We come now to our last session of Decoding the Apocalypse. We begin with a word about hell.
First, A Word About Hell
In today’s society, we are influenced by a popularization of the term hell, which may lead us to a wrongheaded conclusion. In the early part of this century, we had what was known as hell fire and brimstone preachers. Today, we still have presentations of Satan and hell with flames of fire, which are informed by a literal reading of Scripture.
In the New Testament, Gehenna is the word used which is translated hell. The word is derived from a Hebrew word which is roughly translated: the valley of Hinnon’s son. Hinnom was a valley south of Jerusalem where sacrifices were offered to Moloch in the days of King Ahaz and Manasseh. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Gehenna was seen as a place of eternal torment in unquenchable fire (Mk 9.43). It is pictured as a fiery abyss (Mk 9.43). Matthew calls it a furnace of fire (Matt 25.41). On the other hand, the place of final punishment is pictured as outer darkness (Matt 8.12; 22.13; 25.30). There is both fire/light and darkness.
These passages in the New Testament suggest that fire and darkness are metaphors used to represent the indescribable. Some of the language of Jesus is more frightening. “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Matt 7.23); “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt 25.12).
The point of hell in the New Testament is exclusion from the presence of God and the enjoyment of his blessings.
In comparison, John paints a picture of the final place of rest for the redeemed in Vision Four of the Revelation.
The Fourth Vision: The Heavenly Jerusalem 21.9-22.5
This vision gives an expanded look at the conclusion of the last vision. John takes his readers on a guided tour of the New Jerusalem. Several things should be noted:
- The walls of an ancient city were used for protection. Some here suggest that the measurement of the walls meant the height. This would be strange in that a 216 foot high wall would hardly protect a city whose height was about 1500 miles. Obviously the walls are symbolic as are the dimensions of the city. Their presence suggests that God’s people are perfectly secure in his presence.
- The city is built like a cube. This symbol suggests that this new paradise, which God has created, is perfect in every sense.
- He sees a new heaven and a new earth, streets of gold, and gates of pearls. He paints an unpaintable picture of heavenly splendor using human descriptive words. He is trying to describe in human language something which is indescribable.
- There is no temple in the New Jerusalem. God is its sanctuary.
- There is no night. This new city does not need the sun and the moon, because God’s glory is its illumination.
- There is a crystal clear river flowing from the heavenly throne. The eternal state of the faithful will live at the source of the life-giving stream, which proceeds from the very presence of God.
- The saints shall see the face of God and have received the character of God. We shall be like him for we will see him as he is (1 John 3.2).
The New Heaven And The New Earth
The final state of God’s kingdom will be the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21.20ff.). The coming of the new heaven and new earth is part of the theology of creation that is seen through Scripture. Prophets in the Old Testament describe the kingdom as a redeemed earth as in Isaiah 11.6-9 and Amos 9.13-15, and a new heaven and new earth in Isaiah 65.17 and 66.22. The Old Testament picture is not a perfect one because Isaiah still speaks of sin and death in the new earth (Isa. 65.20). However, there is a fundamental theology that underlies the prophet’s expectations even though they must be clarified by progressive revelation. The theological trajectory of the prophets is set in place. Humanity’s ultimate destiny is an earthly one.
God created humans to live on earth and it is a new redeemed earth that redeemed humans will live on for all eternity. This smacks in the face of the popular idea that the goal of life for the redeemed is to get to heaven. Just as the redemption of people in their bodily aspect of their being demands the resurrection of the body, so the redemption of their very physical creation requires a renewed earth as the scene of their perfected existence (Ladd. A Theology of the New Testament, Revised. 682). When John writes of the new earth in Revelation 21, he speaks of the final place of those who are redeemed. The new earth then is the final scene of the final goal of redemption. The kingdom of God will find its perfect fulfillment in the new earth of the age to come.
