Session 19

Revelation Study – Session 19


In this session we begin exploring the 7th and final act in the drama of redemption that is Revelation.  It is presented in two parts with some sub-parts.  There are only two possible destinies for all humanity.  Some will live for eternity in relationship with God, which is a continuation of the relationship they experience in this life.  Others will live for all eternity separated from God, which is a continuation of the separation they experience in this life.  Thus, this last act that deals with eternal destiny has only two parts.

1)      The destiny of the unredeemed (20:11-15)

2)      The destiny of the redeemed (21:1 – 22:5)

Much more space is given to the destiny of believers rather than non-believers.  It was not necessary for John to dwell on the destiny of the wicked.  He has already portrayed them as being totally defeated by God.  He reveals enough about their eternal destiny to let us know their defeat is complete and forever.  Since he is writing to the redeemed, much more space is given to their positive eternal destiny.


The destiny of the unredeemed (20:11-15)

            The concept of a day of judgment, a time of accountability, is a recurring theme in Scripture.  However, there is not much agreement among biblical scholars concerning the coming judgment beyond general agreement that it is going to happen.  Some see multiple judgments.  For example, Hal Lindsey, of The Late Great Planet Earth fame says there will be three distinct judgments:

1)      A judgment of nations (Matthew 25)

2)      A judgment of believers’ works (2 Cor. 5:10)

3)      A judgment of unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15)

Many others see a single time of judgment.  I lean toward that position.  While the final judgment may have several parts to it, it seems to me the weight of biblical evidence is that it is a single event.  This paragraph in Revelation 20 seems to include all humanity, believers and unbelievers, but its thrust is to show the destiny of the unbelievers.


The drama of redemption opened with a scene from around God’s throne.  As the curtain opens for the last scene, we are back at the throne.  But this scene differs from the first scene around the throne.  In the opening scene, God had in His hand the scroll of judgments that the Lamb stepped forward to reveal.  Now, the judgments have been executed.  We have seen them unfold in scene after amazing scene.  All that remains is for the permanent state of humanity to be revealed.


      v.11 - “great white throne”

            “great” – Reminder of the power of the One Who judges...NT makes it clear that the Judge is God the Father with Christ at His right hand...

            “white” – Symbol of purity, righteousness, justice...the judgment coming from this throne is a righteous or right basis whatsoever for questioning or disputing...

            “throne” – The seat of power, decision appeal beyond this point...


      v.11“...from who presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them...”

·         The language is poetic, capturing the fading, temporary nature of everything that is in the I John 2:17 – “And the earth is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.”

·         No place is found for the terrified universe to hide from the judgment of God... reminiscent of the psalmist’s question in Psalm 139:7 – “Where can I go from Thy Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Thy presence?”


      v.12 – “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne...” - Seems to be referring to humanity in general, not a sub-set of humanity as some have suggested.  No-one, no matter how powerful or how insignificant they may seem from our perspective, is immune from standing before God in judgment.


      v.12 – “...and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life...” – Judgment was meted out according to what was written in two books, or more accurately one set of books and then another book.

·         The set of books apparently contained an account of the deeds of those who lived on earth (see vv. 12 and 13)

·         The book of life apparently contained the names of the redeemed, true believers in and followers of the Lamb.


      It is important not to misinterpret what John is portraying here.  Not implying that a person’s deeds are weighed and if more good deeds than bad deeds escapes the “lake of fire” (vv. 14, 15).  The final judgment does not determine whether a person is saved or lost.  It only declares it.  That determination is made while a person lives on earth, whether or not he/she comes to a faith relationship with the Redeeming Lamb and has his/her name written in the book of life.

      Herschel Hobbs contends that the final judgment is the time of determining the degree of reward in heaven or punishment in hell.  (cf. Matt.25:14-30; I Cor. 3:11-15; Luke 10:13-14)  While Protestants have traditionally shied away from the idea of degrees of judgment, especially in relation to hell (leaving that to Roman Catholic theology), there is some indication in Scripture of that.  Reality is we only get veiled glimpses of the afterlife, so need to be careful in trying to be too definitive in exactly how it will be.


      v. 14 – “...death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire...” – Death and hades (the abode of or place of the dead) are no longer needed.  These two words speak of the grave.  One writer refers to the grave as “...that temporary means of judgment which God has used throughout human history.” [Newport, p.305]  Death is a reminder of our frailty, our dependence on and accountability to God.  By the time of the final judgment death and hades have done their work.


In describing the eternal fate of the unbeliever, John used three images:  the bottomless pit, the lake of fire, and the second death.  There is no human language which can adequately describe what a godless eternity will be like, but those three images give us a faint idea.  Scholars have debated forever what hell is like.  Is it a literal fire?  Is it something worse?  If John is speaking symbolically here (and to be consistent in interpreting the book of Revelation we certainly must allow for that possibility), it is important to remember that the reality is always greater than the symbol of reality.  John’s description of a godless eternity is indeed terrifying:

·         A bottomless pit – The sensation of always falling but never arriving at the bottom.

·         A lake of fire – The sensation of always burning but never being consumed.

·         The second death – The sensation of always dying but never being dead.

