16 October 2020

Revelation 19-22

Revelation 19

All the Church rejoices at the fall of Rome. The great persecuter of the Church, the murderer of Christians has come to nothing. The "great multitude in Heaven" give praise to God for this salvation and proclaim that God's judgement over Rome is "true and just" that the "smoke from her goes up forever and ever" (19:1-3).

This is a strange image, since we know that the city of Rome still stands to this day. However, the Roman Empire, which was the woman who committed adultery with the kings of the earth, has not existed in any form for many centuries. The Caesars of Rome, who were the beast given power by the dragon, have not ruled in many more centuries.

John says that the "smoke from her goes up forever and ever." However, one would not go to Rome today expecting it to be on fire. This same language is used in Isaiah 34 to describe God's judgement of the land of Edom (the land that is Jordan today). Isaiah says that "smoke will rise forever" from Edom (Isaiah 34:9-10). However, one would not travel to Jordan today expecting the place to be on fire. This language refers to God's judgement being permanent. There is no more Edom and there never will be again. There is no more Rome, and there never will be again. God has rendered his judgement against the persecutors of his people, and it will stand for all eternity. One of the assuarances of Revelation is that when God's people are persecuted, God will act swiftly to render his judgement and bring justice to the martyrs.

As God's people gather for the wedding feast of the Lamb, Jesus appears as a rider on a white horse. He is dressed for battle, his robe dipped in blood (his own). All those who follow him are dressed in pure white robes, echoing the imagry throughout the book that God fights for his army, not the other way around. Jesus wears many crowns on his head. Are these crowns representative of Jesus' vicories or are they representative of the rightful authority of the kings of the earth which had been surrendered to the beast? John does not say.

The chapter finishes with the same scene we saw in chapter 16, the armies of the beast and the kings of the earth gather "to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army" (19:19). All who bore the mark of the beast were killed, and the beast and its prophet were thrown into "the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

Revelation 20

At the start of chapter 20, God has established his rule over the earth. The dragon is locked away in the Abyss for a thousand years while God cleans up the mess he made. God resurrects all the martyrs and they reign with Jesus for a thousand years. John tells us that while this is the first resurrection, it is not the final resurrection. It is also not a new earth, but is the world we already inhabit.

This timeline of "a thousand years" corresponds neatly to the medieval period in Europe. The time of the Holy Roman and Byzantine empires could be seen as a "reign of Christ" depending on your perspective. However, it was far from perfect. In fact, it is the example of the most un-Christian time in the history of the church. One could find much better examples of Christianity in the churches of Africa and the Far East, which did exist for roughly a thousand years as well. Regardless, if this period was a "reign of Christ," it was far from perfect, and possibly only served to bring our attention to God rather than the assumed purpose of establishing a perfect kingdom; remember that that is the "final" resurrection, this is only the first.

John references also a "second death" (20:6). The first death is obvious, it is the natural end to all that live, but what is the second death? John does not yet say.

After the millenial reign, Satan is released from his prison in the Abyss. That old dragon gathers an army (further proof that Christ's reign on earth was not meant to be perfect, as perhaps no exercise of authority could be). Satan's army is as numerous as "the sand on the seashore" (20:8). However, they are all destroyed in an instant by fire from heaven and the devil is "thrown into the lake of burning sulfur." John records that "they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (20:10). Likewise after giving up the dead, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. The dead are then judged and those whose names were not found in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire (20:15).

John tells us that the lake of fire is the second death (20:14). It is noteworthy that only Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are said to be tortured forever in this lake (20:10). Death and Hades, and all who suffer the "second death" are not tormented, simply destroyed. The second death then is not Hell, nor eternal damnation, simply oblivion.

Revelation 21

Finally, God establishes a new world, a perfect world, for those he has redeemed. This world will not be like the one which came before. John envisions a place of no mourning or pain, no death or parting, where God comforts his people and makes everything new (21:1-5).

In verses 6-8, John gives us a simple message, the redeemed will inherit this perfect new world, those who reject God will not. John lists those whose vices will deny them the final resurrection, "cowards [deilois], unbelievers [apistois], the abominable [ebdelygmenois], murderers [phoneusin], perverts [pornois], sorcerers [pharmakois], idolaters [eidololatrais] and liars [pseudesin]." Out of this list, several entries are vague in meaning, however, we can see throughout Revelation a pattern of God calling people away from false idols and being rejected and that God does not render a permanent judgement until he has been repeatedly rejected.

In other words, this second death is not for those who had no opportunity to know God, nor for those who tried and failed to live virtuous lives, nor for those who "got it wrong" on one level or another. It is only for those whose rejection of God and persecution of God's people was complete, intentional, and unrepentant. You don't have to be perfect to be saved, you just have to be listening for God when he calls, God will take care of the rest.

Revelation 22

Finally we see that in God's perfect world all are led by the light of God's presence. There are no kings or kingdoms, only a city built in a new Eden. God's perfect world is not a kingdom, it is a garden. God's perfect city has no Main Street, but a river of life. There is no "wrong side of the tracks" for there are no tracks and the tree of life grows across the river.

Is your name in that book of life? God is calling, do not hesitate to answer. As John says, the time is short. There are no magic words, no list of requirements, you just have to answer the call. Turn away from evil and live for God, and God will take care of the rest.

Until next week,
Peace be with you.

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