In the center of the new earth will be a new Jerusalem, a new holy city. The description of this city in Revelation is highly symbolic. The new Jerusalem is the focus for all the activity of the new earth. In Scripture, the idea of a new Jerusalem is referred to in other ways than with the phrase “new Jerusalem.” The book of Hebrews talks about a “heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12.22). It is referred to as the “Holy City” in Revelation 21.2. Revelation 2.7 speaks of a “paradise of God,” which may anticipate the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22.
The imagery of Revelation 21.9-22.5 and its meaning is reasonably well established in biblical and extrabiblical patterns. The use of the bride metaphor of Revelation 21.2 does not restrict the reference to the church of the New Testament, but should be viewed in its wider biblical usage as a reference to the people of God who are married to the Lord (Isa 61.10; Hos. 1-3; John 3.29; Eph 5.25-33).
How is the reality of the new Jerusalem on the new earth of Revelation 21–22 to be understood?
- Is it merely an allegorical description of the final state of the church with no real future new earth locality in view?
- Is it a literal city that may hover over the millennial earth and house the glorified church-age saints during that period and then be transferred for expanded purposes into the eternal state after the renovation of the earth?
- Is it a literal city distinctly designed as a center focus for all the redeemed in the eternal state?
- Is the vision of John, given in apocalyptic motifs, merely a statement in sophisticated symbolism that God will be victor in the climax of history?
These and other proposals appear in the literature that addresses this interpretive aspect of the new Jerusalem. Many commentaries prefer to focus on an explanation of the larger meaning of the symbolism without addressing this question. Apocalyptic genre neither demands nor excludes a literal future city. It does, however, expect the interpreter to concentrate on the message of the symbolic motifs rather than endeavor to draw a blueprint of the structure.
It may be clearly said that the new Jerusalem will be a place where God is truly and completely in charge. There the redeemed of both testaments will finally see God face to face.
So the Bible ends with a picture of a redeemed society who lives on a new earth that has been completely purged of all evil. God will be dwelling in the midst of his people. Here is the goal of all redemptive history. Praise to God alone!
The purpose of the conclusion of the book is to demonstrate and affirm the authority of the book. The book closes with the warning that the members of the seven churches should not willfully distort the message of this book. It ends with the premise of Jesus coming again and closes with John’s response for him to come.
Previously on Decoding the Apocalypse
We have finished our sessions on Decoding the Apocalypse. Here is an overview:
- In Vision One, we were presented with a vivid word picture of Jesus.
- Next, John followed in Vision Two with a picture of Jesus who was the one who could open the book which revealed the story of the end.
- Then, we saw the breaking of the first six seals, which suggested what would be happening during the course of the age.
- Next, when we thought that the seventh seal would be opened and the end of the age would be revealed, John stood back for a moment and presented a picture-within-a-picture, an Interlude, in which he demonstrated in symbolic language, a before and after picture of the people of God, which suggested that none of the them would be lost in a time of great tribulation.
- Then, we talked about how the seven trumpets were the contents of the seventh seal: How they functioned as a more expanded look at the end.
- Next, we observed John’s renewed calling as told in the story the Angel and the Little Book.
- Then, we took a look at the concept of the Measuring of the temple, looking at three suggested positions, i.e., a literal rebuilding, that this metaphor might be a Believing Jewish Remnant, or it may be a reference to the church, and that the latter was the most likely.
- Next, we looked at the metaphor of the Two Witnesses and suggested that this was a reference to the church.
Following that, we looked at:
- The Dragon, the Woman, and Her Seed (12.1-17), which is the beginning of Interlude 3 and describes in metaphorical terms the spiritual conflict behind the scenes where there is a heavenly warfare between God and Satan.
- Next, the Two Beasts (13.1-18), which included the Beast From the Sea 13.1-10 and the Beast From the Earth (13.11-18), which is a description of the rise of the Antichrist or the deification of secular authority.
- Then, the Number 666 and indicated that the number likely means “less than perfect” and demonstrates that while God’s Messiah, Jesus is more than perfect, i.e., his number is 888, the Devil’s Messiah, the Antichrist is “less than perfect,” which was a genuine appeal for comfort for the seven churches.
