast in Revelation 13 represents the culmination of this tradition shaped by the fear of Caesar Nero.  His mark is the counterpoint to the sealing of God’s servants.  Without a doubt he will make life difficult for the people of God.

 

Revelation 12

In this chapter John sees a vision of a woman “clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet” in labor and ready to give birth.  She represents the purified people of God and is a counterpoint to the prostitute on the beast in chapters 17 & 18.  She gives birth to a male child who is Christ.  A dragon prowls before her anxious to devour her child.  Before that can happen the child is snatched up to heaven.  The woman is then hidden in the wilderness.  This does not stop the dragon from pursuing her.  He is cast down to earth, or restricted, and is even more murderous than usual because of it.  In this chapter, as well as the next several, the same scene is portrayed from different angles.  The basics are the same: an indeterminate time of trouble and testing is to ensue, the church will be persecuted during this time, Satan will seem to gain the upper hand, but Jesus will return and God will vindicate His people.   Over the next eight chapters that set of events will be given to us from God’s point of view, the church’s point of view, etc.   The main point of John’s prophecy is the end is coming.  As verse 10 says, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.”

Revelation 11

Chapter eleven of the Book of Revelation is the beginning of John’s ministry after his recommissioning.  Although the narrative will still loop from future to past to present and back again, from here on the primary message is about the ultimate end.  John is told to measure “the temple, its altar, with its worshippers” in Revelation 11.   What temple?  There are four options.  The first is God’s heavenly temple.  Almost no one believes that temple is what John is referring to.  The second is Herod’s Temple.   Full Preterists (those who believe the entire Book of Revelation was fulfilled by 70 AD) believe that is the temple John is referring to.  Dispensationalists believe the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem before the end comes and animal sacrifice will be practiced there.   The best option is that the temple in Revelation 11 is the church (1 Cor 3.16-17; 6.19; 2 Cor 6.16; Eph. 2.21; I Pet. 2.5).  In fact this is one of several images of the church triumphing in the midst of trouble which John will use over the next few chapters.  The church’s ministry is similar to that of Moses and Elijah.   The beast will be able to kill the church after she finishes her testimony.   Suddenly, though, God will bring life back to the church.  “At that very hour a severe earthquake” hits and shortly after that the seventh and final trumpet sounds announcing that the Kingdom has come to earth.   Although Revelation announces the “End” here the book has many more things to say in the remaining eleven chapters.

 

Revelation 10

Revelation chapter 10 is an important dividing line for understanding the entire book.  Richard Bauckham makes this point, “It is not until chapter 10 that the main content of the prophetic revelation John communicates in his book is given to him.  All that has preceded is preparatory – necessary to the understanding of this revelation, but not itself the revelation.  Recognizing this is a vital, though neglected, key to understanding the Book of Revelation.” In the previous nine chapters John’s visions portray life as it is and will be throughout this Age.  This Age is marked by “wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes in various places.”  It is also marked by the extended hand of God bringing judgment designed to bring people to repentance.  By 9.21, though, it is obvious that humanity is not heeding God’s call to repent.  So instead of offering the thunder judgments as one more opportunity to repent God decides to move toward the final judgment.   John encounters Jesus as a mighty angel (see Exod. 3.2-12; Jud. 6.22; 2 Kgs. 1.3-15; 1 Chron. 21.18 for preincarnate references to Jesus as the angel of the lord).   The angel swears that the time has come for the seventh (and last) trumpet to be sounded and for the mystery of God to be completed.  He recommissions John to take now a message of God’s judgment.  He offers John the scroll to eat.  It is sweet to taste but bitter to eat.  This means the coming salvation for believers and judgment on this age will involve more suffering and persecution for Christians.