Jesus used the word “Gehenna” as the word for hell, the place of punishment.  Gehenna was the garbage dump of Jerusalem in the Hinnon Valley which always smoldered with burning trash.  Herschel Hobbs says that “hell is God’s cosmic garbage dump.  What is unfit for heaven is thrown into hell (see Rev. 21:8, 27)!”


One thing we should certainly learn from this paragraph is that the idea of universalism – the belief that all people will be saved in the end – is in conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture.  God’s mercy and grace is vast but not limitless.  He will never reject those who turn to Him in repentance and faith; but He will not force Himself on those who choose to live without Him.


The destiny of the redeemed (21:1 – 22:5) – In contrast to the few verses dedicated to describing the fate of the unredeemed, John gives a lengthy description of the destiny of the redeemed.  This was the main thing the Christians in Asia Minor were concerned with.  In this section John uses three beautiful symbols to show us what heaven is like from different perspective.

1)      The heavenly tabernacle (2:3-8) – Heaven is a place of perfect fellowship with God.

2)      The majestic city (2:9-26) – Heaven is a place of perfect security and protection.

3)      The heavenly garden (3:1-5) – Heaven is a place of perfect provision from God.



            Introduction to the destiny of the redeemed (21:1-2)

            “new heaven and new earth” -  Some see this as a renovated old heaven and earth.  But by this point, the material universe as we know it is gone (cf.20:11).  The original universe as God intended it was to be humanity’s permanent home.  But sin and death entered the current world order and transformed it into a place of rebellion against God and alienation from God.  So, at the consummation of history God will do away with the old and create a new.  Not totally disconnected from the old.  There is a continuity such as seen in the analogy in I Cor. 15 between the continuity of our present body with our resurrected body.  This phrase indicates the ultimate fulfillment of God’s original intent for the universe.


         “no longer any sea” – Several significant things about that statement...

·         For John, on the island of Patmos, the sea was the thing which separated him from that which he missed the most, the fellowship of the Christians in the churches in Asia Minor.  In the vision of the throne of God in chapter 4, a transcendent sea kept the people away from God.  But now the sea is no more.  The separation between us and God and the separation between believers has come to an end.  In heaven we experience perfect fellowship with God and with each other.  We’ll see more about that when we look at the first symbol of heaven beginning in v.3.

·         For ancient people, the sea was a place of danger.  There was always an element of unknown when it came to the sea.  Could not predict the timing or intensity of its storms.  Did not know what was below the surface.  Did not know where it ended.  In saying the sea is no more, John could be saying that the danger and uncertainty of life is now over.  We live in perfect tranquility and peace in heaven.

·         In the Scripture the sea is often portrayed as an enemy of God’s people.  God had to part the sea which had them trapped, vulnerable to Pharaoh’s charging army.  Jesus had to calm the sea to keep it from destroying His disciples.  In Revelation the sea is seen as the source of the satanic beast in chapter 13.  In saying the sea is no more, John could be saying that in heaven the enemies that have pursued the people of God are not present and there is no reason to live in fear.


      “...I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” – John Newport points out this preliminary description of heaven gives us some important information about heaven...

·         A community – A city has life, activity, interest, and people.  It is social.  It implies interaction.  Unlike the Hindu concept of heaven as a sea to which human life returns like a raindrop in the ocean, this concept of heaven implies personal identity and interaction with others.

·         A gift of God – It is “coming down our of heaven (the sky) from God”... entry into this city is not earned, it is received...God is the author, the creator of the is His gift to us...

·         A bride – No more intimate, personal relationship than the husband/wife relationship...speaks of the close fellowship God’s people will have with him in heaven...that idea of fellowship is further developed in the first of the three images of heaven which follow...


The heavenly tabernacle (21:3-8) – In the OT, as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the tabernacle was symbolic of God’s presence and mercy with His people.  To be in the presence of God they had to go to the tabernacle and later to the temple. 

·         Verse 3 - In describing heaven as a tabernacle John is saying in heaven we live continually in the presence of God.

·         Verse 4 - That presence makes all the difference in the world in how we experience life (v.4).  Notice all the things which will not be in heaven.  What a wonderful promise that was to the suffering Christians in Asia Minor!

·         “I am making all thing new...” – This is the fulfillment of the promise that those who are in Christ will be a new creation...

·         “write” – Since these words come from the One who is “faithful and true”  they are faithful and true and they must be shared with the churches...therefore, “write”...

·         “It is done” – Here we see the it is done of judgment (cf.16:17) being replaced with the it is done of redemption...

·         “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” – Jesus referred to Himself in this way in we see God described with the same terminology...obviously the NT teaches the Jesus and God are the same...

·         Verse 7  - Speaks of the importance of perseverance on the part of God’s people...the one’s who endure to the end are the saved...probably had in mind those who overcome emperor worship...can be applied in some way to every generation of believers...

·         Verse 8 – Reminder of who will not be in’s not for everybody!!... list shows by negative contrast how God desires His people to live...

o   Not cowardly but faithfully

o   Not unbelieving but believing

o   Not taking life but giving life

o   Not immorally but morally

o   Not in idolatry and spiritual darkness but in spiritual light

o   Not in falsehood but in truth

People who choose to live in the way this verse portrays show they are not destined for heaven but for the lake of fire...