- Next, we suggested the blowing of seven trumpets was yet again simply an expansion of the seventh seal.
Then, in the first part of the Vision Three, we saw:
- The Harlot and the Scarlet Beast (17.1-6), which for John, the harlot is first century Rome. The portrait, of which John paints a word picture, most likely came from Valeria Messalina, the wife of Claudius, whom the Roman world recognized to be the epitome of all that was rotten and corrupt in the empire.
- The Harlot’s Destruction (17.7-18), which we suggested that every great center of power, which has prostituted its wealth and influence, restores to life the spirit of ancient Babylon.
- Babylon Is Declared Desolate (18.1-8), which is a picture of absolute desolation where the proud achievements of man become only the demonic haunts of unclean spirits. In this section kings, merchants, and seamen lament at the loss of thir monetary accomplishments.
- Babylon Destroyed (18.21-24), which demonstrates the collapse from the inside of first century Rome and the final harlot of Babylon.
We ended by suggesting that caution should be taken about dogmatic positions regarding this passage of Revelation. The session ended with the short section of thanksgiving for the fall of Babylon.
Then, in the last part of Vision Three, we talked about the Final Triumph and Consummation (19.6-21.8):
- First, the Marriage of the Lamb (19.6-10), which the event is nowhere described in Revelation
- Then, the Coming of Christ (19.11-16), where we shared that “…if we spoke of Jesus’ royal presence within God’s new creation, rather than thinking of his “coming” as an invasion from outside, our talk about the future might make more sense. It would also be a lot more biblical.
- Next, the Battle of Christ and Antichrist (19.17-21), where we suggested that this battle portrays the eschatological defeat of the Antichrist and that there is no description of the actual warfare.
- Then, the Binding of Satan, the Resurrection, and the Millennial Kingdom (20.1-6). We suggested that there were three forms of Millennialism: Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Premillennialism
- Next, the Final Destruction of Satan & Death (20.7-15). Whenever this occurs, Satan will be released for a short period. He gathers those who have remained hardened toward the Rule of Christ. They are called Gog and Magog. Gog and Magog are symbolic of the nations of the world which band together for a final assault on God and his people.
- Finally, the New Creation (21.1-8), where we suggested that regular devout language about leaving “earth” and going to “heaven” needs to be challenged
We finished in this session with Vision Four by suggesting:
- A word about hell, which in the New Testament is exclusion from the presence of God and the enjoyment of his blessings.
- Then, we said that The Fourth Vision: The Heavenly Jerusalem (21.9-22.5) was an expanded look at the conclusion of the last vision.
- Next, we presented an overview of the New Heaven And The New Earth as a picture of a redeemed society who lives on a new earth that has been completely purged of all evil.
- Then, the purpose of the conclusion of the book is to demonstrate and affirm the authority of the book.
- The book closes with the warning that the members of the seven churches should not willfully distort the message of this book. It ends with the premise of Jesus coming again and closes with John’s response for him to come.
So there is your overview. We have come to the end of Decoding the Apocalypse. Hopefully we have offered you informative material that will help you decode this material for years to come. This material is what the Left Behind Series never told you and will most likely never tell you. Use it wisely. Don’t use it for the sake of argument. Remember, even those that are sold out to this Left Behind theology, as misguided as it is theologically, are still your sisters and brothers.
I trust that this study has been a blessing to you as you read/listened and used it to help clarify the text of Revelation. In a day when the church is somewhat confused about who she is, which leads to a complete confusion about what she does, my hope is that the study of Revelation has pointed us toward the fact that in the midst of all confusion and even depression about the state of the church, that we can rest, assured that God is still in control. He is worthy to be praised and worshipped. His wish for his church is that we would rely on him and his direction. Therein is the only real hope for the future.
Question for Discussion
- What are your overall impressions of Decoding the Apocalypse?
Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling and to make you stand faultless in his glorious presence with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time and for all eternity! Amen (Jude 25)! May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen (Rev. 22.21).